Category Archives: Apologetics

TIM KELLER IS HOME WITH JESUS

My Interview with Tim Keller, Endorsing My Favorite Keller Book, and Reflections on His Life…

I was hesitant to interview Tim Keller, but not for the reasons you may think. I was slated to interview him on his book about trusting God with suffering. I have read many books on the subject, so I was a bit skeptical that any fresh angles could be articulated.

I was wrong, and so very glad to do the interview which you can find here:

Tim Keller on Suffering

It was also a privilege to blurb what is perhaps my favorite Keller book:

https://timothykeller.com/books/making-sense-of-god

Keller had his critics, and some of that criticism seems well-founded. However, there are many things we can learn from his example.

Many times, God uses the most unlikely people. Keller’s awkwardness socially would not have made one think he was destined to the ministry we now know him for. By the way, Keller got a C in his seminary preaching class, not an encouraging sign that he would amount to much as a preacher.

Some other things we can learn from Keller’s life:

*Mentors are hugely influential. Keller had several, but Edmund Clowney was one of the most formative. Clowney’s kindness, learning, and commitment to Keller reminds me of the role Ambrose played for Augustine.

*Keller’s ability to synthesize material, commitment to listen well to others, free people up to use their own gifts, but most of all, his humility, are things God has honored.

*There is no Tim Keller as we know him today without Kathy Keller. If you have a spouse who is a partner in ministry (I am graced by God to say that I do), then thank God for that blessing. If you are single and looking for a spouse, be diligent to find someone who shares the vision God has laid on your heart.

*If I were asked to list a couple of specifics that make a minister used of God, I would list true piety, humility, ability to keep loyal friends over the long haul, and courage. For the latter, Keller had a powerful model in a pastor who preceded him. He is a long-forgotten name, but you will be inspired by getting to know William E. Hill Jr. Many obscure figures had a big impact on Keller.

THE AIR WE BREATHE

I have read many books on apologetics and how best to engage the culture. I have read and, in some cases, reread classic works by Augustine, Pascal, Chesterton, and Lewis. Contemporary folks like Keller, both of the two big books by Charles Taylor, Sire, Guinness, Schaeffer, Pearcey, and Moreland have been very helpful. You get the picture. All these have been terrific, but the book that now tops my list is Glen Scrivener’s book, The Air We Breathe.

In relatively short compass Scrivener winsomely, wisely, and wonderfully showcases that we do as Flannery O’Connor said, live in a Christ-haunted world. (She said a Christ-haunted south, but I am expanding on her words.)

If you are looking for a well-written and compelling resource that makes it crystal clear that many of the things we love and take for granted like freedom are a result of Christianity, then this book is for you. If you are not looking for a resource like this, you should be!

LETTER TO A FRIEND ON DOUBT

 A friend asked how I navigate my doubts. Here is what I wrote him:

I don’t like the word “certainty,” especially when it comes to the Christian faith.

When I teach apologetics as I did for four years at Regents School of Austin, I used the word “pointers” instead of “proofs.”

“Faith seeking understanding” is my preferred way to think about my relationship with God. The “democracy of the dead” who have helped me the most in this regard include, but are not limited to: Athanasius, Augustine, Kempis, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Baxter (and a few other Puritans), Pascal, Edwards, Herbert, Dickinson, Chesterton, Lewis, Newbigin, Willard, Bloesch, Stott, Oden, and Lundin. Most impactful living authors would include but not be limited to: Keller, Rutledge, Wood, Delbanco, Wright (NT and Christopher), McKnight, Piper, and Taylor.

You mentioned “tending your own garden.” Voltaire’s Candide is one of my favorite books. The glib Pangloss (=all tongue!) repeatedly invokes “It is the best of all possible worlds.” Exposure to the horrors of the world eventually make even him no longer believe what he was saying. For all its brilliance, Candide offers a binary trap: be superficial with the harsh realities of life or hunker down on your plot of land.

I believe (that word is instructive!) there is a third alternative: engage with the messiness of the world trusting there is a God who is really there, and more than fine with my wrestling to make sense of the Christian faith. I am grateful that God is mindful that we are but dust (Ps. 103:13,14), blessed if we believe without seeing (Jn. 20:29), and knows that the best of us sees in a mirror dimly (I Cor. 13:12).

I find it somewhat ironic that you liked Hitchens. I did too so I get it. His short book on dying (Mortality) is compelling. I love that one of the three authors that Hitchens requested be brought to him in his last days was Chesterton! The other two were Nietzsche and Mencken. Quite a trifecta! Yet, Hitchens was a man of certainty. Remember, we read and discussed god is not Great. He sounded like John R. Rice, so in the end I did not find him very illuminating.

There are many things I am not certain of, but I will mention one. As you know, I wrote my M.A. thesis (and then slightly expanded book) as a critique of annihilationists on the doctrine of hell. Though Stott, Hughes, et al. were mentioned, I spent most the time on Clark Pinnock’s view. To my delight, Professor Pinnock (along with J.I. Packer and Dallas Willard) wrote an endorsement. Pinnock said it was a fair and worthy treatment.

Years later after writing that first book (it came out in 1995), I am not so sure about many aspects related to the nature and duration of hell.

The following are some of the things that give me a “proper confidence” of what I believe.

*I start with the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. From there, I look at how Jesus handled the Scriptures. See John Wenham’s book, Christ and the Bible. I am fairly confident this is a wise way to proceed.

*I intentionally seek out alternative views to my own. It is why I listened to all three cable stations (we no longer have cable) and in the car listen to everything from NPR to right wing radio. It is also why Ralph Waldo Emerson has been a major conversation partner for over two decades. He wrote things that I need to hear, even and maybe especially when they make me angry.

*I seek out people who are willing to interact over the most contentious issues of the day. For example, in both writing, teaching, and conversations I had many vigorous discussions with pro-Trump Christians. In some of the best conversations we each learned some things we would not have otherwise learned. It is true that I remained a Never-Trumper, but my objections were clarified/slightly modified by these conversations.

You could read this as apologetic that there are others who have not bowed a knee to the Baal of certitude. You may be surprised that there are more than you imagined!

IS REALITY SECULAR?

There are many fine worldview books available. I’ve read my fair share.

What makes this one unique is that Poplin weaves her own story throughout this compendious book. Poplin has experienced many of these alternative philosophies not as some detached academic, but as a real participant. Her wide-ranging reading and commentary offers fresh analysis.

Highly recommended!

DISRUPTIVE WITNESS: SPEAKING TRUTH IN A DISTRACTED AGE

Seven things I appreciated about Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble:

The writing is lucid and compelling

Terrific illustrations are peppered throughout

Teases out some practical implications from the writings of Charles Taylor

Focuses on major issues all Christians should agree upon

Good unpacking of how lethal distraction and the never-ending choices are in the modern era

Noble has a gracious, but candid style…not an easy combo!

Noble does not just complain, but offers some practical suggestions for us to adopt

Quote to consider: “The challenge for Christians in our time is to speak of the gospel in a way that unsettles listeners, that conveys the transcendence of God, that provokes contemplation and reflection, and that reveals the stark givenness of reality.”

OUR SECULAR AGE…

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Collin Hansen is the author and editor of several books, the most noteworthy being Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. Hansen is editorial director for The Gospel Coalition.

Hansen’s latest book is Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor.

Moore: For those who are not familiar, tell us why an entire book is devoted to the work of Charles Taylor?

Hansen: Charles Taylor’s 2007 book A Secular Age might be the most ambitious work published in the last 10 years. He aims to account for nothing less than the decline of religion and rise of secularism in the industrialized West. The way he pulls together philosophy, history, sociology, and theology in order to tell the story makes him a fruitful conversation partner, even when we disagree about the conclusions. Nobody has been more helpful to me personally as I look behind and beyond the headlines to understand larger trends and factors that make evangelism and discipleship so exciting but also difficult today.

Moore: The philosopher, James K.A. Smith, has also written a book on Taylor. How is yours different than Smith’s?

Hansen: I’m thankful for Smith, who has helped me and many other of this book’s contributors understand the significance of Taylor’s project. Smith does a lot to translate Taylor, who’s not the easiest writer to understand. It can feel like you’re joining a conversation already in progress, and you don’t know if you’re welcome. Several of the contributors to our book, most notably Michael Horton, engage Taylor in more critical ways, especially as it relates to the legacy of the Protestant Reformation. And throughout the book we give more attention to applying Taylor’s work to a wide array of ministry scenarios, from preaching to discipling millennials to forming worship liturgies and more.

Moore: In your introduction you wrote, “We don’t yet know, then, whether the children of the “young, restless, Reformed” will imbibe more of the restless or the Reformed. (Emphasis yours) Would you unpack that a bit for us?

Hansen: I talked with a friend in ministry who instinctively understood one of my motivations for this book. He described his undergraduate years in a Reformed college. Everyone there had grown up Baptist but as a teenager shifted more Reformed in contrast to their parents and home churches. But then they got to this school, and they no longer stood out. Everyone else had the same story! So they searched for new ways to express their individualism: they dropped John Piper for N. T. Wright or converted to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Taylor would recognize elements of the secular “subtraction story” in this narrative. In an age of “expressive individualism,” just about anything can be co-opted for stylistic projection, even if for a time it looks like settled conviction. If the Reformed don’t dig into and catechize the riches of this biblical theology, then they’ll set up their children for another reaction in some unknown new direction.

Moore: Several of the contributors have important points of criticism with Taylor’s work. In that regard, I am thinking of Carl Trueman’s observation that the automobile may have more impact than Taylor appreciates: “Perhaps it is not so much Luther who created religious choice at a practical level but Henry Ford.” Carl says he is exaggerating there, but his general point remains. What do you think about Carl’s comment about the car?

Hansen: That’s one of the standout observations from the book. And as an appreciative reader of Wendell Berry, I couldn’t help but agree with Trueman. How can you practice church discipline if anyone can just leave your church and join another one down the road? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology. What’s so special about your pastor’s preaching when you can watch someone better on television or listen to someone who tickles your earbuds via podcast? Why worry about sexual ethics if the pill and abortion separate intercourse from childbirth? Taylor has an unparalleled grasp on the philosophical factors, but he undersells the technological dimension to cultural change.

Moore: Let me ask this next question by invoking Yuval Levin’s masterful book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Left and Right. Levin makes the point that radicals like Paine are not going to be moved to reconsider why tradition is worth keeping unless they see its beauty. I would give us “Evangelicals” high marks on defending the Bible’s truthfulness, but very low marks on showcasing its beauty. Do you think Taylor has much to offer in this regard?

Hansen: Taylor doesn’t so much show us how to do it, but he at least reminds us of the opportunity before us, to showcase the beauty of Jesus Christ and his gospel. Let’s keep preaching and writing books like this one. But let’s also take up the challenge issued by Alan Noble in his chapter on the “disruptive witness of art,” and let’s appreciate what Mike Cosper captures about the longing for transcendence despite the “immanent frame.” We do not live in a secular age in the sense that our neighbors reject anything extra-sensory. We’re secular in the sense that we look to the self, not to outside authorities, for meaning. When we can stir the self to appreciate the beauty of the gospel, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners drawn from every tribe and tongue for everlasting praise, we see that our secular age still longs for hope and eternity.

Moore: What are a few things you would like your readers to gain from your book?

Hansen: First, I want them to see that secularism isn’t just a problem outside the church but our primary challenge for discipleship inside every Christian home. If we don’t catechize ourselves and our children in the ancient gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in God’s Word, the culture will catechize us in ways that undermine our faith. Second, I want them to know they can learn from Taylor without agreeing with him on everything. Certainly I would disagree strongly with his relatively positive assessment of Roman Catholicism before the Protestant Reformation. And third, I want them to see there is hope in our secular age. Even if we could turn back the clock, we wouldn’t want to. There are challenges to faith at the dawn of the information age, no doubt. But God is at work, if we will only look for him.

OUR DEEPEST DESIRES: INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

 

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I met Greg Ganssle thirty-seven years ago. I was a senior in college and Greg was a young Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU) staff member. We were on the North Myrtle Beach summer project. Greg was the kind and patient (!) discipler for eight of us guys.

Greg has a long-standing interest in philosophy so he eventually got his PhD from Syracuse. He teaches at Talbot School of Theology. Greg writes both scholarly and popular books. His latest, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations frames this interview.

Moore: Is your goal in this book to demonstrate that the Christian claims are true, or have you staked out different territory?

Ganssle: David, I am not trying to show that Christianity is true. I think most people think something like the following: “I am pretty sure Christianity is false, and I am glad.” I am trying to get at the second part of the claim. I want people to see that, if they think about what they care most about, they will see that they want the Christian story to be true.

Moore: It is all too rare to find Christians who do a good job of shrewdly sneaking up on you with their creative and clever arguments. For me, the writings of Augustine, Pascal, Newbigin, Chesterton, and Lewis are examples worth following. Tim Keller is a good modern-day example, but he is always invoked in this regard, which makes me believe the landscape of the “creative and clever” is far from glutted. Why is there a dearth of this kind of approach to Christian persuasion?

Ganssle: This is a good question. I think many times we speak and write as if the most important thing is convincing someone of the truth of our position. Thus, we tend to focus on arguments and evidence. What we often fail to see is that people are often not persuaded by our presentations. We don’t pay enough attention to identifying the things that constitute a person’s real objections to the gospel.

Moore: I’m sure you know some happy non-Christians. They have meaningful work, good relationships, and are content. My next-door neighbor is like this. How does your book help us address folks like those?

Ganssle: I make the distinction between local meaning and global meaning. On an atheistic view of reality, there is no global meaning. The universe does not care if you are fulfilled. The fact that there is no global meaning, however, does not mean that the atheist cannot find local meaning. Many of our family or friends find real meaning in the people they love, the work they do, and the things they care about. 

Moore: Let’s assume the trinity is the correct view of God. Do Christians have an advantage over Jews and Muslims in articulating the beauty and coherence of what they believe?

Ganssle: I do discuss this in the book. One advantage is that on the distinctly Christian picture of God, relationships are part of God’s very nature. God is his own community, so to speak. The fact that our relationships are so fundamental to our lives, then, makes sense. It reflects one aspect of the deepest reality.

Moore: You have some wonderful things to say about goodness and beauty. Why does it seem that many are not so interested in such things. And to be frank, beauty is not high on the list of many so-called Evangelical Christians in America. Why the lack of interest?

Ganssle: There is a long historical answer to this question. With the rise of the Enlightenment, the discussion about God has centered on truth. Believers have entered this conversation and aimed to articulate a compelling case for the truth of Christianity. In the middle ages, truth was linked to goodness and beauty as the “transcendentals.” These were grounded in the very nature of God. I think believers today are recovering a thicker vision of both goodness and beauty, and this trend will solidify our witness to unbelievers as well as our own delight in God and the world he has made.

Moore: What are a few things you would like your readers to take away from your book?

Ganssle: For those who are not yet believers, I would hope they would be prompted to think deeply on their deepest desires and how the Christian story provides a solid base for these. For those who are believers, I hope they gain a deeper appreciation of their own faith. In addition, I hope they become more adept at holding forth the gospel as a vision of life that is intrinsically attractive.