For those left behind when someone dies, there is always a moment of reflection. Today, news reached me that Tim Keller had died after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. I could not help but reflect on his life, ministry, and worldwide impact.
Tim was one of the founding members of The Gospel Coalition back in 2005. I was also asked to serve as one of the founding members, and as such, I had the privilege to become acquainted with Tim on a more personal basis.
I had listened to his messages on cassette tape (many of you will remember those days!) and was drawn to his insights of the Scriptures and his understanding of human nature and culture. I knew he ministered to a large congregation in New York. In my head, I pictured a tall and trim jet-set New Yorker who shopped on Madison Avenue. But when we first met, the image was a bit different. He was indeed tall, but he looked like a very ordinary man. Then he opened his mouth to speak. I quickly realized people flocked to his church because of his character, his humility, and his perceptiveness into the lives of people. He was approachable, unflappable, and able to engage anyone he met. And when he spoke, we all listened to his wisdom.
Tim Keller presented the gospel in a language our post-Christian culture was able to understand. He spoke realistically, clearly applying the Scriptures in a way that touched both the mind and the heart. When he spoke, I found myself saying, “Yes! That is so true, why didn’t I think of saying it that way?” He had insights many of us missed.
I asked him how he came to have such insight into human nature and culture. He explained that he spent a lot of time meeting with people. He was determined to listen to them, asking questions about everything from what they were reading to what they perceived their greatest challenges were. From this, and his own wide reading, Tim gained a great deal of understanding that served him well in the pulpit.
Tim understood how to apply God’s grace against the backdrop of human failure and sin. He had compassion for the fallen, and encouraged people to serve God wherever He planted them. He had a vision for the church, not just in New York, but around the world. His conversations were always focused on others, never himself. His passion was to help this generation see the gracious salvation of Christ.
A few years ago, we had lunch together here in Chicago. He had not yet been diagnosed with cancer, but he had resigned from his church to give attention to churches around the world. He expressed only one desire: to pass the baton to younger gospel-driven pastors. He saw that the need of the church was to combine the gospel with a robust commitment to the needs of a community. That, I would say, was his dying passion.
I am deeply grateful for his influence in my life and in the lives of thousands of pastors and millions of people around the world. The church has lost a champion, and from his grave he would speak to all of us and say: Carry on!
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them’” (Revelation 14:13).