Review: The Reason for God DVD and Workbook

A review of Tim Keller, The Reason for God DVD and Workbook, Zondervan, 2010.

The DVD is available here from amazon.com. The accompanying workbook is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. The DVD is not yet available from amazon.co.uk though when it is, it should be available here.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is a great introduction to the Christian faith that begins by tackling the common objections that people have to faith in Christ. It made top ten in the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list.

You’ve read the book, now you can watch the DVD. A DVD and workbook have just been released by Zondervan.

Except that this is not quite the book in DVD form. Keller has take a more creative approach. The six sessions are not monologues in which Keller presents the idea in the book. Instead he takes six common objections to Christianity and debates them with a group of unbelievers. Each session in about 18-20 minutes long. Keller gets perhaps a quarter of the air time. So these videos do not attempt to deliver knock-down arguments. The participants are not persuaded by the end of each session. Instead, each movie opens a discussion which includes a positive and engaging Christian perspective, but without this perspective dominating the debate. Keller does finish each session with a closing thought. This usually follows – as do many of his interventions – a presuppositional apologetic line. In other words, he turns the discussion back on the doubters to reveal the nature of their ‘faith’ and show the assumptions in their presuppositions.

So the movies are not designed to give to an unbelieving friend to watch on their own. I would suggest they can be used in two ways. First, with groups of Christians to give them the confidence to discuss the questions of their friends in a generous manner. Second, with groups of unbelievers as a way of opening up a discussion on their objections to Christianity. The introduction to the workbook says, ‘The guide and DVD are not about getting armed with arguments and answers so that they can be used as generic responses whenever anyone asks you about your faith. Rather you should start to become conversant with ways to sensitively, gently, humbly, and respectfully talk about the objections.’

The videos are beautifully produced. Each sessions is a 20-minute selection from a series of unscripted longer discussions supplemented by personal interviews with the participants. Sometimes the discussion is a little highbrow with terminology like ‘semantics,’ ‘reductionistic’ and ‘pluralism’ (though Keller’s contributions are always accessible). But I would not think this would get in the way unless someone has a chip about inaccessible vocabulary. Highly recommended.

Here is a trailer and the session titles …

1. Isn’t the Bible a Myth?
2. How Can You Say There Is Only One Way to God?
3. What Gives You the Right to Tell Me How to Live My Life?
4. Why Does God Allow Suffering?
5. Why Is the Church Responsible for So Much Injustice?
6. How Can God Be Full of Love and Wrath at the Same Time?

Here are my reviews of Keller’s The Prodigal God DVD and workbook and Gospel In Life DVD and Workbook – both also highly recommended.

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Love is all you need

I’ve just been reading the final discourse of Jesus (John 14-16) and was struck by the theme of love.

1. Love is key to knowledge

John 14:22-24: Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”  Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. 

The prerequiste for knowledge is love. This was the arugment of Augustine. Jesus reveals himself to those who love him. The Father makes his home in those who love him. Knowledge is relational. We know this from human interaction. We disclose to people we love and trust. Knowing someone in a significant way goes hand in hand with loving someone.

There is a counter-truth: those who do not love God can never truly know him. 

This means knowing God begins not with investigation, study or philosophy. It begins with love ad obedience. It begins with the fear of the LORD.

2. Love is key to obedience

John 15:9-16: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command … is my command: Love each other.”

Again we are in the territory of Augustine who (along with Luther) said: Love God and do what you want. Love creates genuine obedience. The alternate form of obedience is legalism. But legalism is self-serving. The legalist obeys for what obedience brings to them. Love obeys for the sake of the other – for the sake of God – and only that is true obedience.

And again there is a counter-truth: the world hates Jesus and it hates his followers (15:18-25).

3. Love is key to mission

Here we are straying somewhat from the final discourse:

John 13:34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 17:20-26: “… I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me … May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me … I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

The world will know as Christians love. If love is key to knowledge then love is also key to apologetics.

How to respond when told to stop forcing your opinion

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the final part of the fourth question.

How can I answer the question: ‘Why do you want to force your opinion on me?’<
1. Avoid trading personal opinions by pointing people to something Jesus said or did. Confronted people with Jesus so it becomes their opinion verses Jesus.

2. Suppose I spot a serious fault with your car that will soon cause a life-threatening and so I warn you of it. It would be madness to say, ‘Don’t force your opinion on me.’ Suppose I knew of a wonderful free gift available for all who ask. It would be madness to say, ‘Don’t force your opinion on me.’

3. ‘You may make it sound like a noble struggle for freedom. But the truth is you simply want the right to be selfish.’

4. When you say, ‘Let me decide for myself,’ you are saying, in effect, ‘I know better than God. I make a better god than God.’

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Truth and freedom

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the second part of the fourth question, ‘Why do you want to force your opinion on me?’

Submission lead to true freedom and love

– The notion of freedom can evoke strong emotions. But what is freedom? How would you define it?
– Look at John 8:31-36. According to Jesus, what causes people to be enslaved? What enables people to be free?

The assumption behind the rejection of Christianity as a straight-jacket is that freedom and restrictions are incompatible. But in reality restrictions often lead to freedom.

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Why do you want to force your opinion on me?

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the first part of the fourth question: ‘Why do you want to force your opinion on me?’

– A friend says it is up them to decide whether it is right for them to s ex outside of marriage.
– A friend says women should be free to choose whether it is right to have an abortion.
– A friend says each of us must develop our own ideas about God.

How do you respond to these statements? Why?

Jesus began his ministry by declaring: ‘The kingdom of God  is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:14-15) But to many people today the kingdom or reign of God doesn’t sound like good news. ‘I want to be free, ‘ they say. ‘Let me decide what I believe and how I live. I don’t want you Christians forcing your opinion on me.’ At that the end of the move, I, Robot (2004), the robot Sonny says, ‘Now that I have fulfilled my purpose, I don’t know what to do.’ Detective Spooner replies: ‘I guess you’ll have to find your way like the rest of us, Sonny … That’s what it means to be free.’

Truth leads to true freedom and community

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God and suffering #4

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the final part of the answer to the third question.

God has done something about suffering
Why doesn’t God do something about suffering? He has done something. He suffers with us. And he suffers for us.

At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem. He has made atonement for sins, he has conquered de ath, he has triumphed over the devil. He has laid the foundation for hope. What further demonstration do we need?[1]

God will do something about suffering
The cross is not the end of the story: Jesus rose again. His resurrection is the promise of an end to , an end to suffering, a new beginning, a new creation, without pain, without tears.

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Why does God allow so much suffering? #3

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the third part of the answer to the third question.

Suffering points to the glorious grace of God
What is the point of suffering? We don’t know because we’re not God. But maybe it is to demonstrate the glory of God’s grace. Paul says the purpose of God’s plan for the world is ‘that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.’ (Ephesians 2:7) Maybe suffering is designed to show the horrendous depth and consequences of our rebellion against God; maybe suffering is designed to show the glorious extent and cost of our redemption by God. Maybe without suffering we would never have appreciated God’s grace, nor felt secure in his love.

The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: ‘It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labour patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the centre and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose – that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.’ Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.[1]

Does this sound calculating on God’s part, as if human suffering was a price worth paying for his own self-aggrandisement? Then remember that God himself experiences our suffering. He dies experiencing the full extent of godforsakenness: ‘At the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice … “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”‘ (Mark 15:34) God himself cries out in protest against God!


[1] John Piper, sermon transcript, ‘The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth.’ (desiringgod.org)

Suffering may not be pointless

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the second part of the answer to the third question.

Suffering may not be pointless
‘A good and powerful God would and could prevent suffering so, since suffering exists, God cannot exist.’ So the argument goes. But this presumes that suffering serves no purpose; that it is pointless. Someone might say, ‘I can see that some suffering has purpose (pain warns us of illness). But what about the suffering of a child? What about so much suffering?’ But just because I can’t see the point doesn’t mean there isn’t one. To conclude there’s no point reveals an enormous leap of faith – faith in our the ability of our reason to understand life.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and then falsely imprisoned for many years. No doubt he often felt his suffering was pointless. But it meant he was in the right place at the right time to save thousands of people from famine. Looking back he could say to his brothers: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’ (Genesis 50:20) We normally don’t get the chance to look back like Joshua and see the point. But that doesn’t mean there is no point.

The Bible tells the story of Job, a man who lost his property, his children and his health. Job demands answers from God and God does respond. But he does not come to answer Job, but to question Job. ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me’ (Job 38:2-3). Job did not make the world, nor does he govern it. Job has no idea what the creatures ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’ are for. The only sense they make, they make to God. The natural order and the moral order are incomprehensible to us. God is ultimately inscrutable. Job doesn’t receive answers; he doesn’t get a theory. But he does receive God. ‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’ (Job 42:3-6) C. S. Lewis writes:

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer’. It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswer-able. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.[1]


[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, Dent, 58-59.

Our outrage at suffering points to a just God

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the first part of the answer to the third question.

Watch: Suffering

Our outrage at suffering points to a just God
‘How can anyone believe in God when there’s so much suffering in the world?’ exclaimed my friend Alan. ‘Life’s just a matter of the survival of the fittest.’ A few minutes later he was decrying dictators who exploit their people. ‘But Alan,’ I said, ‘you can’t have it both ways. If life is a struggle for then cruel dictators are its heroes.’

Why does suffering bring God into question? Why does it appal us? Ask these questions and people will talk about love, cruelty, justice, wrong, fairness. But these ideas all presuppose a moral standard by which we can evaluate the world. Our outrage at suffering implies things ought to be different. But why is there an ‘ought’ unless right and wrong have been written into the universe by its Creator. Suffering appears to make theism meaningless. But the alternative, atheism, makes suffering meaningless for everything is permissible.

Suffering causes us to protest against God. But the only protest that can be sustained is one that appeals to God’s justice. Our protest against suffering only makes sense if there is a God against whom we can protest. Our cry of ‘Why?’ only makes sense if there is a God who knows the answer.

The Reason for God

The Reason for GodI should have said before now that I’m using Tim Keller’s great new book The Reason for God, as my primary source for our series on apologetic questions. Some time ago I asked the congregation what were the main questions they were asked by unbelievers and their responses mapped on very closely to the questions Keller addresses in part one of The Reason for God. The main difference was that in our context the question, ‘Why doesn’t God reveal himself more clearly?’ was more prominent than Keller’s related question of the reliability of the Bible – perhaps because ours is a more secular and pluralistic context.

There’s a useful website that goes with Keller’s book with a number of additional resources including audio talks: http://www.thereasonforgod.com/