Tim Keller has defied conventional wisdom by planting Redeemer Church — a growing, evangelical fellowship — in the unlikely ground of Manhattan, New York. In the course of his work, he has engaged thousands of lost people and their questions about a Biblical worldview. He shares some of the fruits of his labor with us in his book, The Reason For God.
Keller divides his book into two parts: the first deals with a number of common questions and objections to Christianity, and the second gradually builds a positive case for the gospel. Both sections are full of excellent apologetic arguments, presented in a winsome way — which is not always the case with “cultural warriors.” It is difficult to imagine gospel truths being presented, and objections answered, in a less offensive way.
It is evident throughout that the author has had multiple conversations with unbelieving people and knows how to interact with them. On page 187 he writes: “‘Why would Jesus have to die’ is a question that I have heard from people in New York far more often than ‘Does God exist?’ ‘Why couldn’t God just forgive us?’ they ask.” It is obvious that he has had many such conversations, and he knows this territory well. Anyone wishing to have good answers to share with non-Christian friends or acquaintances would be well-served by reading Keller’s responses.
(NB: there is a companion DVD available for a group study of the book, featuring a panel of “real life” non-believers who interact with Keller. It offers a unique opportunity to watch the author use some of the content of the book in live situations.)
Throughout The Reason For God Keller engages the arguments of noted atheist Richard Dawkins and other proponents of a naturalistic worldview. He makes wide use of resources from church history, quoting Church Fathers as well more recent apologists. I personally loved the multiplicity of literary quotes & allusions scattered throughout the book: Tolkien, Hugo’s Les Miserables, Flannery O’Connor and others added illustrative light and literary depth to The Reason For God.
One author whom Keller quoted often was C.S. Lewis. Keller wrote that he owes much of his outlook to Lewis, and it showed! Even when he didn’t quote him directly, there were echoes of Lewis’ arguments throughout. In places, the author’s style was very Lewis-like. For example, at the end of Chapter 11, “Religion & The Gospel,” he writes: “So Christianity is not religion or irreligion. It is something else altogether.” (p. 185) This terse, pregnant phrasing sounds like it could have come right out of the conclusion of one of Lewis’ chapters of Mere Christianity!
It is notable that Keller is a Presbyterian Calvinist, but there was no trace of election, predestination, limited atonement, etc. in The Reason For God. It serves as a good model for others of his doctrinal persuasion that a rigid Calvinism does not present the best front door for the church — a sentiment that J.I. Packer, himself a staunch Calvinist, has espoused previously.
What might be considered as the climactic chapter of the book, Chapter 14 on “The Dance of God”, contains a delightful explanation of the gospel as being something more than merely “salvation from sin and missing hell”, but an invitation to join in the eternal “dance” of love that has forever existed among the Persons of the Triune God. It is a most winsome vision of the end goal of the gospel. Christians would do well to catch this vision, and ask the Lord to help us share it in our dealings with others.
One of the few negatives in The Reason For God might be found, ironically, in that same climactic chapter. After a glorious presentation of the gospel as an invitation to the “dance of God”, Keller than adds some questionable political/humanitarian stuff to it:
— “and care for the created environment” (p. 224)
— “So Christians do restorative and redistributive justice wherever they can” (p. 225)
— “In short, the Christian life means not only building up the Christian community through encouraging people to faith in Christ, but building up the human community through deeds of justice and service.” (p. 225)
One might ask if these concerns were evident in the priorities of the New Testament church, and if they deserved a place in a summary presentation of the basics of the gospel. These issues undoubtedly have a certain appeal to the younger generation of people to whom Keller is ministering, but the question one must ask is, are these priorities Biblical? Regardless of one’s answer, the value of the book is not unduly diminished by their presence.
Christians who hold to an uncompromising “young earth creationism” may also react negatively to some of Keller’s views of the relationship between Christianity and science. He takes a more poetic view of the Creation passages in Genesis, and some of his assertions in the book indicate that he is more open to scientific opinions regarding the created order than some conservative Christians will be comfortable with, though others will feel there is room for diversity of opinion in these matters among Bible-believing conservatives.
The Reason For God is overall one of the finer books I have read. It could be given to a friend or loved one who was considering Christianity, but would perhaps serve best to bolster the convictions of Christians themselves, and arm them to share these truths personally with those the Lord brings into their circle of influence.