Posted by: John Adams | March 16, 2008

The Reason for God

August will make five years since I moved out West to go to college. These last few years have brought me into contact with a culture I was not fully aware existed, a generation of intellectually curious, artistically brilliant people who are passionate about issues of social justice at home and abroad. This is a city of sidewalk artists, dreadlocked political activists, and hip-hop philosophers. My love for the light that streams through the cracks of common grace, however, is balanced by my frustration with the fact that in many ways it is also a culture in decay, as evidenced by the skepticism that pervades people’s attitudes toward all truth claims, the cynicism and immorality that fills the pages of alternative weeklies, and the public’s growing appetite for the occult. The predominant question in my mind—particularly over the last year spent in the workforce next to people fully immersed in this culture—has been, How do I communicate the Gospel in a way that makes sense to these people?

In this area, Tim Keller has been a tremendous help to me. Keller, who pastors a thriving Manhattan congregation, introduced me to the idea of “defeater beliefs,” unconscious cultural assumptions that stand in the way of people accepting the claims of Christianity. Keller has spent the last 20 years fielding tough questions from skeptics in his post-sermon Q&A sessions, building a church of over 5,000 in the process, a feat few originally imagined possible, according to his new book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

“In the late 1980s, my wife, Kathy, and I moved to Manhattan with our three young sons to begin a new church for a largely non-churchgoing population. During the research phase I was told by almost everyone that it was a fool’s errand. Church meant moderate or conservative; the city was liberal and edgy. Church meant families; New York City was filled with young singles and ‘nontraditional’ households. Church most of all meant belief, but Manhattan was the land of skeptics, critics, and cynics. The middle class, the conventional market for a church, was fleeing the city because of crime and rising costs. That left the sophisticated and hip, the wealthy and the poor. Most of these people just laugh at the idea of church, I was told. Congregations in the city were dwindling, most struggling to even maintain their buildings. … Nevertheless, we launched Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and by the end of 2007 it had grown to more than 5,000 attendees and had spawned more than a dozen daughter congregations in the immediate metropolitan area.”

The Reason for God compiles the best of Keller’s thinking. The book builds on one key concept, that unbelievers must be challenged to doubt their own doubts. “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem,” writes Keller, “are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because ‘There just can’t be one true religion,’ you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts.” Having challenged unbelievers to question their assumptions, he attempts to demonstrate through the rest of the book how Christianity provides better answers to the difficult questions, and more life-affirming and peace-promoting results in the long run than religious pluralism.

If this recent Newsweek profile is any indication, Keller’s exposure and influence are growing. He has already been an influential voice among evangelicals, calling them to plant churches in the urban centers of cultural influence. An endorsement from Christianity Today on the dust jacket of The Reason for God states that “if [fifty years from now] evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”

In any case, Redeemer Presbyterian is becoming a model for pastors seeking to plant Scripturally faithful, culturally relevant, and socially impacting churches in the nation’s most unreached areas.

  • Many of the sermons that inspired The Reason for God are available for free download at www.thereasonforgod.com
  • Tim Keller will be speaking in Portland at Borders on SW 3rd Ave. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening.
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