This review first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 31, number 6 (2008). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
Since 9/11, many in the “New Atheism” movement have done their best to undermine theism of any kind. While it would have been easy to have rolled over and played dead, a number of Christian thinkers have supplied explanations of why faith in God is a reasonable conclusion. Timothy Keller’s 2008 The Reason for God, which was named World magazine’s Book of the Year, is a welcome addition to the arena.
The first half of the book (“The Leap of Faith”) begins with the premise that “you must doubt your doubts” because investigation will show you that “your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared.” To do this, Keller—a New York Presbyterian pastor—attacks the popular postmodern notion that there are many paths to God.
Critiquing the infamous elephant illustration where a group of blind men touches different parts of an elephant, each receiving a different revelation of the animal, Keller astutely points out, “How could you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant? How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?” (p. 9).
Often utilizing quotes from C. S. Lewis and Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Keller skillfully delves into issues such as evil and suffering, injustice committed by the church, and hell, all the while maintaining a very readable style. Of course, whole books have been written on these topics, but few do it better than Keller as he explains why these issues are not sufficient to negate the existence of an omnipotent, omnipresent God.
Keller begins the second part of the book (“The Reasons for Faith”) by pointing out how many clear signs are given to help a person have faith in God, including the cosmological, moral, and aesthetic arguments to show that belief in God is not without substance.
At the same time, he clearly states that more than fideistic belief is required, since God’s existence cannot be proven, even though God’s nonexistence cannot be empirically explained, either. As Keller writes, “Science cannot prove the continued regularity of nature, (but) it can only take it on faith” (132).
His most insightful chapter is Chapter 10 (“The Problem of Sin”), as he explains how Adam’s sin broke “shalom,” the Hebrew word translated “peace” in English. He points out how this really means “absolute wholeness—full, harmonious, joyful, flourishing life.” While everybody must discover meaning in life, Keller adeptly points out that everything except a true relationship with God will fail every time.
In his last chapter, “The Dance of God,” Keller explains that humans “were made to join in the dance. If we will center our lives on him, serving him not out of self-interest, but just for the sake of who he is, for the sake of his beauty and glory, we will enter the dance and share in the joy and love he lives in.”
Simple and yet so profound.
Eric Johnson teaches high school and college classes in El Cajon, California. He is coauthor of Mormonism 101 (Baker, 2000) with Bill McKeever.