In this post I will be discussing the Keller’s 12th chapter. This is another chapter devoid of any claims or arguments for god’s existence. It is instead wholly devoted to arguing that Jesus had to die.
I have a hard time knowing how to handle these sorts of chapters. First, they are built on acceptance of all of Keller’s previous points, which I don’t, so they don’t really make any sense to me. Second, they aren’t about the topic I thought we were discussing.
I’m going to blow past a lot of objections to this chapter. Again, I’m not trying to be complete in my rebuttal to this book. Frankly, I think mentioning this chapter at all is more than technically required. So let’s just agree that everything in this chapter is premised on assumptions I’ve previously argued are ill-founded and move on.
In this chapter, Keller says a few things I think I agree with. Like, vengeance is bad and forgiveness is good. These are pretty poorly defined, even for Keller, but I can’t say I’m wholly opposed to the notion. Where Keller loses me is his reason for his belief.
Keller starts out by pointing out all the real benefits of forgiveness and deficits of revenge. Like, that you might expect reprisals from revenge, and that often time forgiveness will result in a better outcome on a societal level. For me, that’s where it ends. We’ve thought through the options and recognized that forgiveness is a good solution, at least some of time.
But Keller goes on. He talks about various modern stories with a sacrificial theme, and how emotionally stirring they are. Then he says even they don’t affect real change. He can only bring himself to actually forgive more when he considers the gospels, and how Jesus’s death is the true pinnacle of sacrifice.
This is a real problem for me. What if we found archaeological evidence that Jesus didn’t exist, or didn’t die on the cross? What if Keller reads my blog and loses faith in god? Does that mean revenge will become the better option suddenly? No. The reasoning is unchanged. The right things are still the right things. God, and Jesus in this case, are unnecessary. Just like always.
Don’t insert anything between you and your reason. It adds instability.
That’s the real lesson of this chapter, at least for me. Keller has to write a whole chapter in a book defending an ancient story just to recognize that vengeance is a bad idea. The story of Jesus dying on the cross doesn’t even have to be true for the message of forgiveness to be true. Why, then, does Keller spend 16 pages of his book on this tangential topic? These are the contortions of man with a Jesus shaped instability.