remembering Tim Keller: 1950-2023

“The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.”
-Tim Keller

As a pastor, few people have influenced my thought and ministry more than Tim Keller. He passed away today from pancreatic cancer at the age of 72.

I don’t remember the first time I listened to a Tim Keller sermon. I first remember being introduced to his preaching when I was in seminary. If you had asked the average Trinity MDiv student “what preachers do you listen to,” Keller was often on people’s short lists.

There are several ways in which Keller has influenced my preaching. More than anyone else, Keller taught me that preaching could be intellectual. It could be smart. It could engage with tough questions. A sermon could challenge people intellectually and Spiritually but still be delivered in a spirit of gentleness. That good sermons takes time (Keller generally spent about 20-25 hours writing his sermons).

Keller was a master of taking a Biblical text but preaching it with the whole story of scripture in mind. That no Biblical passage exists in isolation. They all fit into a larger redemptive story.

Since graduating from seminary seven years ago, I don’t listen to as many sermons as I used to. But I still listened to Keller often. And I will continue to do that.

There are some Keller sermons I’ve listened to over the years, and thought “there’s no other way I’ll ever be able to read this passage the same way again.” I think that’s what a great Bible teacher does.

Keller often quoted C.S. Lewis in his sermons. In many ways, I think that he was the closest this generation came to another Lewis figure. Several of books that Keller wrote were so monumental in my Spiritual formation. “The Reason for God” is a modern masterpiece. “The Prodigal God” explained the parable of the prodigal son in a way unlike anything I had ever heard.

I can’t help but think that part of the reason I’ve loved C.S. Lewis and the late British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones is that Keller loved them and referenced them often.

My wife and I met online, and one of the first ares where we found common ground was a mutual love for Tim Keller’s preaching.

One of the hallmarks of Keller’s preaching was always cultural engagement. In a time that is highly divided and polarized, Keller continued to tackle the hot button issues of our day without fear. I didn’t have to agree with 100% of the things Keller said, but I always respected the wisdom of Keller and the heart behind what he was saying.

In 2005, Keller and D.A. Carson (the other biggest intellectual influence in my life) co-founded the Gospel Coalition. In an era, where there are many “celebrity pastors,” and in spite of his renown, Keller seemed to be the anti-celebrity pastor. In 1989, he founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. It became a megachurch. Unlike many megachurches that revolve around one charismatic pastor, Keller stayed mobile and would preach at different campuses to avoid ministerial groupies participating in the church just to see him.

I know that many were influenced and enriched by Keller all over the world, and that many join in grieving his loss. I’m thankful that Keller’s writing and teaching will live on, and for the impact that he’s had on my life. Thanks Tim.

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
-Tim Keller