I have been an avid reader and consumer of Tim Keller’s teaching since not long after my conversion to Christ in 2004. I found in him something of a kindred spirit, a person whose temperament and disposition was in many ways similar to my own, and therefore someone whom I could look at and say, “I’d like to learn how to be more like that.” I can say that Keller’s influence on me has been profound and positive. And in the interest of honesty and disclosure, I must admit that Keller and I are very close, by which I mean that I once said a brief hello to him during a large lunch gathering at a conference while he ate macaroni salad. I’m sure he has never forgotten it.
I therefore approached this book with a warm disposition. Despite the presentation of the book as not quite a biography, it is. Only it’s one that rightly makes no attempt to analyze Keller’s legacy. The book deepened my appreciation for his influences, many of which I was already familiar with: R.C. Sproul, Richard Lovelace, Jack Miller, Harvey Conn, Edmund Clowney, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards.
The narrative spanned Keller’s entire life and ministry and it filled in many details that I was not familiar with, including some that weren’t so flattering, such as the persistent struggles he had leading the staff of Redeemer church before the arrival of a good executive pastor. The only part I cringed at a little bit was the mention of Francis Collins as the supposed paragon of the ‘faithful presence’ approach to cultural influence. Whatever respect I had for Collins died from the multiple gunshot wounds of this, that, and the other bullets of journalism and public facts. His role in the early days of the pandemic slandering the framers of the Great Barrington Declaration hasn’t helped either. But let’s move on from that unpleasant subject.
Like all of us, Keller’s weaknesses are the inversions of his gifts. His ability to see things from all sides, analyze them, and arrive at a mediatory solution can sometimes slip into the pitfall of false equivalency. His self-confessed disposition towards peacemaking has at times been at the cost of moral clarity. In short, he is not all that the church needs. He is not Luther, and at times we need Luthers. Much of the criticism of Keller in recent years has amounted to just that: the sense among some that the church now needs more of a blunt, Luther-like voice, and that Keller is not the man for that job. I sympathize with that sentiment, but it does not lessen for one moment my gratitude for Keller’s influence on me personally and on the church as a whole.
The church needs men and women with Keller’s uncanny ability to synthesize insights from wide-ranging sources. Rarely have I heard or read Tim Keller and not been stimulated to think more deeply and wisely, as well as to feel (or wish to feel) more affection for Christ. His greatest gift to the church has been the combination of his fertile mind and warm heart. Yet the church needs more than Tim Keller and those like him. This shouldn’t be controversial or surprising, should it? ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”’ (1 Cor 12:21). Likewise, the church which tries to grow into a balanced and healthy body using only one or two body parts will become anything but.
If nothing else, I hope this book encourages many readers to mine the spiritual and intellectual resources that so shaped and animated Keller’s thought. In years past I did it by scouring articles, podcasts, and footnotes, scribbling authors’ names and book titles down and looking them up later in libraries and on iTunes and Amazon. I still remember the thrill of stumbling upon all the audio lectures for Keller and Clowney’s D.Min preaching course from Reformed Theological Seminary, Preaching Christ in a Post-Modern World, on the now-defunct iTunes University platform. I then found the accompanying syllabus as a badly-scanned 188-page PDF somewhere online. For the next few weeks I soaked up the stimulating lectures while doing repetitive manual labour at my cabinet-making job. That experience alone led to permanent shifts in my understanding of sanctification, preaching, and the dynamics of sin in both the preacher’s and listener’s hearts. It was through Keller that I was introduced to Luther’s Shorter Catechism, Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Edwards’ The Nature of True Virtue, Chalmers’ The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, and other gold mines.
It brings me joy to think of many others now being ushered into those rich deposits, for in them the believer discovers more of Christ and more of the Scriptures which testify to Him.