Challenging ideas from Timothy Keller’s “The Reason For God” [London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2009]

Tim Keller , Founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

Challenging ideas from Timothy Keller: The  Reason For God: Belief  in an Age of Scepticism, p/b, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2009

p xvi f Both religious belief and scepticism are on the rise…surely that should lead to self-examination. The time for making elegant dismissive gestures towards the other sides past. Something more is required. But what?….each side should look at doubt in a radically new way…believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts…sceptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning.

p xx  Many see both sides in the ‘culture war’ making individual freedom and personal happiness the ultimate value rather than God and the common good. Liberals’ individualism comes out in their views of abortion, sex and marriage. Conservatives’ individualism comes out in their deep distrust of the public sector and in their understanding of poverty as simply a failure of personal responsibility.

p15  Everyone lives out of some narrative of identity, whether it is thought out and reflected upon or not.

p19 God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform. 

P20f  It is common to say that ‘fundamentalism’ leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith commitments that we think are superior to those of others.  The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ?

p23  Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil [and therefore there cannot be a God] is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless…eg  Joseph story…although we can’t see it at the time, some ‘evils’ end up providing positive outcomes.   A tough one this…easier to write about I suspect than to live through. 

p25 If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed you can’t have it both ways.  [As above]

p27 The problem of evil is a problem for atheists as well as believers. …a secular way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation  of any sort….

p29f  Jesus’ suffering on the Cross goes far beyond that of Christian martyrs.  Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven open before him, and he staggered. On the cross, Jesus’s cry of dereliction – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ – is a deeply relational statement….Jesus still uses the language of intimacy – ‘my God’ – even as he experiences infinite separation from the Father.

p32.  Resurrection = Restoration:  this means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater. 

p33 Sam Gamgee to Gandalf [Lord of the Rings]  Is everything sad going to come untrue? The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes.

p35   Is a belief in absolute truth the enemy of freedom? Most people I’ve met in New York City believe that it is….p37 Christianity looks like an enemy of social cohesion, cultural adaptability and even authentic personhood. However, this objection is based on mistakes about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and of liberty itself.

p38  Christianity requires certain beliefs in order to be a member of its community, but, p.39 Every community holds in common some beliefs that necessarily create boundaries, including some people and excluding others from its circle.

p42 p.255 ch.3 fn. 22  Missionaries do impose their own culture on their converts, playing down some cultural aspects and playing up others but eventually converts come to terms with their own culture and traditions, jettisoning some things and keeping others.

p44.   There is no “Christian culture” the way there is an “Islamic culture” which can be recognised  everywhere.

p45   In current Western culture, freedom to determine our own moral standards is considered  a necessity fo being fully human…. This oversimplifies, however. Freedom cannot be defined in strictly negative terms, as the absence of confinement and constraint. In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation. eg the restriction of many hours of time for a musician to develop the skills to unleash the talent and ability that would otherwise go untapped…p46 if we only grow intellectually, vocationally and physically through judicious constraints – why would it not also be true for spiritual and moral growth?

p47  To truly love you have to lose independence

p49  In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us —in his incarnation and atonement.

p53  Christian theology has taught what is known as common grace. James 1:17 says, ‘Every good and perfect gift comes down from above…from the father of lights.’

p256 ch. 4 fn2 ..If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with HIm. [C.S. Lewis]

p53f   The mistaken belief that a person must ‘clean up’ his or her own life in order to merit God’s presence is not Christianity…’The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.’

p57 Think of people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving or understanding – as Christ was.

p260  Ch5 fn10  The Bible clearly proposes that heaven and hell are actual realities, but also indicates that all language about them is allusive, metaphorical and partial.

p75  Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, wrote the remarkable essay ‘The Discreet Charms of Nihilism’. In it he remembers how Marx had called religion ‘the opiate of the people’ because the promise of an afterlife (Marx said) led the poor and the working class to put up with unjust social conditions. But, Milosz continued: “And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders are not going to be judged….[but] all religions recognize that our deeds are imperishable…..if there is no divine justice, belief in a loving God is meaningless. 

p80  We must not make settled, final decisions about anyone’s spiritual state or fate. 

p80  Because Christians believe souls don’t die, they also believe that moral and spiritual errors effect the soul forever….  [How does this square with p32 above…resurrection = restoration?  It also disallows annihilatiionism ] 

p82  I found no other religious text outside of the Bible that said God created the world out of love and delight. 

p83 the God of love is also a God of judgement who will put all things in the world to rights in the end. The belief in a God of pure love—who accepts everyone and judges no one — is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.

p263 fn4 ch 7:  I take the whole Bible to be reliable not because I can somehow ‘prove’  it all to be factual. I accept it because I believe in Jesus and that was his view of the Bible.

p111.  Some texts may not teach what they at first appear to teach. Some people, however, have studied particular biblical texts carefully and come to understand what they teach, and yet they still find them outrageous and regressive. What should they do then?  I urge people to consider that their problem with some texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others.   We must not universalise our time any more that we should universalise our culture. Think of the very term ‘regressive’. To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historic moment, form which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned. That belief is surely as narrow and exclusive as the views in the Bible you regard as offensive.

p112f  We should make sure we distinguish between the major themes and message of the Bible and its less primary teachings. The Bible talks about the person and work of Christ and also about how widows should be regarded in the church. The first of these subjects is much more foundational. Without it the secondary teachings don’t make sense. We should therefore consider the Bible’s teachings in their proper order…You may appeal , ‘But I can’t accept the Bible if what it says about gender is outmoded.’ I would respond to that with this question — are you saying that because you don’t like what the Bible says about sex that Jesus couldn’t have been raised from the dead?…If Jesus is not who he said he is, why should we care what the Bible says about anything else?

p114 If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God. If God is not challenging you, your God is not real..you have a God of your own making.

p117  …there are no truly ‘generic’ non-denominational Christians. 

p145  ….our culture differs from all others that have gone before. People still have strong moral convictions,  but unlike people in other times and places, they don’t have any visible basis for why they find some things to be evil and other things good.  In the West we now have a climate of complete moral relativism.

p152 …. Nietzsche’s  well-known insistence that, if God is dead, any and all morality of love and human rights is baseless. If there is no God, argue Nietzsche, Sartres and others, there can be no good reason to be kind, to be loving or to work for peace.

p275f  Ch 10 fn 8:  list of Kierkegaard’s “god-substitutes.’     Very instructive! 

p165   An identity not based on God also leads inevitably to deep forms of addiction…family, work, achievement, hobbies etc. cf Augustine: ‘our loves are not rightly ordered.’

p166 problem of unresolved bitterness and the importance of forgiveness..cf Rwanda …there can be no forgiveness without accountability and repentance.

p171f  Kierkegaard: The almost impossible hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ.  But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call ‘ourselves’ —our personal happiness centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do….I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

p277 Ch 11 fn 1 virtually all religions require to one degree or another a form of self-salvation through merit… Is Christianity then not a religion?

p178  The Devil, if anything, prefers Pharisees…they are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people , and they do a lot more spiritual damage.

p193  The importance of substitutionary atonement.  [Constantly under fire today ]..if you take away the Cross we do not have a God of love…he offers his own lifeblood in order to honour moral justice and merciful love so that some day he can destroy all evil without destroying us.

p202  re doubts about the resurrection:  If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said;  if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?

p202.  If there was no resurrection where did the Christian church come from?

p208  [Christianity began with] the explosion of a New Worldview. It was an explosion…unlike the gradual evolution of all other religions even Islam.

p215 The Trinity …perichoresis = “Flowing around”

p216 The Trinity makes love possible. If God is unipersonal, then until God created other beings there was no love, since love is something one person has for another…therefore love would not be of the essence of God nor at the heart of the universe if there was no Trinity.

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