Hope in Times of Fear by Timothy Keller
Keller's exploration of what Jesus' cross and resurrection mean for us today
Hope in Times of Fear - The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter
By Timothy Keller
Hodder & Stoughton
Reviewer: Alec Gilmore
Writing when hope is desperately needed and in short supply, Keller (self-confessed ‘preacher and not an academic’) turns to something he learned in a Pennsylvanian Theological College 50 years ago: Christianity can transform your life but ‘Above all . . . you must believe that certain historical events happened’ (p 2).
‘Certain historical events’ are not specified, but context and content suggest the empty tomb and the physical appearances of a crucified Jesus. This is North American conservative Presbyterianism, left of the Southern Baptists, right of any hint of Liberalism. Sources and publishers are North American. UK scholars are few and mostly Conservative Evangelicals. Easter barely surfaces, but hope supplies the glue for 12 chapters.
Some readers will wonder how you can make yourself believe something 'to order'. Others will dismiss it as ‘a make-believe world‘ and find Keller’s explanation less than helpful when he says, ‘it actually happened, but is not a historical fact like all the others’ (Italics mine), side-stepping the oxymoron by adding that ‘Belief in the historicity of the resurrection ‘can change you wholly . . . not through intellectual assent alone . . . (but) by meeting the risen Lord personally and uniting with him by faith’, thereby opening the door to speculation that what makes the difference is not the ‘historical event‘ but the ‘belief’. It is a view which many hold, and will go down well with those who share his presuppositions, and on a topic like the resurrection no one can afford to be dogmatic.
It is however not the only one and Keller has more than one string to his bow. In a section ‘Colonies of Heaven’, he offers a couple of examples of the presence and power of the risen Christ, demonstrating how resurrection is the child of crucifixion and ‘not only brings the future into the present but also brings heaven to earth’ (p 44). Here he describes the origins of L’Abri (the Shelter) in Switzerland in 1955, a practical demonstration of Christian care and new life for people (whatever their background) struggling with 20th century problems, and now an international organisation.
In 1940, two US missionaries came to Europe ‘to promote American-style fundamentalist religion’. Disillusionment with what they found led to a crisis of faith for one of them (Crucifixion phase one). Recovery gave birth to a wholly new, and different, way of life as ‘Home’ became ‘Open House’, offering warm hospitality to their daughter’s university friends and allowing them to set the agenda, whatever their background. Teaching the traditional Christian faith and sex ethic continued, but unmarried mothers who turned up were warmly welcomed. The new life came at a price, financial and emotional: wedding presents wiped out, sheets torn, holes burned in rugs (Crucifixion phase two) as their sacrifice brought new life for others — an incontrovertible experience of resurrection. That too is a historical fact but with a difference. Resurrection Mark 1 is a ‘belief’. Resurrection Mark 2 is an ‘experience’.
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister