As a young pastor, having just written Radical, I remember meeting Tim Keller for the first time. He was kind, wise, and encouraging, with a gentleness that by God’s supernatural grace seemed natural to him. All of the above would mark every moment I would have in the future with him.
As I grieve the loss of my brother in Christ, who now rejoices with our Savior after battling pancreatic cancer for three years, I praise God for his life, for his influence on the church and on countless people far from Christ, and for the effect of his life on mine.
Keller’s books have had a profound effect on my life. I constantly use and recommend The Reason For God in my interaction with people far from Jesus who have humble, sincere, honest questions about faith in God and the gospel. I distinctly remember where I was when I read The Prodigal God. The subtitle of that book is “Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith,” and it recovered the heart of my Christian faith.
I have read and reread The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness over and over again as Tim taught me to seek the humility of Jesus. His book on Prayer spurred me on toward deeper communion with God. His book on the Songs of Jesus, a devotion in the Psalms, had a profound impact specifically on my wife, Heather, and our devotional life together. Along these lines, The Meaning of Marriage has been a significant help to me in my own life and marriage, and I have recommended it to scores of other couples. Every Good Endeavor, Tim’s writing about a theology of work, was transformative for how I see my own work and others’ work (of all kinds) in the grand economy of God. I remember watching him give a sitting President a copy of Generous Justice, a beautiful explanation of how the gospel of Jesus uniquely makes us long and work for justice.
As Tim walked through cancer over these years, he wrote about Hope in Times of Fear, a book I have passed on to others walking through similar trials. Tim wrote a book on Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, and then he showed us how to do that in his own life. Even (or especially) in the midst of suffering and sickness, Tim continued to point toward the hope of Jesus and the beauty of the gospel that transforms every facet of our lives.
And it wasn’t just books. Tim wrote a short article entitled “How Do You Take Criticism of Your Views?” that I have read more times than I could ever count. Through that essay, and all the more so his personal influence in my life, he showed me how to receive and respond to criticism in a Christ-like way.
Tim Keller focused on spreading the gospel in New York City as the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, but he also helped fuel disciple making and church planting among the nations, particularly in urban centers. With the rapidly increasing urbanization of the world (it’s projected that in the next 20 to 30 years more than two-thirds of the world will live in cities), and specifically the migration of unreached peoples to cities, Tim led the way in promoting gospel saturation in cities in such a way that God’s glory spreads among nations. He formed Redeemer City to City to recruit and train leaders in global cities, the fruit of which has led to almost 1,000 churches started in 75 cities across the world.
Needless to say, the seeds of Tim’s life and ministry will germinate for generations to come. As I write this, I am preparing a sermon on the great commandments that Jesus outlines in Mark 12: to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And to love your neighbor as yourself. The connection is crystal clear to me as I study this text. Tim Keller loved God with all of his being––his heart, his intellect, his emotion, and his body, all the way to his last breath. And my life––and the lives of countless others––have been shaped by his love for us.
I believe “us” in that last sentence does not just include the people who have known, or have even read or listened to, Tim Keller. That “us” includes the next generation of followers of Jesus to whom Tim Keller passes the baton. As I praise God for my brother faithfully crossing the finish line, I long to do the same in my own life. And to say to others now and in the next generation: let’s keep running for the glory of Jesus the King in the church throughout our cities and among the nations, that multitudes more might be transformed by the same gospel Tim Keller proclaimed and lived.
Until We Meet Again,