Toward the end of the 20th Century, where Evangelicalism had become a byword either because it had moved too much toward libertinism and licentiousness on the one hand, and too much toward politicization and populism on the other, the ministry of Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York became a bridge that connected the cavernous void. Keller built a thriving megachurch whose attendees were majority comprised of young, single adults, many of who worked in the belly of Sodom: the arts, media, and the financial services industry. Keller modeled not only how these young people could discover and live out a relationship with Jesus Christ, but how they could bring the light and love of the gospel into the dark worlds that they inhabited.
The influential pastor, teacher, author, and thought leader passed from the darkness of death into the fullness of his heavenly reward on Friday, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Keller was 72 years old.
From The Christian Post:
Timothy Keller, the notable Evangelical author, theologian and New York City-based pastor, has died following a lengthy battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He was 72 years old.
Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, a congregation that Keller helped found, sent a statement to members informing them that he died Friday morning.
“We are forever grateful for his leadership, heart, and dedication to sharing the love of Christ with others. While we will miss his presence here, we know he is rejoicing with his Savior in heaven,” stated Redeemer, according to Church Leaders.
“Tim loved what he did. He loved interacting with Redeemer congregants and global ministry leaders alike. He delighted in communicating the profound wonder and transforming power of the gospel of grace. He would quickly disarm you and brush away your addressing him as Dr. Keller. ‘Just Tim, please.’”
Keller’s son Michael announced his May 19 death on Timothy Keller’s Twitter account, and included his father’s last words: “There is no downside for me leaving, not in the slightest.”
Timothy J. Keller, husband, father, grandfather, mentor, friend, pastor, and scholar died this morning at home. Dad waited until he was alone with Mom. She kissed him on the forehead and he breathed his last breath. We take comfort in some of his last words…
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) May 19, 2023
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1950, Keller earned a bachelor of arts degree from Bucknell University, a master in divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a doctor in ministry from Westminster Theological Seminary.
He served as pastor of West Hopewell Presbyterian Church of Hopewell, Virginia, an associate professor at Westminster, and the director of Mercy Ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America.
In 1989, Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City, a congregation that would eventually grow to have approximately 5,000 average weekly worship attendees.
Keller also chaired and co-founded Redeemer City to City, an organization that helps to launch new churches in New York and other cities, and provides resources on how to minister in major urban environments.
Keller was a prolific author. His 2009 book, The Reason for God, was his seminal work. The apologetics volume centered on tough questions about God and eternity that did not have pat answers, like does God exist, and the reason for Hell. Keller presented the gospel in a reasoned, rational, and intellectual way, coupled with a heart of service and deep compassion for those who were seeking truth. This hallmark of his ministry remained consistent and was embodied through his sermons and other written works such as, The Prodigal God (2008), The Meaning of Marriage (2011), The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (2012), The Songs of Jesus (2015), Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering (2015) and The Prodigal Prophet (2018). Keller’s last published work,
Keller remained theologically conservative, and politically agnostic. It was often because of these very things that he garnered criticism from both the culture and the evangelical church. In 2017, once he retired from pastoring full-time at Redeemer Presbyterian, he was to be awarded the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, at that time presented by Princeton University Theological Seminary. But because of his views on the ordination of women (he was not on board), the seminary was pressured by outside advocacy groups to rescind the award. In an exhibition of the grace that he so often taught and spoke about, Keller still chose to give the lecture at the seminary and was warmly received according to Christianity Today writer Collin Hansen, who lauded Keller thusly: “Timothy Keller shared the gospel boldly in the idioms of his day, without demeaning or demanding anything but faith and trust in our faithful, trustworthy Savior.”
The Huffington Post penned a 2013 article about Evangelical views on homosexuality, and particularly Keller’s. This caused quite a stir, so much so that Keller chose to clarify his words, which were somewhat misrepresented by the publication. Keller emphasized commitment to biblical orthodoxy, but loving outreach regardless of the outcome of the battle.
Keller turned even more heads during the 2020 election cycle, when he took to Twitter to pen his viewpoint on the Christian approach to politics.
Christians and the freedom of conscience in politics. The Bible binds my conscience to care for the poor, but it does not tell me the best practical way to do it. Any particular strategy (high taxes and government services vs low taxes and private charity) may be good and wise…
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) September 17, 2020
“The Bible binds my conscience to care for the poor, but it does not tell me the best practical way to do it. Any particular strategy (high taxes and government services vs low taxes and private charity) may be good and wise …
“[It] may even be somewhat inferred from other things the Bible teaches, but they are not directly commanded and therefore we cannot insist that all Christians, as a matter of conscience, follow one or the other.”
Keller modeled a life lived for Christ, and in his journey fighting Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, Keller also modeled how a believer is to embrace death. Keller had battled cancer before, in 2002 when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent surgery and radiation treatment. Keller spoke about the experiences with Jesus and the insights he gained during that time in a May 26, 2013 sermon entitled, “The Gospel and Courage.” He later used that sermon to pen the 2015 book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. Keller spoke that handling fear is not so much about deadening ourselves to love or to what we will lose, but it is in holding to the hope of the Resurrected Christ and allowing that to give us the courage we need to face our fears.
“When Paul realized that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, suddenly everything broke open. Suddenly the meaning of his death made sense, and hope for the future made sense. Because if Jesus Christ really died on the cross, taking our punishment, and he’s now raised from the dead, now when we believe in him, not only are our sin’s forgiven, but we now have incredible hope about the future. We’re gonna be raised, and everything in this world is going to be put right. And there’s not going to be any suffering or death. That is an astonishing hope.”
Keller received his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in May of 2020, around the same time that the entire nation was being inflicted with the fallout from the death of George Floyd and the COVID pandemic. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is typically a death sentence, where it is a short few months from the cancer diagnosis to the person’s death. Keller underwent chemotherapy and also did a clinical trial of immunotherapy at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. This, amazingly, gave Keller an additional two years of life.
On the two-year anniversary of his diagnosis, Keller took to Twitter to report that chemotherapy was reducing the cancer, noting that “God has seen it fit to give me more time.”
However, in March of 2023, Keller wrote on his Facebook page that he would be returning to the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda for further immunotherapy treatment, because additional cancerous tumors had been found throughout his body.
Keller underwent treatment during the month of April and was released, but his days on the earth were now numbered. Just this Thursday, Keller’s son Michael shared an update to his father’s Timothy Keller Facebook page, alerting his followers that Tim Keller was soon to be in the arms of Jesus.
Health Update: Today, Dad is being discharged from the hospital to receive hospice care at home. Over the past few days, he has asked us to pray with him often. He expressed many times through prayer his desire to go home to be with Jesus. His family is very sad because we all wanted more time, but we know he has very little at this point. In prayer, he said two nights ago, “I’m thankful for all the people who’ve prayed for me over the years. I’m thankful for my family, that loves me. I’m thankful for the time God has given me, but I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home.”
Luke Holmes posted a snippet of a recent podcast, where Keller echoed the same sermon he gave in 2013 about the Gospel and courage. He assured the podcast host that, “If Jesus Christ was actually raised from the dead,… then everything is going to be all right.”
“If Jesus Christ was actually raised from the dead,… then everything is going to be all right. Whatever you are worried about, whatever you are afraid of, everything will actually be ok.”
RIP Tim Keller 1950-2023 pic.twitter.com/wdynPmm87L
— Luke Holmes (@lukeholmes) May 19, 2023
And now, for Tim Keller, in the presence of the Savior whom he loved and faithfully served, everything is.
In this Keller interview with The Christian Post, he presents a biblical, and different view of social justice, forgiveness, failure, and more of his approach to death and new life. Worth a listen.