I finished this book a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. And so I feel the urge to share my thoughts on it – because I really think it deserves wide readership. Here are a load of reasons for getting hold of it and, more to the point, reading it!
- It is very readable – in fact it is basically a précis of countless conversations Keller has had with various archetypal Manhattan sceptics. The standard format is “X asked me this… and Y asked me that …”; “and this is how I answered them…”. So it is not exposition as such (a small point is that the book could have benefited from more explicit biblical material), but it is fair to say that it is thoroughly ‘bibline‘!**
- The format is not accidental – because the aim of this book is to tackle all the big ones that people ask – or rather, all the big ones that sophisticated New Yorkers ask. So it may be that these are not necessarily the questions your friends are asking. So for example, the American political context (with its caricatures of ‘liberal left’ and ‘religious/evangelical right’) is such that it is necessary to say more about how the gospel transcends these boundaries – in our more secular European settings, the presenting issues are slightly different. But i would think that there are few questions out there that have not been addressed in some shape or form by this book.
- It is full of thought-provoking angles and arguments, and helps to put things on the front foot by exposing the flaws in current thinking. As a small snapshot, here is one example. In a chapter about the problems with taking the Bible as authoritative because of our progressive ways of thinking have outgrown it, there is a very helpful paragraph:
Of course, we think of the Anglo-Saxons as primitive, but someday others will think of us and our culture’s dominant views as primitive. How can we use our time’s standard of ‘progressive’ as the plumbline by which we decide which parts of the Bible are valid and which are not? Many of the beliefs of our grandparents and great-grandparents now seem silly and even embarrassing to us. That process is not going to stop now. our grandchildren will find many of our views outmoded as well. Wouldn’t it be tragic if we threw theBible away over a belief that will look pretty weak or wrong? To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense? (The Reason for God, p112)
- Keller has read deeply and widely – and it shows. By that I don’t mean that he does this in a showy way – it is all very constructive and handled with a very light touch. So it is not like reading one of those doorstops in which there seems to be footnote for every line or Notes pages taking up more space than the main book. The point is that Keller is constantly tapping into popular culture and secular thinking in order to engage. I am convinced that this is both fundamentally necessary for us all as we seek to communicate to our culture and provides a very strong model. I think this is particularly powerful in his articulation of the problem of sin (a more unpalatable or culturally incorrect subject one could perhaps not find these days!). Check this out:
How does this destruction of social relationships flow from the internal effects of sin? If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly proud of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious. And so on.
There is no way out of this conundrum. The more we love and identify deeply with our family, our class, our race, or our religion, the harder it is to not feel superior or even hostile to other religions, races, etc. So racism, classism, and sexism are not matters of ignorance or a lack of education. Foucault and others in our time have shown that it is far harder than we think to have a self-identity that doesn’t lead to exclusion. The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them. (The Reason for God, p168-9)
- So there is LOTS here to stimulate and encourage Christians. But it is not a book to hide in the ghettos. It is a book to LEND to people who are of a more intellectual bent. And that is thrilling. It doesn’t dot every apologetic ‘i’ or cross every ‘t’ – but it is a great springboard for further discussion and inquiry. And there are not many books around pitched at this level that could be said to do all of that.
- Finally, there are a whole load of copies for sale on the shelves of the All Souls Resources Centre, as a result of my recommendation, and the manager Pam is worried that she won’t sell any unless I do the honours! Do you think this does the trick now, Pam?!
** The word bibline was famously coined by Spurgeon of the great puritan writer John Bunyan:
Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is BIBLINE, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.