A Salute to Tim Keller

May 19, 2023

by David Fitch

Today, Friday, May 19th, Tim Keller passed into glory. Tributes have poured in from around the world, a testament to the far-reaching impact of this man and his ministry. As a pastor, he was a monumental figure that impacted New York City, but his witness extended around the world. We at Northern Seminary, along with Christians around North America and the world, grieve his passing, and pray for his family. We pray God’s living presence would be with them during this time when his bereavement is so sorely felt.

As a Holiness Pentecostal Anabaptist, I did not always warm to Tim Keller’s Reformed forensic driven soteriology (I am an NT Wright guy, a King Jesus Gospel guy, Christus Victor dude). I interacted and respected his work at The Gospel Coalition, but I was moving theologically in a different direction (I helped start Missio Alliance in response). As a post-structuralist, I did not find his approach to apologetics compelling. As a Neo-Anabaptist, I did not warm to his theology of church and culture (too Reformed, too Kuyperian for me). We differed on women’s ordination. I didn’t even like the style of music preferred at his churches! (Give me some Black gospel please). But despite all those differences, I loved Tim Keller.

I did not meet him face to face ever. But we exchanged some emails and had some blog interactions. I’ve been in his churches. As I watched him from afar, I was amazed at his genuine love for people, even the people who disparaged him. When a man of his accomplished publishing stats, can be humble and engaging to all those who challenge him, I take notice. He was a testimony to the way we Christians must be present in the world.

Always, Tim Keller oozed grace.

I honor this man Tim Keller as a true witness to Jesus Christ in the way he lived, and the way he engaged people who differed with him. I would like to be more like Tim Keller.

These are challenging times to be a Christian in American culture, especially as manifest in New York City. Tim was one of the first to move back into the city (after all those years of “evangelical” churches moving out of the city) to start a church in the city. He started Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City in 1989. He did not shrink from the challenge and led an approach culture that demanded engagement with the toughest of issues.

Firmly standing within a Kuperian Reformed stream of theology, he pioneered a pathway for many other church planters to follow. He was prolific and scholarly in his writings. More exacting in his scholarship than the typical mega church pastor, more engaging of issues in everyday culture than the typical scholar, he carved a path of pastoral theology that was unique for his time. Here is yet another way I would like to be more like Tim Keller.

Northern Seminary honors Pastor Keller in this moment of his passing. As a church planter, a pastor, a person immersed in Scripture, a love for those outside the gospel, a passion for justice, as one with a footing in Christian history, as a person always listening and engaging the culture challenge, Tim Keller will be sorely missed. May many more follow in his wake. May Northern Seminary be a place that shapes leaders like Tim Keller.

His influence will be felt for many years. In prayer, a few days before his passing, he said, “I’m thankful for the time God has given me, but I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home.” Today, we too are thankful for the time God gave Tim Keller. We send much prayer in support to his family, friends and church as they walk through this time of grief.