NOTE: This review was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and appears in its September 2009 issue (vol. 61, No. 3, pp. 203-204). I thank the American Scientific Affiliation for permission to reproduce it here. It has been slightly reformatted for this webpage.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Author: Timothy Keller
Date: 2008
Publisher: Dutton, New York
ISBN: 978-0-525-95049-3
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


Review

Tim Keller is not your typical apologist. Despite being in a quite conservative denomination, Keller has built a successful church in Manhattan by addressing in a winsome and intellectually honest way the concerns of his mostly young, urban audience. Keller brings this authenticity and gentle reasonableness to The Reason for God. While the book has some shortcomings, it is a positive contribution.

Unlike many today, Keller does not adopt an "us vs. them" culture-war stance. He aims for respectful, reasonable discussion, and usually succeeds. In the first half of the book, Keller considers common arguments against Christianity (including exclusivity, evil and suffering, injustice from the church, science, and the Bible). He urges skeptics to "doubt your doubts" and see if their reasons for rejecting faith stand up to scrutiny or are based on some alternate, unjustified faith. In the second half, Keller presents positive reasons, moving from arguments for theism (such as cosmic fine-tuning and our sense of morality and longing for God) to Christian specifics like the claims of Jesus and the Resurrection. A final chapter tells readers what it means to commit to Christ.

Keller generally does well with both defensive apologetics and the positive chapters. His writing is accessible without being simplistic, relying on sources like Jonathan Edwards, N.T. Wright, and especially C.S. Lewis. He does not claim to offer proof by the standards of Enlightenment rationalism, but he builds a strong case for the credibility of Christian faith.

ASA members should appreciate Chapter 6, refuting the "Science has disproved Christianity" objection. The circular argument against miracles is easily dealt with, but the best part comes as Keller debunks the "warfare" model of science and faith. He approvingly cites Francis Collins and Alister McGrath; warfare promoters like Henry Morris and Phil Johnson are nowhere in sight. He emphasizes the key distinction between evolution as a scientific theory that might describe how God works, and the philosophical naturalism that some (such as Richard Dawkins and, sadly, many Christians) inappropriately weld onto it. Without using the phrase, he tentatively endorses theistic evolution, while rejecting "evolution as All-encompassing Theory." It is encouraging to see a prominent Evangelical like Keller avoid the warfare, the uninformed interpretations, the shoddy treatment of science, and the knee-jerk rejection of biological evolution that are common among his counterparts. If more followed Kellerís lead, science would be much less of a stumbling block for the Gospel.

Despite this praise, I have two significant criticisms.

First, in the chapters on arguments against Christianity, some important questions are addressed weakly or not at all. For example, Keller does a good job defending the exclusivity of truth, and Hell as a logical destination for those who actively reject God, but he ignores the biggest issue for many which is "Is Gandhi (or my Buddhist friend, or the tribesman who never heard the Gospel) condemned to Hell?" In the chapter on the Bible, the problematic inerrancy doctrine is not mentioned, despite its centrality in the author's own denomination. Theodicy is a difficult topic for any apologist, but much of that chapter amounts to "maybe God had a good reason for causing the Holocaust and the tsunami." He does eventually get to the cross and God's participation in suffering, but there is no mention of other concepts that many find helpful, such as Polkinghorneís "free process" defense and similar ideas in Lewis' The Problem of Pain.

An example illustrates my second criticism. In Chapter 8, Keller shows that "evolution has wired us to seek a God who isnít there" is a weak argument. But then he says, "This is a huge Achilles' heel in the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology and theory." What a silly statement. It may be a flaw for evolutionary psychology, but that is hardly "the whole enterprise." His argument has no bearing on common descent and the other central features of evolutionary biology.

This is not an isolated incident. It is as though years of conditioning trained Keller to take potshots at "evolution" at every opportunity. On several occasions, he forgets the wisdom of Chapter 6, failing to respect the important distinction between evolution as science and as all-encompassing world view. Perhaps Chapter 6 represents recent evolution (pun intended) in Keller's thinking, and while writing other chapters he couldnít resist slipping into old "warfare" habits. Whatever the reason, these vestiges of warfare undercut his previous helpful messages about science.

I am not a big fan of apologetics books. I think we are in a time where more people are moved by a holistic approach to the Christian story (as in N.T. Wright's Simply Christian), and where our primary apologetic should be the church as it loves and faithfully follows Jesus. But many people still want specific arguments and answers. For such people, The Reason for God, despite its flaws, is much better than most work in this genre, and is well worth reading.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are the opinion of the author of this review alone and should not be taken to represent the views of any other person or organization.

Review originally written September 2008, published September 2009.
Page last modified August 22, 2009