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A Race Well Run: Remembering Tim Keller


Last Friday Tim Keller passed away. His son, Michael, recounted his final moments,

Dad waited until he was alone with Mom. She kissed him on the forehead and he breathed his last breath. We take comfort in some of his last words, “There is no downside for me leaving, not in the slightest.” See you soon Dad.

Like many, I never knew Tim Keller. Yet, he’s made an immeasurable impact on my life. The Reason for God was published in 2008, a year after I became a Christian. I read it in a few short days. Each chapter strengthened my young faith: following Jesus is intellectually defensible.

When I finished, I searched the internet for anything by Tim Keller: PDFs of his teaching, Bible studies, sermons, essays, anything.

His Prayer Bible study taught me how to meditate on scripture and gave me a longing for revival. His Daniel Bible study dismantled the divide between sacred and secular work, teaching me that all of creation belongs to Jesus. Prodigal God and his Galatians study showed be the beauty of grace and forgiveness. Counterfeit Gods introduced me to the concept of idolatry and taught me that only deep affection for Christ could expel my love of sin. The Meaning of Marriage taught me the supreme beauty of deeply committed, self-giving covenantal love. 

After graduating from College, I knew I wanted to enter full-time ministry. But I also knew I didn’t know how to teach or lead or think about church.

So again, I turned to Keller, searching the back pages of back pages to find Keller’s unpublished 300-page PDF: Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World. I paid what, at the time, felt like a hilarious sum of money to have it printed and spiral bound. By the time I finished it, half the book was highlighted, and personal notes filled every margin.

Keller's book on diaconal ministry, Ministries of Mercy, gave me a vision for how churches could pursue radically generous justice. His articles on church growth dynamics and later book Center Church were a lodestone at The Crossing, magnetizing our compasses so we could journey toward truth north: a church that blended the insights of many traditions. A church that saw itself as a counterculture, seeking the common good through service, orthodoxy, Bible study, prayer, humble excellence, and a distinctive worldview. 

I could continue to describe the way Keller influenced me and our church for pages. I could list all the literary friends he introduced me to: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Ed Clowney, Harvey Conn, Elisabeth Eliot, N.T. Wright, Lesslie Newbigin, and countless others.

Or I could list out the stories of those he showed surprising care and love. When people critiqued him, he often reached out to say what he appreciated and build bridges. When young leaders needed support and care, Tim called them out of the blue, though they had nothing to offer. He forged his deep insight into the human soul by sitting with humans in pain and counseling them with grace.

Here is what’s remarkable: as I read other tributes to Keller, I see that everyone’s list of favorite books differs. They all tell different stories of his generosity and kindness. They all highlight different parts of his ministry. I see that he influenced so many of us in different ways. I have no doubt that the same is true of you.

This shows the profound breadth of Keller’s work.

Most authors could spend a lifetime writing in any one of the areas I mentioned above and hope to write one great book. But Tim wrote countless classics on diverse subjects. This wasn’t because he was an unfocused polymath. It was because he saw how one theme, one person, unified all things. And he somehow saw that one person in all things.

That unifying theme was the beauty, love, grace, sovereignty, power, and justice of Jesus. The unifying person was Keller’s beloved savior and king, his Messiah and Lord.

In Ephesians, Paul writes how God chose his children in Christ before the creation of the world, predestining us for adoption, forgiving our sins by his blood, and lavishing his grace upon us, all unto the glory of God. Paul said the Father did this, in verse 10, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

Tim Keller was not a perfect man. After all, he said toward the end of his life that “I think the way I handle imminent death is by fighting my sin and getting deeper communion with God.”  

Few flawed, sinful, imperfect humans have managed to so deeply unify Christ in their thinking and life as Tim Keller did. And he did this with the greatest simplicity: fighting sin and fighting for deeper communion with God. 

The book of Hebrews reminds us to remember our fathers and mothers in the faith so that we can run our race with perseverance. Now that Tim Keller has finished his race, I am praying that Jesus will use his faithful, kind, patient, loving wisdom, and his expansive vision of Christ in and over all things, as an inspiration to strive for by grace through faith.

Thank you Tim Keller for being a lamp on my path, guiding my feet ever closer to our King. Rest in peace with him until the day of our glorious resurrection.

Learn more about Tim Keller and his life, ministry, and influence in this interview with Collin Hansen.