I asked for and received Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God for Christmas.
I am just a chapter or two past the middle. The first section addresses the major doubts / obstacles to faith that the pastor has seen, and the other half gives reasons that support faith. Overall, I think it’s a great introduction / survey — enough to quell or satisfy many questions and reassure many insecurities.
Let me repeat — I am enjoying this book. I appreciate it. And it has already helped me with some of my own doubts and concerns.
There are three things so far that bother me, though.
One is minor. In several places, Keller notes that “Everything is relative” is itself an absolute, or something similar. I know technically that’s true, but it still seems like an annoying “gotcha!” tactic. It seems there ought to be a way for a relativist to get around that.
One is more significant. Keller’s thought about hell is like Lewis’ — it’s not that God sends people to hell as a punishment, but more that people choose hell themselves by not desiring God — and hell is “just” separation from God. In isolation, this view seems all nice and fair and sensible, but I would really like to see a book or article that directly addresses the biblical language about hell — not just the “fire” and “darkness” and “gnashing of teeth,” which Keller does address, but the language of “casting out” or “casting into” that Jesus uses, or Paul’s language of “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Romans 9:22)” (I know, if I were a better person I’d take the time to look up and cite all these references. I can at least refer to the Sermon on the Mount for Jesus’ use of “casting” — somewhere in Matthew 5-7 where he talks about your eye or hand or foot causing you to sin.)
I really don’t relish the idea of double predestination, but I want to reject it for biblical reasons, if I can, and not just because it’s unsavory to me.
Finally, and this one’s personal:
When Keller talks about “fire” as a metaphorical image of hell conveying “disintegration,” he has this to say:
Even in this life we can see the kind of soul disintegration that self-centeredness creates. We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.
To which I say, I know no such thing! A correlation is NOT necessarily a causation. Yes, self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-absorption tend to co-occur with the other things he mentioned, but which causes which? Or isn’t it more spirally, with each providing feedback to aggravate the other?
Keller’s formulation might suggest that the antidote to bitterness, envy, anxiety, paranoia, denials, and distortions is to simply stop focusing on one’s self. As if that were easy, or even entirely possible.
It reminds me of people who say that optimists are more likely to enjoy life, as if someone could just choose to become an optimist. You might as well reverse it: that those who enjoy life are more likely to be optimists.
I think it’s more accurate to say that the Fall not only separated us from God, but from ourselves and from each other as well — and that is enough to explain both selfishness and paranoia and distortion and the rest.