Tag Archives: Tim Keller

Book Review: Making Sense of God (Tim Keller)

In 2008, Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer church in NYC, wrote The Reason For God, which addressed the doubts of both skeptics and believers. Now, eight years later, his Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World makes a case to skeptics that Christianity is relevant and brings “meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope.” Being more or less a prequel to The Reason For God, Making Sense is written primarily to skeptics of Christianity, but Keller’s audience certainly includes Christians too. He writes to give them the knowledge to discuss confidently with other skeptics.

Making Sense is made up of three sections.

  1. Why does anyone need religion?
  2. Religion is more than you think it is
  3. Christianity makes sense

He first explains that in the 1800s, humanists thought the world’s citizens would become more human as religion died away, which would lead to a decrease in wars and conflicts. Wars and conflicts have not ceased, and neither has racism nor eugenics. But clearly we can’t believe in Christianity since we can’t empirically prove its claims. But can that sentence be empirically proven? If we evolved, and survival is of the fittest, why love one another instead of (metaphorically) eating one another?One wants to feed the poor while the other wants to trample on them while climbing up the corporate ladder. Whose life meaning is correct?  Keller states that the concept of “natural” human rights came about in Medieval Christianity. All people, regardless of their status, class, gender, or vocation are owed some things. While taking care of the poor didn’t originate with Christianity, the Christian ideas of caring for the marginalized because all are created in God’s image permeate our society. We have a view of people being equal because of Christianity.

If all people are created to love and serve God, putting anything else will be a futile effort for nothing can satisfy us, and everything will disappoint and frustrate us. Our children will not always follow our dreams for them, our spouses will fail us, our bodies will break now, our houses will need repairing, we are replaceable. We are limited. We cannot do everything we want. Saying ‘yes’ to one person means saying ‘no’ to 10 others. Saying ‘yes’ to one woman means saying ‘no’ to all others at all times. People want to be “true to themselves,” but we are all connected. If everyone lived in a way that was “true to themselves,” where would the heroes be? Who would sacrifice themselves for others? No one wants to be a slave, but in being completely independent from all people and opinions one is a slave to independence. As Keller says, “You are a slave to it, because it forces you to stay uncommitted, and, probably, pretty lonely” (111).

Keller finishes his book showing how it is reasonable to believe in God and Christianity. He looks at the cosmic and intellectual design of the universe, morals, reason, beauty, and consciousness. Keller then looks at the sources for what we know about Jesus (the four Gospels), his character, wisdom, claims, freedom, the conundrum of Jesus (how a human was considered divine), and his resurrection.

Recommended?

Reviewing a book by Keller is always difficult for me. First, I think they should sell themselves. Second, there’s too much information to gather for a book review. I found this book fascinating and helpful in flipping the world’s claims around and seeing how they (at least those presented in the book), don’t make sense. Unlike The Reason For God though, occasionally a chapter felt like it dragged on, but this was uncommon. The writing is both readable yet dense, at times requiring the reader to slow down to absorb the arguments. Christianity is not merely a feel good religion. “Feeling good” requires knowing God himself and that he is wise and all-knowing. He is logical and loving. He is trust-worthy and faithful, and we can put our full confidence in him, even though we won’t have every answer.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Timothy Keller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 20, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Penguin Random House!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Random House. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: God’s Wisdom For Navigating Life (Tim Keller)

God's Wisdom for Navigating Life Keller Review

Many Christians use New Years resolutions to revamp their Bible reading. Tim and Kathy Keller have provided a daily devotional in the book of Proverbs (with some readings in other biblical texts). Proverbs requires a year (and more!) of daily consideration. It’s full of so much thought, and it is a book that reminds us that “you’ve never really thought enough about anything” (ix). Having just come out with a year devotional on Psalms, Keller says, “Psalms is about how to throw ourselves fully upon God in faith. Proverbs is about how, having trusted God, we should then live that faith out” (ix).

Proverbs are not truths that are true at all times. It is a “poetic art form that instills wisdom in you as you wrestle with it” (ix). Two ideas, sentences, or phrases are brought together to hit at a truth from different angles. They require you to wrestle with their meaning to know how to live. Keller gives an example. Proverbs 12.15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice,” whereas Proverbs 16.25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.“ The fool thinks a way is correct, but it leads to death and ruin. Yet, at the same time, ruin can happen to anyone. There is order in the world, but there is sin and chaos which come about from fallen sinners.

The reader is encouraged to read the book with someone else or with others. Most of the devotions end with a question to consider and a concluding prayer. Keller provides two other questions in the Introduction for the reader to consider each day:

  1. Where in your life or the life of someone else have you seen this observation illustrated?
  2. How can you put this observation into practice—in thought, attitude, word, or deed?

Instead of going straight through Proverbs, Keller organizes Proverbs into seven different sections.

  1. Knowing Wisdom
  2. Knowing God
  3. Knowing the Heart
  4. Knowing Others
  5. Knowing the Times and Seasons
  6. Knowing the Spheres (e.g., marriage, sex, parenting, money and work, power, justice)
  7. Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God

Keller doesn’t stop with Proverbs, but looks to Jesus. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Jesus is the fulfillment of all wisdom. He is the “greater Solomon” (Lk 11.31).

Keller is insightful and convicting. In section six, when it comes to justice, Keller pinpoints talking about righteousness and justice when it comes to the poor, asking questions such as:

  • “How are you building your character and relationship to God now, so that you will be able to do the sacrificial thing when the time comes?” (332)
  • Unjust social systems are set up which prey on the poor and helpless: low wages, excessive interest loans, prejudice against minorities and immigrants, and legal battles where the rich often get away scot-free. “Compared with those who are truly poor, most of us are wealthy in the eyes of the world. How are we being judged as believers for our use of the resources God has given us?” (334)
  • There are multitudes of ways that poverty can come upon someone. Fire. Divorce. Hurricanes. A bad loan choice. sometimes the people circumstances come upon made a rash, unwise decision. Sometimes it just sprung upon them. “How does compassion for the poor express itself in your life?” (335). “Do you need to confess any ways in which you have believed that the poor have brought their poverty on themselves by their agency alone? What have you deserved at the hands of God for your sins? What have you received?” (336). “What possessions of yours belong to others? How will you get them to those people? “(337).

Recommended?

If you’re looking for a new devotional book, I would recommend Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. Each chapter is short and only takes 1-2 minutes to read yet sometimes can take all day to consider. Keller helps us to consider the Bible each day more as God’s people. Have been made righteous in Christ, we should be living righteously before God and to others—our spouses, children, coworkers, and the poor among us. Having the wisdom of God available to us, we should work to gain more of his wisdom—to live well, to flourish in the new covenant, to serve, to work hard, to relax, to offer help, to be a good friend, to know what to do when difficult situations arise—to God’s glory. 

Lagniappe

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Tim Keller)

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Tim Keller Suffering book review

Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic of 50 years, said in a review on Keller’s book that, “like pickles in a jar, our minds are soaked with all sorts of secular subtleties.” It was Job who said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42.3b, 5-6).

Timothy Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (though he was pastoring there when he wrote this book), gives his reader a few steps with which to climb out of that pickle jar. His book contains three units: (1) philosophical, (2) theological, and (3) practical answers to the problem of evil. He helps us to (1) understand the furnace, (2) to face the furnace, and (3) to walk with God in the furnace.

Outline and Content

In Understanding the Furnace, Keller takes the philosophical route to talk about pain. He examines how other cultures have viewed suffering, how Christianity is better, and how our view should challenge the secular view. This is not to say that the wisest Christian will not be troubled by suffering, but they will not be debilitated by it. We are not to look for instant gratification. Through sacrificing for others, gain we a love, appreciation, and even a joy with them in the long-term. For many, “words like ‘suffering’ are unbelievably negative” (78). “The belief—that because we cannot think of something, God cannot think of it either—is more than a fallacy. It is a mark of great pride and faith in one’s own mind” (99).

Facing the Furnace offers the Christian a chance to grow in their ideas of suffering. Do we deserve the good life? Is God sovereign? Is he just? Is suffering just? We are self-centered beings. We want our independence and the ability to do whatever we want to do. But suffering shatters our false gods. Suffering shows us that we are not in command. But Keller remarks, “Suffering is both just and unjust” (130). Keller later adds, “This balance—that God is just and will bring final justice, but life in the meantime is often deeply unfair—keeps us from many deadly errors” (130). “God is both a sovereign and a suffering God” (130). The psalmist proclaims that it is this God who “fulfills his purpose for me” (Ps 57.2), but our God suffers and reigns. It was the wounded Lamb who was worthy to open the scrolls (Rev 5.6-7) of judgment against evil. “And so it is a wounded lamb who now is able not simply to judge wrongdoing but actually to undo the damage that evil has wreaked on creation” (156).

Walking with God in the Furnace brings along practices that we ought to grow into. It’s not enough to have a right mindset about God during suffering. We must show that correct thinking by doing; we need to so that we don’t revert back to our old ways of thinking. We learn to walk with God in daily prayer, Bible reading, loving our Christian family, worshiping together in community as we await Christ’s return. We learn to weep. We learn to listen to those who weep. Keller emphasizes that not all people suffer in the same way. Some need to hear the logical reasons first. Some need to hear the Bible verses of God’s faithfulness. Some just need to have someone nearby, to know someone cares, to know someone is there for them. We trust in the God we can’t see. We pray honestly to him.

“You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend” (Ps. 88.18).

The Chocolate Milk

Keller uses the image of a fiery furnace because of the well-known image of torment which fire brings. However, “if used properly, it does not destroy,” but instead refines (8). Keller acknowledges that this book does not need to be read in order (9). In fact, for the one who is suffering now, they shouldn’t start with part one. They should probably begin with part three, learning how to walk with God in their torment. They can read sections of part two when they need it.

Keller rightly points out that the reason the secular world emphasizes fixing the here and now is because that is all they have. They have no other happiness to offer. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t love others and do what we can to fix the world, but we know we can’t. All it takes is one hurricane to drown Houston, one ice storm for towns to lose power for weeks, one tornado to level buildings and houses—all that we have worked for. Keller doesn’t mince words. It’s not if we will suffer, it’s when. Christians need to get into the habit of walking with God now, praying, living in community, serving one another, and being ready to love when tragedy—small, great—strikes.

A true highlight of Keller’s book is the inclusion of a true story of suffering at the end of each chapter. Some stories finish with a good ending in sight. Others don’t. But they all present the growing faith of the sufferer and their stronger relationship with Christ.

Somehow in modern-day Christian circles, we tend to see God’s faithfulness as saving us from suffering. And yes, sometimes, in His great mercy, He does save us from suffering. But that is not the mark of His faithfulness. We see in Scripture that many of those He loved deeply are also those who suffered greatly. (Gigi, 185)

It is one of the many excellences of the book that Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case…. [T]he test would work only if Job did not know what it was for. God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make it possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone. God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries. But part of the discovery is to see the suffering itself as one of God’s most precious gifts. To withhold the full story from Job, even after the test was over, keeps him walking by faith, not by sight. He does not say in the end, “Now I see it all.” He never sees it all. He sees God (Job 42:5). Perhaps it is better if God never tells any of us the whole story of our life. (283, from Francis Anderson’s Job [TOTC] volume, pg. 270, n1)

Recommended?

Keller’s book should be read by all Christians. It is a solid reservoir of biblical truth. As The Princess Bride tells us, “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The Bible admits to our pain. It gives us no prosperity gospel, health-and-wealth, pie in the sky doctrines. Some have it easier, some just have it rough. We will walk through a furnace, but Godwho hung like meat on a cross before a crowd who couldn’t stop mocking him he will walk with you.

Lagniappe

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Tim Keller on Spiritual Maturity

In his book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ, Tony Reinke mentions Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, quite a few times throughout his book on John Newton. The reason for this is because “Timothy Keller claims John Newton as ‘the best pastor I’ve ever seen in my life,’ and cites Newton in more sermons than he does any other figure in church history except C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and Martin Luther. In 2013, Keller credited Newton’s letters for this influence on his own ministry….”

Keller says,

In his letters he [Newton] is often blunt, yet always tender. He is remarkably humble and open about his own flaws, but never in a cloying or self-absorbed manner. He is therefore able to point others to the grace of Christ on which he himself clearly depends…. Newton’s letters have influenced both my pastoral work and my preaching. Newton did not simply call people to holy living, but he also did close analysis of their motives and showed them the specific reasons they were failing to obey God. Decades of constantly reading and re-reading the letters have taught me how to do better analysis of underlying motives, so that when the high doctrines of grace are preached and applied, they do not merely press on the will but change the heart.

Tim Keller on Spiritual Maturity

This is footnote 17 from Chapter 7, The Growth Chart of the Christian Life in Newton on the Christian Life:

A father or mother in the faith is someone who has learned through spending the time, through relentless passion, a deep yearning that is consistent. You finally start to penetrate. You have regular communion with him. You know the One who is from the beginning.

Put it this way: You’re babies until you understand the difference between grace and works.

You’re adolescents until you understand everything is necessary that he sends and nothing can be necessary that he withholds. You stop blubbering about the hardness of life. You learn how to live according to the bare Word of God.

Lastly, you become a father or mother in the faith when you start to learn the disciplines of prayer and communing with him, so you regularly are seeing his glory. . . . Spiritually, people very often want spectacular things. They want great preaching. They want a great church. They want miracles. They want to see dramatic things happening in their lives.

They don’t like the routines. They don’t like praying and reading their Bible every day. They don’t just like learning the truth. Don’t you see the spiritual babyness in you? You’re unstable. You’re undiscriminating. You’re easily fooled. You tend to be exhibitionistic. You tend to like the spectacular, and you don’t like the grind. These are marks of the average Christian. These are the characteristics of the average church congregation. All I’m urging you to do is to humble yourself and encouraging you to say, ‘Yes, this is true of me, but I’m going to outgrow it’ (sermon, ‘Principles of Christian Growth: Part 1’).

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