The Reason for God: Questions for Discussion (II)
BY: Denis Haack
Tim Keller, who is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, listens carefully. He listens not just to Christians but to non-Christians as well, and better than many thinkers today, has his finger on the pulse of our world. He hears the questions people raise about Christian faith, has thought deeply about the answers, and has honed how he expresses those answers in countless conversations. The result of this process can be found in The Reason for God, a book well worth reading and discussing.
To help you do that, Ransom Fellowship has prepared detailed reflection and discussion questions for each section and chapter of the book. Both sets of questions were formulated in weekly conversations I had on Keller’s book with two young friends: the Rev. David Richter, associate pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, and Dr. David Van Norstrand, medical student in the Mayo School of Medicine.)
We hope you find our discussion guide to The Reason for God helpful.
Please note: This posting includes questions for the second half of the book, chapters 8-14, which covers Part 2: The Reasons for Faith. Questions for the first half of the book are posted on our website under The Reason for God: Questions for Discussion (I). The questions are designed to get the group discussing the substance of Keller’s book, and may cover more detail than any particular group will be interested in covering. Discussion leaders will be wise to pick which questions to raise, and which topics, once raised, should be pursued in more detail.
1. Intermission is a chance to think over what has transpired during the First Act. Think back over the last seven chapters. Which chapter was most difficult for you? Which chapter provoked the most disagreement for you? Which chapter contained the most surprise? What sorts of action do you feel called to in your personal life and your professional or social life?
2. “Despite the claims of many to be such, there are no truly ‘generic’ nondenominational Christians. Everyone has to answer these ‘how’ questions in order to live a Christian life” [p. 117]. How do the particulars in these “‘how’ questions” differ from the essential issues laid out by the ecumenical creeds?
3. Keller says, “Many Christians claim that their arguments for faith are so strong that all who reject them are simply closing their minds to the truth out of fear or stubbornness” [p. 118]. If you are a Christian, be honest—do you at times agree with this sentiment? How does it affect your interactions with non-Christians? Does it bother you that the reasons for faith are not this “strong” or “airtight”? Do you think your discomfort is driven more by a desire to see the reality of God’s existence or in a desire to be right?
4. Thomas Nagel, an atheist, says “I am curious whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God—anyone who… doesn’t particularly want either one of the answers to be correct” [p. 119]. Discuss. How might you approach someone who claims to be indifferent?
5. Keller describes approaching the reason for God as a scientist might approach a theory [p. 120-121]. Without glancing at the Table of Contents, consider some of the “experiments” or “tests” in which you believe Christianity outperforms the other competing worldviews. Which are personally most important to you?
6. Why does Keller argue that trying to prove God’s existence is like looking directly at the sun? [p. 122]. What are the implications?
7. Keller offers Jesus Christ as the ultimate evidence for the existence of God [p. 123]. Have you thought of Jesus in that way before, as evidence? How can Christians talk about Jesus as evidence to unchurched people in a meaningful way?
8. What is Keller suggesting when he asks us to “put on Christianity like a pair of spectacles and look at the world with it”? [p. 123]. How is this helpful in justifying belief in God?
9. Keller says, “we must find the clues to his [God’s] reality that he has written into the universe, including into us” [p. 123]. Identify some of these clues. How can our senses find them? How compelling is this evidence to you?
Part Two: The Reasons for Faith
Chapter 8. The Clues of God
1. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga is convinced that there are no proofs of God that will convince all rational persons [p. 128]. Considering this along with Keller’s previous discussion about the difficulty with “airtight” arguments for God, how does this “recast” how you view discussions with non-Christians who doubt God’s existence? How does this affect your own sense of assurance?
2. Keller discusses the Big Bang Theory as a clue for God. Particulars and dates aside (both of which will always be disputed), recast this “clue” in your own words. How does it offer evidence for God?
3. Consider the “Fine-Tuning” argument [p.129-132] and the regularity of Nature argument [p. 132]. Again, recast them in your own words. What do these arguments say about the relationship of science and religion, or more specifically, science and Christianity?
4. Keller says that the beauty of art/nature creates a longing that is a clue for the reality of God [p. 133-135]. What does this longing signify and how could you articulate this idea of “unfulfillable” desires to someone who lacks a “Christian vocabulary”? Think back to a beautiful painting or landscape you have experienced: Have you felt this longing?
5. Keller’s says, “If you don’t believe in God, not only are all these things profoundly inexplicable, but your view—that there is no God—would lead you not to expect them” [p. 140]. Keller challenges the reader of the inconsistency of arguing that God does not exist, but living as if He does. Consider your relationships with non-Christians. Have you ever had opportunities to lovingly challenge them with their own contradictions? Have they ever challenged you with your own contradictions? If you have not owned up to your inconsistencies, what plans should you make?
6. Recast the “clue-killer” in your own words [pp. 135-139]. Have you ever heard it raised by skeptical friends? How did you respond? How effective was it?
7. Often these “clues” for God’s existence are put forward as “proofs.” What reasons might believers have for presenting them as “proofs”? How might this (mistaken) effort to argue for the truth of God’s existence end up being counterproductive in a skeptical world?
8. This chapter would be an interesting piece to discuss over lunch or coffee with a group of skeptical friends, taking the time to talk through each section and listening to their ideas, objections, and feelings. (It would probably require a series of conversations.) Do you have friends who might be willing to do so?
Chapter 9. The Knowledge of God
1. Keller says that though many conservatives complain that young adults are “relativistic and amoral,” he has not found that to be the case [p. 143-144]. Does Keller’s claim surprise you? Why or why not? Why is this observation important to his argument in this chapter? Have you heard this complaint? On what do the conservatives base their complaint? What has led to this generational and cultural misunderstanding and what has been the result?
2. “People still have strong moral convictions,” Keller says, “but unlike people in other times and places, they don’t have any visible basis for why they find some things to be evil and other things good” [p. 145]. Have you encountered this phenomenon? When asked about it, how do people tend to respond? How is this different from being “relativistic and amoral”?
3. What is the difference between, and significance of, moral values and moral obligation? [p. 146-147]. Dr. Keller defines moral obligation as: “a belief that some things ought not to be done regardless of how a person feels about them within herself, regardless of what the rest of her community and culture says, and regardless of whether it is in her self interest or not.” Do you agree with this definition? Why or Why not? Why do you think so many people in our culture take issue with this view?
4. The existence of moral values and obligations can be explained by sociobiology or evolutionary psychology [p. 147-148]. What, in your own words, are those explanations? What are the strengths in those theories? What are the flaws in those theories?
5. Do you think Western Christian values are better than the values of other cultures? If so, on what basis can we make such a claim? If not, then as Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban says: “What authority do we as Westerners have to impose our own concept of universal rights on the rest of humanity?” [p. 149].
6. When you have asked secularists on what they base their belief in human rights, how have they responded? [p. 150-153]. What answers are commonly given? Discuss the adequacy of each answer. On what do you think the concept of human dignity depends? How would you defend your view? What do you think of Dr. Keller’s claim that; “Rights cannot be created—they must be discovered, or they are of no value”? Do you think this view fits well with the way the world works?
7. “If there is no God,” Keller asserts, “then there is no way to say any one action is ‘moral’ and another ‘immoral’ but only ‘I like this’” [p. 153]. Do you agree? Do your secularist friends agree? Nietzsche; “If God is dead,” Nietzsche argued, “any and all morality of love and human rights is baseless. If there is no God, there can be no reason to be kind, to be loving, or to work for peace.” If this assertion is true, as Dr. Keller claims, then why do so many people in our culture live as if it weren’t?
8. Keller set out in this chapter to primarily discuss not the adequacy of secularist views of ethics and human rights, but the idea that all human beings actually know God exists [p. 142]. Has his argument succeeded?
9. Keller quotes Annie Dillard who lived by a creek, observed the violence in nature, and wrote eloquently about what her observations suggested about morality. “There is not a person in the world that behaves as badly as praying mantises,” Dillard wrote. “But wait, you say, there is no right or wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept! Precisely! We are moral creatures in an amoral world… Or consider the alternative… it is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss… All right then—it is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave… lobotomized, go back to the creek, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first.” [p. 155]. What is the significance of Dillard’s observation and reflection?
10. “If a premise (‘There is no God’) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (‘Napalming babies is culturally relative’) then why not change the premise?” [p. 156]. When have you had to change a premise? How difficult was the process? What does this suggest for urging other people to change their convictions and values?
11. “It is dishonest to live as if he is there,” Keller says referring to God, “and yet fail to acknowledge the one who has given you all these gifts” [p. 158]. Even theists who are committed to God’s existence can live as if he were absent. What might that look like?
12. Did you find Dr. Keller’s argument in this chapter that everyone knows that God exists to be convincing? Why or Why not? Why does Keller say that the fact that we live “as if beauty and love have meaning, as if there is meaning in life, [and] as if human beings have inherent dignity”, proves his assertion that we all know that God exists? [p. 157-158]
13. Do you think Dr. Keller’s intention is for us to use his statements in this chapter as weapons to win arguments with our non-Christian friends? Why or Why not? What is his intention? What does the difference look like?
14. Read Keller’s quote from Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. As someone who knows that a Christian God exists, how much does this still encapsulate your day-to-day behavior? What plans should you make?
Chapter 10. The Problem of Sin
1. Compare and contrast the two H. G. Wells’ quotes at the beginning of the chapter. What difference in perspective do you notice? [p. 159]
2. Keller defines sin as the turning of good things into ultimate things. Do you agree? How do you see this in the world around you? How do you see this struggle played out in your own personal experience? [p. 162]
3. Keller discusses the personal and the social/national consequences of sin. He then moves to a discussion of creation? Why? Reflect on the Creation narrative recorded in Genesis 1-2. How does this story restructure the purpose of work and life and culture? [p. 165-169]
4. Keller ends the chapter with a description of what living the Christian life should look like. “Does that scare you?” he says. “Does it sound stifling? Remember this—if you don’t live for Jesus you will live for something else.” Take stock of what good things in your life are threatening to become ultimate things. What steps can you take to be more sensitive to these temptations? [p. 171-172]
Chapter 11. Religion and the Gospel
1. Keller quotes Flannery O’Connor’s character Hazel Motes saying that “he knew that the best way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” How can this still be a danger for those who have the right “by grace alone” theology? [p. 177]
2. How does Keller define Pharisee? To what extent are you prone to Phariseeism? Why is it so damaging to the church's witness? [p. 178-179]
3. Read Richard Lovelace's quote on pg. 178-9. Consider how dark side in each of us may succumb to such thoughts. What steps might you take in your own life to combat such attitudes? How does this statement apply to how we interact with other Christians, especially those who may differ from us on doctrinal beliefs and religious practices?
4. Keller contrasts two people doing the same things for completely different reasons. In this context, read Matthew 6:1-18. How does Keller’s argument compare with Jesus’ teachings of good deeds in the Sermon on the Mount? [p. 180]
5. Keller discusses obedience that is driven by a “fear of rejection.” To what extent is this true of you? How might we better cultivate relationships among our fellow Christians so as to alleviate this fear? [p. 180]
6. In discussing a fuller understanding of the Gospel of Christ Keller says, “I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” What might a faith community look like where people lived this out? Keller says that this understanding of the Gospel “gives us a new basis for harmonious and just social arrangements.’ Who is he talking to here? Why does Keller take this approach? [p. 181]
7. Keller describes a woman who truly understood the cost of Christianity [p. 183]. State in your own words how this understanding shatters any preconceived notions that salvation by grace alone will lead to an unbridled life.
8. Keller has contrasted Gospel and Religion in this chapter. Keller quotes Luther in saying that the default mode of the heart is religion, even after conversion. Examine your own life. What prayer can you offer or choices can you make to replace the religious that remains in your life with gospel?
Chapter 12. The (True) Story of the Cross
1. In your own words, define forgiveness? Explain in your own words why Jesus had to die on the cross rather than God just forgiving us. [p. 187]
2. How does Keller respond to the argument that Jesus’ death on the cross is an example of “divine child abuse?” [p. 187, see also p. 192-193]
3. What, according to Keller, are the consequences of a tit-for-tat view of retribution? [p. 188]
4. Why does Keller say that forgiveness feels like ”a kind of death”? What is the significance of this insight? [p. 188-189]
5. Why does Keller say that we are defeated until we can forgive an offending person? Did it surprise you that Keller says wrongdoers should be held accountable only after we forgive them? What does he mean by this statement? [p. 189-190]
6. What is the difference between true forgiveness and “cheap grace”? How does the fact that Jesus bore the cost our sins free us to do the same for others? [p. 191]
7. How is Jesus’ death a good example to us? Is it possible to have a God of love if we take away the doctrine of the cross? How might your answer to this question affect your view of relationships? [p. 193-194]
8. How is the concept of substitution “at the heart of the Christian message”? Why is this concept so important to our discussion of forgiveness? [p. 194-195]
9. How does Keller respond to the assertion that the cross is a tool to encourage the oppressed to simply accept violence and injustice? How does the new perspective presented by the gospel create a great reversal among those who have been transformed by it”? [p. 195-196]
10. How might the idea of “the great reversal” of the gospel affect your answer to the question as to why Jesus had to die? [p. 197]
11. What is the difference between the gospel and an emotionally moving story of personal sacrifice? How can the answer to this question change your life? [p. 199-200]
Chapter 13. The Reality of the Resurrection
1. Keller says of Jesus’ resurrection, “If it happened, it changes our lives completely.” Do you agree? What questions might you have about this assertion? If you believe in the resurrection, how has it changed your life? If you do not believe in it, how might you suppose your life would change if you became convinced it really happened? [p. 202]
2. After outlining a series of arguments, Keller concludes, “That meant the tomb must have been empty… We can’t permit ourselves the luxury of thinking that the resurrection accounts were only fabricated years later” [p. 205]. Do you find Keller’s argument compelling? Why or why not? Do you think a skeptic might find it compelling? Why or why not?
3. What is “chronological snobbery”? Where have you encountered it? Where have you demonstrated it yourself? [p. 206]
4. Keller says that historian N. T. Wright has shown that both the Greek world and the Jewish world of the first century found the notion of bodily resurrection to be impossible. What is the significance of this historical fact? Restate Wright’s findings in your own words. [p. 206-208]
5. Keller lists a series of questions that a skeptic must answer if they are to dismiss the historical validity of Jesus’ resurrection. Do you find the Christian answers plausible or compelling? Why or why not? [p. 210]
6. “If the resurrection of Jesus happened,” Keller concludes, “that means that there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world.” If this is true, why do some Christians argue that the needs of the world are of secondary importance to personal salvation? What would you say to them? [p. 212]
Chapter 14. The Dance of God
1. Summarize in your own words Keller’s description of how the Trinity informs our view of God as “love.” Imagine that your neighbor is a Buddhist, who remarks to you that she believes that true love is an illusion. How would you describe to her how the nature of the Christian God confronts that belief? [p. 216]
2. Keller says, “This [idea of God creating the world to share it with us] leads to a uniquely positive view of the material world.” Is this conclusion surprising to you? What implications does it hold for our interaction with nature and the environment? What implications does it have for your sense of calling in life and culture? [p. 219]
3. In “Returning to the Dance,” Keller points out that in turning to Christ, “all your relationships will begin to heal.” Why does Keller start here? Do you think that this is normally what non-Christians might expect from a “religious conversion?” Has this been true in your life? Why or why not? Who in your own life is hurting from relationships marred by the fall, and what opportunities might there be for sharing this “self-giving love” with them? [p. 221]
4. Keller says, “The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it.” What implications does this have for how you approach your work, your relationships, your approach to caring for the earth, and your place in society? [p. 223]
5. Keller describes Christians as the “true revolutionaries.” Why does he use this term? How might this term be misunderstood by Christians? How might this term be misunderstood by non-Christians? Consider your own calling and life in light of this section. [p. 225]
Epilogue: Where Do We Go From Here?
1. If you have read this book and you are not a Christian, what motivated you to keep reading? How might serving God be different from what Keller calls shamanism. What is your response to this argument? [p. 227-228]
2. For both Christian and non-Christian alike, consider the implications of Jesus’ all-or-nothing message. Does your life reflect that reality? What would need to change for that to be the case? [p. 228-229]
3. For the non-Christian seeker—consider making an actual list as Keller recommends. What conclusions do you draw? For the Christian—think back on your own conversation story and those of your friends and family. What barriers did they/you encounter? [p. 231]
4. What are the two things Keller says are necessary to come to Christ? Define them in your own words. [p. 233]
5. Then Keller adds a third thing that is necessary for someone to become a Christian—what is it? Identify different reasons why so many people find this third thing so difficult. What steps can you take in your own community of believers to make that step easier? [p. 235]
6. Keller ends the book with a story that illustrates a startling reality about salvation. What is that reality? Are you uncomfortable with this idea? In what ways are you part of the “freaks and lunatics”? What part of you may still be with the “morally upright tribe”? How might it be reassuring for someone struggling to find faith to pray, simply, “God, come and find me?” [p. 240]
Denis is the author of The Rest of Success: What the World Didn’t Tell You About Having It All and has written articles for such journals as Reformation & Revival Journal, Eternity, Covenant, and World. He holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis.
||This year spring came late to southern Minnesota, and when it arrived it brought chilly temperatures, cloudy skies, and lots of rain. Whether it is because of these factors or something entirely different I don't know, but 2013 has turned out to be The Year of the Morel. If you have never sampled these delicious mushrooms, you are in for a treat. We've found them on more than one walk in the woods, and so feel we have had a special opportunity to experience one of the wonders of creation.
Morels, goldfinches, a well crafted film, an iris bursting into bloom, a chance for an unhurried conversation in a safe place--such glimmers of hope help us flourish as persons in this broken world. These are the sort of things we are concerned with at Ransom. Thanks for visiting.
Denis & Margie Haack