Review of Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism


In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, gives readers “a distillation of the many conversations I’ve had with doubters over the years.” [1] The work is divided, in its first half, as “a pathway that many… Christians have taken through doubt,” titled, The Leap of Doubt (chap. 1-7); and in its second half, as “a more positive exposition of the faith they are living out in the world,” titled The Reasons for Faith (chap. 8-14). These halves are separated by an intermission, in which Keller posits faith in God as “a better empirical fit” for reality than “strong rationalism,” and clarifies his denominational stance. Keller’s epilogue then guides readers newly approaching the Christian faith to examine their motives and to make a confident transition to Christ.[2] Keller quells the din of (often misconceived) objections to Christianity and lets the faith speak for itself, dealing with 1) God based objections (chap. 2 and 5), 2) culture based objections (chap. 1, 3, and 4), 3) content based objections (chap. 6 and 7), 4) Christianity as the ideal fit for reality (chap. 8 and 9), and 5) letting Christianity speak for itself (chap. 11 to 14).

God-based Objections

Keller deals with common objections to God’s power and goodness against the backdrop of the existence of evil in the world (chap. 2) and objections to the judgment of God and the reality of hell (chap. 5). Keller points out that the problem of evil cannot be mollified by dismissing the existence of God, and that even to be outraged at evil is to “assume the reality of some extra-natural… standard by which to make your judgment.”[3] Keller further points out that God himself suffered in the work of redemption, which at the very least demonstrated that the problem of evil cannot mean “he doesn’t love us.”[4] Finally, Keller appeals to the fact that suffering can improve both human character and our hope in a misery-free new creation.[5] Keller then approaches the idea of judgment and hell with the wisdom of one who has debated it countless times in a culture that abhors the idea. He cautions readers not to think that culturally offensive means untrue, but rather that Christianity as transcultural is bound to offend some cultures at some points.[6] To those who say a loving God cannot possibly judge, Keller advises a perspective shift from “the quiet of a suburban home” to the realities of wartime violence, which need a God of judgment to make things right, a God whose “wrath flows from his love and delight in creation.”[7] Not only is judgment necessary for a loving God, but also hell is the natural result of those who have desired all their lives to be apart from God.[8] In short, it takes more of a leap of faith to believe in a non-judging, all-loving God than it does to believe in the God of the Bible, who both loves and judges.[9]

Culture-based Objections

Keller devotes some of his best thought in answering objections to Christianity’s exclusivity (chap. 1), Christianity’s counter-cultural stance (chap. 3), and the perceived source of injustice in Christianity (chap. 4). The strength of Keller’s approach in these chapters is the simplicity with which he exposes the hubris and foundationless dogmatism behind three erroneous objections. First, objectors who insist that no religion can see the whole truth Keller exposes as assuming they have the vantage point of comprehensive truth to judge part/whole truth relationships; to say that religion is too culturally-conditioned is itself a very (Western) cultural bias; and the argument that converting people to exclusive religion is arrogant is itself based on a kind of exclusivism.[10] Second, those who pit Christianity against “social cohesion, cultural adaptability, and even authentic personhood” Keller exposes as deeply mistaken “about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and of liberty itself.”[11] Love, the most liberating restriction of all, was embodied by Christ in his redemption work, and real freedom, found in love for God, is the one limitation and constraint that will truly “fit our nature and liberate us.”[12] Third, to answer the very serious charge that injustice flows from Christianity, Keller shows rather how Christianity is better at criticizing religion-spawned injustice than secular culture is, and how secular culture is worse at maintaining communities of justice at the expense of the marginalized and “the Other” than Christianity is, not to mention the fact that the Abolitionism, the American Civil Rights Movement, and post-Apartheid reconciliation were all spearheaded by Christianity-undergirded movements.[13]

Content-based Objections

Keller then deals with the view that the content of the Bible is scientifically untenable (chap. 6), historically unreliable, and culturally regressive (chap. 7). In the face of those who dismiss the miraculous accounts of Scripture, Keller cogently argues that the scientific bias for naturalistic materialism, which essentially says that there cannot be other kinds of causes to events, is a gigantic leap of faith.[14] He also distinguishes between evolution as a biomechanical process and evolution as an all-encompassing worldview, remarking that the former may be compatible with Christianity, and rejecting the latter.[15] In chapter 7, Keller proves that the Bible is historically trustworthy, demonstrating that the timing of the New Testament (NT) is too early for it to be legend; the content of the NT is too controversial  for it to be fabricated; and that the  genre of the gospels is too detailed for it to be myth.[16] Furthermore, when defending the Bible against charges of cultural regression, Keller again unearths secular culture’s own cultural biases, misunderstandings, and arrogance to pinpoint itself as the progressive standard from which biblical culture can regress.[17]

Christianity as the Ideal Fit for Reality

In his chapters on The Clues of God (chap. 8) and The Knowledge of God (chap. 9), Keller shows how Christianity best explains the mysterious Big-Bang, the regularity of nature, and the reality of beauty; and how the idea of belief in God as being simply a physiological neurochemical adaptation for survival actually deconstructs itself, inasmuch as the belief in evolutionary biology can be dismissed as a biological adaptation as well.[18] Christianity simply explains the natural world more consistently than “strong rationalism” or evolution-as-worldview. Also, Keller shows how the reality of human moral intuition is unexplainable apart from belief in absolute personality, the God of the Bible, and that those who try to hold to moral standards apart from belief in God are benefiting from “having a God without the cost of following him”; Keller concludes, tongue-in-cheek, that “there’s no [moral] integrity in that.”[19]

Letting Christianity Speak for Itself

Few authors other than Keller can expound Scripture’s teaching on sin, the need for redemption, and Christ’s unique ability to fit that need. It is in chapters 10-14 that Keller proves this, by taking readers from The Problem of Sin (10), through an extremely helpful and liberating distinction between Religion and the Gospel (chap. 11), to The (True) Story of the Cross (chap. 12), The Reality of the Resurrection (chap. 13), and The Dance of God (chap. 14), an insightful application of the doctrine of the Trinity to the story of redemption. Indeed, both unbelievers and believers can profit from reading and re-reading these closing chapters, as they show just how much Christ is needed for justification and sanctification.

Reflection on Keller’s Strengths and Weaknesses

My reading of Keller’s work was marked by a building of tension in the first half, followed by a greater than expected payoff for in second half, like an arrow being pulled back by its bowstring, held in tension, and released to its target. Part of the initial tension was that I found Keller’s apologetic approach not self-consciously and intentionally Reformed enough. Coloring my lens was Van Til’s Defense of the Faith, and his enormously helpful prescription of Reformed Christianity as the proper starting point of apologetics as opposed to deformations of Christianity (Romanism and Arminianism).[20]  I seemed to be measuring Keller’s approach by Van Til’s prescription. Keller seemed not to openly and intentionally promote the Reformed faith over against other deformations of Christianity (Arminianism and Romanism), telling readers it is not his purpose to argue for “one particular strand of it.”[21] The Reformed faith is not a “strand” of Christianity on equal par with other “strands.” It is the fullest and most consistent expression of Christianity, a point powerfully reinforced by Van Til and B.B. Warfield.[22]  However, Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God,[23] helped me temper my Van Tillian assessment of Keller by re-framing Reformed presuppositions as a heart-attitude that frees the apologist to make use even of traditional (evidentialist) approaches. Ultimately, Keller does end up arguing for a distinctively Reformed Christianity in terms of his stress on the all-sufficiency of the scriptures (over against Rome’s interpretation of it), an implicit swipe at the libertarian concept of freedom cherished by Arminians, etc.[24]

Thus, by the end of Keller’s work, I was able more clearly to see the mastery with which he points out the inconsistency of anti-Christian arguments and the untenable position it tries to defend. I was also able more fully to appreciate Keller’s deep well of pastoral experience, applied to a very important issue, and made relevant by the inclusion of more (culturally) popular voices throughout. The strength of the first half of the book lies in Keller’s rich cultural exegesis, his attack on the hubris of Western cultural assumptions, and the scientific self-deconstruction of “strong rationalism” and naturalistic materialism. The strength of the second half of the book is the fluidity, lucidity, and relevance with which Keller explains the gospel, both through principles and categories of daily life and through the drama of the unfolding biblical narrative itself. Keller was promoting the Reformed gospel in just the way Frame suggests Van Til’s method be applied. Keller wasnot promoting merely a strand of Christianity, but the fullest expression of it, and in doing so he had to promote the Reformed faith in defending Christianity, for nothing less would have let Christianity speak for itself.


Frame, John. Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994.

Keller, Tim. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith, edited by Scott Olphint. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2008.


[1] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), xix.

[2] Ibid., xxi, 126.

[3] Ibid., 26-27.

[4] Ibid., 29-31.

[5] Ibid., 23-25; 31-34.

[6] Ibid., 75.

[7] Ibid., 76-77.

[8]  Ibid., 78-84.

[9] Ibid., 86.

[10] Ibid., 9, 11; 12-14.

[11] Ibid., 37.

[12] Ibid., 48-49; 2 Cor 5:14.

[13] Ibid., 56-57; 59-69.

[14] Ibid., 89.

[15] Ibid., 97-98.

[16] Ibid., 103-112.

[17] Ibid., 113-116.

[18] Ibid., 131-147.

[19] Ibid., 148-164.

[20] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, ed. Scott Olphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2008), 94-95.

[21] Keller, The Reason for God, 121.

[22] Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 306-307.

[23] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994).

[24] Keller, The Reason for God, 46-51.