Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

First Things editor Anthony Scaramone sat down with New York City pastor Tim Keller to talk about the latter’s new book entitled The Reason for God, and I recommend the interview to anyone who is interested in the work of reaching out to an increasingly secular and skeptical society. Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), one of the city’s largest, is best known for his book Ministries of Mercy, an excellent treatment of the Christian responsibility for the “least of these.” In The Reason for God, Keller sets himself the task of writing a new sort of Mere Christianity for 21st century America. Scaramone asks him, “What would you say is the greatest difference between how someone must approach apologetics today as opposed to when Lewis was doing it in the 1940s and 1950s?” Keller responds:

First of all, I’m inspired by Lewis, and my book is inspired by his book, but I’m a preacher first of all, not a writer, and I don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as a writer like C.S. Lewis. And yet everybody’s doing that, and I take it as a compliment, but it’s pretty unjustified. However, he’s the benchmark, so everybody’s going to be compared.

Lewis definitely lived at a time in which people were more certain across the board that empirical, straight-line rationality was the way you decided what truth was, and there’s just not as much of a certainty now. Also, when Lewis was writing, people were able to follow sustained arguments that had a number of points that built on one another. I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.

In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity—it just didn’t keep their attention, because they really couldn’t follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn’t something that they were trained in doing. I don’t think they’re irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.

I know for a fact that Lewis was just heavy sledding for even smart Ivy League American graduates by the mid-nineties. One of the reasons I started doing this was I thought I needed something that gave them shorter, simpler, more accessible arguments.

There’s a lot more in the interview. Check it out.


One of the most important Americans of the last two generations has passed from the scene:

William F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who showered huge and scornful words on liberalism as he observed, abetted and cheered on the right’s post-World War II rise from the fringes to the White House, died Wednesday. He was 82.

I can only imagine what he’d have to say about that first sentence of the AP obituary.

I was kind of a weird kid. I became a politics junkie at an early age, and went on to major in political science at Rutgers. I was also a debater in high school and college. Those two things meant that when I was a teenager, one of my favorite programs on television was Buckley’s “Firing Line.” I was not at all conservative, but that was beside the point. Buckley was so engaging, so skilled at verbal repartee, and so charming even toward those he disagreed with that I found myself sucked in, Sunday afternoon after Sunday afternoon. I’ve missed it, especially since so much of what has replaced it has been so vapid, uncivil, and mindless. I can’t believe Buckley thought much of what today passes for political discourse, given that so much of it is just plain coarse.

Whether you thought him a Neanderthal or a prophet, there have been few public intellectuals who have had more of an impact on American society. He will be missed.