5 reasons to read (or re-read) ‘The Reason For God’
Written by Brett Steinwede
I read Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God for the first time a little over two years ago. I had just completed my studies at Bible College and was about to begin a chaplaincy role at The Scots College. Since then, in my role as a chaplain and Christian Studies teacher, I have repeatedly found The Reason for God to be an invaluable resource in responding to the questions and objections of those I minister to, as well as my own. More than any other book I’ve read, The Reason for God has helped me to think through what I believe and why—the rational basis for my belief in the existence of God and, of infinitely greater importance, my belief in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour (and Treasure, as John Piper would rightly say). Here I have listed some of the book’s strengths that make it such a worthwhile read.
1. Well balanced
The Reason for God is strategically divided into two halves. The first half of the book is titled “The leap of doubt,” the second half, “The reason for faith.” In the first half of his book, Keller tackles some of the major objections to the Christian faith. He demonstrates that each of these objections is based on a set of alternative beliefs that require a leap of faith. Having dismantled the so-called reasons for believing that the Christian God does not exist, Keller then devotes the second half of his book to the reasons for believing that God does exist and has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As he says, it is one thing to argue that there are no sufficient reasons for disbelieving Christianity. It is another to argue that there are sufficient reasons for believing it” (p. 115).
The Reason for God is well balanced in that it not only critiques the Christian faith, but also recognises and critiques the atheistic belief-system. In doing so, Keller demonstrates that from a rational viewpoint, the atheist’s position is by no means a comfortable one. The Reason for God gives skeptics a reason to be skeptical about their skepticism, while also challenging Christians to seriously consider and wrestle with their doubts.
To those who are quick to dismiss the Christian faith, Keller says, “[t]he only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it” (p. xviii). And to Christians he says, “[a] faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or too indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection” (p. xvi-xvii).
2. Well informed
Throughout The Reason for God it is clear that Keller has read widely and deeply and has had considerable exposure to many intelligent and knowledgeable atheists. He is aware of their arguments and assumptions and theories behind these arguments. For example, he critiques the theory that human morals do not come from God but are merely a product of evolution. As another example, Keller points out the distinction between belief in evolution as a process and belief in evolution as an all-encompassing theory (philosophical naturalism). Against Dawkins, Keller argues that belief in the former does not necessitate belief in the latter. Christians who read The Reason for God will certainly be much better prepared to respond to the atheistic worldview and the arguments typically used to support it.
3. Well reasoned
The Reason for God is exactly that, and this is what makes it so persuasive. In arguing for the existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ, Keller does not rely on rhetoric or repetition or simplistic reasoning that would only annoy the thoughtful reader, nor does he overstate the case. He acknowledges, “No view of God can be proven, but that does not mean that we cannot sift and weigh the grounds for various religious beliefs and find that some or even one is the most reasonable” (p. 121). Keller is not afraid to take seriously any objection to the Christian faith, and he presents objections in the best possible light rather than setting up straw men to knock over. He calmly and carefully pursues objections to their logical (or illogical) conclusion and seeks to leave no stone unturned in the minds of his readers. Keller even considers what it is to be rational, the limits of rationalism, and the fact that our desires influence our rationality. In short, The Reason for God is persuasive because Keller relies on reason, not rhetoric.
4. Well communicated
One of Keller’s great strengths is that he is both a good thinker and a good communicator. Not only is he culturally literate, he also understands that a person’s worldview heavily influences their interpretation of what they read. For this reason, Keller is very carful to articulate exactly what he does and does not mean. He does his best to ensure that if his readers dislike or disagree with what he has written, it’s most likely not due to a misunderstanding. Keller is also well aware of the likely objections that a reader may have to what he has written, and he does his best to keep all of his readers engaged by dealing with many of these objections along the way in a timely fashion. For all of these reasons and more, The Reason for God is refreshingly accessible to Christians and atheists and everyone in between.
5. Well mannered
Last but not least, another strength of The Reason for God is Keller’s gentle and respectful tone throughout. Unlike a number of the popular atheists he argues against, he is never rude or obnoxious or patronising. Keller does his best to ensure that if anyone is offended by what he has written, it’s because they are offended by the gospel, not by him. He knows that no one wins when Christians are more concerned about winning arguments than winning people to Christ. Keller therefore provides Christians with a great example of what it means to “give the reason for the hope that you have…with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
God commands Christians to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The Reason for God will certainly help Christians to do this and in God’s sovereignty no answers will be wasted. But it would be foolish for Christians to think that Keller’s or any other reason for God is enough to bring people to repentance and faith. From experience we know that “all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end” (p. 120).
Saving faith is always a result of God’s gracious power working through the gospel message, which is why Keller devotes so much of The Reason for God to explaining the gospel. As Keller says, “Ultimately faith and certainty grows as we get to know more about Jesus, who he is, and what he did…[which] means you don’t have to wait for all doubts and fears to go away to take hold of Christ” (p. 233-234). The ultimate aim in answering objections to (and giving reasons for) the Christian faith must always be that the gospel is heard clearly and that, through God’s gracious power, people respond in saving faith.