In Memoriam: Timothy J. Keller (1950-2023)
With sadness in our hearts, we nonetheless rejoice that our friend Tim Keller has gone to be with Jesus. Tim was faithful to the end, desiring that we would know that the God who began a good work in him, would bring it to completion in His timing. We mourn because we have lost one of the Gospel’s most articulate, gracious and forceful voices of our lifetimes. Tim’s private life faithfully matched that of his public personae. God used Tim mightily to strangely warm the hearts of many skeptics as well as to encourage Christians to treat their unbelieving friends and neighbors with respect as well as with the expectation that their deepest longings could only be fulfilled in Jesus. He lived with the conviction that the Gospel was more powerful than all the principalities and powers of this world.
Tim was a dear friend of Gordon-Conwell because of his pastoral training in the early 1970s and also because he met his life-long soul mate and wife, Kathy, at Gordon-Conwell. Tim and Kathy sent their second son Michael to Gordon-Conwell. Following in his father’s footsteps, Michael planted a thriving Gospel-centered church in Manhattan which faithfully carries on the work Tim began back in the late 1980s. Tim and Kathy visited the seminary many times across the years, always challenging students to take objections to Christianity seriously, but to take the Gospel even more seriously. I remember him retelling a conversation he had with Kathy, who reminded him that if he were given a pill that would dramatically alter his physical well-being, he would never forget to take it each night. How much more so, then should prayer be the unforgettable reality in their lives, knowing that it would heal his soul by bringing him daily into the presence of God.
Tim was keen to remind evangelicals not to be captured by the political winds of the day. He was an ardent proponent of racial reconciliation and care for the marginalized while also believing strongly in a conservative sexual ethic and care for the unborn. In this, and so many other ways, Tim did not fit the easy stereotypes of the partisan political divides of our times.
In these final years, Tim taught a year-long preaching course in New York City and it encapsulated many of his core values. He always began by saying the preacher must first get the Scriptures right, then they must learn to preach Christ from all of Scripture. And finally they must never forget to preach to the heart as well as to the culture. If you listen carefully enough to any of Tim’s sermons across the years, you will find these core values sprinkled in every sermon. For Tim the sermon was always about pointing believers and unbelievers alike to Jesus, who alone is our hope on this side of eternity and on the other side.
Tim would have us look to Jesus even as we mourn his passing. We have lost a dear friend and colleague, but as Tim often said, “everything sad will become untrue” quoting J.R.R. Tolkien. Our friend and colleague is now face-to-face with Jesus, who has wiped away all his tears and will one day wipe away our tears as well.
Dr. Richard Lints, Senior Distinguished Professor of Theology, formerly served as Gordon-Conwell’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Theology. He also serves as Redeemer City-to-City’s Senior Consulting Theologian.