In its hardcover edition, THE REASON FOR GOD landed on the New York Times bestseller list. That in itself tells you that someone is noticing. And it helps that author Timothy Keller is founder and pastor of a church in Manhattan. In 20 years --- without a lot of “bells and whistles” --- the Presbyterian congregation has grown to encompass more than 5,000 worshipers, primarily young adults who gather for something more than “Sunday entertainment.”
There are similarities between Keller’s traditional church and his book. The outside package doesn’t picture or promise lush scenery. A friend of mine who has made her living in publishing/marketing took one look at the no-nonsense cover (black and silvery block-type on a white background) and said, “Somebody took a risk on that.” Open the book and read, and the prose prompts a moderately challenging intellectual workout. No graduate degree is needed --- just the ability to stay with an argument as it builds. This isn’t light reading, but neither is it slow-slogging or boring; it is engaging, thought-provoking and inspiring. It’s a book with an index and 40 pages of endnotes, citing skeptics, scientists, historians, fiction writers, essayists, theologians, contemporary musicians and more.
Keller’s introduction is the most personal part of the book, in which he briefly summarizes his personal faith journey. He had been raised in a “mainline Lutheran church,” but in college he encountered “three barriers that lay across [his] path,” categorized as intellectual (“I was confronted with a host of tough questions about Christianity”), personal (“faith-journeys are never simply intellectual exercises”), and social, referring to social justice issues (“I desperately needed to find a…group of Christians who had a concern for justice in the world but who grounded it in the nature of God rather than in their own subjective feelings”).
Keller presents his apology/defense of God in two parts. The first half of the book, “The Leap of Doubt,” walks through objections to faith. Most of these are not simply objections to the existence of a supernatural being but specifically to God as understood in or presented by Christianity as is evident from chapter titles, including “The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice”, “Science Has Disproved Christianity” and “Christianity Is a Straitjacket.” Addressing point after point, he gives a reasoned and reasonable defense, gently countering excessively negative stereotypes of the faith.
The second half of the book, “The Reasons for Faith,” lays out Christianity’s basic gospel-good news. Here he tackles, among other topics, “The Problem of Sin,” “The Knowledge of God” and “The (True) Story of the Cross.”
Keller has written a book that presents a basis for belief even as it welcomes doubt and doubters. He isn’t banging his readers over the head with “shoulds” and “oughts” but draws them to a deeper awareness of the God he knows and loves.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on August 4, 2009