Keller begins by describing the divide between liberalism and conservatism. It’s most evident, he stresses, when conversation turns to religion. Liberals fear that conservatives are gaining power in their attempt to impose a Christian ideology on the culture, while conservatives insist that society is growing increasingly relativistic due to the secularism endorsed by liberals. Each side is threatened by the growth and influence of the other. So, which is it? Is skepticism or faith on the rise? Keller’s answer is Yes! He argues that the world is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time. Skepticism toward traditional religion is growing in power and influence. On the other hand, a vibrant, orthodox belief in the traditional faiths is also growing. Because both faith and doubt are on the rise, the world is polarizing over religion. With this being the cultural situation, Keller argues that we have reached an “impasse between the strengthening forces of doubt and belief.” Therefore, we must move beyond the demonizing that takes place and move instead towards respectful dialogue. This won’t happen, however, by simply calling for more civility in our dialogue. There is an absence of commonly held reference points for the two sides to agree on, making meaningful conversation practically impossible. Dismissive gestures towards members of the other side will get us nowhere – the culture wars are taking a toll.

Keller’s proposal is for each side to look at doubt in a new way. He challenges believers to acknowledge and wrestle with their own doubts. People who go through life without asking hard questions about what they believe make themselves vulnerable when faced with tragedy or difficult questions. He also urges believers to carefully listen to the doubts of others. Such a commitment will enable you to respect and understand what others believe, but also strengthen your own beliefs. Keller calls skeptics to do the same. This leads to the basic thesis of the book: “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.” Every doubt or belief is based on faith in something that cannot be proven. Therefore, the only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to identify the alternate belief under your doubts and to consider your reasons for holding that belief. In other words, “you must doubt your own doubts.” He believes this process will lead to more respectful dialogue characterized by understanding and sympathy for those on the other side.

In the intro Keller also explains how in his early experience as a Christian he found himself confronted with two incomplete camps. The first camp included people who were passionate about social justice but who were moral relativists. The second camp consisted of those who were “morally upright” but didn’t seem to care about oppression in the world. He found neither of these personally satisfying and “desperately needed to find a ‘third camp,’ a group of Christians who had a concern for justice in the world but who grounded it in the nature of God rather than in their own subjective feelings.” He goes on to add that he see’s this third camp emerging and growing, especially among younger Christians today.

I found Keller’s introduction helpful. Based on my own experience, I agree with the assessment that both religious belief and skepticism are growing. The rise of the New Atheism and the emergence of books promoting it’s views proves that there is a growing, active, and even militant category of people who are not only disinterested in religion, but who believe religion is harmful to society. In addition, there is an increasing number of people who are skeptical and even cynical of Christianity because of the hypocritical spirituality they see practiced in the Church. On the other hand, Islam is growing exponentially in Europe, while Christianity is modestly growing in the West, but exploding in places like Africa, Latin America, and Asia. I also see this reflected in my own experience as I interact with people. I encounter individuals who are hostile to Christianity and religion, but also people who are very open to faith.

I’m also encouraged by Keller’s talk of a “third camp.” I frequently interact with young adults – believers and non-believers alike – who are totally put off and disinterested in the current state of political affairs. The choice between conservatism and liberalism seems superficial. Particularly among younger Christians, there is a rejection that followers of Christ must be one or the other. For example, why should a Christian have to decide between an emphasis on morality and social justice? Isn’t social justice a moral category in the first place? I believe it’s dangerous to associate Christianity with one particular party. We usually end up imposing our outside values and agendas on the Christian faith when we do so.

Finally, Keller’s emphasis that all doubts are really a set of alternate beliefs is one of the most important contributions of this book. We must all see that our starting point in making sense of life’s most important questions is some kind of faith assumption. We bring our pre-assumptions to the table, and these color the way we interpret evidence and answer questions about God, human life, the world, etc. We need to be honest about this. We are all religious in that we live by some kind of faith assumption.

The conversation continues…

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