In January, 2008, I had the chance to spend a semester studying Shakespeare at Oxford University in England. I was raised in a Christian home, attended a Christian elementary school and high school, and was two and a half years into my undergraduate degree at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario at the time, so this opportunity was my first chance to step outside of the church and experience a world beyond Christian education. While I expected the semester to be academically challenging, I was unprepared for the spiritual questions that emerged as I began to interact with students, professors and some of the residents of Charlbury, a small countryside village fifteen kilometres northwest of Oxford where I was staying.
The semester was my first time being taught by non-Christian professors, academics who were quick to oppose my faith-based presuppositions with new atheist philosophy and deconstructionist approaches to the texts we were reading. Outside of the classroom, I found my beliefs challenged during weekly dinners with some of the townspeople who would generously host us, sharing some of their life experiences and stories about the town.
One conversation in particular stands out in my mind. A middle-aged couple had invited me over for dinner and after the meal we sat around the fireplace in their living. The conversation shifted from the small talk of dinnertime to larger issues like religion and they began to prod me with questions about my faith, noting that they had been reading the blog I was writing during my time there.
"You're a fairly devout Christian chap, aren't you?" my host asked. I nodded, explaining my church background and experience with Christian education. From that initial question, the conversation blossomed into a sort of mild debate, with the better-educated, more articulate couple posing their challenges to my belief in the God of the Bible.
"How can you think Christianity is the only true religion?"…
I stutter through a mostly inarticulate answer.
"If God is good, why is there so much bad in the world, and why has the church contributed to it?"…
I pause, completely unsure of how to respond.
"Doesn't modern science disprove much of the Bible?"…
Being an English student, I have NO knowledge of science or it's relation to scripture.
They were polite questions, asked without intent to offend or attack, and I left their home with a deep sense that I needed to re-examine my faith in light of the challenges they posed.
As I reflected on the conversation, several people in my life recommended that I read a book by New York Pastor and church planter Tim Keller. His book, The Reason for God, had just been released in February and quickly climbed onto the New York Times Bestseller list for the month of March. I bought the book and immediately devoured it in my downtime between classes that same week. By the time I had finished the introduction, I knew I had a lot to learn from the man who was being touted as "C.S. Lewis for the 21st century."
Keller has been compared to Lewis many times since 2008, and for good reason. Lewis was perhaps the most culturally engaged Christian writer of the twentieth century, and Keller himself referred to Lewis as one of his ‘formative heroes'. Keller, like Lewis, is a well-trained intellectual with a knack for relatability, employing a conversational approach that brings religion and theology down from the ivory tower to the living rooms and dining halls we find ourselves in daily.
The biggest lesson I learned through the opening chapters was the fact that I could no longer rest on my parent's faith, but instead had to make the Christian faith my own. In the introduction to the book, Keller urges believers and skeptics alike to "doubt their doubts". For me, this meant closely examining the doubts and skepticism that began to arise in the conversations I was having with atheists and agnostics, making space in my faith for questions that needed answering instead of dismissing them. "A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts," writes Keller. It is evident throughout the book that Keller has spent a good deal of time exposing his own doubts and beliefs to seekers and skeptics, and his experience promoting respectful dialogue between religious conservatives and liberal secularists translates seamlessly to the page.
Keller has a keen eye for cultural and intellectual trends, and he uses it to tackle the seven biggest objections to Christianity in the first half of the book before laying down what he believes are the seven strongest arguments for Christianity in the second half of the book.
We are excited to feature The Reason for God as our monthly book offer. To order you own copy and support the ministry of Crossroads, head to Crossroads.ca now.