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Honoring Tim Keller

Preachers and professors share stories of Tim’s impact on their life.
Honoring Tim Keller
Image: Redeemer City to City

Editor’s Note: This will continue to be updated as submissions come in.

Randy Pope, Founding Pastor of Perimeter Church, President of Life on Life Ministries

Thirty years ago, a mutual friend and spiritual influencer of both Tim and me, Terry Gyger, invited us to be part of a group of younger pastors that would meet annually. That group, called “The Gathering of Friends,” was designed to allow us to grow as friends and pastors, learning from one another and praying for each other. This coming October will be our 30th consecutive year to meet. At one point, Tim shared with us that our annual three-day meeting was his top calendar priority of ministry gatherings. I only remember him missing one year over the past 29 years, even though he had to meet with us by Zoom during his battle with cancer.

I share this to say that I think I have heard Tim’s insights into virtually every controversial, theological debate where Christians have differed over these past 30 years. I have heard what he believed and the spirit with which he shared his beliefs. At the same time, I have heard from more than a few pastors whom have differed with Tim on some of these subjects. In fact, some have disagreed to the point that they have caricatured Tim in such a way as to conclude that his teaching and influence have done considerable damage to the Christian landscape.

All I can say is, I know that no one nails every subject and controversy with biblical perfection. But I can’t imagine anyone sitting with us for these three days for nearly thirty years, listening to everything Tim had to say (and hearing how he said it), who would not change their opinion of Tim and his impact on the church. In fact, I think they would agree with me and the other men who meet with us annually, that Tim is, in fact, one of the greatest gifts ever given to the Christian Church. They would have to agree that without Tim’s life and ministry, the landscape of the Christian faith across the globe would be greatly diminished and less healthy.

I will forever be thankful for a seat at the table that I have been privileged to have with Tim. What an incredible gift Tim has been to me and countless numbers worldwide. And thankfully, Tim will continue to be a great gift to all of us who remember him or will get to know him through his ministry of writing and speaking. Count me among those that say, “Thank you Tim.”

Matthew D. Kim, Professor of Practical Theology and Raborn Chair of Pastoral Leadership at Truett Seminary

In Fall 2006, I had dinner with Tim and Kathy Keller when he was speaking at Gordon-Conwell for an event. He was thoughtful, biblical, engaging, inquisitive, brilliant, and humble. His sermons and books have highlighted over the years his whole ministry philosophy which was simply the exaltation of Christ. I am thankful for his faithfulness in family ministry, pastoral ministry, and writing ministry which will have a lasting impact for generations to come.

Steve Carter, Lead Pastor of Forest City Church

Pastor Tim Keller helped me develop a holy curiosity to discover Christ on every page of the scriptures. Sermon after sermon, year after year, decade after decade he pointed us to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This has shaped my person study, sermon prep, and preaching in such a powerful way. Grateful for his kind, gentle, wise, and deep embodiment of the way of Jesus.

Scott Gibson, Professor of Preaching at Truett Seminary

Tim Keller was a thoughtful pastor-preacher whose immense evangelical influence extended far beyond New York City “for such a time as this.” Keller’s preaching was marked by an equally thorough study of the text and his congregational context—lessons on homiletics from which any preacher would benefit.

Dan Meyer, Lead Pastor of Christ Church of Oak Brook

Some people teach us how to live, even by how they die. Tim’s rare heart for God and people, his clarity about what truly matters, and his ability to communicate all this in a way that inspired us to be better disciples grew brighter, even as his grasp on this time and space grew lighter. We will miss him and pray for his family and all the other ways that the flame of his faith will be carried on.

Jonathan Elgersma, Senior Pastor of Faith Reformed Church Zeeland

Jesus has loved the church with the unique voice of Dr. Tim Keller’s mind, heart, and soul. The bride of Christ is more beautiful and faithful because of Dr. Keller’s life and ministry. Well done good and faithful servant.

Ken Shigematsu, Pastor of Tenth Church

As a new pastor, I remember Tim’s encouragement (at a small pastor’s retreat) to preach as though people who weren’t Christians were present in the room, and if we did, they would come, and Christians would feel more comfortable inviting their unbelieving friends. He also inspired me to point people to Christ through preaching rather than offering merely moral advice. I remain deeply grateful for and impacted by Tim’s influence in my life and preaching.

Rasool Berry, Director Partnership Liason & Content Developer at Our Daily Bread Ministries

Tim Keller came from two different worlds in different eras. I was born in inner-city Philly to parents who joined the Nation of Islam. He was a Presbyterian pastor doing ministry while I was learning how to walk. But I came to faith at the University of Pennsylvania and found my faith immediately challenged by skeptics and secularists. I discovered his book Counterfeit Gods while preparing a message on idols and immediately was inspired by his trademark ability to take dense and seemingly distant theological concepts like "idols" and make them so accessible.

Over the years, I would be formed by Prodigal God, and The Reason for God while leading campus ministry in Indiana. As I was struggling with a call to move to New York City myself, I watched his video about how the most formative experience in his ministry wasn't seminary but living in New York City. It was a word that rejected the acrimonious view of cities that I often found in suburban-based Christian contexts. It opened possibilities of what God could do in and through me in the intimidating Big Apple.

When I moved to New York I discovered how City to City, the ministry birthed out of Redeemer Church had cultivated a spirit of collaboration and cooperation among churches in the City I had never seen before. The lead pastor at the Bridge Church I was now serving as a Teaching Pastor was one of the many cohorts of pastors supported through City to City. Preaching and doing ministry in New York City is distinctly different from anywhere else in the country, and I found Keller's sermons helpful as biblically faithful and deeply insightful. He made me want to dive deeper into the Word, so when the opportunity to study at Reformed Theological Seminary arose I jumped at it. I would later learn that RTS's New York Campus was a vision of Keller. At the time we had classes at the Redeemer Church offices in Midtown.

My first class was taught by Tim Keller. His humility and brilliance in person matched what I had read from afar. The warning to never meet your heroes was not needed with this one. As he taught, I found a unique appreciation of church traditions outside his own that was in sharp contrast to the often strident and condescending views I'd often encountered in Evangelicalism. Though he was a world-reknown Presbyterian, he celebrated and supported church leaders from Pentecostal to Baptist and non-denominational. And when the headwinds of culture wars blew across the church, he never waivered in recognizing the insights the Black church offered about the integration of faith and justice. And even when I challenged him with the need to go further, he listened, and helped me find my voice by giving feedback to an article I put out.

Simply put, there's a reason the outpouring of celebration of Rev. Tim Keller's life is so strong among those who were his greatest supporters and critics, among young and old and even across ethnic, racial, and denominational lines. He embodied the robust gospel message he lived to expound in a way that few have done.

And I'm grateful to have witnessed his life and been formed by it in an up close and personal way.

Daniel Fusco, Lead Pastor Crossroads Community Church

It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact of Pastor Tim Keller on my life and preaching. His book, The Reason for God, might be the most important apologetics book written in this generation.

I have been blessed and enriched to listen, over and over again, to two sets of lectures he gave at seminaries (Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon Conwell Seminary respectively) on preaching. These lectures, no doubt influenced his very important book on preaching.

If I had to boil down Tim’s impact on my preaching, it would be the quest for winsomeness. As Tim ministered in New York City and then to the greater culture at large, he was able to embody a theological depth and biblical rigorousness while also delivering it with a warmth, charm, and kindness that would make room for skeptics and non-believers. I believe, personally, that this is one of the great needs in contemporary preaching: winsomeness. As our world has become more combative and divisive, it seems that much of the pushed forward preaching is also combative and mean-spirited. Pastor Tim Keller’s encouragement to a winsome engagement with the lost in preaching has forever transformed my preaching. Lord willing, I believe, for the better.

Thank you Tim. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Lee Eclov, Retired Pastor

I was a new screener for Preaching Today. Screeners would get an envelope filled with 10 cassettes of sermons by people both known and unknown to us. We were to listen and fill out an evaluation form. I pulled out one tape which had very little information on the label. A name and city, with a phone number. It was a sermon from John 2 re/ Jesus turning the water to wine at the wedding feast.

At first, as I listened, I wasn't impressed. The preacher had no real introduction; he just sort of launched. It struck me that I got the feeling of him being the smartest guy in the room, which I didn't really like. But I kept listening and began to realize that this was more than an exposition of the text. It was a rich contemplation; he spoke with remarkable insight. His pace was so deliberate and clear. When I finished I had to know who this guy was and what church he was with.

So I just called the number on the cassette, which took me to Redeemer Church. It was only later that I learned that Timothy Keller was already well-known to others. And after listening, I knew why.

Anthony Delaney, Senior Pastor at Ivy Church

Clear Exegesis - Compelling Example.

Since its publication Tim Keller’s ‘Preaching’ is the book I have most gifted to my fellow leaders and learners.

This is not only because of its clarity to instruct us in the sacred craft of connecting God’s unchanging Word with contemporary hearers, but because as with every other Keller book I read or every sermon I downloaded I was being discipled by this humble, prophetic Planter/Pastor/Preacher.

I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Keller, but by the grace he so faithfully taught and the resurrection in which he trusted, I want to thank the Lord not only for his legendarily clear exegesis but also his compelling example.

Taylor Turkington, Directs BiblicalEquipping

Tim Keller showed me what it looked like to do serious study and beautiful exposition that met people where they were. He did it in such a way that we loved Jesus more and cared about celebrity less, something I rarely found together in a preacher model.

I have reread his books more than anyone else’s, and after listening to him, all I can say is “I want to speak like that.” My training of others, my writing, and my handling of the Word are deeply impacted by his service.

Lord, thank you for Tim Keller and for his encouragement, equipping, and ministry to us, as we proclaim the Scriptures to others. For he tells us “you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can.”

James Ellis III, Pastor at Maplewood Reformed Church

Tim Keller's passing is a critical loss for us who remain as resident aliens stationed on this chaotic, rough-and-tumble topsoil called earth. God's already but not yet Kingdom has been advanced with the fusion of his writing skill, biblical orthodoxy, intellectual acumen, and pastoral call. His handling of the 2017 kerfuffle at Princeton Theological Seminary over being chosen to receive their Kuyper Prize, only for it to then not be awarded that year to anyone as a kind of peace offering, has stuck with me. By all accounts, he and then president M. Craig Barnes had fruitful, hospitable exchanges about the matter, even if in the end larger, louder currents of cancellation kept pushing their own agendas.

Keller represented Christ within his ecclesial tradition (Presbyterian Church of America) the best he could, confidently addressing idolatry’s various forms, the complexities of marriage, skepticism, and suffering. Though cancer, perhaps especially of the pancreas, has its markedly nasty ways of humbling the most stubborn of us, my sense was that Keller had long ago become a student of faithfully navigating the crucible of cross-shaped living. His ministry was mega and global presumably without it all having gone to his head, which is shout-worthy right there. The world surely does not need another ego-laden, immoral windbag pastor, whether they preach to ten people or tens of thousands.

H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., the once longtime pulpiteer of Washington, DC’s historic Metropolitan Baptist Church, reflected decades ago: “The preacher-pastor who is more concerned about what people think than how people live in response to the demands of the gospel is little more than a leaky vessel in search of a storm.” I thank God for Keller’s faithfulness, that we preachers and pastors will more thoroughly heed Paul’s instruction to pour out ourselves as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (Rom. 12:1) Most of our names will not hit the big stages, command large paychecks, and whatever writings we produce will rarely, if ever, reach bestseller status, but we too can do our part, vocationally and personally, to seek God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Matt Erickson, Senior Pastor at Eastbrook Church

Tim Keller’s writing and speaking has been an immense influence in my life and ministry. His insights into the intersection of faith and culture have helped me to engage as a pastor in an urban and diverse context. I often would direct people to Keller’s excellent book The Reason for God, as they were working through critical questions about the meaning of faith in our contemporary world. As I work with preachers who are developing their craft, Keller’s book Preaching is a regular resource I direct them toward, particularly the window into his own approach to preparing a sermon in the appendix. This is a profound loss for the church in North America and around the world.

Joel Gregory, Professory of Preaching at Truett Seminary

The ever-old and ever-new gospel stamps each generation with a peculiar, apt, customized voice indigenous to that generation. The God who makes no two mountains, no two snowflakes, and no two galaxies the same also stamps ministers of his gospel with originality.

Tim Keller was the original, no substitutes allowed, for our time. Earth is poorer. Heaven is richer. As another New York City pastor, Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, used to say when a saint crossed over, "Good for him."

Chris Rappazini, Associate Professor of Leadership and Organizations at Anderson University

Although we graduated from Gordon-Conwell during different decades, I always felt connected to Dr. Timothy Keller. His sermons and works have consistently propelled me forward, challenging me to delve into deeper and more honest reflections not only on preaching but also on what it truly means to be loved by Christ.

The numerous books he authored, which now grace my bookshelf, cover a wide range of topics from wealth, marriage, idols, and apologetics, to preaching. These timeless treasures will continue to serve as invaluable resources, consistently sharpening and inspiring my life and daily walk with Christ.

May we carry forward the torches he lit, faithfully applying the lessons he imparted, and striving to emulate his dedication to sharing the transformative power of the gospel. – Chris Rappazini, Associate Professor of Leadership and Organizations at Anderson University.

Yancey Arrington, Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church

In 2007 I heard Tim Keller’s address to the newly minted Gospel Coalition with a message entitled, “Gospel-Centered Ministry.” I settled into my office, closed the door, and watched his 55-minute address. As I heard him eloquently speak about not only what the gospel is but how it should intersect all ministry, especially the pulpit, I kept saying aloud, “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” After finishing, I watched it again – nodding my head, dabbing tears from eyes, and saying in my heart, “This is what I believe!” From that moment my life, ministry, and pulpit would never be the same. I will be forever grateful for the life and ministry of Timothy Keller.

This is why I tweeted on the eve of his death: Lord, raise up more folks like @timkellernyc. Here. There. Anywhere.

Ryan Roach, Pastor/Teacher

Tim Keller's book Preaching fundamentally changed the way that I communicate God's word. His ability to take difficult parts of scripture, make them understandable, and then show how it pointed us to the gospel of Christ is an example for every preacher, teacher, and Christian communicator.

Matt Woodley, Missions Pastor at Church of the Resurrection

During my thirty years of pastoring no one has shaped my preaching as much as Tim Keller. For ten years, while I pastored on Long Island, I lived in Keller's preaching shadow. A small group in our church would listen to and then discuss his weekly sermons. At first, in a fit of jealousy against this "other preacher" 45 miles away, I refused to listen to him. What did he know anyway? I finally caved and started listening myself, and it transformed me and my preaching.

Keller sure wasn't a flashy preacher. His delivery was choppy and informal, his outlines were predictable (but also simple and clear), but his messages constantly inflamed my heart with the core of the gospel—"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," as St. Paul wrote. But he also grasped the broader and even cosmic implications of the gospel.

Keller's humility, brilliance, freshness, and profound simplicity melted my pride and arrogance. He became my mentor in applying the beauty and power of King Jesus' gospel into the deep longings and deep brokenness of our current cultural moment. Nobody in our day has accomplished that better than Keller!

Jeremy McKeen, Senior Pastor at The First Congregational Church of Hamilton

I will be forever indebted to the mentoring and gospel-centered ministry of Timothy Keller. He consistently demonstrated in word and deed what it means to befriend the lost and to preach the Bible with grace and truth.

In most cases, Tim was the most learned person in the room, but he didn’t act like it. His humble approach to ministry led him to disagree with deep compassion, to communicate difficult theological truths with winsome clarity, and to point people away from himself to the glory and gospel of Jesus.

Tim was certainly a ‘C.S. Lewis’ for our time. He will be greatly missed but his gospel legacy will endure.

Hershael York, Senior Pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church, Dean of the School of Theology at SBTS and Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching

I cannot quantify the debt I owe Tim Keller for the encouragement, inspiration, and instruction that he gave me. His preaching was thoroughly biblical, deeply theological, and fearless in its confrontation of a culture separated from God, but always with as much charity as clarity.

His remarkable impact in a secular, cosmopolitan context encouraged us to trust the supernatural power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. His broad appeal demonstrated that one need not sacrifice orthodoxy for acceptance. In an age of rage, his kind demeanor remained a stalwart model of Christian grace.

I will miss his presence, but I thank God that his impact will endure through his prolific writings and his imprint on millions of people.

Paul Hoffman, Senior Pastor of Evangeliical Friends Church of Newport

I am grateful for the life, writings, and sermons of Tim Keller and heartbroken to hear of his death. I spent a decade studying all aspects of his character and ministry as part of my PhD studies at the University of Manchester, UK. I can say that unequivocally, my faith, life, and ministry are infinitely richer for doing so. However, in particular, I want to highlight three ways Keller’s preaching influenced my own.

To start, Keller reframed the gospel for me. I remember reading Prodigal God (which prompted me to listen to dozens of sermons) and being blown away at how he described the total lostness of both the younger brother and the older brother in Luke 15. I recall thinking, So I can be just as lost through moralistic legalism as I can through individualistic hedonism? I came to see much of the pharisaical older brother in my heart and preaching. Telling our parishioners to “be better, do more, try harder” is not the gospel, but rather a way to avoid the gospel. I need the prodigal love, grace, and forgiveness of my Abba Father to invade my heart and melt my pride, fear, and anger. This insight changed my posture and approach to homiletics.

Second, Keller’s preaching convinced me Christians need the gospel as much as non-Christians. That is, we never “outgrow” or “mature beyond” the Cross of Jesus Christ. As he often remarked, “the gospel is the A-Z of the Christian life.” Faithful and effective preachers will impress the breathtaking beauty and all-encompassing sufficiency of the gospel upon both the convinced and the skeptic on a regular basis.

Finally, Keller helped me grasp God’s huge heart for cities. It was stunning how skillfully his sermons and writings highlighted the extent to which the Bible is an urban text. God loves every person in every context, but for those holding a negative view of urban environments, the truth is God LOVES cities and they play a prominent role in the spread of the gospel. Thus, instead of Christians avoiding metropolises, they are called to view them as vital to God’s Kingdom plan. After all, the New Jerusalem is a lush, resplendent garden-city (Rev. 21-22).

Mark Dance, Director of Pastoral Wellness for Guidestone Financial Resources

Tim Keller primarily impacted the tone of my preaching as his sermons and books were full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). Whenever he defended the faith, he did so with graciousness instead of weaponizing his words.

Steve Norman, Pastor/Author/Speaker

I’ll never forget hearing Tim’s message on the life of Joseph in his series on Genesis. He cautioned us against the temptation towards greed and towards sexual misconduct, which I fully expected. But he caught me off guard when he warned against a more dangerous foe: the temptation to despair. This has been a lifeline for me in times of trial and turmoil. I’ve lost track of how many sermons I’ve quoted it in.

Tim was more than pastoral towards the already believing. He was adamant about preaching that connected with skeptics, seekers, and critics. He never demeaned or belittled those with heartfelt objections to the gospel. He strove relentlessly to understand their world, their worldview and their tension. His commitment to read widely, across disciplines and ideologies, in order to best contextualize the gospel for his audience is inspiring and contagious.

Tim was prayerful, thoughtful, and thorough in his communication. In a world drowning in click-bait, Tim fought for nuance, depth, and clarity.

I have an editor friend who says, “There are speakers and there are writers. Very rarely do you find someone who does both well.” Tim is the rare gem who could check, with great humility, both boxes. I’m grateful to have been shaped by his teaching, his writing, and his example.

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Andrew Finch is the Managing Editor for PreachingToday.com.

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