My review of Tim Keller’s prequel to The Reason for God. (Also posted in April 2017 edition of TGC Journal Themelios)
Tim Keller’s 2008 New York Times Bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, is what first propelled him into the international spotlight. The Reason for God sought to make skeptics ‘doubt their doubts’ about Christianity by holding them up to the same intellectual scrutiny as to which they held Christianity.
While The Reason for God impacted many interested in Christianity or at least in its consideration, Keller realized it was not written for those who do not deem Christianity “relevant enough to be worth their while” (4). Such people would never pick it up, but rather dismiss Christianity altogether as a “blind faith in an age of science, reason, and technology” or believing “fewer and fewer people will feel the need for religion and it will die out” (4). Keller’s newest book, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, is directed at those people, serving as The Reason for God’s prequel.
Keller’s main point for both books is to explain how Christianity makes sense emotionally, culturally, and rationally. Naturally, The Reason for God discussed the rational, while Making Sense of God focuses on the emotional and cultural, making the case for Christianity’s relevance in both spheres.
Creating a True Secular Safe Space for Discussion
Making Sense of God addresses skeptic objections to faith by attempting to create a true secular “safe space” for those exploring faith and ideas. Keller argues that such a space is needed since there is no “truly secular state” in which all beliefs and ideas can be presented in mutual respect and peace (3). Keller frames this safe space on page 50:
“Rather than unfairly asking only religious people to prove their views, we need to compare and contrast religious beliefs and their evidences with secular beliefs and theirs. We can and should argue about which beliefs account for what we see and experience in the world. We can and should debate the inner logical consistency of belief systems, asking whether they support or contradict one another. We can and should consult our deepest intuitions.”
Making Sense of God is divided in three parts:
- Part 1 (Why Does Anyone Need Religion) exposes erroneous thinking that secularism and human advancement is swallowing up religion and argues that secularism and religion are both founded on faith.
- Part 2 (Religion Is More Than You Think It Is) tests both skepticism and faith by examining what they mean for our meaning in life, satisfaction from life, individuality, finding your true self, hope, morality, and justice—issues of profound importance for every person, regardless of worldview.
- Part 3 (Christianity Makes Sense) does what one would expect: make the case for Christianity’s reasonableness by first testing reasonableness for belief in God and then belief in Christianity.
Keller doesn’t typically explain the flaws of secularism and skepticism through use of Scripture, but rather interacts with a diverse range of sources from a variety of fields: including scientists, secularist thinkers, philosophers, artists, and musicians. I appreciate Keller’s generosity and humility in both seeking and describing truth. This generosity drove me to a deeper understanding of the nature of his critique. Examples of this comes when explaining how many non-religious people are actually more moral and kind than religious people, or when he cites Nietzsche to prove his points.
There are many features of Keller’s writing that makes it easy to see why he is a bestselling author: clarity of argument, deep knowledge of the secular belief systems he interacts with, a smattering of powerful illustrations and quotations, and a compelling presentation of the God who provides realistic and compelling answers to life’s issues. Keller’s writing both feeds the intellect and stirs the soul.
Why skeptics should read this book
If you are a skeptic, I hope you take Keller’s invitation to enter the secular safe space he seeks to create. Read this book and honestly think through his analysis. See if you agree with him that the secular worldview can’t describe why good things like courage and love exist, why we need morals and on what basis they come, nor truly provide lasting satisfaction that can hold the weight of intense suffering.
By doing so you might find yourself among the many mentioned in the book, both committed skeptics and converts to Christianity, who have thanked Keller for exposing flawed presuppositions and sharpening their grasp on reality.
Why believers should read this book
Keller is masterful at examining secularism and skepticism with a surgeon’s precision. Like its predecessor, this book is a must read for communicators of the faith and believers trying to live faithfully in a secular age. You will know how to engage skeptics better by understanding the thought processes that drive their beliefs and decisions. If you are like me, you will also be convicted and discouraged by seeing how our secular culture has influenced you.
Most important of all, Keller’s work will make you more confident that the God of Christianity is not only relevant for today, but the only One that makes broken humans whole and human existence in this crazy world understandable.
Title: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
Author: Timothy Keller
Rating: 5 Stars