This series, then, will consist both of quotes from Keller's book and my own responses to it. In this sense it is not a review, critique, or a study guide; rather, this series will be my attempt to synthesize and summarize what I have studied and experienced over my life-- that is, what I have learned and have come to believe.
So, I start with these two quotes: the first from the preface where Keller defines "secular" and the second is from Chapter One, "Isn't Religion Going Away?"
"A secular person is one who does not know if there is a God
or any supernatural realm beyond the natural world.
Everything, in this view, has a scientific explanation."
"Strict secularism holds that people are only physical entities without souls,
that when loved ones die they simply cease to exist,
that sensations of love and beauty are just neurological-chemical events,
that there is no right or wrong outside of what we
in our minds determine and choose."
The first quote is Keller's definition--the one he will use throughout his book--so I won't respond to it. It comes from his forty years of working in Manhatten and talking with the skeptics and seekers prevalent there, as well as with believers, both strong in their faith and those trying to maintain their faith in the materialistic culture of New York.
I, on the other hand, have only rarely had a personal conversation with someone who would admit to believing all that Keller describes in the second quote. I have, however, known some people who do hold to the second and fourth parts of that description.
One man in his eighties and recovering from surgery, responded to my query about his readiness to die with the statement that he was ready because it would essentially mean the end of his struggle. He went on to say that he believed that this life is all there is--that once he died that would be the end of him. I was surprised at this answer since he was a fellow church member, and I assumed that he had the Christian hope of eternal life with God.
And on the fourth part of Keller's quote--the part about right and wrong--I know many people who reject biblical standards in favor of having a cafeteria approach to morality. Right and wrong are what they determine them to be. In many ways they are "good" people--some by comparison are better than I am. But on certain moral issues the word "sin" for them does not apply.
I have to say that my own life is not fully consistent with biblical standards. I must admit that I am included in this verse in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." This is why I am so grateful for the grace of God through Jesus Christ as seen in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" and in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes...".
I know I need grace and to be saved from my sinful nature. That, it appears, is what differentiates me from the "secular" person Keller describes: one who knows they need forgiveness from those they have harmed but not from a God they don't believe exists.
I do believe God exists and that Jesus Christ came not just to teach us how to live, but to make eternal life with God possible, reconciling us (and me in particular) to God by his sacrificial death, resurrection, and his presence in my life in the person of the Holy Spirit.
I'm eager to read more of Keller's book, for I hope it will help me give hope to others who are asking, "Is this all there is?"