I finished reading Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism over a month ago but have put off posting my thoughts on it because I did not think I could articulate them in a coherent post. (this disjointed post confirms my worry).
A day after I finished the book on a flight home from Chicago I coincidentally listened to an NPR Fresh Air podcast which analyzed the arguably dichotomous relationship between science and religion. Within this framework evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion Richard Dawkins presented an argument for atheism while geneticist-physicist Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and evangelical Christian, presented a scientist’s case for God. Listening to the brilliant scientists talk about God and Christianity in particular gave me the opportunity to reconsider, or reexamine what I had just read. It was serendipitous timing for sure.
While reading Keller’s book I often thought about a powerful scene from ER that I strongly identify with that beautifully illustrates a reason for the Christian God. The pervasive relativistic, post-modern ideals of modern western culture can be so convenient. As the video clip illustrates, the ideals are impractical in real-life situations: we need more. In fact it was only after a friend posted the video on facebook that I was moved to write this post.
All that to say that these media shaped the framework from which I processed Keller’s book. As someone who has gone through Keller’s Galatians study multiple times and listened to many Keller sermons, I was familiar with the themes of his rhetoric and his style. Disbelief is a belief in and of itself. If you say there is no truth, your truth is that there is no truth. Though I see value in such arguments, because I have read and heard them before and would not self-identify as a skeptic they started to tire me. I was truly impressed with the seamless integration of personal stories taken from Keller’s churches and family life with academic, literary and scientific giants such as Dawkins, CS Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Camus and others. Keller’s ability to synthesize the vast, disparate sources of information and present a cogent, salient argument for Christianity is a testament to his scholarship and faith.
The book is broken into two sections: The Leap of Doubt and The Reasons for Faith. The Leap of Doubt addresses common questions of, and attacks on Christianity such as: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering? (Chapter 2); How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? (Chapter 5); Science Has Disproved Christianity (Chapter 6); and You Can’t Take the Bible Literally (Chapter 7). The Reasons for Faith systematically presents reasons why you should put your trust in Jesus Christ. If I read this book every six months for the next 20 years I think I would pick a different part as my favorite each time depending on where I am in my story. The first time through, without a doubt, the last chapter “The Dance of God” was my favorite. Here are two excerpts that resonated with me in particular:
God did not create us to get the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification, but to share it. We 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. We were designed, then, not just for belief in God in some general way, nor for a vague kind of inspiration or spirituality. We were made to center our lives upon him, to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting, and resembling him. This growth in happiness will go on eternally, increasing unimaginably (1 Corinthians 2:7-10).
If the beauty of what Jesus did moves you, that is the first step toward getting out of your own self-centeredness and fear into a trust relationship with him. When Jesus died for you he was, as it were, inviting you into the dance. He invites you to begin centering everything in your life on him, even as he has given himself for you.
If you respond to him, all your relationships will begin to heal… sin is centering your identity on anything but God. We give ourselves only to relationships and pursuits that build us up and bolster our efforts at self-justification and self-creation. But this also leads us to disdain and look down on those who do not have the same accomplishments as identity-markers.
However, when we discern Jesus moving toward us and encircling us with an infinite, self-giving love, we are invited to put our lives on a whole new foundation. We can make him the new center of our lives and stop trying to be our own Savior and Lord. We can accept both his challenge to recognize ourselves as sinners in need of his salvation, and his renewing love as the new basis of our identity. Then we don’t need to prove ourselves to others. We won’t need to use others to bolster our fragile sense of pride and self-worth. And we will be enabled to move out toward others as Jesus has moved toward us.
It is with great skill and compassion that Keller’s book elicits competing feelings: these passages sting and renew; they lovingly destroy and brazenly motivate; they expose my shame and embolden my hope.