Now What? (RJS)

Now What? (RJS) April 18, 2013

This has been a rather long series looking at Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. There are a number of excellent points and insights,  and some room for disagreement and further discussion. Before moving on, however, 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. Part One The Leap of Doubt should be valuable to anyone struggling with these kinds of questions – or working and relating to those who do (and this likely includes all of us, clergy, parachurch workers, missionaries, and “ordinary” laypeople).

Keller also gives a good exposition of historic Christian orthodoxy – problem (sin) and solution … cross, resurrection and the Trinity. He comes from a reformed tradition, and conservative evangelical faith. As a result he, at times, overemphasizes a creation, fall, redemption, new creation reading – but his overall picture is a reasonable description of Christian orthodoxy.  His discussion of cross, resurrection, and Spirit provides an excellent starting point for further discussion and interaction. 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 when he quotes O’Connor) 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. (And the correct order is certainly not hear, believe, stagnate.)

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)

Scot’s book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (despite.the.overabundance.of.periods) is a great resource for the “where do we go from here?” question as well.

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. Many years ago, just before my first series of posts on Keller’s book, Scot ran a series On Reading Fiction with the help of an English Professor friend (Dan de Roulet) that looked specifically at this story by O’Connor. You can find the five posts here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five. It strikes me that the message Keller sees in the story is not the only message or the complete message one can draw from it – and is, like all of ours I expect, colored by his overall view of the gospel.

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?

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  • Don’t we need more than reasonable and rational before taking such a leap of faith?

    Perhaps faith is like seeds that grow (from which in time we shall reap a plentiful harvest; Matt 13:23, Gal 6:7-10), rather than a risky leap that has to be taken. When the seeds are initially sown, we can’t really tell, but when they grow into something immensely beautiful, then everything makes perfect sense!

    Many hypotheses are reasonable and rational – and most are not so costly.

    Utilitarianism (expected utility maximisation) seems quite illegitimate when it comes to faith … any hypothesis with a real-number probability to be true, a real-number cost, and an infinite-value benefit will automatically have infinite expected utility …

    Why do we think that the story is true – and thus worth the cost? Why should we follow?

    Because we have experienced YHWH’s goodness (1 Peter 2:2-3; Psalm 34:8-14).

  • Rick

    “Faith in the Christian God is a soundly rational belief.”

    Not sure Stephen Hawking would agree, per his presentation at CalTech:
    “Many scientists were still unhappy with the universe having a beginning because it seemed to imply that physics broke down. One would have to invoke an outside agency, which for convenience, one can call God, to determine how the universe began.”

    And as a Huff Post article describes Hawkins’ presentation:

    “He closed by outlining “M-theory,” which is based partly on ideas put forward years ago by another famed physicist, Caltech’s Richard Feynman. Hawking sees that theory as the only big idea that really explains what he has observed. M-theory posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing, Hawking explained, with many possible histories and many possible states of existence. In only a few of these states would life be possible, and in fewer still could something like humanity exist. Hawking mentioned that he felt fortunate to be living in this state of existence.”

  • Rick

    Oops: “…describes Hawking’s presentation”

  • RJS


    I was traveling yesterday – and thus not able to interact with the blog much. I don’t think that there is any thing compulsory in the Christian story to make it the only rational way to see the world. But it is not an irrational way of looking at the evidence.

    The multiverse view is interesting – but it still doesn’t answer all the questions. I don’t find the question of beginning or of find tuning to be the most persuasive one. Rather – I find the question of a level of reality that depends on relationship and information more persuasive. Human existence is not simply a bottom-up material existence, it is a thoroughly communal existence. I may have to elaborate on this in a future post.

  • Rick


    A future post on this would be great. I am having a hard time telling if some, like Hawking, rather than using “God of the gaps”, are using “science of the gaps”.

  • RJS


    I think “Science of the Gaps” is the sentiment that because all science can detect and probe is the material world, the material world is all there is. Or put a little differently … ontological naturalism is, in many respects, a “science of the gaps” because it requires that science explains and accounts for everything.

    A “God of the Gaps” limits God to otherwise inexplicable material phenomena. This misunderstands the nature of God. Actually my post for tomorrow is based on Daniel Harrell’s book again and it touches on this idea.