I recently finished Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and over the next several weeks, I’ll be reviewing and summarizing each chapter. I know this book is a few years old, so these posts are more intended to help me remember what I read. Most of these posts will simply be direct quotes from the book. If it is my paraphrase, it will marked by an asterisk (*) after the page number.
At the same time, I hope these chapter reviews will 1) benefit Christians to help them form intellectual arguments for their faith and 2) challenge non-Christians to think more deeply about the nature and reality of God, his word, and the world. So let’s get into chapter 1.
Chapter 1: There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
During my nearly two decades in New York City, I’ve had numerous opportunities to ask people, “What is your biggest problem with Christianity?”…One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity. (p. 3)
“If Christians are right about Jesus being God, then Muslims and Jews fail in a serious way to love God as God really is, but if Muslims and Jews are right that Jesus is not God but rather a teacher or prophet, then Christians fail in a serious way to love God as God really is.” The bottom line was–we couldn’t all be equally right about the nature of God. (4)
There are three ways to deal with the divisiveness of religion:
1. Outlaw Religion
There have been several massive efforts to do this in the twentieth century. Soviet Russia, Communist China, the Khmer Rouge, and (in a different way) Nazi Germany…The result, however, was not more peace and harmony, but more oppression. The tragic irony of the situation is brought out by Alister McGrath in his history of atheism:
The 20th century gave rise to one of the greatest and most distressing paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence. (5)
2. Condemn Religion
“All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing”…The problem with this position is its inconsistency. It insists that doctrine is unimportant, but at the same time assumes doctrinal beliefs about the nature of God that are at loggerheads with those of all the major faiths. Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal God at all. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe in a God who holds people accountable for their beliefs and practices and whose attributes could not be all reduced to love. Ironically, the insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine itself. It holds a specific view of God, which his touted as superior and more enlightened than the beliefs of most major religions. So the proponents of this view do the very thing they forbid in others. (8)
“Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth”…How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have? (8-9)
“Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be ‘truth'”…You can’t say, “All claims about religions are historically conditioned except the one I am making right now.” If you insist that no one can determine which beliefs are right and wrong, why should we believe what you are saying? The reality is that we all make truth-claims of some sort and it is very hard to weigh them responsibly, but we have no alternative but to try to do so.
“It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it”…Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. It assumes God is unknowable, or that God is loving but not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks in Scripture…Therefore, their view is also an “exclusive” claim about the nature of spiritual reality. If all such views are to be discouraged, this one should be as well. If it is not narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional religious beliefs. (12-13)
3. Keep Religion Completely Private
What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who owe are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. (15)
Any picture of happy human life that “works” is necessarily formed by deep-seated beliefs about the purpose of human life. Even the most secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human. (16)
Christianity provides a firm basis for respecting people of other faiths. Jesus assumes that nonbelievers in the culture around them will gladly recognize much Christian behavior as “good” (Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12). That assumes some overlap between the Christian constellation of values and those of any particular culture and of any other religion. Why would this overlap exist? Christians believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, capable of goodness and wisdom. The Biblical doctrine of the universal image of God, therefore, leads Christians to expect nonbelievers will be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. The Biblical doctrine of universal sinfulness also leads Christians to expect believers will be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs should make them. So there will be plenty of ground for respectful cooperation. (19)
We cannot skip lightly over the fact that there have been injustices done by the church in the name of Christ, yet who can deny that the force of Christians’ most fundamental beliefs can be a powerful impetus for peace-making in our troubled world? (21)