In a flood of bestsellers by skeptics and atheists charging a nonexistent God with crimes against humanity, Timothy Keller stands out as an effective counterpoint and a defender of the faith. His new book, "The Reason for God," makes a tight, accessible case for reasoned religious belief. And his national tour of college campuses has drawn overflowing crowds. "This isn't because I'm well known," Keller told me, "but because of the topic."
But Keller is likely to be better known in short order. His 5,000-strong Manhattan congregation is a model of outreach to 20- and 30-something artists and professionals. Keller's church symbolizes an emerging urban evangelicalism -- at a recent service, he recalls, a Republican speechwriter sat near a songwriter for Madonna. Many of Keller's parishioners are deeply skeptical of the religious right, untroubled by evolution and begin their complex spiritual journeys with serious doubts.
Keller explains that members of this rising generation are not so much relativists as they are philosophically rootless. "They have a deep morality, but they have no idea why." And they generally share some objections to religious belief: that traditional faith is exclusive and intolerant and that the existence of suffering is inconsistent with the existence of a loving God.
A centerpiece argument of Keller's response might be called the myth of secular neutrality. "Skeptics argue that they have the intellectual high ground," he says, "but they are really making assumptions as well." An absolute doubt -- claiming that all truth is culturally conditioned -- can work only if it exempts itself from doubt and assumes the cultural superiority of rationalism. Raging against evil and suffering in the world assumes a moral standard of good and evil that naturalism cannot provide. Keller argues that the main criticisms of religion require "blind faith" of their own, and he urges people to begin by doubting their doubts.
But while Keller argues that all worldviews contain assumptions of faith, reason is not futile. It may not provide proof, but it does provide clues. The fundamental regularities of the universe that improbably favor life; the artistic beauty that reaches beyond materialism; the sense of love and duty that seems so much more than evolutionary instinct -- Keller argues that only theism explains our lived experience and deepest desires. "God is the only thing that makes sense of what we love."