Following up on last Sunday’s post, The Life, Death, And Legacy Of Tim Keller:
New York Times Op-Ed: Tim Keller Taught Me About Joy, by David Brooks:
American evangelicalism suffers from an intellectual inferiority complex that sometimes turns into straight anti-intellectualism. But Tim could draw on a vast array of intellectual sources to argue for the existence of God, to draw piercing psychological insights from the troubling parts of Scripture or to help people through moments of suffering. His voice was warm, his observations crystal clear. We all tried to act cool around Tim, but we knew we had a giant in our midst. …
On the cross, Tim wrote, Jesus was “putting himself into our lives — our misery, our mortality, so we could be brought into his life, his joy and immortality.” He enjoyed repeating the saying “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” …
His focus was not on politics but on “our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, that fail to satisfy us even when we get them.” …
He offered a radically different way. He pointed people to Jesus, and through Jesus’ example to a life of self-sacrificial service. That may seem unrealistic; doesn’t the world run on self-interest? But Tim and his wife, Kathy, wrote a wonderful book, “The Meaning of Marriage,” which in effect argued that self-sacrificial love is actually the only practical way to get what you really hunger for.
Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: The Many Paradoxes of Timothy J. Keller, by Kate Bachelder Odell:
Ask anyone to name a story from the Bible, and you’ll likely get the answer David and Goliath. Most Americans know it as a tale about facing your fears, steeling yourself and prevailing against long odds. “I’m here to say that’s a shallow understanding, even a deceptive understanding, of how to read the text,” Tim Keller, minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, told his congregation one Sunday morning in 2015.
Keller, who died May 19 at age 72, then indicted what he called “counterfeit courage”—the modern idea that the way to overcome fear is to “visualize success.” Stoicism works only in “short-term bursts, mainly on adrenaline,” and most “of the acts of courage we most admire don’t come from self-assertion and self-confidence.”
His church shouldn’t see itself in David but in the story’s terrified Israelites, who needed a savior. Christians, Keller concluded, can face life’s complexities and dangers because Jesus Christ conquered death. Those who follow him are secure, and “joy is always on the way.” In saying so, Keller blew open an old story with intellectual force and verve.
Keller’s life was confounding. The first paradox is obvious: He built a congregation of orthodox Christians in the naked city. … He spoke plainly of sin and grace to New York’s skeptical and high-achieving clientele: the corporate managers and Ivy League-educated consultants but also the artists, musicians and nonprofit executives.
He would, as he told me for a 2014 Weekend Interview, aspire to “show secular people that they’re not quite as unreligious as they think. They’re putting their hopes in something, and they’re living for it.” In New York, it’s often a career. “I try to tell people: The only reason you’re laying yourself out like this is because you’re not really just working. This is very much your religion.”
A second paradox: Keller was a popular pastor who was allergic to the celebrity he attracted. …
Keller insisted that Christian evangelism be winsome, which made him polarizing—perhaps the third paradox. “I fear that anxious evangelicals hope that if they can just be grace-centered enough” and “serve the community, and make clear that they are not Republicans, then unbelievers will turn to Christ,” Kevin DeYoung, a fellow Reformed pastor, recently wrote of Keller’s bent.
It’s a fair point. Keller warned that Christians shouldn’t be politically monolithic. He worried about American evangelicalism’s association with the political right. But there is also the risk, which Keller realized, that Christian believers become entangled with the obsessions of the political left: sexual identity, racial grievance, Marxian redistributionism and so on. Progressive Christianity is the mirror image of the moral majoritarianism of the 1980s, and it will end no better for the church’s public witness. …
Keller said he realized that “if the Bible is true, the whole universe is a universe of joy, of glory, of life.” On earth we’re “stuck in this little tiny speck of darkness.” But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, “even that darkness someday is going to be taken away.”
John Inazu (Washington University), My Gratitude for Tim Keller:
Last week, the Presbyterian pastor and author Tim Keller passed away after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. His death feels disorienting to me in a way that few other deaths have. He was not only a mentor and friend but also someone who profoundly influenced so many people I know.
The past few days have brought dozens of powerful and personal tributes. I don’t have much to add to the wisdom and appreciation voiced elsewhere, but I want to share three brief thoughts that echo and complement what others have said.
Tim the Intellectual
Tim was one of the smartest people I’ve known. He downplayed his intellect, but he had an insatiable appetite to learn and engage and a remarkable ability to simplify complex ideas. …
Tim the Pastor
Tim listened to people in a way that I’m not sure I’ve seen in anyone else of his stature. He was a pastor who cared deeply about those around him. …
Tim the Mentor
Tim went out of his way to encourage younger Christians working to find their public voice. Anyone who looks carefully at the tributes to him—those already voiced and those that will be made known in the years to come—will see the intentionality and faithfulness of his commitment to mentor and support those of us trying to find our way.
In a beautiful reflection this past weekend, the New Yorker’s Michael Luo described one of Tim’s final projects, a white paper he called “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church”:
It offers a wide-ranging set of prescriptions for what he viewed as the profound afflictions of the evangelical movement, including its anti-intellectualism, its problems with race, and the politicization of the church that has “turned off half the country.” The document is an exhaustive blueprint, but the question now is who will carry it out.
Michael poses the right question, but I think Tim has already answered it. Those who will carry out the work that he identified include the hundreds of lives he invested in personally and the thousands of others who found themselves nearer to God because of him. I count it as one of life’s privileges to be included among them.
Russell Moore (Christianity Today), I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise Voice:
“Gandalf isn’t supposed to die.”
That text appeared on my phone yesterday from a New York City pastor who worked closely with Tim Keller. It made me smile and cry at the same time. So many of us called Tim “Gandalf,” in part as a tribute to his frequent J. R. R. Tolkien references, but also because he fit the image of the sage wizard guiding us hapless hobbits out of harm’s way.
In the opening chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien writes that Gandalf’s “fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes, and lights. His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it.”
By any measure, Tim was an impressive figure—the most significant American evangelical apologist and evangelist since Billy Graham. Most people think immediately of his skill in the areas of preaching, cultural analysis, church-planting strategy, and apologetics. All of that is true. But Tim’s real business went beyond his skills and gifts. He was smart, yes, but what made him unique wasn’t intellect but wisdom. …
Tim was able to care for so many of us in times of trial because he didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear, and we knew that he knew what he was talking about. His wisdom came from decades spent in the presence of Christ. He cultivated closeness with the Spirit through the Word, and as a result, he, like Jesus, so often “did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person” (John 2:25).
Over the past several years, Tim and I were often in conversation with unbelievers—some curious and irenic about faith, others dismissive and hostile. I remember stifling laughter when an atheist whom Tim loved and respected told a group of us that the need for transcendence could now be met with psychedelic mushrooms. I watched Tim’s eyebrow go up. I felt like White House chief of staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing when he saw President Jed Bartlet at a press conference put his hand in his pocket, smile, and look away.
Watch this, I said to myself.
In every one of those interactions, I never once saw Tim humiliate someone with arguments, even though he could easily have done so.
“Well, let’s think about this for a minute,” he said to the atheist arguing that morality could be explained by evolutionary process alone. Tim explored this man’s objections to human slavery, imagining them in the context of a cosmos without any transcendent moral order. In so doing, he affirmed the rightness of the man’s moral intuitions while simultaneously showing how his theory couldn’t bear the weight of those same intuitions. Once again, he showed where the mind and the soul (or the mind and the conscience) were at odds and pointed to a better way.
At the end of the conversation, there was no question that Tim understood the argument and had responded with devastating clarity. But we also knew that his talk wouldn’t end up as a YouTube video titled “Watch Tim Keller Own the Atheist.” He really loved the man and engaged him without passive retreat or intellectual intimidation.
When I invited Tim to guest-speak in the Institute of Politics class I taught at the University of Chicago, most of the students were disconnected from people of faith and didn’t know who he was. David Axelrod, the director of the program at the time, said, “These kids have highly tuned B.S. detectors, and it’s almost like you could hear the shields coming down three minutes after he started talking.”
Many of them realized, Wait, this pastor is as smart as or even smarter than we are, and he’s not the least bit embarrassed about Christian orthodoxy and biblical authority. …
Tim’s wisdom wasn’t just about treating people well. He would almost assign the task of tracking people who needed support, even before they knew they needed it. For example, when Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren started writing a weekly column for the New York Times, he said, “She’s going to be great; she’s such a good writer. In that venue, though, no matter what she writes, she’ll probably get a lot of criticism. She can handle it, but it’s never fun. We need to encourage her when that happens.”
In those and other similar moments, he showed more than intellect. He exhibited wisdom through compassion, maturity, grounding, solidarity, and good intuition.
The pastor who texted me “Gandalf is not supposed to die” knew Tim wouldn’t live forever. By that he meant he has trouble imagining a world without Tim’s voice of calm, steady, joyous counsel.
The Atlantic: My Friend, Tim Keller, by Peter Wehner:
“What always stood out most to me in talking to Tim was the pleasure he took in sharing his deep knowledge of scripture and theology,” Yuval [Levin] told me. “It was like he was sharing a gift, something he had that he knew his friend would love. We unavoidably spoke across the line that separates Christians from Jews, and yet Tim approached that line like a low fence between friendly neighbors, the kind of fence you’d stand at for hours to chat about what matters most in life, not a high wall that divides.”
Over time, some in the Christian world came to criticize Tim’s commitment to this sort of engagement as a weakness, or at least, as an approach poorly suited to this moment. “I would argue quite the opposite,” Bill Fullilove, the executive pastor at McLean Presbyterian, told me. “His model of gracious and thoughtful engagement, even when disagreeing vehemently, is exactly what we need more of today. It is simply impermissible to pursue biblical goals while ignoring biblical ethics. And what Tim did was marry the best of intellect and argument and eloquence with a truly gracious and kind and biblical spirit, both in person and in a large room.” …
I introduced my close friend and fellow Atlantic contributor Jonathan Rauch to Tim, and Jon invited him to join us on a weekly Zoom call he hosted. Jon is Jewish, gay, and an atheist, yet our eclectic group, more often than not, discusses matters of faith and spirituality.
Jon recalls pressing Tim once on why a good God would permit unmerited suffering. If the answer was a bucket, Tim replied, he could fill it only three-quarters of the way. “I perceived his faith as a mystery and a search, not as a set of answers or rules,” Jon told me. “Outsider and unbeliever though I am, he made me feel like a member of his search party.”
“I can’t understand Tim’s world, but his gift was to give me glimpses of it,” he said. “And he made me feel loved—by him and by his God. I once asked him if God hears the prayers of an atheist. He said yes, and I hope that’s true, and in that spirit I’ll pray for him.”
Religion News Service Op-Ed: Amid Post-Trump Evangelicalism, Tim Keller Revived My Faith in the Power of Faith, by Jonathan Rauch (Brookings Institution):
By the time I made friends with Tim Keller, he was a box on a screen. He was by then a cancer patient, and “patient” described him well: Although he endured every treatment medicine could offer before succumbing to pancreatic cancer on May 19, I never heard him express anger or complaint.
When asked, he would give a brief, dispassionate medical update, then move on to the big questions he loved to ponder. How could evil exist? How are churches planted? Is sinning with a guilty conscience worse than sinning naively?
There was something else he wondered about: me. I don’t think he encountered openly gay, outspokenly atheistic Jews every day. Parsecs separated our worldviews. Yet somehow, across the Zoom screen, we came to love each other, and in a way, he rescued my faith.
My road to our friendship was tortuous. By the time I reached adulthood, I realized I had won the intersectionality trifecta. In my hometown of Phoenix in the 1960s and 1970s, I experienced no antisemitism, but everything about the culture — from the Christmas songs at school to the country club that excluded Jews — reminded me that I was an outsider.
And despite my many afternoons at religious school, the idea of God made no sense to me. Worst of all, despite desperate efforts, I could not make my powerful sexual attraction to males go away.
With all that baggage, I soon learned where evangelical Christianity thought I belonged. … If Christians believed in a loving god, I wondered, why did he hate me? Reading Jesus’ teachings, I wondered whether Christians were acquainted with them. By age 18, I had concluded that the words “Christianity” and “hypocrisy” were synonyms.
College cracked my cynicism. … I befriended … Christians whose faith seemed transcendent, not temporal. Even those who debated me about gay marriage seemed like good people. I took to defending them, telling my gay friends that conservative Christians based their views on a sincere reading of the Bible, not on bigotry. I insisted that Christianity, whatever its flaws, was on the level.
Then came Donald Trump, the most un-Christlike American political figure in my lifetime, if not ever. When his cruelty and turpitude won the overwhelming support of white evangelicals, I felt, in a word, suckered. … In my disappointment and anger, I couldn’t help thinking: “I guess I had it right the first time.” I stopped defending Christians to my friends. I could feel the old cynicism washing over me.
Unexpectedly, hope showed up on Zoom. When the pandemic began, some religious friends and I started a weekly gathering, and Tim often came, flickering in from his book-lined study. The books were no mere decorations; there seemed to be nothing he had not read, no corner of religious history he did not know, no theological nicety or denominational quirk he was unacquainted with.
More than that, he was not one for pat answers. In fact, he detested them. One day, I said that God’s toleration of undeserved suffering is an insuperable contradiction. He surprised me by agreeing. If one thinks of theodicy as a bucket, he could pour into it all the strongest arguments he could think of; still, he admitted, he could not fill the bucket more than about three-fourths of the way.
He was appalled by some of what was being said and done in Christianity’s name and dismayed when his co-religionists made a religion of politics. He was well aware that Christian culture warriors scorned his “winsomeness.” But never did he scorn them back. Never did he utter a word in anger or despair. …
In his wisdom and compassion, in his rigor and grace, in his rejection of faith that is smug and self-regarding and in his love for a benighted soul like me, Pastor Keller lived the gospel he preached. He did not give me faith, but he revived my faith in the power of faith, and he gave me hope for a better, braver Christianity, someday.
The Atlantic: My Friend, Tim Keller, by Peter Wehner:
I have met few people who have delighted in discussing ideas as much as Tim; they fascinated him, formed him, vivified him. And his mind was a wonder to behold: intelligent, orderly, and insatiably curious. He was a voracious reader who possessed an amazingly retentive memory. Tim wasn’t an original scholar; his strength was synthesis and integration. It’s revealing that the book on his life that he authorized, written by Collin Hansen, wasn’t a traditional biography; it was focused on the people who shaped Tim’s spiritual and intellectual journey. I sensed it was his way of honoring those who formed him.
Collin Hansen (Vice President, The Gospel Coalition), Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation (2023):
Millions have read books and listened to sermons by Timothy Keller. But which people and what events shaped his own thinking and spiritual growth? With free access to Keller’s personal notes and sermons—as well as interviews with family members and longtime friends—Collin Hansen gives you understanding of one of the 21st century’s most influential church leaders.
Spend any time around Timothy Keller and you’ll learn what he’s reading, what he’s learning, what he’s seeing. The story of Timothy Keller is the story of his spiritual and intellectual influences, from the woman who taught him how to read the Bible to the professor who taught him to preach Jesus from every text to the philosopher who taught him to see beneath society’s surface.
Hansen introduces readers to Keller’s early years: the home where he grew up, the church where he learned to care for souls, and the city that lifted him to the international fame he never wanted.
You’ll discover how to:
- Understand the principles and practices that allowed Keller to synthesize so many different influences in a coherent ministry.
- Take the best of Keller’s preaching and teaching to meet emerging challenges in the 21st century.
- Develop your own historical, theological, and cultural perspectives to shape your leadership.
This is the untold story of the people, the books, the lectures, and ultimately the God who formed and shaped the life of Timothy Keller.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- New York Times Op-Ed, Pro-Trump Christians, Never-Trump Christians, And Tim Keller (May 28, 2023)
- The Life, Death, And Legacy Of Tim Keller (May 21, 2023)
- Tim Keller, Forgive — Why Should I And How Can I? (Nov. 20, 2022)
- Wall Street Journal, Pastor Timothy Keller Speaks To The Head And The Heart (Sept. 11, 2022)
- Tim Keller, The Fading Of Forgiveness — Tracing The Disappearance Of The Thing We Need Most (May 16, 2021)
- Tim Keller, Christians Do Not Fit Into The Two-Party System. And That’s A Good Thing. (Oct. 25, 2020)
- Wall Street Journal, Princeton Seminary Revokes Award To Tim Keller Because Of His Traditional Theological Views (Mar. 26, 2017)
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