Making Sense of God

The philosopher Pascal once said that Christians should seek to first show that Christianity is desirable, then plausible, and only then to demonstrate that it’s true. If this is a preferable model for a winsome witness, then Tim Keller has mastered it as both a science and art. And if his influential book The Reason for God was aimed at showing the reasonableness and veracity of Christianity, his new book, Making Sense of God, sets its sights mainly on demonstrating the desirability of the gospel message.

Keller describes the book as a prequel to The Reason for God. He categorizes the chapters under three sections: (1) Why Does Anyone Need Religion?; (2) Religion is More Than You Think It Is; (3) Christianity Makes Sense. The second section is by far the largest, and what I found to be the most helpful, with eight chapters in comparison to the other two sections that have a total of five chapters combined.

Few authors can incorporate the amount of sophisticated reasoning, common sense observations, literary illustrations, pop culture references, and theological insights like Manhattan’s Pastor, Tim Keller. In this way, Keller frames his apologetic in a biblical framework draped in the human experience. That’s what makes his defense of the faith incarnational, showing how the gospel offers a compelling explanation of what it means to be human.

Like many before him, from Francis Schaeffer to C.S. Lewis, Keller shows how belief in Christianity makes sense intellectually, but like them, he also does much more. He demonstrates how the story of Jesus towers over secular attempts to create meaning. What is lost in the myriad of scientific negations in the secular story is our very humanity. It is at this point that Keller shines a bright gospel light to illuminate what Schaeffer described as the “mannishness of man,” the undeniable reality of an innate human understanding of life as more than biochemistry and survival instincts.

As pastor and author Andrew Wilson pointed out in his helpful review, Keller offers answers for questions skeptics ask in The Reason for God. In Making Sense of God Keller offers questions for skeptics who believe they already have the answers to the big questions of life. He does this by outlining cultural illustrations that demonstrate the difference between created meaning, as cultivated in secular soil, and the kind of discovered meaning that is available only if Christianity is true.

Discovered meaning, Keller argues, is more rational, more communal, and more durable than created meaning. That’s because created meaning is centered in the self, is held in contrast to the nature of external reality, and can change over time. Discovered meaning, as found in the gospel, provides an objective standard that Keller contrasts against a backdrop of the secular struggle against meaninglessness.

This compliments the apologetic approach popularized by Francis Schaeffer of demonstrating the inevitability of despair in rejecting a personal Creator. Like Scheaffer, Keller draws from the understanding of Nietzsche that the death of God leads inescapably to the death of man. For those dissatisfied with dearly held values that are at odds with their understanding of the world, Keller offers a full-orbed outlook of the universe as drenched in purpose and human life as endowed with innate meaning.

On this point Keller preemptively responds to a likely critique. Discovered meaning may very well fell captive to the same challenges as created meaning. How is one to know they have discovered true meaning? Doesn’t this sort of discovered meaning essentially boil down to a subjective valuation in the same way as created meaning?

This is why so many, including myself, appreciate Keller so much. He paints a compelling picture of the world without meaning, draws our attention to the necessity of a universal meaning outside of ourselves, and then shows us how we can never discover this meaning for ourselves:

“. . . Christians believe that Jesus is the Logos that the Greeks intuited – the meaning behind the universe, the reason for life. But unlike the philosophers, Christians believe that the Logos is not a concept to be learned but a person to be known. And therefore we don’t believe in a meaning we must go out and discover but in a Meaning that came into the world to find us.”

It’s this kind of methodology, so well stated, and so reasonably presented, that makes it difficult to write a critical review. If this book has faults it is surely the sort of faults that befall any book written for a skeptical audience. Perhaps skeptics won’t want to read a book by a pastor, or a book that is dedicated to arguing for the Christian faith, or one that is associated with apologetics. But how might I know who will or will not read it?

I do know this, for those who read it they will find a presentation of the gospel that would make Pascal proud. Keller shows us that the gospel is desirable beyond comparison because it illuminates the human experience, saves us from a frail created meaning centered in the self, and offers us a story that isn’t only beautiful and compelling: It’s also true.

I like to tell my apologetics students that Theism makes the best sense out of reality. But it is Christianity that makes the best sense out of Theism. That’s because, as Keller reminds us, ultimately we are incapable of discovering meaning on our own. It must discover us. This is the essential claim of Christianity, and the only way we might ever make sense of God.