As a typical New Englander (which I think I can call myself after 10 years), I was a bit skeptical of the title and reviews for Timothy Keller’s latest book, The Reason for God. I have yet to read an author who rivals C.S. Lewis in raw power and anointing when dealing with controversial, intellectual topics. Yet, Lewis was speaking in the 20th century to more of a modern mind. Today, we need someone who speaks our language. In this book, Timothy Keller deals directly with the popular objections to Christianity (“There can’t be just one true religion,” “Christianity is a straitjacket,” “Science has disproved Christianity”), while speaking a language that a post-modern audience can relate to. Instead of giving just answers (check out N.T. Wright’s works for a comprehensive study), Keller displays the erroneous underlying assumptions and misconceptions of questions while creatively and powerfully giving glimpses of what life with Jesus is really like.
This book is essential for youth ministry. I have seen multitudes of youth who started so well in high school, but fell out of community and were not equipped with the tools to deal with the intellectual and spiritual challenges of life after youth group (particularly in the university setting). It’s not just for the student who comes from a broken background and is confronted with these objections at home, but possibly even more essential for the one who grew up in a Christian home and the church and has not been truly challenged to deal with the tough questions.
Here’s how I would suggest using this book in your group:
1—Read it in community! For example, use it for a junior/senior small group. Possibly have a college student(s) lead or co-lead it if that works for your setting.
2—Experiencing God is the goal! Intellectual objections fall away when a shoulder is healed or someone experiences God’s love in worship for the first time. Here’s a suggestion: always pray before the group about who is coming, what God wants to do in them, and how the team can come alongside. Pray and have the people of the group keep track of prayer requests and answers to prayer. Truly get to know people in the group.
3—The audio version rocks!! I have found that the youth are much more likely to read/listen if it is on their iPod (and it is actually entertaining- in my somewhat…ok very nerdy opinion). I’ve already called the publishers and for each audio version you buy, you can make 3 copies…just don’t sell them.
4—Study it yourself! You do NOT need to be an expert on any of this stuff, and most youth are not looking for this from you. But they do need a trustworthy guide…one who understands the culture and points them to the source. If you don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know.” Dig into the endnotes of the book, ask those who may know more, etc. Then work to guide them toward God.
A final note: The Reason for God is an awesome opportunity to explore faith for those who are not Christians. A few suggestions on leading a group with those exploring faith: 1. This book is probably not a good idea for the first time you are leading a group like this. Establish a core, then have them help you lead it. 2. Have fun!!! Learn to laugh a lot. This goes along with the following. 3. Make it a safe place for questions to be asked and struggles to be aired. Truly, most of our strongest objections to experiencing God come from our own struggles, insecurities, family situations, trauma, etc. 4. Experiencing God is the goal!!