Discuss in ILovePhilosophy.com: RFG: THREE: Christianity is a Straitjacket
Tim Keller’s The Reason for God Book Discussion – Part 1: The Leap of Doubt
THREE: Christianity Is a Straitjacket
Chapter 3 is similar to chapter 1 in that both of them deal with the doubt that Christianity is too exclusive about truth and should be more tolerant of non-Christians; they are different in that chapter 3 addresses the main claim that Christianity is stifling to the Christian.
Some favored quotes from the chapter which reflect how chapter 1 and 3 are similar: “Every human community holds in common some beliefs that necessarily create boundaries, including some people and excluding others from its circle,” (39) (examples given are western democratic values foreign to many other cultures, and the distinctly different commitments of the local Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center and the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage). “Sanneh argues that secularism with its anti-supernaturalism and individualism is much more destructive of local cultures and ‘African–ness,’” (41) (remember the Jewish holocaust and the increasingly global push for secularization). “Christianity may become the most truly ‘catholic vision of the world,’ having opened its leadership over the centuries to people from every tongue, tribe, and nation,” (45) (‘catholic’ meaning ‘universal’).
Keller mentions that he asks “‘Is there anyone in the world right now doing things you believe they should stop doing no matter what they personally believe about the correctness of their behavior?’ They would invariably say, ‘Yes, of course.’ Then I would ask, ‘Doesn’t that mean that you do believe there is some kind of moral reality that is ‘there’ that is not defined by us, that must be abided by regardless of what a person feels or thinks?’” (47, emphasis Keller’s). What do you think – is there some kind of moral reality that is ‘there’ and is not defined by us, that will ultimately fulfill us if we live within it or damn us if we don’t (see C.S. Lewis quote, p. 48 – “The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation,”)? Granted – a being that doesn’t exist (so isn’t even a ‘being’) cannot live within or be fulfilled by any moral reality (but put heavy emphasis on ‘regardless’ in Keller’s question – and on ‘feels’ – for any potential emotivists reading this).
Considering that relativism refutes itself, then, of the available differing worldviews, only one, if any, can be correct (in the sense where it did not have to compete for its status in the marketplace of ideas, because it was always the only correct worldview). Does your chosen community’s worldview include “beliefs that lead its members to treat persons in other communities with love and respect—to serve them and meet their needs? … lead it to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries rather than treating them with kindness, humility, and winsomeness?” (40). Also — if your worldview was ‘always’ the only correct worldview — when did ‘always’ begin?
What is hard to accept is that there is only one Way, but it is the Way for everyone – for God so loves the world (John 3:16). But it is not a Way He unlovingly forces upon us, as love is not forced – we must freely choose it. So, let’s turn our focus to how Keller addresses the main claim that Christianity is stifling to the Christian — the “freedom factor,” if you will.
“Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it? … What then is the moral-spiritual reality we must acknowledge to thrive? What is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish? Love. Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all,” (47, emphasis mine). The discussion of discovering a set purpose rather than manufacturing a new purpose reminds me of the saying, “No need to reinvent the wheel.” “Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us,” (49, emphasis mine). I love the C.S. Lewis quote on 48. I love knowing that the divine requirement is also our complete fulfillment: love.
I also love how Keller points out that this love requirement is not a one-way street. “In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us—in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition—as sinners—and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me.’ If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others. St. Paul writes, ‘the love of Christ constrains us’ (2 Corinthians 5:14),” (49). It is this truth that set me free – the truth of His sacrificial pursuing of each of us, before and after He finds us, whether or not we yet know it.
I have heard two ironically opposed arguments related to this: 1) if He can omnipotently rise from death, His death means nothing, and 2) if He can be vulnerable, He is not omnipotent. To the first: He did physically die and communicate His unconditional love through His sacrifice. To the second: God’s love is more powerful than raw power – the last will be first, the first will be last. One could argue that the inability to love (or fear of loving; love requires more than mere physical strength) is a greater weakness than lack of physical strength (see again C.S. Lewis quote, p. 48) – and God does not love we temporal beings from a lack (as we do apart from Him), but from His eternal perfection. See also…
This is also discussed in chapter 14.
Notes on Keller’s sermon on the chapter:
Doubt: Christians think they have absolute truth-but that undermines freedom, tends to oppress people, restricts the individual who believes it. “The heart of liberty is to define one’s own concept of existence or the meaning of the universe” -Supreme Court.
Answer: truth more important, freedom more complex, Jesus more liberating (than you think)
1. Truth is more important than you think.
v4-5 freedom in Christ because of truth of the Gospel (truth will set you free) John 8
Foucault-“truth is a thing of this world, it is produced only by multiple forms of constraint, and that includes the regular effects of power” – truth claims are power plays
–disciple of Nietzsche (hermeneutics of suspicion) (philosophical squinting) (motive?)
–same thing Jesus says of Pharisees-your truth claims are power plays
But, if you conclude “all” truth claims are power plays, you’re wrong.
C.S. Lewis in “The Abolition of Man”–
“You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever” – if you say “all truth claims are power plays” – you are saying ‘that’ truth claim is just a power play (not true)
It’s not the truth claim (the “fundamental”)-it’s what’s “in” the truth claim (the “fundamental”)-that leads or does not lead to oppression.
Fundamental truth claim: grace. If you’re out of touch with that reality/truth-no freedom (truth will set you free). Everything else is “real” slavery/addiction to whatever else it is you build your identity on.
2. Freedom is more complex than you think.
Paul was going to the Gentiles, where the power/money was. The apostles were reminding him they have far less money/power, and to remember them.
v.10-free, but restricted to biblical norms
Doubt: thought freedom is absence of restrictions/boundaries/norms?
Give up freedom to eat whatever you want, if you want freedom of good health (or vice versa).
Give up freedom of free time, if you want freedom of musical skill (or vice versa).
But–discipline/restriction is not a good in itself-freedom is not the absence/presence of “restriction”-but it is the “right restrictions”-the ones that fit your nature (design) (who God made you to be).
A fish out of water isn’t free-must be restricted to water.
Our water is love, which requires we surrender all kinds of individual freedom
Afraid of being exploited?
3. Jesus is more liberating than you think.
I Robot: find your own way is what it means to be free
If you have a design-not free.
John: Word-Logos: logic, reason-reason for life
This Logos is not “abstract”-we beheld His glory-is a personal absolute
fish designed for water-free in water
humans designed for love-free in personal love relationship with Logos
an “abstraction” is dehumanizing
If we only surrender to God, it’s one way, it’s dehumanizing, it’s out of fear–Nietzsche and Foucault are right.
But Jesus surrendered to us, adjusted to us, by becoming human and dying on the cross. He was exploited, killed. What more could you ask for from God? Phil 2.
His grace is liberating.
Paul goes after Peter’s racism against Gentiles on the basis of being free, using truth.
v14-“not in line w/ the truth of the Gospel”-you’re a slave to what these people think about you…think about what God thinks about you (love)
“the love of Christ constrains us” – like water constrains the fish
Grace makes God’s desire-our desire.