The Legacy of Tim Keller
I have recently learned of the passing of a popular Christian mover and shaker, Tim Keller and before I get going I want to express my sadness and condolences to his loved ones.
His Facebook page, which is maintained by one of his sons and contains many articles of interest and tributes concerning Tim Keller reads: “Timothy J. Keller, who was the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, co-founder of Redeemer City to City, and the author of several books, died at the age of 72 on May 19, trusting in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. He is survived by his wife Kathy, his three sons and their wives, a sister, and seven grandchildren. A livestream worship service will be held in the coming weeks. More details will be provided here as they become available”.
According to Wikipedia, which provides a helpful array of what Keller thought on several subjects that concern people like me, and reveals he was an original thinker: “Timothy James Keller (September 23, 1950 – May 19, 2023) was an American Neo-Calvinist pastor, theologian, and Christian apologist. He was the chairman and co-founder of Redeemer City to City, which trains pastors for service around the world. He was also the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and the author of The New York Times bestselling books … Keller shunned the label “evangelical” because of its political and fundamentalist connotation, preferring to call himself orthodox because “he believes in the importance of personal conversion or being ‘born again,’ and the full authority of the Bible.” He identified with Calvinist theology, although he had been critiqued by some in that tradition for his interpretation of its doctrines. He was described as a “doctrine-friendly emerging pastor” and a “neo-Calvinist.” … Keller disavowed the “Social Gospel” that has characterized Mainline Protestant churches, which advocates liberal political causes and de-emphasizes the doctrines of sin and substitutionary sacrifice … Keller was a leader in applying Christian theology to secular vocations such as business, art and entrepreneurship”.
Usually, when a well-known, popular figure dies, there are tributes and in Tim’s case the ether is full of them and many are particularly touching. One that touched me is titled: “The Far-Seeing Faith of Tim Keller” which begins: “The pastor created a new blueprint for Christian thought, showing how traditional doctrine could address the crisis of modern life”. Another is titled: “Death Can Only Make Me Better: Remembering Tim Keller (1950–2023)” and ends: “I trust that in his last days Tim was given this courage and this vision again of the magnitude of God’s joy enveloping everything else. Dr. Keller escaped this speck of darkness for the high beauty forever beyond the Shadow’s reach and entered into the boundless joy of his master at the age of 72. Farewell for now, Dr. Keller”. I can go on with tributes, especially those that talk about his kindness, his faith and his longing for God Himself, and would testify that he was the real deal, and Tim Keller’s own words, given many of his sermons and talks can be found on YouTube, but rather than regurgitate what readers can find for themselves, this is what I think his legacy is.
My introduction to Tim Keller was some years ago when active in the community, seeking to reconcile community activism and sound doctrine, when I read his encouraging, insightful book “Generous Justice”. A video, of that title, has Tim talking on the subject (see here). A helpful promotional introduction (see here) reads: “It is commonly thought in secular society that the Bible is one of the greatest hindrances to doing justice. Isn’t it full of regressive views? Didn’t it condone slavery? Why look to the Bible for guidance on how to have a more just society? But Timothy Keller, pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, sees it another way. In GENEROUS JUSTICE, Keller explores a life of justice empowered by an experience of grace: a generous, gracious justice. Here is a book for believers who find the Bible a trustworthy guide, as well as those who suspect that Christianity is a regressive influence in the world”.
I confess, my own journey was coming from an ultra-conservative background in my theological outlooks and priorities and being of the view many Evangelical churches these days fail when it comes to preaching about sin, righteousness and judgment and keeping at the top of their list of concerns matters like abortion, marriage and religious freedom. Many of those churches I was once inclined toward were of the view that other churches prioritising societal engagement in the interest of appearing relevant and inclusive etc. were wrong and in some cases had become apostate. In more recent years, especially as my third career as a community worker interested in homelessness, mental health etc. took off, I came round to the view that community activism and helping the poor and oppressed etc., is a proper activity for serious, sound Christians. This is pertinent when it comes to the legacy Tim has left. It is a criticism that can be laid at the door of some doctrinally sound types, who criticised those Christians that ignore those conservative values and instead prioritised social justice over doctrinal soundness. The gulf between these two schools of thought is significant and humanly speaking appears insurmountable.
Having been impressed with Tim when I read his book, I later became put off fearing he may have become a wishy washy liberal (and maybe he didn’t get everything right, then who does?), but then I too might have been wrong, especially as some of the most moving tributes came from traditionalist, conservative types. In checking out a few of the many Tim videos, I can see he sought to maintain a right balance and did so winsomely. So here is my point – I have seen a growing divide in recent years between Christians subscribing to the theological outlook that remains my position to this day and Christians rather emphasising the importance of all sorts of social justice issues, often touched on in my blogs, but are doctrinally dodgy and deceived by the deceivers who shape modern culture.
While both sides of the divide might want to stay on their high horse, better it is to take a leaf out of Tim’s book. Tim’s legacy is at the very least he valiantly attempted telling his listeners (of which there were many) what it was that we ought to fervently believe as he proclaimed in his own lucid way those doctrines the Reformers and Puritans etc. deemed to be axiomatic to everything else that followed how a Christian should be but still seriously tackle all manner of social justice issues. As an apologist for this having your cake and eat it mindset, he was the best and that is his legacy.