The Reason for God
Belief in an Age of Skepticism
Dutton, 2008, 293 pp., ISBN 978-0-525-95049-3
Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The church began in 1989, has 6000 regular attendees, and has spawned more than a dozen daughter churches. See www.redeemer.com. Tim's book is a well reasoned apologetic that grants dignity and respect to all people, regardless of their theological, cultural, political and personal perspectives. The first part of the book examines seven major objections to faith. The second part describes evidence for God and Christianity. This is an excellent book to give to thoughtful skeptics.
"The world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time." (x) "Both skeptics and believers feel their existence is threatened because both secular skepticism and religious faith are on the rise in significant, powerful ways." (xiv)
People are opting for a nonreligious life, for a non-institutional, personally constructed spirituality, or for orthodox, high-commitment religious groups…. Therefore the population is paradoxically growing both more religious and less religious at once." (xv)
"Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts--not only their own but their friends' and neighbors'." "Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive." (xvii)
"Skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs." "The reason you doubt Christianity's Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith." (xvii)
"My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs--you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared." (xviii)
Part I. The Leap of Doubt
1. There can't be just one true religion
Exclusivity is a big issue. Believing one has the truth can easily lead to stereotyping, caricaturizing, and demonizing others which can spiral down to oppression, abuse or violence. (4)
"What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing." (15)
"Broadly understood, faith in some view of the world and human nature informs everyone's life. Everyone lives and operates out of some narrative identity, whether it is thought out and reflected upon or not." (15)
"It is common to say that 'fundamentalism' leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others." (19) "Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?" (20) Christians have within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. At the very heart of their view of reality is a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this can only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who were different from them." (20)
2. How could a good God allow suffering?
Some say suffering proves there is no loving, all powerful God. In other words, "If our minds can't plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can't be any! This is blind faith of a high order." (23) "Many assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds,…but why should that be the case? (24)
"With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn't it be possible that, from God's vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?" (25)
"Lewis recognized that modern objections to God are based on a sense of fair play and justice. People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak--these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust?" (26)
"If we ask the question: 'Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?' and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we now know what the answer isn't. It can't be that he doesn't love us. … God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself. [on the cross]." (30) "Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering." (33)
3. Christianity is a straitjacket.
"Many say that all truth-claims are power plays. When you claim to have the truth, you are trying to get power and control over other people." (37) "If you say all truth-claims are power plays, then so is your statement." (38) "All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind…" (38, quoting G. K. Chesterton)
"In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions." "Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn't we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it? (46-7)
4. The Church is responsible for so much injustice.
There are three issues to consider: the behavior or character flaws of Christians, the issue of war and violence, and fanaticism. (52)
It is argued that religion tends to make cultural differences into a cosmic battle. However, Communist, Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian regimes of the 20th century rejected all organized religion yet produced massive violence against their own peoples. When the idea of God is gone, a society will make something else the transcendent ideal. (55)
"In Jesus's and the prophets' critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized." (60) "The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel." (61) "To give up Christian standard would be to leave us with no basis for the criticism." (62)
5. How can a loving God send people to Hell?
"In our culture, divine judgment is one of Christianity's most offensive doctrines." (69) There are a number of hidden beliefs inside this critique.
"In ancient times it was understood that there was a transcendent moral order…built into the fabric of the universe." Violation of this order brought consequences. One had to learn to live in conformity with this reality. Modernity, presented the natural world as ultimate reality and we could mold it to fit our desires. We now think we can control the spiritual world too. It seems unfair that there should be a God who would punish us. We believe in our personal rights! "Not all of humanity has accepted modernity's view of things." "Why should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court?" (71-2)
"God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer…which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being." (73, quoting Becky Pippert) "He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity." (73)
"The biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort." "if we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell--the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy." (76) "Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever." (77) "In short, hell is simply one's freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity." (78)
"It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud." (79, quoting C.S. Lewis)
6. Science has disproved Christianity
"Must we choose between thinking scientifically and belief in God?" (850
"It is one thing to say that science is only equipped to test for natural causes and cannot speak to any others. It is quite another to insist that science proves that no other causes could possibly exist." (85)
In the statement, "miracles can't happen," there is a premise that "there can't be a God who does miracles." (86)
It is one thing to say that I will look for my car keys under the streetlamp because the light is better there. It is another thing to say that the car keys cannot be elsewhere because I can't see there!
7. You can't take the Bible literally
What people mean is that the Bible is not entirely trustworthy because some parts…are scientifically impossible, historically unreliable, and culturally regressive." (99-100)
"I find more people now especially upset by what they call the outmoded and regressive teaching of the Bible. It seems to support slavery and the subjugation of women. These positions appear so outrageous to contemporary people that they have trouble accepting any other parts of the Bible's message." (109) "Many of the texts people find so offensive can be cleared up with a decent commentary that puts the issue into historical context." (110) "Some texts do not teach what they at first appear to teach." (111)
For many, "their problem with some texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others. We must not universalize our time any more than we should universalize our culture." "To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historic moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned. That belief is surely as narrow and exclusive as the view in the Bible you regard as offensive." (111)
"To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible's teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn't have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?" (112)
In addition, we should distinguish between the major themes and message of the Bible and its less primary teachings. …consider the Bible's teaching in their proper order." (112) "It is therefore important to consider the Bible's core claims about who Jesus is and whether he rose from the dead before you reject it for its less central and more controversial teachings." (113)
"Underlying all doubts about Christianity are alternate beliefs, unprovable assumptions about the nature of things." (115)
The second part of the book exercises a "critical rationality" that "assumes that there are some arguments that many or even most rational people will find convincing…. It assumes that some systems of belief are more reasonable than others…." But, of course, these do not eliminate all counter arguments. (120)
"When a Russian cosmonaut returned from space and reported that he had not found God,…this was like Hamlet going into the attic of his castle looking for Shakespeare. If there is a God, he wouldn't be another object in the universe that could be put in a lab and analyzed with empirical methods. He would relate to us the way a playwright relates to the characters in his play. We (characters) might be able to know quite a lot about the playwright, but only to the degree the author chooses to put information about himself in the play." (122)
"In the Christian view, however, the ultimate evidence for the existence of God is Jesus Christ himself." 'He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history…." (123)
Part 2. The Reasons for Faith
8. The Clues of God
There are no incontrovertible proofs for God. But when we looked at them as clues, "cumulatively, the clues of God had a lot of force to them."
The Big Bang is a clue. That the cosmos is fine-tuned for life is a clue. The regularity of nature is a clue. Beauty is a clue.
"…the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to outside of nature." (129, quoting Francis Collins, The Language of God.)
Richard Dawkins says there may be trillions of universes and some of them may be fine-tuned to sustain life. "Although organic life could have just happened without a Creator, does it make sense to live as if that infinitely remote chance is true?" (132) [I don't think it is scientifically possible for life to have happened. dlm]
"Evolutionists say that if God makes sense to us, it is not because he is really there, it's only because that belief helped us survive and so we are hardwired for it. However, if we can't trust our belief-forming faculties to tell us the truth about God, why should we trust them to tell us the truth about…evolutionary science?" Or any scientific theory at all? (138)
9. The knowledge of God
Keller demonstrates that deep within us we already know there is God.
"The secular, young adults I have known have a very finely honed sense of right and wrong. There are many things happening in the world that evoke their moral outrage." (144) "…but unlike people in other times and places, they don't have any visible basis for why they find some things to be evil and other things good. It's almost like their moral intuitions are free-floating in midair…." (145)
"I think people in our culture know unavoidably that there is a God, but they are repressing what they know." (146)
If there is no creator God then there is no sound rationale for moral obligation or human rights. Who says so? In fact, nature itself is terribly violent.
"If a premise ('There is no God') leads to a conclusion you know isn't true ('Napalming babies is culturally relative') then why not change the premise?"
10. The problem of sin
"Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him." (162) The primary way to define sin is "the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God." (162)
"Every person is desperately seeking…'cosmic significance.'" "Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially 'deify.' We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think of ourselves as highly irreligious." (163, citing Ernest Becker)
"…sin destroys us personally. Identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Without God, our sense of worth may seem solid on the surface, but it never is--it can desert you in a moment." (164) "There is no way to avoid this insecurity outside of God." "An identity not based on God also leads inevitably to deep forms of addiction."
"Building our lives on something besides God not only hurts us if we don't get the desires of our hearts, but also if we do." (166) "…if you don't live for Jesus you will live for something else." (172)
11. Religion and the Gospel
12. The (True) Story of the Cross
"Why would Jesus have to die?" is a very frequent question. (187) If someone damages you, you can get revenge--which goes on and on--or you can forgive. But someone pays for the damage. To forgive is a form of suffering. You have both the damage and you forgo revenge. It hurts. Someone pays.
"Forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy's renewal and change. Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of the sin yourself. Everyone who forgives great evil goes through a death into resurrection, and experiences nails, blood, sweat, and tears." "Everyone who forgives someone bears the other's sins."
God himself absorbed the pain. "This is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us." (192) "There was a debt to be paid--God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born--God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering." (193)
13. The reality of the resurrection
"If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead." (202)
"The only way anyone embraced the resurrection back then was by letting the evidence challenge and change their worldview, their view of what was possible. They had just as much trouble with the claims of the resurrection as you, yet the evidence--both of the eyewitness accounts and the changed lives of Christ's followers--was overwhelming." (211)
14. The dance of God
"I have been arguing that the Christian understanding of where we came from, what's wrong with us, and how it can be fixed has greater power to explain what we see and experience than does any other competing account." (213)
"If God is triune, then loving relationships in community are the 'great fountain…at the center of reality.'" (216)
God calls us to glorify, praise, and serve him. "And the only way we, who have been created in his image, can have this same joy, is if we center our entire lives around him instead of ourselves." (218)
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