By Richard A. Knopp
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
New York: Viking, 2016
Tim Keller writes, “If you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then this book is for you.” I would add: If you even have contact with anyone who thinks Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense, then Making Sense of God is for you. Whether you are a strong skeptic, a Christian scholar, a sermonizer, a church shepherd, or a concerned saint, this book is worth your time (and your dime).
Keller’s numerous books include the best seller The Reason for God, which offers a compelling set of reasons for belief in God. But according to Keller, that book “does not begin far back enough,” because for many, “Christianity does not seem relevant enough to be worth their while.” That point underlies the thrust of Making Sense of God: “to bring secular readers to a place where they might find it even sensible and desirable to explore the extensive foundations for the truth of Christianity.”
In other words, many secular folks are not willing to hear about the reason for God, because to them the whole God-thing is irrelevant, irrational, and unnecessary (if not also dangerous).
The book offers a gold mine of perceptive analyses, powerful illustrations, and a plethora of documented resources from songwriters, poets, playwrights, novelists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, and cultural critics. It is not just worth reading, it is worth digging into for personal study and preparation for lessons or sermons.
The hefty 326-page book includes 70 pages of 652 endnotes, many of which are extensive. The endnotes even provide 52 links to online sources. (A searchable Kindle version would be valuable, since the book has no index.)
Keller deftly interacts with characters like Epicurus, William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Polanyi, Bertrand Russell, Charles Taylor, and Thomas Nagel. And he explains core ideas of figures like Augustine, Søren Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
I can envision some Christians saying the book is “too intellectual.” But I don’t think Keller owes anyone an apology. As an effective preaching minister in Manhattan for about 30 years, he undoubtedly understands the dynamics and the identities of the “movers and shakers” of culture. And he is making the case for the relevance and desirability of Christianity, especially for that secular audience.1 I am reminded of a seminary professor’s oft-repeated comment from years ago: “If this is over your head, then raise your head.”
Part One emphasizes that religion is not going away—and for good reason—and that it is false to believe that religion is based on irrational faith, while secularism is based on rationality and evidence.
Part Two incisively discusses meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, morality, and justice.
And Part Three is a truncated version of Keller’s The Reason for God. He calls it a “thirty-thousand-foot view of the case that it is rationally warranted to believe that God exists.” First, he presents six arguments for God, acknowledging that they don’t “prove” God’s existence but make a “strong case that there is something beyond the natural world.” The classic arguments for God “primarily provide a means for ‘shaking up the dogmatic confidence . . . that naturalism and materialism are the default rational views of the universe.’” Next, he focuses on the reasonableness of Christianity, contending for the historical reliability of the four Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.
Keller’s general strategy follows what I call a “contrasting conditional” construction: IF one follows secularism (or any alternative –ism), here are the logical implications and the practical consequences—and, if you are honest with yourself, you are not going to like them. BUT IF you learn to love and live for God, it makes the most sense and it is livable.
This strategy is illustrated when he says, “If your premise that there is no God leads most naturally to conclusions you know are not true—that moral obligation, beauty and meaning, the significance of love, our consciousness of being a self are illusions—then why not change the premise?” In contrast to the secularist, “Christians do not say to themselves: ‘Stop thinking out the implications of what you believe about the universe. Just try to enjoy the day.’”
The book is not “preachy” but “it will preach.” Keller’s case for the truth of Jesus should attract serious attention by the secularist. Jesus outraged those on the left and offended those on the right. He is “the only thing to live for that will not exploit you.”
The way of Jesus does not justify exclusion; it offers the best hope for resolving cultural violence, oppression, and injustice. When compared to its alternatives, “we need to ask which of these views of reality makes the most sense emotionally, culturally, and rationally.” Christianity does that.
This book invigorated my faith. It can do the same for you or for someone you know. The need for God is definitely not dead; and neither is God.
¹By “secular,” Keller is not referring to the separation of church and state, which he supports, but to individuals who doubt or reject a supernatural realm and to a kind of culture where meaning, guidance, and happiness are based on this-world prosperity and comfort.
Dr. Richard A. Knopp is professor of philosophy and apologetics at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University. He is also program coordinator for Room for Doubt, an apologetics initiative that includes a six-week series for churches (www.roomfordoubt.com).
Candid and Constructive
A six-week message and curriculum series for churches is now available from Room For Doubt, a new project designed to encourage questions, address doubts, and strengthen faith.
The series offers focused opportunities for candid and constructive conversations (e.g., about doubt, God’s existence, the Bible’s reliability, the identity of Jesus, tragedy and suffering, and truth and intolerance). It includes message manuscripts, adult and youth discussion guides, many resource videos, and supplemental materials. It is for churches, areawide campaigns, small groups, campus ministries, and Christian colleges.
The messages and the adult and youth discussion guides were written by Mark Mittelberg and Garry Poole in close partnership with Lee Strobel and Lincoln Christian University.
It is available online in downloadable format at www.roomfordoubt.com.