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Earlier this summer I posted about Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making. The book is now out. Here’s a promo video. I plan to read it while on vacation next week so I’ll post some thoughts when I get back.

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I’m really looking forward to this book by Andy Crouch. It will be published in August, and soon after I’ll start reviewing it here on the blog (hopefully it won’t take me as long as Keller’s book is taking me)!

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I’m disappointed to say that the Friday Night Forum on race at Barnes & Noble was not recorded because I neglected to turn on the microphone used for recording! Rob Prestowitz, director of UrbanPromise in Wilmington did a great job of getting at the heart of the race issue. The best I can do is direct you to the book resources that were associated with the event. Sorry…

I’ve had a few people ask me a couple of similar questions regarding Tim Keller’s lecture on The Reason for God and my summary of the lecture so I want to clarify and/or respond.

1) When Keller talks about disbelief I think he’s referring to atheism. Agnosticism and atheism would then both fall under the more general category of skepticism.

2) The point about the uniqueness of Christianity is that God has not only written himself into the “play” but has entered the story to acheive salvation. Yes, it is true that other religions have god entering the story, and some even as a human. However, in all other religions the god or religious leader comes to offer advice or instruction on how to get right with god or to find the way of salvation. In Christianity, the gospel (good news) is not advice or some form of instruction. It is good news – an announcment – that God has come in the person of Jesus Christ, not to make salvation possible, not to tell us what to do, but to actually accomplish salvation by rescuing us from slavery and self-destruction. This was the point in Keller’s lecture about the Dorothy Sayers novels. She wrote herself into the novels, not simply to make an appearance, but to save Peter Whimsey.

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Last night was the Tim Keller event at Penn Museum and it was packed! In fact, there was a line of folks who couldn’t get in because we reached capacity in the auditorium. There were 780 some seats which means a lot of people came out for the event. My friends Kevin, Jeff, and Neil deserve recognition here on provocations for giving up their seats and missing out on the night so three friends from the University of Delaware could get in. The good news is that it was supposedly recorded and the video will be made available for free in the not too distant future. I’ll let you know when that happens…

I thought Keller did a fantastic job. He’s so conversational in his approach and has a great sense of humor as well. Keller’s on a speaking tour for his new book, The Reason for God, so he spoke on how we get to the reasons for God, what the reasons for God are, and what we do with those reasons. He used the analogy of climbing a ladder to frame his lecture. The first rung of the laddder is where we realize that all beliefs involve a leap of faith. This is when we come to see that every belief is grounded in a faith assertion that cannot be proven. The second rung is where we conclude that to not believe in God is actually a bigger leap of faith than to believe in God. The final rung is where we lay it all out there and commit to God. It’s only in taking this final step that we can ever come close to certainty.

Under the heading of how we get to the reasons for God, Keller mentioned the intellectual, social, and personal factors. A person’s belief is always shaped by all three. He claimed, “You can’t reduce non-belief to just one of these three reasons.” We all hold our various positions due to a combination of intellectual, social, and personal factors. This means for example that a person might sift through the evidence for God, find it lacking, and conclude there is no God. This is the intellectual factor. The same person may spend their time around people who are skeptical of religion and who mock the idea of God, thus reinforcing or coloring their intellectual conclusions. This would be a social factor. Finally, this same person may have experienced a tragedy in his or her life that prevents them from reconciling a good, loving God with the harsh reality of a world full of suffering. This is an example of the personal factor. All these factors work together to shape belief.

Rung 1 of the ladder: When we realize that to live as though there is no God is an act of faith we have stepped onto the first rung of the ladder towards belief in God. Keller’s point here was that at this stage we see that disbelief in God takes just as much faith as belief in God.

Rung 2 of the ladder: When we recognize that it actually takes more faith to disbelieve in God than it does to believe in Him we have taken the next step to rung two. Here Keller stressed that belief in God makes more sense than non-belief. He only had time to work with two examples: the fine tuning/complexity of the universe and the reality of human rights. He argued that these two examples move us toward the probablity of God which is as far as rung two takes us. He had lots of good things to say about his two examples, especially human rights, but I don’t have time to summarize all that.

Rung 3 of the ladder: When we see that the only way to certainty is personal commitment we have stepped on to rung three. He used the analogy of a manager hiring a new employee. Through doing all the hard work of reviewing applications and interviewing candidates the manager can find the one who is probably the perfect fit. However, he cannot know for sure until he actually takes the risk, hires the employee, and works with him for a while. The “reasons” only take us so far (to a place of probablity). At some point, we have to step out in faith and entrust ourselves to God in order to experience the full reality of who He is.

The conclusion was a tidy presentation of what Christianity is all about. Keller argued that weak faith in a strong object is better than strong faith in a weak object. Thus, in Christianity the strength of faith doesn’t matter so much as the object of faith. “What Christianity gives you is not so much a watertight argument, but a watertight Person.” He affirmed that the difference between Christianity and other religions is that in Christianity God is not distant, but has written himself into the play in the person of Jesus Christ. The only way Hamlet can know anything about Shakespeare is if Shakespeare decides to write himself into the play, revealing himself to Hamlet. Here Keller also referred to Dorothy Sayers who wrote herself into the Peter Whimsey novels. She felt sorry for him so she actually got involved by entering the story and “saving” him. This is what God does in the Christian story. We can know Him because he has revealed himself to us. We don’t go looking for God, but rather He has come looking for us and saves us from self-destruction.

If you were there last night, I want to hear from you. What did you think? Even if you weren’t there please feel free to respond to my bare bones outline. Sound off on the comments section!

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Tim Keller will be speaking on his book The Reason for God and answering questions from the audience next Tuesday (March 11th) in the Harrison Auditorium at the Penn Museum. There’s a group of us going up to U.Penn to hear him so let me know if you’re interested in coming along. The event is scheduled for 7:30-9:00 PM. The Reason for God is now up to #11 on the New York Times bestseller list. Keller recently was involved in a panel discussion at Columbia University. Here’s a quote of his from that discussion that resonated with me:

“The onus is on us Christians to earn back any kind of respect in the public square so people will listen to public proposals that have Christian roots to them. Right now people aren’t listening, because in the last hundred years we haven’t earned their respect and you only get it back not by yelling, but by serving and by putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes.”

Too many Christians yell and react rather than listen and serve. I can’t help but to think that much of our culture views Christians as a bunch of talking heads who are intimidated by anyone with differing beliefs. People aren’t going to respond positively to the claims of Christianity as a result of us yelling at them more loudly. We need to relearn the power of service, which is at the heart of Christianity in the first place.  

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I’ve anticipated this book for a long time. My copy came in the mail yesterday and I can’t wait to jump in and start reading. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is sympathetic towards doubt and skepticism, having pastored in secular Manhattan for almost twenty years now. The way Keller communicates Christianity has significantly influenced my own thinking and philosophy of ministry. Much of what he’s written up to this point has been in the form of essays and unpublished papers so I’m really excited that some of his thoughts have now been compiled into a book. The book is written for those who are skeptical of Christianity as well as for believers who could use help in commending their faith to those around them. If you’re interested, Keller will be speaking on the content of the book at the University of Penn on March 11th. I’m planning to go, so let me know if you want to come along. Also, check out the website for the book. It contains a video of Keller explaining his rationale for writing as well as other helpful resources such as a discussion guide.

Here’s an overview of the book:

Section 1: The Leap of Doubt
In this section Keller looks at seven of the most common objections to Christianity and highlights the alternate beliefs underlying these doubts.

1. There can’t be just one true religion
2. A good God could not allow suffering
3. Christianity is a straightjacket
4. The church is responsible for so much injustice
5. A loving God would not send people to hell
6. Science has disproved Christianity
7. You can’t take the Bible literally

Section 2: The Reasons for Faith
In this second section Keller commends Christianity by offering seven reasons to believe the claims of Christianity.

1. The clues of God
2. The knowledge of God
3. The problem of sin
4. Religion and the gospel
5. The (true) story of the cross
6. The reality of the resurrection
7. The Dance of God

I strongly recommend that you check this book out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

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