Listen: Tim Keller chats about ‘Making Sense of God’. (For more, catch the full-length interview)
It’s often said that the experiences of our youth have a big influence on what we care about as adults.
In the case of Tim Keller, the pastor, preacher and prolific author, it was a crisis of faith in his college years that gave him a soft heart towards sceptics: those who are doubtful about, or resistant to, the Christian faith.
So great is Keller’s concern for the sceptical mind, that it seems he can’t stop writing books aimed at opening their hearts to God. His latest is Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Sceptical. In a rare interview (catch the full-length chat), Tim Keller told Hope 103.2’s Sam Robinson that he experienced a lot of his own doubt and scepticism as a university student.
Tim Keller’s Own Scepticism
“Back when I was growing up, virtually everybody grew up in a church or synagogue—then most of the ‘baby boomers’ went off to college and a big percentage of them kind of lost their faith,” he said.
“And I was one of those saying, ‘I don’t know if it’s true’.”
He found answers to his questions and eventually embraced Christianity by the end of college, but to this day he remains quite sceptical by nature.
“I remember doubt, and I’m kinda sceptical too. So I’m actually pretty sympathetic to sceptics.”
“Frankly, I am a sceptical person,” he told Hope 103.2. “Some people would say that’s why I’m a Presbyterian, meaning I tend to be sceptical of claims of miracles, even though I believe that…God does miracles. I just tend to be more sceptical in general.
“And therefore I’m actually pretty sympathetic to non-Christians who have a lot of questions about Christianity. I remember doubt, and I’m kinda sceptical too. So I’m actually pretty sympathetic to sceptics.”
Why His First Book for Sceptics Wasn’t Enough
Keller describes his new book as a ‘prequel’ to his 2008 title, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism – which is a traditional, rational case for Christianity.
After publishing that book, he discovered it had a major limitation: for many sceptical friends, it just wasn’t enough of a drawcard to make them want to consider faith.
“I realized that it takes a lot to read a book like that,” he said. “You’ve gotta be motivated. Why would you take the time to explore whether Christianity makes rational sense or not, when it doesn’t make intellectual or cultural sense to you? Why explore whether it’s true when you don’t even care if it’s true?
“Why explore whether it’s true when you don’t even care if it’s true?”
“I felt like, before people would pick up a book like Reason for God to ask ‘is Christianity true?’, they had to be in a position where they would think, ‘it would be great if it was true!’ “
Keller figured that if sceptics could see Christianity making a tangible difference in the world, they might begin to care—and be motivated to consider its validity. And so he wrote Making Sense of God, to bridge that gap.
Some Scepticism is a Healthy Thing
Keller believes scepticism, or a questioning mind, is often a healthy thing—as it helps people explore a belief system properly before embracing it.
“There’s a scepticism that leads you to ask good questions and probe and finally, when you do embrace Christianity, you’ve really got a certainty, an assurance about it,” he said.
“I mean, I’ve seen people who are maybe emotionally distraught, embrace Christianity without any scepticism about it all. They just need something. And very often after their problems are over, Christianity isn’t very real to them because when they came in, they didn’t really ask the hard questions to determine whether or not this is really true. So they never really got convinced. They just wanted something in their life.”
But while an astute scepticism is healthy, there is also a blind kind of scepticism that keeps people holding onto unbelief almost religiously. This mindset prevents people from asking the important questions, says Keller.
“That kind of scepticism really is trying to protect yourself from the possibility of Christianity being true.”
To Help Your Sceptical Friends See Jesus, Be Like Him
When asked how Christians can help open their sceptical friends’ minds to faith, Keller says the key is simple: be more like Jesus.
“You have to be more Christlike if you’re gonna get people to want to know about Christ, period,” he said. And I would say that in Western societies, the fact that generally Christianity is receding, that’s got to be some indictment of us [believers]. It has to be. It just has to be that as individuals and as a community, we’re not showing Christlikeness. We’re not consistently Christlike.
“And I think we have to take some of that blame. That’s the change that has to be made.”
Christian Faith Offers Things That Other Worldviews Can’t
In his book, Keller outlines many of the things Christian faith has to offer, such as meaning for life, hope, justice, identity, satisfaction and freedom. He argues that other worldviews fail to offer these things to an equal level, if at all.
For example, today’s very individualistic way of viewing the world, has failed to offer people the solid sense of identity that comes from believing in Jesus and the Judeo-Christian God.
As a result, many people of today’s generation, even Christians, struggle with depression and anxiety.
“Christianity gives you an identity that can handle suffering in a way that the modern secular identity cannot.”
It’s an argument Keller has borrowed from the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor.
“Taylor makes the case that the contemporary idea of the self is that you define yourself,” Keller said. “You don’t connect to God. You don’t connect to your family. You look inside and you decide who you want to be.
“That is an incredibly fragile identity, in that it needs recognition, it needs affirmation, and it can never get enough. The traditional society that says, ‘you are a citizen, a family member, and a believer in God’, is a lot more stable.
“Christianity gives you an identity that’s not as fragile, that can handle disappointments, that can handle failures, that can handle suffering in a way that the modern secular identity cannot.”
Keller’s Shout-Out to Aussie Author
At the end of his book, Keller recommends other resources, including The Spectator’s Guide to Jesus, by Australian writer John Dickson. He speaks highly of Dickson’s writing.
“John works extremely hard to just give the facts about Jesus,” he said. “It’s a remarkably objective book, so he’s not constantly trying to be in advocacy, saying, ‘Christians are right and everybody else is wrong’. It just sort of lifts Jesus up, and it’s mighty good.”