My review of Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God:
I wrote in a previous interview with Tim Keller, “He has a healthy aversion to sanctimony and platitudes. He has a low tolerance for simplistic answers. Years of pastoral ministry in the hurly-burly of New York have given him a deep desire to articulate the Christian faith with integrity. Keller’s ability to frame old issues in fresh ways is a hallmark of both his teaching and writing. “
I’ve read six other books by Keller, but Making Sense of God (https://www.amazon.com/Making-Sense-God-Invitation-Skeptical/dp/0525954155) may now be my favorite.
All the hallmarks of Keller’s writing appear. There is an integrative approach where wonderful quotes (no, I won’t use the overused “money” quotes!) from various disciplines are used throughout the book. Keller clearly keeps up in his reading, especially when it comes to philosophy, sociology, and cultural analysis. How many pastors do you know who have read Charles Taylor’s big book, A Secular Age not once, but three times? As Keller commonly says, he reads so widely because he is “desperate.” Many of us are beneficiaries due to Keller’s desperation.
Another common feature of Keller’s approach, especially as it relates to skeptics, is what I like to call “incremental apologetics.” This is where the skeptic is moved ever slowly. No big jumps from A to Z. The skeptic is paid the respect he deserves. The skeptic is truly listened to, and maybe most importantly, is confident that Keller is portraying his positions accurately. Given these realities it is not surprising that Keller would realize a “prequel” to The Reason for God was needed.
Related to the former is what I like to call “let’s talk on the bridge.” Keller models this well in both The Reason for God and in Making Sense of God. All sides are invited into a conversation (no bomb throwing allowed) where each participant is reminded that they utilize both faith and reason. This can be a tough sell for Christians and non-Christians alike, but it is crucial if real dialogue is to occur.
Making Sense of God is strong at showcasing the problems of a materialistic worldview. The problems that ensue from the reductionism of believing that the physical world is the totality of existence are a particular strength of Making Sense of God. And Keller does not just use Christians to answer materialists like Stephen Pinker. Rather, he highlights other skeptics like Julian Barnes whose reflections on the beauty of Mozart’s Requiem made him wonder whether physical reality is the sum total of human existence.
I close with one slight disappointment and a comment about source notes.
First, the slight disappointment. Keller writes, “All of us have things we believe—including things we would sacrifice and even die for–that cannot be proven. But since these beliefs cannot be proved, does this mean we ought not to hold them, or that we can’t know them to be true? We should, therefore, stop demanding that belief in God meet a standard of universally acknowledged proof when we don’t apply that to the other commitments on which we base our lives.” Granted there is an important truth there, but believing or not believing in God is far more costly than other matters, so it is understandable why we might “demand” more evidence. There may be sufficient evidence for Christianity, but it is understandable why many of us would like more. I found this a bit too quick of a dismissal of an honest objection, something that is uncharacteristic of Keller.
It may seem rather strange to finish this review with a comment about endnotes, but I must. I regularly scan the footnotes (these days they are almost always endnotes) to see whether the author has interacted with the best literature. Not only do Keller’s endnotes demonstrate his careful reading, but there really is a book within a book. My only concern here is that too many readers will forego reading the endnotes thinking they are unimportant, or simply too academic. For those willing to slow down and read the endnotes, they will find a treasure trove of bibliographic suggestions, further interaction, and fuller quotes.
My review on Tim Keller’s latest book will be coming in the next week or so. I’ve read six other books by Keller, but this may be my favorite.
I wrote in a previous interview with Keller, “He has a healthy aversion to sanctimony and platitudes. He has a low tolerance for simplistic answers. Years of pastoral ministry in the hurly-burly of New York have given him a deep desire to articulate the Christian faith with integrity. Keller’s ability to frame old issues in fresh ways is a hallmark of both his teaching and writing.”
I believe this makes twelve books I’ve read by Os Guinness. I first read his Dust of Death,
followed by In Two Minds, then The Gravedigger File, and so on. None have been duds. Os has a wonderful style: accessible, but not simplistic, prophetic, yet loving. His latest is no exception. It may be my favorite so we can only hope Os has many more years of fruitful labors with his pen.
My copy of Fool’s Talk is full of marginal notes. The style is lucid, but there are places where you should pause to consider what the author is saying. I reread a number of sections because all the implications were impossible to pick up the first time.
Many are calling Fool’s Talk the greatest work by the author. I certainly resonate with that assessment as this particular work seems to gather many elements which have been percolating for a long time in the author’s mind.
One quick comment needs to be made about the beautiful book design. Kudos to InterVarsity Press for their great care and professionalism in both content and presentation. In every way, Fool’s Talk is truly a work of art!
It is common to see Christians use the 1+1+1=1 equation to describe the trinity. Their intention is good, but I think utilizing this equation as an illustration of the trinity is misguided.
When we look at the equation we conclude that the trinity is irrational. All our lives we have known 1+1+1=3 not 1. But now we are instructed that there is a heavenly math of sorts where it equals 1.
I was sharing the gospel with a Muslim years ago at the University of Texas in Dallas. He said he could never become a Christian because the trinity was irrational. I shared with him that irrational is not the right word. Mysterious to be sure, but not irrational.
Irrational would mean we are saying God exists simultaneously as one Person and three Persons. Another irrational option would be to say God exists simultaneously as one Being and three Beings. But of course, Christians don’t believe either one of these things.
We do believe that God is one in His Being or Essence, yet three in Person. Each Person is fully God not 33.333% God. That is why you can’t conceptualize the trinity. It is indeed beyond our understanding, but that does not make it irrational.
I asked my Muslim friend if he could conceptualize everything about Allah. He conceded that he could not. He could not get his head wrapped around such things as God being uncaused or self-existent. I asked if he thought uncaused or self-existent would be irrational. “Not if He is God,” he replied. Of course, it would be irrational to say God is both self-existent and dependent on someone/thing else for His existence.
So let’s drop the 1+1+1=1 for the trinity. We don’t want to give the impression that belief in the Christian God is irrational. Mysterious and beyond our comprehension to be sure, but not irrational.
Here are five of my favorite books which help me with “Doubting Thomas” syndrome:
The Skeptical Believer by Dan Taylor
Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin
Longing to Know by Esther Meek
How (Not) to be Secular by James KA Smith
Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age by Roger Lundin
My latest interview on how Tolkien and Lewis processed being in the thick of WWI:
Be well prepared, be courageous, be clear, and stay calm. Short, but great example here: