Tim Keller’s Newest

By David George Moore. Dave’s videos can be found at www.mooreengaging.com and he blogs at www.twocities.org.

Well, as I wrote in a previous interview with Tim Keller, “He has a healthy aversion to sanctimony and platitudes.  He has a low tolerance for simplistic answers.  Years of pastoral ministry in the hurly-burly of New York have given him a deep desire to articulate the Christian faith with integrity. Keller’s ability to frame old issues in fresh ways is a hallmark of both his teaching and writing. “

I’ve read six other books by Keller, but Making Sense of God may now be my favorite.

All the hallmarks of Keller’s writing appear. There is an integrative approach where wonderful quotes (no, I won’t use the overused “money” quotes!) from various disciplines are used throughout the book. Keller clearly keeps up in his reading, especially when it comes to philosophy, sociology, and cultural analysis. How many pastors do you know who have read Charles Taylor’s big book, A Secular Age not once, but three times? As Keller commonly says, he reads so widely because he is “desperate.” Many of us are beneficiaries due to Keller’s desperation.

Another common feature of Keller’s approach, especially as it relates to skeptics, is what I like to call “incremental apologetics.” This is where the skeptic is moved ever slowly. No big jumps from A to Z. The skeptic is paid the respect he deserves. The skeptic is truly listened to, and maybe most importantly, is confident that Keller is portraying his positions accurately. Given these realities it is not surprising that Keller would realize a “prequel” to The Reason for God was needed.

Related to the former is what I like to call “let’s talk on the bridge.” Keller models this well in both The Reason for God and in Making Sense of God. All sides are invited into a conversation (no bomb throwing allowed) where each participant is reminded that they utilize both faith and reason. This can be a tough sell for Christians and non-Christians alike, but it is crucial if real dialogue is to occur.

Making Sense of God is strong at showcasing the problems of a materialistic worldview. The problems that ensue from the reductionism of believing that the physical world is the totality of existence are a particular strength of Making Sense of God. And Keller does not just use Christians to answer materialists like Stephen Pinker. Rather, he highlights other skeptics like Julian Barnes whose reflections on the beauty of Mozart’s Requiem made him wonder whether physical reality is the sum total of human existence.

I close with one slight disappointment and a comment about source notes.

First, the slight disappointment. Keller writes, “All of us have things we believe—including things we would sacrifice and even die for–that cannot be proven. But since these beliefs cannot be proved, does this mean we ought not to hold them, or that we can’t know them to be true? We should, therefore, stop demanding that belief in God meet a standard of universally acknowledged proof when we don’t apply that to the other commitments on which we base our lives.” Granted there is an important truth there, but believing or not believing in God is far more costly than other matters, so it is understandable why we might “demand” more evidence. There may be sufficient evidence for Christianity, but it is understandable why many of us would like more. I found this a bit too quick of a dismissal of an honest objection, something that is uncharacteristic of Keller.

It may seem rather strange to finish this review with a comment about endnotes, but I must. I regularly scan the footnotes (these days they are almost always endnotes) to see whether the author has interacted with the best literature. Not only do Keller’s endnotes demonstrate his careful reading, but there really is a book within a book.   My only concern here is that too many readers will forego reading the endnotes thinking they are unimportant, or simply too academic. For those willing to slow down and read the endnotes, they will find a treasure trove of bibliographic suggestions, further interaction, and fuller quotes.

Tim Keller responds:

My point here was that both belief in a universe without a God (that things exist on their own, that moral obligation exists without God, and so on) and belief in a universe with God-take equal amounts of faith and reason to hold. Both views (I argue in the book) require major steps of faith, and both also have some good logical arguments on their side. Neither can demonstrably prove their position to all rational people. So I don’t think the objection–that belief in a universe with God must meet a higher standard of proof than believe in a materialistic-only universe—really holds true. — Tim Keller

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.