Tim Keller is a bafflingly productive individual. Not only did he found Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York (where he pastored until recently), he also speaks often at various conferences, lectures at universities, and seems to be writing upwards of two books a year at the moment.
But anyone can write two books a year. The question is whether they are good books, and it is this that sets Keller apart from many others. His stream of writings is remarkably insightful and continues to be so, which brings us to Making Sense of God.
Those of you familiar with Keller may have read The Reason for God, where he lays out answers to some of the most common objections to the Christian faith. Now, with Making Sense of God, we have a sort of prequel to his previous work. In fact, we can even see it in the subtitles of the books: The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism & Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.
This is how the book is described on Keller’s website:
So, to give you a taste of Making Sense of God, here are 15 of our favourite quotes from the book.
Terrible deeds have been done in the name of religion, but secularism has not proven to be an improvement. (12)
If this life is all there is, why do we long so deeply for something that doesn’t exist and never did? (22)
Strict secularism holds that people are only physical entities without souls, that when loved ones die they simply cease to exist, that sensations of love and beauty are just neurological-chemical events, that there is no right or wrong outside of what we in our minds determine and choose. Those positions are at the very least deeply counterintuitive for nearly all people, and large swaths of humanity will continue to reject them as impossible to believe. (23)
All of us have things we believe – including things we would sacrifice and even die for – that cannot be proven. (34)
The doctrine of the incarnation, that God became human, had “an incalculable effect on the history of ideas,” lifting the human person to the highest possible status, and without it “the philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have established itself.” (46, Quoting Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought)
To hold that human beings are the product of nothing but the evolutionary process of the strong eating the weak, but then to insist that nonetheless every person has human dignity to be honored – is an enormous leap of faith against all evidence to the contrary. (49)
If, for example, your Meaning in life is to know, please, emulate, and be with God, then suffering can actually enhance your Meaning in life, because it can get you closer to him. (73)
If we stand back to ask what we have learned about happiness over the centuries, it is striking to see our lack of progress. Think of how we have surpassed our ancestors in our ability to travel and communicate, in our accomplishments in medicine and science. Think of how much less brutal and unjust to minorities many societies are today compared with even one hundred years ago. In so many ways human life has been transformed, and yet though we are unimaginably wealthier and more comfortable than our ancestors, no one is arguing that we are significantly happier than they were. (79)
We see, then, that freedom is not what the culture tells us. Real freedom comes from a strategic loss of some freedoms in order to gain others. It is not the absence of constraints but it is choosing the right constraints and the right freedoms to lose. (102)
In the day to day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as…not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…Worship power – you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. (111, A quote by David Foster Wallace, Commencement Speech at Kenyon College)
The sight of Jesus dying for us out of love destroys both pride and self-hatred at the same time. (147, Based on Misolav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace)
“Almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity than any other religion, and that must say something about it.” (148, A quote by Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission)
If you believe in Jesus’ message, you believe in a truth, but not a truth that leads to exclusion. Many voices argue that it is exclusionary to claim that you have the truth, but as we have seen, that view itself sets up a dichotomy with you as the heroically tolerant and others as villainously or pathetically bigoted. (151)
The idea that “we should not bring moral or religious convictions to bear on public discussions about justice” is frankly impossible. Sandel writes: “Whether we’re arguing about financial bailouts…surrogate motherhood or same-sex marriage, affirmative action or…CEO pay…questions of justice are bound up with competing notions of honor and virtue, pride and recognition.” (198, Quoting Michael Sandel, Justice)
Indeed, to say “You must prove God to me” is to choose and believe in a form of rationality that most philosophers today consider naïve. Neither religion nor secularity can be demonstrably proven – they are systems of thinking and believing that need to be compared and contrasted to one another in order to determine which makes the most sense. (215)