Since I wrote an intro last week, let’s just dive in! I’ll try to keep the same format for every post as we go.
- Keller’s church hosts regular “skeptics welcome” groups where “the ground rules of the group assume neither that any religion nor that secularism is true.” (1)
- Many have mocked and derided these groups, arguing that Christianity “‘makes no sense in the real, natural world we live in’ and so has ‘no [rational] merit’ at all.” (1)
- This book is meant to address the objections made by these secular thinkers. (2)
- Keller defines three possible uses of the word “secular” (2-3)
- secular society – separation of church and state
- secular person – does not believe in anything beyond the natural world, believes everything has a scientific explanation
- secular age – focus is on the here-and-now; meaning and guidance is sought in terms of present economic prosperity, comfort, and personal fulfillment
- Keller will primarily address definitions two and three in this book. He is in complete agreement with the idea of a secular society, where church and state are separate. He argues that when they are not separate, religion will ultimately only oppress. The impossible ideal would be a truly pluralistic society where all can freely contribute and all views are treated completely fairly and respectfully. (3)
- The first section of the book will address “the assumption that the world is getting more secular and the belief that secular, nonreligious people are basing their view of life mainly on reason.” (4)
- The next chapters will compare and contrast Christianity and secularism, and address other ideas such as “You don’t need to believe in God to have a basis for moral values and human rights,” and “You become yourself when you are true to your deepest desires and dreams.” (4-5)
So it’s already become obvious to me that it’s going to be hard to keep these posts to a reasonable length in the future! The preface was basically only five pages long and there was still so much I could talk about! But I’ll try to restrain myself…
I am so excited to make my way through this book. It’s pretty clearly the case that today, many Westerners see religion and Christianity as completely backwards and irrelevant to the rational, unsupernatural, and scientific age we live in. Furthermore, as Keller argues, even among those who claim to be religious, most functionally live like “secular” people even if their lips profess to believe otherwise.
So isn’t all that proof that religion is dying out? Is it completely irrational and antiquated to be a Christian?
Well, those are some of the important questions Keller is looking to try and answer. He mentions in the preface that years ago, he wrote another book called The Reason for God which was a more traditional, straightforward defense of Christianity. But he realized that he really needed to start further back, since, as was stated above, many Westerners these days see no reasonable place for religion or faith in general, let alone Christianity.
So before one even gets to an examination of Christianity, Keller argues that it’s wise to start with a general discussion and weighing of big picture themes such as reason, worldview, belief, and social values, and that this is an important process for everyone to go through, regardless of what you believe. And that process provides the framework for this book.
So as we dig in, to my fellow Christians in America and the West: let’s consider the culture we currently live in. We can stick our heads in the sand and keep idolizing some unbiblical idea of a “Christian nation,” or we can attempt to understand others around us and be “salt and light,” compassionately meeting people in their doubts and skepticism with patient and intelligent dialogue, while also resting in the peace that the results of our efforts are not ultimately in our hands.
To my non-Christian, non-religious friends, you may have never imagined that a Christian or a religious person would take the time and be clear-headed enough to calmly invite and address your objections. But Tim Keller is one such person, and he (and I, a less clear-headed person) are inviting you to pull up a chair and start a friendly, if robust, discussion of these extremely important questions about belief and reason and purpose.
QUESTIONS / FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Consider these questions for personal reflection, or if you’re willing, I’d welcome your responses in the comments. For the sake of transparency, I’ll answer my own questions in each post but down in the comments section.
1. If you’ve read the chapter, were there any quotes or sections that were particularly compelling or thought-provoking to you? (I think this will be a recurring question each week.)
2. As we begin this study, where do you currently stand? Are you a Christian, other religion, “spiritual,” or no religion? Do a quick assessment of how you have come to your beliefs. Were you raised in that thinking? Did you read a book? Do you have friends who pointed you to your views? Have you changed your mind about your beliefs at any point? Etc.
3. At the end of the chapter, Keller includes this quote from someone who attended one of the “skeptics welcome” discussions at his church: “I realize now, that both in my younger years when I was going to church and in the years in which I have lived as an atheist, I never really looked this carefully at my foundations. I’ve been too influenced by my surroundings. I haven’t thought things out for myself.” (5-6)
Are you/am I willing to place ourselves in the same mindset as this atheist attendee, being open to take a hard look at our beliefs and how we came to them? Are we willing to let our beliefs be challenged in the hopes that we will reach more clarity either way after we come out on the other side?
I welcome any and all thoughts, comments, rebuttals, etc. See you next week for Chapter One: Isn’t Religion Going Away?