The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Eleven: Religion and the Gospel)Posted: November 12, 2013
Chapter Eleven: Religion and the Gospel
Keller begins this chapter with a quote from Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde saying it is a good example of “describing his evil self using classic Christian categories:” (P. 175) He explains the struggle of Jekyll is base nature and ego is a example of sin nature. Keller says there are two forms of evil and self-centeredness. One: breaking all the rules. Two: Keeping all the rules and becoming self righteous. Keller says the latter is the more damaging, like the pharisees.
Damage of Pharisaism
Keller paints the Pharisees as a group trying to buy their way into heaven, to stack a resume’ for God’s approval, but deep down they know they are not living up to what Keller calls standards. I assume he means the Levitical laws.
Again, the Pharisees did not have a concept of Hell and the Levitical laws were not written to keep Hebrews out of it. They are a social and moral code written to help the Hebrews commune with God and live good lives. Keller says the pharisees are like the legalistic Christians who cause other Christians to reject faith and never return to the Church. With 613 mitzvot (commandments) Hebrews are to adhere to, it seems Keller has a point, but lets keep in mind Jesus said to keep the law of Moses and the prophets. The difference with Jesus is the introduction of Hell and human sacrifice. If you gathered sticks on the Sabbath you may have been stoned to death (Numbers 15:32-35), but your soul wouldn’t have gone to hell for eternity. Its not until scapegoating in the form human sacrifice does the afterlife become perilous. While I am not in defense of Judaism, Keller is misrepresenting a culture and religion to make his more attractive.
The Difference of Grace
“There is, then, a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. ” (P. 179) He is absolutely right, but not for the reasons he thinks. Keller supposes one is done for fear of hell and the other is done is gratitude for the life we have been granted through the sacrifice of Jesus. Religion vs. Gospel. He seems to think the nature of God is consistent and we are the ones who change perception on how to be saved from hell. In reality it is the change of how we perceive God which changes, thus changing God. Which is more important, mitzvot or acknowledging human sacrifice and eternal torture? If I believe in YWHW Jesus was a prophet and hell is a Zoroastrian concept. If I believe in Jesus I am still supposed to follow the Talmud, however I am saved by grace so if I fail I am not damned. Keller repetitively tries to paint the Hebrew religion as doing good works to avoid hell and Christianity as superior since they acknowledge there is no way to be good enough, but Jesus forgave us of that too. I’ll say it one more time. HEBREWS AREN’T TRYING TO GET OUT OF HELL. THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN IT.
Keller is addressing the concept of grace allowing believer’s to act as they please because God will forgive them. He says if you feel this way you haven’t really entered into “radical” belief. If you truly believe in Jesus you will feel obligated to live your life in service of his sacrifice and this is a joyous way to be. I agree you think you are born evil, hell is real, and vicarious punishment through human sacrifice is a just solution, then sure you will be grateful. If you don’t think you are born evil, hell is like Hades (a myth), and human sacrifice for the purpose of vicarious redemption is always wrong, martyr or otherwise. This hardly seems like a healthy world view. It has been said you cannot love others until you can love yourself. How can someone who believes they were born deserving the worst possible of punishments ever truly love themselves? Secondly, if you were on trial for a crime, lets say graffiti, and the judge finds you guilty however he says you are forgiven because he is going to kill his child in your place. All you have to do is be grateful to him and his child for their sacrifice and you will have joy. Compulsory gratitude. This clearly is not a moral thing to do and it was cause utter guilt in the “forgiven”, not joy. You would be morally obligated to tell the judge not to kill his child and offer to take a punishment appropriate for the crime. There is no reason for an all powerful god to operate this way. Creating us without sin nature, not creating hell, not requiring innocent blood as the solution, so on and so forth are superior solutions. The central Christian tenants of scapegoating and compulsory love are far from moral and certainly not joyous.
Keller seems to feel he has convinced the reader at this point of the mystical ideas and intends to drive home Christianity’s superiority to other faiths. Grace on its face is an appealing idea, however grace by murdering the innocent for predestined crime put in place by the judge takes the joy and reprieve right out of it.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.