Tim Keller’s well-deserved five-star review

January 16, 2014

keller_bookAs you probably know, I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog reflecting on Timothy Keller’s profoundly good book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. I’m gratified that this month’s Christianity Today agrees with my assessment, awarding the book five out of five stars. The reviewer, theologian Gerald Sittser, summarizes the book’s most important themes with the following:

It is only in the past 200 years, Keller argues, that Westerners have used evil and suffering as an argument against the existence (or goodness) of God. He is especially critical of the modern and secular view of suffering, which places all confidence in human reason and assumes that God, if he exists at all, exists solely to make us happy. This view helps explain why so many people avoid suffering at all costs, do their best to manage and minimize it once it interrupts their lives, and often yield to utter hopelessness when it persists. In the end, a secular view leaves us empty and alone, stripped of answers, devoid of all comfort and confidence.

The Christian answer to suffering, on the other hand, is more consistent, complete, and humane than any of the alternatives. It is attentive to human emotions. It views God as both sovereign and suffering. It alone satisfies the human longing for meaning and significance. And it is by far the most hopeful. Keller sums up the Christian perspective with the metaphor of a furnace. The flames of suffering consume our sinful inclinations, and yes, this is painful. But this purification process makes us holy, provided we turn to the God who reveals himself as both transcendent and present, Victor and Victim, Lord and Servant.

2 Responses to “Tim Keller’s well-deserved five-star review”

  1. Clay Knick Says:

    No doubt this is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject in years. He gets an A++ from me.

    Sittser’s books are great. If you have not read any of his read his first one then the rest. He’s had his share of pain & suffering. Lisa & I loved that first book. I had read it some years ago, but we read it together some months after her brother died while hiking in the Grand Canyon. We found it very helpful.

    Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Grace-Disguised-Soul-Grows-through/dp/0310258952/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389971992&sr=8-1&keywords=sittser

    Again all of his books are great. FYI, just in case you’ve not read any of his stuff. And, as I mentioned before: I have a few years head start on you. Just a few. 🙂

  2. brentwhite Says:

    Keller is writing with such bracing clarity on a difficult subject. He’s honestly saying things that a lot of Methodists are afraid to say—as if we’re afraid of God’s sovereignty.

    When something terrible happens, we must believe that God had the power to stop it from happening (without overriding someone’s free will). We may even have prayed that God would stop it. But he didn’t. Often God chooses not to intervene. That doesn’t mean he’s powerless; it means he has his reasons, and we can trust that those reasons are good, whether we ever figure out what they are. I find this deeply comforting and humbling.

    Keller’s lengthy discussion of Elisabeth Elliot’s book was very helpful to me.

    By contrast, when I read David Bentley Hart, for example, he won’t entertain the thought that God works through sin and evil to accomplish his will. That certainly lets God off the hook for our suffering, but it makes God seem impotent. I need more than a God who feels really bad about whatever is happening.

    Keller emphasizes that God both uses pain and suffering for his purposes (which is clear enough from scripture) and suffers alongside us. It’s crucial, as far as I can see, to hold these ideas together at all times. My theological education emphasized only the latter. Everything else was a “mystery” or whatever. Oh brother…

    I know Sittser’s name. I’ve seen it in other books. I’ll check him out.

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