Monday, June 30, 2008

Review: The Reason for God

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God has been called Mere Christianity for postmoderns. Since he’s a pastor in New York City, one would expect he’s had plenty of practice dealing with young postmoderns and has probably been able to refine his answers based on what does and doesn’t get through to them. That’s why I was looking forward to reading this book.

Once I got my hands on it, however, I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to like the book, I really did, but frankly it’s just not that well written. Parts of it are well-written. Parts of it are beautiful. But in quite a few places Keller leaves you wondering what his point is.

I’ve gotten in the habit of writing a summary sentence or two of a chapter after I read it. Doing that with this book I caught myself filling in material – making my summary say what he meant to say, but not what he said. I could do that because I knew the argument he was making.

I think that may be why so many people are raving about this book – well-read Christians can and will fill in the gaps. You know what he’s trying to say, and you help him say it. The problem is that this book is aimed at non-Christians. They do not know what he is trying to say, so when he fails to make his point clear, they’re going to come away going, “Huh?”

Individual chapters (not all, but more than a couple) fail to come to a clear point. Moreover, the book reads like it should have a single argument running through it – especially the second half – but Keller fails to make that happen. He sums up the material pretty well at the end of the book, but I’m afraid it will be too late for many readers – by that point they may have lost interest or just been hopelessly confused.

The frustrating part of this for me was that I could see how a few more paragraphs could have turned this book into something great. As it is, it’s something … not bad.

That was the negative. Here’s the positive.

There are a lot of gems in this book; I’ll probably quote more than a few in the coming months. Here are a couple:

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies…” (p xvi)

“…[Violent] fanatics… are so not because they’re too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.” (p 57)

He has some truly great chapters as well.

Chapter 12, “The (True) Story of the Cross,” explains the atonement in a way that is easy to understand and faithful to orthodox theology yet avoids common vocabulary that sets us up for the “divine child abuse” complaint.

Chapter 14, “The Dance of God,” is a beautiful explanation of the Trinity that ties evangelism, social justice, community, art, and caring for the environment into a thoroughly trinitarian gospel. It is well worth reading.

In the end, I’d say this book is a good reference for Christians – as an example of talking to pomo seekers and of translating Christian theology into everyday language. I wouldn’t recommend giving it to a non-Christian to read solo, but if you can read it with them and help them see what Keller is trying to say, it might be helpful.

must read
worth reading {{
not worth reading
avoid it like the plague

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