It is strange to me how much I both loved and disliked Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. Keller, pastor of a prominent and thriving church in New York, has written what is in many ways a fine apology, defense of the Christian faith. Yet, Keller is also unique in some of his beliefs, branching perhaps a step further from fundamentalism than many might find comfortable.
What I Liked
Keller’s book is an easy read with intellectually-stimulating arguments. This is hard to accomplish. Many authors are either intellectual or fun-to-read, but seldom are both the case. Keller’s book is that rare mix, and this is good.
Some of Keller’s arguments are absolutely fascinating. Perhaps my favorite is Keller’s turning of theodicy to actually argue for the existence of God. Many people say that the presence of evil in our world disproves the existence of God. Keller shows how our understanding of the existence of evil can only be sound if indeed God exists.
Keller’s book is infused with conversation after conversation that he has had with skeptics over his years of pastoring. As we see these conversations, readers grasp that Keller is not removed from or judgmental toward those he attempts to convince of the truth of Christianity. On the contrary, Keller’s heart comes through along with his sharp mind.
What I Did Not Like
As I mentioned above, there are a few places where Keller seems to depart from conservative doctrine in a way that made me slightly uneasy. The first of these two areas comes with Keller’s chapter on hell. Keller does not deny the existence of hell; nor does he believe in annihilation. However, Keller interprets the language of hell, fire and darkness, as figurative pictures of the reality. Keller does not do this to minimize the horror of hell, but to show that hell will not contain a group of people begging God for his mercy. Sadly, I do not believe that Keller gives enough credence to the literal concept of the wrath of God being poured out on those who have hated and rejected his Son.
The second area that concerns me is Keller’s ready acceptance of theistic evolution. Of course this is an area of wide debate among Christians, and thus many might find this a selling point of the book. I however find that an acceptance of even theistic evolution does harm to one’s handling and interpretation of Scripture. Keller, to come to his point, must interpret Genesis 1 and 2 as different telling of the same story, chapter 1 as poetry and figurative with chapter 2 as more literal. I accept both of these chapters as literal, and thus cannot support Keller’s reasoning. I also believe that, though Keller rightly argues that this is not a defining point of faith for salvation, it is significant and is ground that is dangerous to give up in order to win a convert.
Conclusions and Recommendations
With the shortcomings above noted, I would recommend The Reason for God to most people. For Christians, reading through this work is encouraging and helpful to remind us of the glorious philosophical reasoning that is present in our long-held faith. For the non-Christian, this work could be useful to help knock down some of the barriers to genuine consideration of Christianity. Because the book is so kindly and winsomely written, most who read it will find it enjoyable, that is, if they enjoy philosophy in the least.
However, I also admit that the cautions above are serious in my mind. In places, it appears that Keller uses science or philosophy to shape his view of the Scripture instead of the other way around. This could set forth in some a handling of the Bible that does not acknowledge its total reliability and sufficiency to speak to every area of life. This is dangerous, and causes me to recommend this book with reservations and not as freely as I might have liked.