The following chapter review was written by my friend Laura Williams who is making her debut as a guest blogger here at provocations. Enjoy!

In chapter seven, “You Can’t Take the Bible Literally,” Tim Keller wrestles with the fact that the Christian faith requires belief in the Bible. To many, this is a big deal. The problems that people have with believing the Bible can be divided into three major objections: conflicts with science, inaccurate and unreliable history, and issues related to cultural differences. Since he has already addressed the issue of science and Christianity in the previous chapter, Keller now focuses on the historical and cultural objections.

Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code has really brought the question of the Bible’s historical accuracy to the forefront in our culture. The book (and movie) are in part based on the idea that the early church had two competing views of Jesus: one of Jesus as a great teacher, and one of Jesus as God in human form. The theory is that both sides wrote gospel accounts, but that the early church chose the “Jesus as God” side, and suppressed the other equally reliable accounts. This idea is very popular right now, but when closely examined, it is hard to support.

To briefly summarize, Tim Keller gives three arguments refuting the idea that the Biblical story is nothing more than a legend that was spread (and changed) orally before it was put down in writing. First of all, he argues that the timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends. Keller explains the evidence for the fact that the gospels were written at most sixty years after the death of Christ, and probably even earlier. And Paul’s letters were written even earlier than that. Secondly, Tim Keller points out that the content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends. The gospels portray the apostles as cowards and even claims that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (At that time, women couldn’t even be legal witnesses!). Finally, the literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend. For this argument, Keller calls on the literary expertise of C.S. Lewis. Lewis points out that the gospels just do not fit the genre of legend or fiction in that time period. It it is much more likely that the gospels were written down by eye-witnesses shortly after the events occurred.

Keller gives less attention to final objection to the Bible: “We Can’t Trust the Bible Culturally.” This issue usually boils down to two objections: that the Bible endorses slavery and encourages the subjugation of women. The chapter goes on to explain the historical context for these specific issues, but it also goes on to draw some general principles. Keller points out that many of our objections come from “an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over others.” If we accuse the Bible of being culturally regressive, we are automatically assuming that our culture is better than the Biblical culture. And what gives us the authority to make such an assumption? Finally, Tim Keller brings the focus back to the major message of Christianity, which is Jesus Christ. If we believe that Jesus is God, we have to seriously grapple with everything he says. But if Jesus is not who he says he is, than what do his other claims matter? We should wrestle with the major claims of Christianity before we worry about the less central and more controversial teachings.

The chapter ends with the point that difficult Biblical teachings should not be an argument against God. In fact, we should be encouraged by the fact that we don’t find all of God’s teachings easy to accept. If that were the case, we would have a “Stepford” God, similar to the Stepford wives in the movies (robot-wives who never contradict their husbands). Keller ends with this encouragement: “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.”

After this chapter, the book shifts its focus away from objections to Christianity. Instead of refuting reasons to not believe in God, he starts addressing the reason for God. So stay tuned, the good stuff is still to come!

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