Tim Keller at Google: The Reason for God

This post doesn’t exactly fit in the course of the basic SMUG curriculum, but I hope you’ll bear with me. And at the end I promise to tie it into social media.

Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a flourishing congregation in the heart of New York City. I’ve heard him speak (not in person, but via mp3) and have appreciated and enjoyed his presentations, and today I heard both that he has written a book called The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, and that he had given a fascinating talk about it at Google’s headquarters, as part of the AtGoogleTalks. Here’s his Google presentation, which I understand had the biggest attendance of any for a visiting author in at least the last couple of years.


If you want a taste of the argument, check out his answer (starting at about the 20:30 mark in the video and going for about 3 minutes) where he counters the conception that like the blind men each touching a different part of the elephant, all religions have a portion of the truth.

I hope that will whet your appetite, and that you’ll check out his whole presentation. Lots of others have found it worthwhile; the crowd at Google was large, and while the video hasn’t achieved Obama Girl viral status, as of this writing it has been viewed more than 48,000 times on YouTube.

Interestingly, Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan has more than 5,000 members, but it hasn’t grown to that point through the marketing methods of many of the megachurches. Keller’s style is low-key and extremely thoughtful. Here’s what the New York Times has to say about him and Redeemer:

Unlike most suburban megachurches, much of Redeemer is remarkably traditional. What is not traditional is Dr. Keller’s skill in speaking the language of his urbane audience….Observing Dr. Keller’s professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal.

So what’s the social media tie?

While Keller is using a Gutenberg-era medium to make his argument in full (I’m about 85 pages into it, and it’s quite good), you’re reading about it and watching this through social media tools (YouTube and blogs) that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Back then you wouldn’t have had an opportunity to hear and see his presentation unless he or his church bought airtime on your local TV station. And if you didn’t happen to tune in at that exact time, you’d miss it. You surely couldn’t skip to the 20:30 mark and hear the answer to the blind men and the elephants.

The ability to see and hear interesting talks when it’s convenient for you (and to easily share with your friends) is an amazing benefit of social media.

And instead of raising large amounts of money to buy airtime, the message can be communicated at no charge…which enables messengers to focus on the content instead of amassing the means to distribute it.

That’s a great thing. And I hope you find Keller as thought-provoking as I have.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

2 thoughts on “Tim Keller at Google: The Reason for God”

  1. I agree it’s pretty cool that I could quickly and easily skip to the 20:30 mark and hear the critique to the Blind Men and the Elephant story in Keller’s presentation. I found it interesting indeed, and, if I may, in the spirit of a university (even a virtual one), I’d like to reply here with my reaction to his remarks. I beg your indulgence if that diverges too far from the SMUG core curriculum.

    Keller essentially retells Leslie Newbigin’s criticism of the Blind Men and the Elephant story, where that story has been used to assert that “every religion has a little bit of wisdom, but the fact is that nobody has the truth, nobody can see the whole picture.” Keller states: “You can only tell the story from the standpoint of someone who is not blind.” He challenges the audience: “How dare you? You see, it’s a kind of arrogant thing to say nobody can know the whole truth, because it’s a universal truth claim.” It is perhaps also somewhat of a conceit to take a story intended as allegory and analyze it as if it were a precise analogy. If I may extend such a conceit in a different direction, the blind men could have each moved around the elephant to examine it in its entirety (though the elephant may have gotten a little testy with too intrusive of an examination). Even though each blind man may not have “seen” the entire elephant at once, relying on memory each individual could construct a more complete image in his mind. However–and this is perhaps more in line with the point of the original allegory as applied–each would still not have the full perception afforded to a sighted person (color, sheen, etc.) as each is similarly “impaired”. Furthermore, a sighted person who can see the entire elephant at once would not be able to perceive the nuances the blind men might feel with their heightened senses of touch. When it comes to fully and precisely describing that which exists on a divine plane, if I may, all of us are by definition impaired somewhat in our perceptions, as, after all, we are only human.

    I haven’t watched the video clip in its entirety yet, but I did react positively to some of Keller’s other points about the existence of God. But that’s a different question from the one of Christianity’s claim to be the one truth, which is a tougher one for me as I have tended toward the religious pluralism end of the spectrum which Newbigin and Keller criticize. In short, I find Rene Girard’s controversial arguments for the superiority of Christianity over other religions the most persuasive (see his book: “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning”). As I understand Girard’s reasoning, the reversible impairment we have is that perception which we unconsciously conceal from ourselves (“Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World”). A possible conceit that I see in Girard’s writing is that, as he says, everything is there in scripture. It’s just that the central insight he expounds upon he claims is presented in the Bible in an “ultrarapid [sic] but complete” fashion. One might get the impression it’s almost as if he’s conveying: “It’s ultra-rapid, so thank God I came along to be able to slow things down for you”. I remember having a pleasant conversation with an Episcopal priest who sat next to me on a flight. We both got a bit of a chuckle out of that one.

    I guess there’s likely to be–perhaps unavoidably so–a bit of intrinsic arrogance in this business of explaining the divine to simpler folk who might not otherwise “get it”. Not that arrogant by necessity means untrue. The stereotypical surgeon may be arrogant, but we are readily forgiving of such behavior, as saving lives is worthy of our unyielding respect. Perhaps saving souls could be placed in the same category?

    Thanks to Google Books, I can put a link here to Girard’s “ultrarapid” quote in context on page 41: http://books.google.com/books?id=O2VSLxGpIt8C&pg=PA41. There was a way to also highlight it, but that modified URL seemed much longer, so I’ll simply note that it appears in the 2nd paragraph. I’ll also add a link here to Leslie Newbigin’s critique: http://books.google.com/books?id=q6tEnRYaHI8C&pg=PA9.

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