I wrote this review back in March of 2010, not long after I reviewed The God Delusion. The quality between the two books (and the character of the two men) was notably different, as Keller is both humble and sharp while Dawkins is pompous and immature.
I had heard of Timothy Keller’s best-seller The Reason for God a while ago, being one of the more popular apologetic books out there right now. Initially, I did not have much inclination to read it because I knew it was more of introductory book. This was a bit of vain pride on my part; often, the “simple” books remind us of basics and make us appreciate what is at the center of Christianity, such as C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity. My father just bought The Reason for God for me, and when I got home for spring break I read it all in a couple days.
To call the book “simple,” however, is a bit of an injustice, as this may imply that Keller did shoddy work such as, oh, Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. It is true that the book does not purport to be some super, all-encompassing book that tackles all the issues in depth (of course, no book is like this, not even extremely fat ones). However, Keller does an admirable job sifting through difficult questions to arrive at the heart of the matter. Rather than talk over the layman’s head or talk in condescension, Keller engages his audience with clear language and a gentle tone. He does a good job communicating the issues in an accessible way so that the reader can understand the central point he is trying to make. Also, when he quotes philosophers, scientists, or other scholars (or even geeky things like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings), they fit in smoothly with his writing and are not used to try to bombard the reader with expert opinion.
One thing that I really found noteworthy about Keller is that he understood what was central to the Christian faith and attempted to argue for that. In other words, he tried his best to avoid classic church debates such as East vs. West, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, and Calvinism vs. Arminianism, choosing instead to focus on the central beliefs that all aspects of the faith shared. This was a very wise thing to do, and it would be something all Christians could learn from, especially those that love to throw around labels such as “false Gospels” and “heretical” at their Christian brethren who don’t agree with them. This is not to say that Keller’s leanings were not obvious; his explanations of the Gospel was clearly Protestant, and a bit of his Calvinism comes in here and there. There is nothing wrong with that, as I would expect no less, but rather than stress the differences between the major groups of the Church, he stresses the unity they have in the person of Jesus Christ.
The first section of the book is perhaps the most interesting for many readers because Keller discusses several popular objections to the faith. Some are philosophical in nature but most of them have a personal tilt to them, such as personal experiences with evil, the perceived arrogance of Christianity’s truth claim, and bad experiences with the Church, either personally or via historical study. This may disappoint a reader who is looking for a more robust philosophical and historical case for Christianity, but that is not quite Keller’s intent. Keller clearly wishes to “clear the air,” so to speak, and remove some of these common complaints people have so that they may be more open to the Gospel. For example, he wisely refrains from trying to speculate on why this evil or that evil happened, as many Christians are prone to do, but rather points to Jesus who suffered as well and suffers with us in our moments of trial. Time and again, he stresses that the message of Christianity is not so much about finding answers to everything but finding a relationship with the Answerer.
Of course, I am not saying Keller has nothing useful to say about intellectual charges such as the assertion that science has disproven God. He correctly points out that while Christians agree that God is the Creator, they differ on how exactly he created and that many Christians advocate theistic evolution. The philosophical position of naturalism would be incompatible with God, but that is a question of philosophy, not natural science. He also criticizes Dawkins’ rather strong scientistic stance (a philosophical position, not a scientific one), pointing out that many atheist philosophers also see the potential problems that such position would run into, such as the fact that the very presuppositions of the position cannot be tested by the scientific method. In addition, he does a good job critiquing the multiverse option that Dawkins proposes, citing similar objections as me (not bragging; basically every critic has seen the problems).
The last part of the book is devoted to explaining the Christian Gospel, which is very appropriate. He makes a brief, but strong, historical case for the Gospels and proceeds with explanation on how this works in the hearts of men. Keller could not be more different than Dawkins here; while Keller seeks to convert via honest discussion and love, Dawkins resorts to petty insults and loud noises. Keller is not interested in simply winning an argument; he is concerned about the salvation of the readers, and all Christians should have that attitude. Throughout the book, Keller points to both personal and philosophical problems regarding the emptiness of man’s life without God, and attempts to strike the point home that we NEED God to live the lives we were meant to.
This is not to say that the book is perfect; there were some places where I thought Keller gave too much credit to certain objections and others where I thought he could have argued things better. Furthermore, if I were ever to discuss Keller’s Reformed beliefs with him, I would no doubt bring up some of his answers in this book and ask him to square that within his logical framework. That being said, Keller does a good job making a case for not only the rationality of Christianity, but the need that humans have for God, and in this way the book has the soft touch of a pastor wanting to reach the lost. Ultimately, while the former is important, the latter is what will help people realize that they are in desperate need of the saving grace of Jesus.
The Reason for God should not be mistaken for a powerhouse intellectual case for the Christian faith. If you want something more along those lines, find another book by a Christian scholar. However, as an introductory apologetics book, it serves its purpose well. Not only that, it presents the Gospel in an accurate and loving way, which is what Christians should be aiming for in the first place. It is unlikely that the book will change the mind of a militant atheist (few books would, if any), but for those with a more open disposition, it presents a strong case for the rationality of Christianity and should encourage further investigation.