This is a Review by Margaret Achieng. Maggy is on the staff team of iServe Africa working with Gerald Mwangi managing our growing residential discipleship programme for high school leavers (TransformD).
During one of the Ministry Training Course, I decided to sit in in an apologetics session and that was where I began thinking hard about the topic. I honestly do not like reading sophisticated books or engaging in such conversations, probably because I don’t like thinking too hard; it is too much energy which I usually don’t enjoy. This excuse has often made me to avoid certain kind of books/authors/people in the past. After the session, the facilitator proposed that we read Timothy Keller’s book “The Reason for God (Belief in an age of skepticism)” as a way of helping us think more on the topic. I decided to take up the challenge. I read the book during the Christmas holidays thinking it was going to turn out as I had always thought. To my surprise! This was actually the first Apologetic book I read and it turned out to be a very good one for a number of reasons.
First, I liked how Keller uses such simple language to explain this difficult topic that many tend to shy away from including myself. I found myself go from one chapter to another which is unlike me with many books. He uses very simple language that is very easy to understand which makes it a very encouraging read. His vast wealth of experience also helped me to be able to know how to answer some of the hard questions. The book felt like a conversation flowing very well from one argument to another. He uses some of the questions that different people have asked him and answers them in this book.
Secondly, the structure of the book is very clear. He has divided it into two big parts: “the leap of doubt and the reason for faith.” He deals with questions/doubts of faith in the first part and gives the answer/reason for the Christian Faith in the second part. Keller first begins by humbly admitting some of the historical mistakes/injustices that Christians have made. In his chapter “the church is responsible for such injustices”, he says, “Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be addressed and redressed.” He does not defend the church in its wrong-doing but helps the reader understand the right approach to Christianity from the Bible which he does much in the second part where he says: “Christians are people who let the reality of Jesus change everything about who they are, how they see and how they live”. It does not mean that Christians do not do wrong or commit sin but rather that they are called to make every effort to strive to live a holy life that is pleasing to the Lord. In doing so, he was able to battle with some of the big questions about God that some atheists have asked.
The church that Keller leads is in New York, one of biggest cities in the world with diverse people and who are well educated. A common aspect with such a literate society is that people are curious to know it all hence leading to lots of questions. Most of us, especially in our context, may not know how to engage with people when asked questions like “why do you believe in what you believe?” This could be because we think it unspiritual to question the things of God and as we have been brought up to think; questioning authority is rude, what they say is final! Yet David in most of his psalms asked questions when he was devastated and Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 says: “… always be prepared to make defence to anyone who asks of you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”. This is exactly what and how Keller does in his book, with gentleness and respect for other religions. However, Keller challenges his readers not to make others feel more sinful than they are, while they sound self-righteous, insensitive and harsh rather than humble, sensitive, loving and understanding as Christ is.
So what exactly does he address in the first part of the book? He examines the beliefs beneath the doubts/objections that people have in this day and culture concerning the Christian faith for example, ”How can God allow suffering?, “The church is responsible for so much injustice”, “how can a loving God send people to hell?” and the common claim by atheists “ there can’t be just one true religion?” Most of the time we never think about such questions but Keller grapples with them not to make us doubt our faith but rather to help us know the reason for God. This was really a good challenge for me and I think it will be for all Christians to want to get deeper in their faith and to ask ourselves those hard questions. Keller challenges believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections of faith which will help them to hold their faith position with both greater clarity and greater humility. One thing that stood out for me is the fact that most people who doubt God is because of their background or their interaction with Christians. In this first chapter, Keller also talks about other religions and their belief and how Christianity is different from them.
In the second part of the book, he gives reason for the Christian hope. Keller argues for where the Christian understanding comes from, he looks at what is wrong with man and how his wrongness/sinfulness can be fixed. In one of the chapters, he says to those who do not believe in the existence of God that “It is dishonest to live as if he is there and yet fail to acknowledge the one who has given you all these gifts.” That we all want to be acknowledged for what we have done or we acknowledge people when they work well and yet we want to deny God with all the clues we have of His existence.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this book. I highly recommend it to all Christians especially those who struggle with the existence of God hoping that it will shed light to their doubts and give them reason to trust God as the ultimate creator. Though one has be careful when reading this kind of book not to think it is the book/knowledge that will change their hearts hence the need for prayer and studying of God’s word for transformation. Also one has to been keen not to find themselves in unhelpful debate hence we should aim to say the good news of Jesus in clarity and joy trusting the Spirit will convict the hard hearts. It will also be very helpful to Christians who would want to be involved in such apologetic discourse.