Review: Tim Keller’s Encounters with Jesus

Tim Keller’s latest book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions was previously released as a series of 10-ebooks bearing the titles of each of the chapters in this compilation. The first five chapters are based on five addresses Keller gave to students (mostly skeptics) in Oxford Town Hall (Oxford, England) in 2012. These chapters address the foundational worldview questions about the meaning of life. Chapter 1 looks at Jesus’s encounter with Nathaniel (the “skeptical student” and intellectual snob) in John 1, addressing perhaps the most fundamental of all the big questions of life: Where should we and where shouldn’t we look for answers to the big questions of life? Chapter 2 asks the question of what is wrong with the world, because you can’t move on to the solution until you’re aware of the problem. Here, Keller examines Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus in John 3 and the Samaritan woman in John 4. Keller juxtaposes these two stories in the same chapter to show that everyone (whether a drug-addicted prostitute or a highly respected religious leader) is a sinner, equally lost, equally desperately in need of new birth.

The third chapter opens up Jesus’s encounter with Mary and Martha in John 11, expounding upon who Jesus is and what He came to do. Here Keller discusses the “liar, lunatic, Lord” trilemma made famous by C.S. Lewis, answering some objections to that argument. Chapter 4 addresses how things can be made right in the world by looking at the encounter with Jesus at the wedding in Cana chronicled in John 2. Keller masterfully expounds upon the profound spiritual significance of this “sign miracle,” one that often might seem insignificant to the modern reader. Having looked at how Jesus makes right what has gone wrong in the world, the concluding chapter of the first section looks at the story of Jesus’s encounter with Mary Magdalene in John 20, expounding upon how we are to respond to what He has done.

The latter 5 chapters are based on a series of talks that Keller gave at the Harvard Club of New York City, where he spoke regularly to business, government, and cultural leaders over a period of several years. Having addressed, in part one, the issues of sin and our need for a savior, the second part looks at what Christ has accomplished in the main events of His life and how we can encounter Him. For, the only way for our lives to be transformed forever is to encounter Christ. In these chapters, Keller intentionally left out the best-know events in the life of Christ–His birth, death, and resurrection–precisely because they are so familiar. The meanings of these stories are generally clear.

Keller takes us on a journey through some of the lesser-known incidents in Jesus’s life that take us even deeper into what Christ did to save us. Christ overcomes evil for us (chapter 6), advocates for us and sent us another advocate (chapter 7), obeys perfectly for us (chapter 8), and ascended into heaven for thereby ushering in a new relationship with us (chapter 9). The last chapter looks at the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, for in many ways, Mary is like us.

In this book Tim Keller accomplishes something that I think is rather difficult to do well–he wrote a book addressing Christians and non-Christians. I think this would be a great book to give to seekers. Tim Keller has keen insight into culture (he quotes both classic and contemporary books and moves, using them to make insightful illustrations) and is adept with apologetics.

At many points in the book, he specifically addresses the non-Christians. He answers common objections well and anticipates and addresses further objections to his answers. He gives the skeptic convincing arguments to consider the truth claims of Christianity. And most importantly of all, the gospel is woven throughout the entire book. This book would also be good for new Christians, or those who have been in the church for a long time but have never had a true encounter with Jesus, and perhaps haven’t had an encounter with Him in a long time. Keller has mined the gold from these texts of Scripture, and any Christian is bound to have their minds expanded and hearts stirred, even if they have read these accounts countless times.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jennifer Guo is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. She also loves the artsand is part of a performing arts ministry that uses a variety of mediums to communicate the gospel, God’s heart, and His design for sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Jennifer also loves running and cooking (and not because running allows her to eat more). You can follow her @JenniferGuo or read more reviews at her blog Jennifer Guo.