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In 1989, Timothy Keller moved with his wife Kathy and their three young sons to New York City to become the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, arguably one of the most secular cities on the planet. From its founding, Redeemer sought to be a church that was open to people seeking answers regarding faith, and one where they would feel safe inviting their skeptical friends to come along.
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This ministry focus has led Redeemer to hold weekly discussion sessions specifically for people who consider themselves non-Christian, and has led Keller to pen several books for a similar readership. In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (2008), he provided a reasoned case for the Christian conception of God by responding to common questions, such as, How could a good God allow suffering? and How can a loving God send people to hell?
In Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (2016), he begins from a more basic philosophical position, in order to engage with people who don't find religion relevant enough to even bother with. He begins by challenging the commonly held assumptions that religion is waning worldwide and that nonreligious people base their beliefs primarily on reason. From there, he compares and contrasts how Christianity and secularism (with a few references to other faiths) seek to satisfy some of the most deeply embedded desires of the human heart: meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, social justice, and a reliable moral compass.
Along the way, he addresses many of the cultural presuppositions or "background beliefs" our culture presses on us, such as:
• We should be free to live as we see fit, as long as we don't harm others.
• We become ourselves when we are true to our deepest desires and dreams.
• We don't need to believe in God to have a life of meaning, hope, and satisfaction, or to have a basis for moral values and human rights.
All of it adds up to a compelling case that Christianity offers the most comprehensive and sensible belief system for making sense of the world we find ourselves inhabiting. "If you think Christianity doesn't hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person," he writes in the preface, "then this book is written for you."
Most definitely it is, but convinced Christians ought to be reading it, too. Keller is a pastor-philosopher extraordinaire, with a knack for graciously turning contrarian objections on their heads and thereby opening the way for thoughtful reexamination. We can learn a lot by paying close attention.
After one of Redeemer's "skeptics welcome" discussions, an older man approached Keller and said,
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. Thanks for this opportunity.
Jesus went through Samaria, and Paul went to Mars Hill, to go geographically where people were, to make a case for God so that they might hear. With the help of Dr. Keller, we can go where they are conceptually, to offer our friends and families the same opportunity. •
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