Pastor Tim Keller has had a lot of experience talking to non-believers and skeptical seekers. After all, Keller lives and pastors in the sophisticated urban world of New York City, where a plethora of belief systems are available (or not). In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Keller manages to do two things well. First, he winsomely confronts the questions and arguments raised by doubters, including “There can’t be one true religion,” or “How could a good God allow suffering?” or “Science has disproved Christianity.” Second, he offers reasons for faith, challenging skeptics to examine the clues for God, the problem of sin, the reality of the cross, and the resurrection. What I particularly enjoyed about the book is that Keller never overstates his case, always admits truth in skeptic’s arguments, and is never shrill or combative in tone. It’s an excellent book for Christians who desire to understand the questions of those nonbelievers they may relate to on a day-to-day basis, as well as for seekers who desire to explore the arguments for faith.
Throughout the book, Keller acknowledges a great debt to the work of C.S. Lewis, and yet Keller is more accessible than Lewis, more American, and more conversational. There are liberal quotations from Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce, among other works. Keller also (yet more subtly) pays homage to Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards, his Reformed faith permeating the book and undergirding all that he says. And yet his writing is informed by his own experience in talking with people, as evidenced by the many quotes from real conversations he has had with skeptics.
When taking on the new atheists — Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others — he contends that their arguments are based on what some call “strong rationalism,” a belief that “no one should believe a proposition unless it can be proved rationally by logic or empirically by sense experience.” As Keller says, most philosophers reject “strong rationality” as an impossible standard to meet. His approach is that of “critical rationality,” which “assumes that some systems of belief are more reasonable than others, but that all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end.” We don’t insist on irrefutable proofs but look for the system of belief which has the most explanatory power, which best makes sense of reality. This is a helpful distinction that avoids the pitfalls of strong rationality and relativism.
Keller writes pastorally — with intelligence and warmth. His arguments are cogent, his prose sufficiently personal and animated to hold interest, and his love of God evident. I heartily recommend the book.