Our Reasonable Faith 16

This series is by RJS
This has been a long series looking at Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. Perhaps too long some of you may think. Yet, a wrap-up now seems in order.

In this book Keller deconstructs arguments against the Christian faith demonstrating that none of them need be deal breakers. We can track with this – the Christian faith is not inherently irrational or demonstrably false. Despite claims to the contrary, it is possible to be intelligent, educated, rational, and Christian. In fact, it is possible on the basis of reason alone to make a plausible argument for the existence of “God” – for deism, or even for theism.
Keller also gives an excellent exposition of historic Christian orthodoxy – problem (sin) and solution … cross, resurrection and the Trinity. This is a nice self-consistent story. The Christian worldview provides a coherent way of interacting with the world – making sense of the way things are, creating motivation to work for the common good, and providing hope for a better tomorrow. Faith in the Christian God is a soundly rational belief.
But the book doesn’t quite end there. Keller, like all good evangelical preachers, finishes with an invitation and call for discipleship in his epilogue – Where Do We Go From Here?
So what does Keller have to say?
First – Christianity is an all or nothing commitment. Jesus Christ is Lord.

A Christian is, literally, “Christ’s One,” someone who is not just vaguely influenced by Christian teaching, but who has switched his or her most fundamental allegiance to Jesus. Christians understand the all-or-nothing choice that is forced upon us by the magnitude of Jesus’s claims. (p. 228)

Keller illustrates his point with Flannery O’Connor’s “Misfit” (Ah – we can’t dismiss him too quickly) and a quote from Bono.
Second – Following Christ does not require reasoned certainty or even complete doctrinal clarity. The correct order isn’t reason, certainty, obedience, but explore, follow, grow.
Third – Christianity is corporate. Repentance and faith are both individual and communal. We cannot properly follow Christ as isolated individuals. Keller is aware that the Church is far from perfect but this does not change the facts.

I realize how risky it is to tell my readers that they should seek out a church. I don’t do it lightly, and I urge them to do so with the utmost care. But there is no alternative. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place. (p. 237)

Finally – Keller finishes his presentation using O’Connor’s story “Revelation” to illustrate the trauma of grace. Keller finds the revelation in O’Connor’s story to be God’s grace. Like Mrs. Turpin we must change our worldview to realize that we are saved by the grace of God – not through our own righteousness, real or imagined. This conclusion strikes me as somewhat different from those we considered in the posts on this story.
Ok. So Keller has had his say — but where do we go from here and more importantly why? The Christian God is a rational hypothesis. But inherent in the Christian story is a call to faith, repentance, and total allegiance – to God and to his kingdom. If we get real – get serious — this commitment is dangerous. The call to follow Christ is not a call to afternoon tea in the garden with birds to watch and flowers to smell. It isn’t a call to a perfect human small group fellowship, a bit of heaven on earth. Obeying the call to follow Christ does not guarantee a life of wealth, health, or happiness. In fact the call requires service and self-denial; it requires us to interact with fallen humans in a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in Christian community and in the world; and it may in fact require us to forfeit livelihood, respect, or even life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – to take up a cross and follow.
Don’t we need more than reasonable and rational before taking such a leap of faith? Many hypotheses are reasonable and rational – and most are not so costly. Why do we think that the story is true – and thus worth the cost? Why should we follow?

  • Kyle

    “Don’t we need more than reasonable and rational before taking such a leap of faith?”
    I think there are reasonable reasons to believe the faith. I think there are good, strong coherent arguments for God, the resurrection, et. al. In fact, many of these arguments and discussions helped me come to faith and have helped me stay in the faith over the years. I love reading on the topic of apologetics.
    But are they necessary? I think Karl Barth (the greatest theologian of the 20th century?) would passionately answer, “no.” He might argue that rationalizing our faith makes God an object that we can wrap our minds around, and therefore not God. He would further argue that if you need evidence to believe then it’s hardly faith. That’s not being anti-intellectual by any means, its simply arguing for the role of faith.
    I don’t usually agree with Bultmann, but I read a quote by him one time suggesting that the empty tomb and resurrection appearances were unnecessary. If anything they were a concession to humanity for their weak faith. After all, Jesus had said he would rise, and proved to them that He was God already, so they should have believed Him.
    Now I don’t know if I completely agree with this method of pure fideism, but I know that plenty of intellectuals do.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    From Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”:
    “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead.” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.
    “Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted unde her.
    “I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,” he said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady,” he said in a high voice, “if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now….”
    …She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took of his glasses and began to clean them….”
    This is what Keller means, I think, by “the all or nothing choice that is forced upon us by the magnitude of Jesus’s [sic] claims.” The Misfit sounds positively postmodern, emergent even, even though O’Connor invented him fifty years ago.
    Go read the whole story, and a few other stories of hers while you’re at it.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    #2 also ties in nicely with the “Do You Own A Gun?” thread, q.v.

  • http://www.holyskinandbone.blogspot.com Kevin

    Scot,
    Couple of thoughts. First, this:
    Following Christ does not require reasoned certainty or even complete doctrinal clarity. The correct order isn’t reason, certainty, obedience, but explore, follow, grow.
    The correct order of what? Discipleship? If so, I’m not sold. I’m not sure there is a one-size fits all order. I should think for some (like the original disciples, for example) the order is follow, explore, bungle the whole thing, keep following, grow, fail, keep following, grow, etc. Something like that.
    Second, does he really say that God is a “rational hypothesis”? I should have thought God was a person, a subject or Thou. God does offer an explanation for various features of reality, but that hardly makes God a hypothesis. But maybe that’s your gloss and not Keller’s claim.
    Finally, near the end, I detect an odor of Kant, who believed that the moral life, to be genuine, must be experienced as an onerous burden. What you seem to be suggesting (or is it Keller? I can’t tell if you’re speaking in your own voice in the penultimate paragraph or if you’re still glossing Keller) is that discipleship is a rather joyless, drab calling to selflessness and perpetual eyeoreishness. That’s the feel I got. The call to discipleship, insofar as it is a call to the most radical sort of gestalt switch, where our loves, hates, desires and so on are completely rearranged is not pain free, it is a journey whose end is gladness, the deepest kind of happiness and far from the loss of self it promises a profound sort of self fulfillment.
    Michael Kruse (whose comments on yesterday’s post were things of utter beauty imho) made an important distinction in passing. I’d put it this way. As Christians, we are not called to selfness. We can’t be, as that would make the first and great commandment impossible to realize (that we love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to unselfishness instead, and there’s a big difference between the two.
    Cheers, Kevin

  • http://www.holyskinandbone.blogspot.com Kevin

    Oops! Four lines up from the bottom of 4 that should be “selflessness” not “selfness”.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    RJS,
    I have appreciated this series and I expect to refer back to it in the future.
    The second-to-last paragraph: bravo! Reading it makes me want to read it aloud, perhaps from the pulpit.

  • http://www.holyskinandbone.blogspot.com Kevin

    Oops-squared! I see now that Scot is not the author of this post, but RJS is. My apologies to RJS! My participation here has the feel of discipleship as many of know it, i.e., an earnest attempt but littered with screw-ups and various sorts of failures. Sorry folks.
    Kevin

  • RJS

    Kevin,
    You make several good points with which I would like to interact – later this morning. But first and most important — I wrote this, not Scot. He bears no responsibility other than allowing me space to think and write. Sometimes he agrees – sometimes likely not.
    The penultimate paragraph is my reflection on Keller’s book, and the use of the term “hypothesis” comes from interaction in the academic environment. It is reported that Laplace, when questioned by Napoleon on the absence of mention of God in his book on celestial mechanics responded that he had no need for that hypothesis. When told of this Laguerre is said to have commented — Oh, but it is such a beautiful hypothesis and makes sense of so much of the data (my paraphrases of both quotes). Of course such as Richard Dawkins have claimed that the “hypothesis” is not only unnecessary — but also irrational. One of the strengths of Keller’s book in parts of the early chapters is defending the rationality of the “God Hypothesis.”

  • RJS

    Kevin, OK – I should have refreshed before posting.

  • http://www.holyskinandbone.blogspot.com Kevin

    RJS,
    I got the Laplace allusion. And, as I said, God can/does explain a large swath of reality. And, being a philosopher and all, I’m familiar with the arguments for God’s existence. Is belief in God rational? I think so, but I don’t think one needs arguments if one is to be rational in believing. Most people are really more like my grandmother, who birthed 15 children and wouldn’t have recognized a philosophical argument for God’s exisence if it bit her in the buttocks, than they are like you or me. Yet my grandmother was rational in believing, I’d argue. I also think one can be rational (and, of course, there are lots of different accounts of “rationality”; so I mean on some plausible accounts of rationality) one can be a rational atheist, too. As for Dawkins and Dennet and their ilk, I don’t take them seriously when they speak on such matters as faith and belief. Dennet is a good philosopher. And Dawkins was/is a good scientist. It’s when he stops doing science, but fails to notice that he’s stopped doing science, and starts saying silly things about belief that I can’t take him seriously.
    Peace,
    Kevin

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    To me, dealing with the rational arguments for God can be helpful to plant seeds of doubt (or, rather, faith) in folks who have just swallowed what pop culture routinely says about God. But (and I half-suspect this is what you were getting at, RJS) these rational arguments alone only create a rational “hypothesis” as you imply, and ‘hypotheses’ don’t tend to ignite the kind of radical loyalty and love to which we are called. Will Willimon, when he was a chaplain at Duke University, had this conversation (after just affirming propositional preaching) concerning his preaching at Duke:
    “But most of your preaching is more narrative?”
    “Yes. My assumption is that I’m dealing with very intelligent and unbelievably ignorant people who don’t know
    the basic story. I enjoy going over it with them. Also, this may be a misreading, but I think I’ve got a high
    percentage of people who do way too much analysis and thinking and theorizing, and I want them to have
    some of those gut level ‘Jesus’ experiences where you start crying and you don’t know why, and you come
    out and you feel disturbed. Those are the experiences that propositional preaching can then build on.”
    Your questions made me think of that interview.

  • Kyle

    RJS,
    I’m sorry for not mentioning in my previous comment that I’m so thankful for your work in this series. My family is out of China on a vacation to Malaysia so I’ve been able to go to a Borders here and pick up some books that aren’t really available in China including “The Language of God.” I look forward to working through the archives of your series on that book as I read it. Thanks again for your dedication to these discussions!

  • http://microclesia.com John L

    I dunno RJS. Sometimes it all seems so complicated. Like I just want to abandon everything I think I know about religion and spirituality – smashing every idol. This is where the scientific method stands so beautifully (and importantly) along with inherited Xnty. We can simply love Jesus w/o buying into some “demonstrably refutable” ideological package. We can live in community that shares this love w/o being conformed into an image beyond love’s simplicity.
    Perhaps this is a certain “trauma of grace.” To experience life-altering freedom in the cross, only to be traumatized by human attempts at codifying what that means. Sometimes Paul makes me very angry.
    I’ve enjoyed your series and look forward to more, hopefully with a greater emphasis on the interplay of science and spirit.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    Where else would we go? He has the words of eternal life.

  • RJS

    Kevin (#4)
    On the final reflection (before my questions) — This is my suggestion and voice more than Keller – but I think not inconsistent with Keller’s book. I do not think that moral life or the Christian life is an onerous burden — but I do think that the Christian life should be total commitment. When I think of total commitment it is not asceticism, selflessness, separation, or perpetual Eeyoreishness that leaps to mind. Rather total commitment is willingness to stake everything on Christ first – to accept martyrdom if it comes to that (as it sometimes did in early church history and still does in parts of the world) – to accept ridicule and derision if it comes to that (not really uncommon in our world) – to take seriously the call to love others as ourselves. The Christian virtues of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are neither wimpish nor optional. In addition Christian life should inform vocational and lifestyle choices. Michael’s comments on vocation were great. Christian service is not the only truly Christian vocation. But stewardship of God’s material creation requires commitment to God’s story in vocation – money, power, prestige, leisure, or comfort (or even simplicity) should not be the ruling motivations. This is the point I was trying to make. We live for God’s story, not our own preference and comfort – and this is not always (or usually) painless.

  • Gilley

    I say this at the risk of using the bible to persuade people to believe the bible – but the ideas within Romans 1:19,20 convince me that faith is more a moral question than an intellectual matter. I believe because I know I should, not because the scales are tipped from evidence.

  • http://www.holyskinandbone.blogspot.com Kevin

    RJS,
    Amen. I’m w/ya!
    Kevin

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    RJS, re your answer to Kevin in #15 you say, “The Christian virtues of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are neither wimpish nor optional.”
    Forgiveness is a choice; the other things in that sentence are fruit of the Spirit, something that is produced out of what you are. But not one of them is a virtue, which the dictionary defines as moral excellence or righteousness. What were you really trying to say?

  • RJS

    Bob – virtue could be the wrong word. On the other hand the example my dictionary uses is “patience is a virtue” so I am not sure…

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    For that matter, let me clarify what I was trying to say as well. These fruit are not produced by one’s will. They are not “worked up” to meet the challenges of one’s day. If they are, I’ve had the wrong understanding of fruit all these years. An apple tree bears apples *because* it is an apple tree. It doesn’t spend a lot of effort coming up with acceptable fruit in order to *become* an apple tree.

  • RJS

    I am not sure that Galatians 5 – reading this verse in context – permits such a passive reading.
    After listing the acts of the sinful nature Paul concludes with I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    After listing the fruit of the Spirit Paul says Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. We are not living by the Spirit if we are not trying to keep step with the Spirit.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Regarding #20 and #21,
    That is the ongoing paradox of the Christian walk, IMHO.
    For example, On the one hand, patience is a fruit of the Spirit. Similar to what Bob said, I cannot work it up in the strength of my flesh. Yet, I am more patient on days I have slept well vs. days I am tired and stressed. As RJS quoted, we have to make a choice to keep in step. It is a walk, a journey, a process. It is not a switch that we flip in an instant. I would be happy to blame my impatience on the fact that the Spirit just didn’t give me any that day but I would be wrong. I am involved, too. Yet, it is from Spirit, not from my flesh. Round and round it goes…

  • Richard

    I like what my pastor once said ” Self improvement is sin.” I know that volumes can be writen for and against such a statement, perhaps from what standpoint of the cross one is at.
    When Jesus said “follow me”, I first presumed it was to teach of His wonderful work since I didn’t have the foresight that He was going to the cross at the time. Perhaps the Apostle Paul went to the cross when he stated ” For me, to live is Christ.” or, ” I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ in me.” Strong words and He would be laughed out of most churches today since they proclaim the full gospel, but the again, there is a fulness of time – a time for everything.
    Temples not made by hands, rationalize that and who here among you can add one inch of stature to himself by giving thought takes on meaning.
    The realy good news is that Jesus Christ has commited Himself to us and through suffering, by the work of Grace, we get share His committment as we realize that not only is He our saviour and master but also our most wonderfull and dearest friend who sees us even when we don’t see Him.
    Our reasonable Faith is to experience and express salvation daily by the relationship brought about by the changing of the guard at Calvary and the promise of the Holy Spirit. This is not a pick and choose expression since it was even dificult for Jesus (how dificult!)to choose His Father’s cup. Tho none go with me, still I will follow never comes by intillect but by sacrifice and we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, some could’t even read.
    We are Blessed.

  • http://www.soomah.de Danny

    RJS, I like your thoughts. Do you have a blog?

  • RJS

    Danny,
    I have no separate blog – but confine myself to participating regularly in the conversation here and occasionally writing posts or series that Scot graciously hosts.


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