RFG Summary

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God


What are the attributes of the sort of God you’d find worthy of the title? If there is nothing in history that talks about that sort of God, your God is a figment of your imagination (unless maybe you would find an ‘absentee god’ worthy of the title “God”… but, then… why?). If there is talk of that sort of God interacting in history (I don’t mean to sound as if He is now inactive)–perhaps you should look into it. Do not have faith in God without evidence–especially a God who is supposedly love. If such a God exists, He has made Himself manifest, and the evidence is on display–or He is not love. Evidence does not necessarily equate to “seeing” — not for God… not for the Big Bang. You do not see, hear, smell, taste or touch the Big Bang… you only trust reports of it. God is not an absent partner, and faith is not giving up on knowing Him… it is trusting the evidence of His self-revelation.

Everyone (whether they consider themselves secular or religious) bases how they think people should behave on their own improvable fundamental faith-assumptions. Religion: “a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. For example, some think that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. Notice that, though this is not an explicit ‘organized’ religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things. … All who say ‘You ought to do this’ or ‘You shouldn’t do that’ reason out of such an implicit moral and religious position,” (15). Do you agree that even secular beliefs are implicitly religious? Why or why not?

The goal below is not to prove God’s existence with absolute certainty (strong rationalism), as it is impossible to prove any belief, including an implicitly religious, secular belief. The goal is to discover the clues to God’s existence (Dr. Watson, I presume?) and build a case based on evidence (critical rationalism). So, here are some clues that point to God…

Clue 1a: The Mysterious Bang – [For some, the question “Why something rather than nothing?” is made more unfathomable by the existence of God. Rather than (or, perhaps ‘after’) answering the question for them, God’s existence triggers more questions, like “What was God’s motivation, and doesn’t having motivation imply He was lacking something and therefore not ‘complete’?” 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. http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/impassib.htm Divine impassibility is also discussed in chapter 14.] Either God created the universe, or it “just happened” – and both require faith. I had thought the cyclic cosmological model was a way out of this clue, though I do not necessarily subscribe to it, however, “The cyclic model has its own share of shortcomings…consideration of entropy buildup (and also of quantum mechanics) ensures that the cyclic model’s cycles could not have gone on forever. Instead, the cycles began at some definite time in the past, and so, as with inflation, we need an explanation of how the first cycle got started.” — Brian Greene. The first assumption is just as ‘miraculous’ as the second. So – the belief that something which had a beginning just popped into existence is an implicitly religious faith assumption which is not provable by science, but also does not conflict with science. This in itself shows how science and faith are not necessarily in opposition. Note that science cannot rule out supernatural phenomena since it is restricted to studying natural phenomena–it can say nothing of how natural phenomena came to be, or what its overall purpose/prescription is (without committing the is-to-ought fallacy)… which leads us to clue 1b… “‘We can’t know that nature is broken in some way unless there is some super-natural standard of normalcy apart from nature by which we can judge right and wrong’ (p. 155 -156),” (Penguin).

Clue 1b: Our moral sense that there is truly right and truly wrong is a pointer to God. Does your worldview promote humble, peace-loving behavior, and, if so, how? Does yours base a man’s worth on his good deeds, or on God’s unearned love demonstrated on the cross – or does man have no worth in yours? Would you lean more towards the reasoning that, “If this world is all there is, and if the goods of this world are the only love, comfort, and wealth I will ever have, why should I sacrifice them for others?” (66). Would you agree with Maugham and Sartre that, without God, life has no given meaning, that we have no given reason for existing? Do you ask, with Tolstoy, “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” (201). “If there is no God, then there is no way to say any one action is ‘moral’ and another ‘immoral’ but only ‘I like this.’ [Ichthus: emotivism.] If that is the case, who gets the right to put their subjective, arbitrary moral feelings into law? You may say, ‘the majority has the right to make the law,’ but do you mean that then the majority has the right to vote to exterminate a minority? If you say ‘No, that is wrong,’ then you are back to square one. ‘Who sez’ that the majority has a moral obligation not the kill the minority?” (153). 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? (For example, protecting children from harm is right; ethnic cleansing is wrong.) 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? Do you think maybe that even though “we can’t justify or ground human rights in a world without God, we still know they exist”? -that “Without God [we] can’t justify moral obligation, and yet [we] can’t not know it exists” (154-155)? If a premise (‘There is no God’) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (‘Napalming babies is culturally relative’) then why not change the premise?” (156)

“If morality is relative, why isn’t social justice as well?” If it is objective, what is its foundation? “To deem all beliefs equally true is sheer nonsense for the simple reason that to deny that statement would also, then, be true,” (4, Zacharias, “Jesus Among Other Gods”). Considering that relativism refutes itself, then, of the available differing worldviews, only one, if any, can be correct (in an eternal sense, where it did not have to compete for its status in the marketplace of ideas). If your worldview was ‘always’ the only correct worldview — when did ‘always’ begin? The discussion of discovering a set purpose rather than manufacturing a new purpose reminds me of the saying, “No need to reinvent the wheel,” (nevermind that the wheel is not ‘discovered’ but ‘created’). Our sense of morality is the sense of love — of God. “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 added). “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).

“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). I love knowing that the divine requirement is also our complete fulfillment: love. “At the very heart of [our] view of reality [is] a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness [Ichthus: ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’]. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who [are] different from [us]. It mean[s] we [can] not act in violence and oppression toward [our] opponents,” (20-21). It means we should love our enemies. Christ taught that we (the branches) cannot do any of this on our own, apart from Him (the vine) – so it is not cause for pride when He works through us, nor cause for judgment when others do not bear fruit they cannot bear apart from Him. All it takes to cut others slack, is to remember where we were at when we were on our own, apart from Christ, and to remember that it is Christ, not ourselves, who has brought us to where we are now. It is very humbling.

The Bible is the only source of a belief in a God of pure love, who forgives everyone and allows those who reject His love to choose hell. Jesus is unique from every founder of a religion. “Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message. ‘In Him,’ say the Scriptures, ‘dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, ‘I am the truth.’ He did not just show the way. He said, ‘I am the Way.’ He did not just open up vistas. He said, ‘I am the door.’ ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ ‘I am the I AM,'” [Ravi Zacharias Jesus Among Other Gods (Thomas Nelson) 2000]. Do you think that, if God is good, it would require that He has made His love of good and hatred of evil manifest? Would it require His love be optional, lest it not be love? Would it require He do something to bring evil to justice? Would you think that if He has not done that, He (given He exists) is not good? God, like a good father, allows us to learn from our mistakes, rather than dysfunctionally protecting us from them by a) preventing us from making them, or b) preventing us from experiencing the consequences. “On the question of a loving God sending people to hell, Keller writes that God gives people free choice in the matter. ‘In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity’ (p. 78). In other words, those who end up in hell chose that destination by rejecting God. How do you respond to such an assertion?” (Penguin). [“Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, the author states: ‘… modern objections to God are based on a sense of fair-play and justice. People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust’ (p. 26),” – Penguin. Does it make sense to you that all of nature “thrives on violence and predation, survival of the fittest” – but it is grounded in nature that humans should not do this?] Anyone who claims to love good, but allows evil to go unchecked, is indifferent to evil, is lying. Loving good includes hating evil. Love and hate are not opposites (when the ‘object’ of that hate is ‘evil’ – not that ‘evil’ is an ‘object’). Forced love is not love, so God allows us to accept Him or reject Him. Rejecting essential life and love is choosing hell. For example, distancing oneself from the thought of God’s loving judgment leads to less inhibition (an opiate) to violence.

Clue 2: The Cosmic Welcome Mat — This clue is also called the anthropic principle (or fine-tuning argument), which recognizes that humans could not exist in any other universe than this one. If any of this universe’s constants were different, we would not be around to observe them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_constant These constants seem fine-tuned by God to support us. There have been several rebuttals, all requiring faith.

Clue 3: The Regularity of Nature — At first this clue didn’t seem very convincing to me, because I had never wondered about the regularity of nature. But (as Hume and Russell pointed out), continued regularity is a matter of faith. There is nothing guaranteeing the universe will be here tomorrow, or that it will operate according to all the cycles we’ve been observing throughout the years, with all its laws. That the universe and all its cycles and laws do keep happening is a clue to a Sustainer of all that regularity.

Clue 4: The Clue of Beauty – This is tied to clue 1b. “We may, therefore, be secular materialists who believe truth and justice, good and evil, are complete illusions. But in the presence of art or even great natural beauty, our hearts tell us another story. … regardless of the beliefs of our mind about the random meaninglessness of life, before the face of beauty we know better. … Isn’t it true that innate desires correspond to real objects that can satisfy them? … Doesn’t the unfulfillable longing evoked by beauty qualify as an innate desire? We have a longing for joy, love, and beauty that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship, or success can satisfy. We want something that nothing in this world can fulfill,” (134-135). Perhaps this desire is a type of sense, like sight, a type of sense built for sensing God, and so cannot be satisfied by anything in the natural universe? Have you ever felt “there must be more” when in the presence of beauty (not a mere wish)?

Clue 5: We Trust Our Belief-Forming Faculties — First Keller talks about the clue-killer that all of our beliefs and values are naturally selected and not to be trusted – then he lets it die by its own knife: the belief that all of our beliefs and values are naturally selected and not to be trusted-is not to be trusted. Then he says that the fact that we do trust our belief-forming faculties (here we are weighing clues) is a clue to God.

Swinburne: “The view that there is a God…leads us to expect the things we observe-that there is a universe at all, that scientific laws operate within it, that it contains human beings with consciousnesses and with an indelible moral sense. The theory that there is no God…does not lead us to expect any of these things. Therefore, belief in God offers a better empirical fit, it explains and accounts for what we see better than the alternative account of things,” (121).

If God is good, it would require that He manifest His love of good and hatred of evil. The Bible is the only source recording God’s demonstrations of His love and justice.

In answer to this: “We Can’t Trust the Bible Historically” (100) Keller replies:

To those who do not believe in the resurrection: “You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church,” (202). Keller provides one such scenario on pages 202-203, then he proceeds to take it apart:

1. The legendary resurrection narratives of the gospels developed later, long after the events themselves.


“The timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends,” (101). Keller mentions the gospels were written at most forty to sixty years after Jesus’ death, and Paul’s letters were written just fifteen to twenty-five years after His death – while the witnesses, believers and bystanders alike, to Jesus’ ministry, were still alive (Luke 1:1-4; Mark 15:21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-6) to confirm or dispute the details the authors were writing about. In order for altered accounts to gain acceptance, the eyewitnesses, and their offspring, must all be dead. If Jesus had never done or said the things the gospel writers and Paul wrote about – their writings never would have been accepted because the living witnesses would have stomped them down. Acts 26:26. Look at the Gnostic “gospels” in comparison: “the Syriac traditions in Thomas can be dated to 175 A.D. at the earliest, more than a hundred years after the time that the canonical gospels were in widespread use. …The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, however, were recognized as authoritative eyewitness accounts almost immediately, and so we have Irenaeus of Lyons in 160 A.D. declaring that there were four, and only four, gospels,” (103). Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is to blame for a lot of misinformation, including the myth that Constantine decreed Christ’s divinity and suppressed all evidence of His humanity in 325 A.D., when clearly “no more than twenty years after the death of Christ, we see that Christians were worshiping Jesus as God (Philippians 2),” (103). “The first accounts of the empty tomb and eyewitnesses are not found in the gospels … but in the letters of Paul, which every historian agrees were written just fifteen to twenty years after the death of Jesus,” (203). Jesus’ bodily resurrection was proclaimed from the very beginning. See for example 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. Paul not only refers to the empty tomb and resurrection on the third day (historical account; details not permitted to be changed) – he also lists the eyewitnesses … individuals, small groups, five hundred people at once – most still alive to easily corroborate or kill (safe and easy travel during the pax Romana) the story that remained alive because it was true. The first eyewitnesses were women whose testimony in that culture was not admissible evidence in court-such details of the historical account were too well known (from the beginning) to be changed, despite cultural pressure. Further, if there had been no empty tomb (from the beginning), no one would have believed the sightings were of the resurrected Jesus (as opposed to the ghost of Jesus).

“The content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends,” (104). Keller is answering the claim that “the gospels were written by the leaders of the early church to promote their policies, consolidate their power, and build their movement,” (104). Keller asks, if that is so, why do they not have Jesus speaking on circumcision? Why invent the story of the crucifixion, which makes Jesus look like a criminal? Why invent Jesus’ Gethsemane experience, or crying out on the cross, which makes Jesus look like a weak failure? Why make (culturally incredible) women the first witnesses of His resurrection, rather than (culturally credible) men? Why paint the apostles as “petty and jealous, almost impossibly slow-witted, and in the end as cowards who either actively or passively failed their master?” (105). Why reveal the horrible failure of Peter? None of that makes sense if the claim Keller is countering is true – it makes more sense that the authors did not feel free to fictionalize or polish up the facts. Look at the Gnostic “gospels” in comparison: being rescued from the dark, evil material world by secret gnosis appealed to Greeks and Romans, whereas the canonical gospels offended the dominant views with a “positive view of material creation and their emphasis on the poor and oppressed,” (106).

“The literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend,” (106). This is an interesting section that says, if the gospels were fiction, they “suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative,” (C.S. Lewis) – which “only developed within the last three hundred years,” (106). Keller notes there is a lot of irrelevant detail that only makes sense to include if it actually happened and was part of the author’s recollective memory. He notes that “disciples in the ancient world were expected to memorize masters’ teachings, and that many of Jesus’ statements are presented in a form that was actually designed for memorization,” (106). He also notes Jan Vansina’s “study of oral traditions in primitive African cultures, in which fictional legends and historical accounts are clearly distinguished from each other and much greater care is taken to preserve historical accounts accurately,” (108).

2. The body was stolen out of the tomb and gullible ancients believed claims that Jesus had resurrected (“chronological snobbery” – C.S. Lewis).

Answer: In the Greco-Roman culture, resurrection was not only impossible, but totally undesirable. The Gnostic “gospels” appealed to that culture when they spoke of being rescued from the dark, evil material world by secret gnosis, whereas the canonical gospels offended the dominant views with a “positive view of material creation,” (106). Christians acknowledge our bodies as God’s sacred temple, His holy dwelling place-not something to escape, but something to be glorified in resurrection (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, Thomas Nelson, 2000). According to Jewish teaching, the resurrection doesn’t happen to one person in the middle of history – it happens to all believers at the end of history. Individual resurrections were not available to the Jewish imagination to write eyewitness testimony off as hallucination, or to write off the empty tomb as resulting from the disciples stealing Jesus’ body in hopes that others would believe He had been resurrected. In addition, “There were dozens of other messianic pretenders whose lives and careers ended the same way Jesus’ did. Why would the disciples of Jesus have come to the conclusion that his crucifixion had not been a defeat but a triumph-unless they had seen him risen from the dead?” (208). In addition, “it was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshiped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshiping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognized to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion,” (209-210).

“The Christian view of resurrection, absolutely unprecedented in history, sprang up full-blown immediately after the death of Jesus. There was no process of development. His followers said their beliefs did not come from debating and discussing. They were just telling others what they had seen themselves,” (209). “Why did Christianity emerge so rapidly, with such power? No other band of messianic followers in that era concluded their leader was raised from the dead-why did this group do so? No group of Jews ever worshiped a human being as God. What led them to do it? Jews did not believe in divine men or individual resurrections. What changed their worldview virtually overnight? How do you account for the hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection who lived on for decades and publicly maintained their testimony, eventually giving their lives for their belief?” (210). To bail out by saying that miracle is impossible, is to leave such questions unanswered. (To discuss the possibility of miracles, go here: https://ichthus77.com/2008/01/03/signs.) People from the first century had just as much reason to be skeptical about an individual resurrecting, yet the church was born and grew because they let the evidence speak for itself.

This is not mentioned in the chapter, but compare John 20:19 and Acts 2:14, and answer this question: what explains the change in Jesus’ disciples, from being full of fear, to being full of boldness?

“If the resurrection of Jesus happened… that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world,” (212). Because, if His resurrection happened, everything He taught is eternal truth we can discover and must accept, not just something He made up and can be easily dismissed.

In answer to this: “We Can’t Trust the Bible Culturally” (109) Keller replies:

“Here’s how I advised him and other people on how to deal with a Scripture text that appeared objectionable or offensive to them. … slow down and try out several different perspectives on the issues that trouble them. …the passage that bothers them might not teach what it appears to them to be teaching. Many of the texts people find offensive can be cleared up with a decent commentary that puts the issue into historical context. … To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historic moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned. … To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. … If Jesus is the Son of God, then we have to take his teaching seriously, including his confidence in the authority of the whole Bible. If he is not who he says he is, why should we care what the Bible says about anything else? … If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? … Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it,” (109-114).

The point is essentially love. “The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care for and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world,” (bold type added). Keller notes how the Bible is the only source of this unique vision. If (speaking from the perspective of the skeptic) there is a real explanation of why we are here, why anything exists at all, that has anything to do with what is truly good, Keller has shown how other religions (or implicitly religious worldviews) have a different and inadequate view of the world and God and fail to explain satisfactorily why we are here. “If Jesus is the Creator-Lord, then by definition nothing could satisfy you like he can, even if you are successful. Even the most successful careers and families cannot give the significance, security, and affirmation that the author of glory and love can. … Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally,” (172-173). If you are not living for God’s eternal love – what are you living for? Does it fulfill you completely?

Are you using or trusting God? Do you want something from Him, or do you want Him? Are you giving up some of you or all of you? Are you centering some of your life on Him, or all of it? It is an all-or-nothing decision. A mild, half-hearted response fails to understand the full implications of who Christ claimed to be. See: http://jesuschristsonofgodsavior.blogspot.com/2008/01/jesus-claims-to-divinity.html

A sermon series Tim Keller did in 2006, related to RFG, titled The Trouble with Christianity: Why it’s so Hard to Believe it.


This entry was posted in Apologetics, Keller's Reason for God, Reviews and Interviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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