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I never met Tim Keller. But I got to know him through his preaching, writing, and speaking ministries, both in person and online, and I have a sense that we were fellow companions on this earthly journey. He equipped me in the early stages of my marriage, guided me through ministry, instructed me during lonely drives, and mentored me in my preaching from afar.

Considering his imminent death, the apostle Paul exhorted a new generation of Christians to keep their eyes on those who walk according to his apostolic example, while they await the Savior’s return and our subsequent resurrection.

Paul wrote, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us… while we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:17, 20-21). And now with the passing of Timothy J. Keller (1950-2023), I consider Keller to be someone whose example I can imitate. I will gladly keep my “eyes on” him.

I would like to put forward five aspects of Keller’s life and ministry for us to keep our “eyes on” until the Lord’s return:

1. He Pursued Friendship with God in Prayer

Among Keller’s many books like The Reason for God, Prodigal God, and Counterfeit gods, I would contend that his book on Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God was his strongest. In it he mined intercessory treasure from church history and put it all into a kind of devotional display case for us to see: understanding the text of Scripture for meditation from Martin Luther, the importance of grace in a life of prayer from John Calvin, and Christ’s own cry of dereliction on the cross (Matt 27:46).

Tim Keller showed me that the doctrine of justification by faith frees me from approaching God like a disappointed boss, or like a merchant demanding a business transaction. If God truly doesn’t judge me based on my performance, then I can freely approach his throne of grace, in the name of Jesus, like the friend he is. Keller showed me that intimacy with God doesn’t force me to empty my mind, but instead that prayer functions as a kind of funnel that transfers glorious truth about God down from my head into my heart[1], so that in the end God is more real to me than anything else. Keller helped me see prayer as the wardrobe into Narnia.[2]

2. He Preached the Gospel all the Time

Keller’s sermons were a reminder and demonstration of Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.[3] Or perhaps as his own personal mentor and friend, Ed Clowney, put it, he modeled Preaching Christ in All of Scripture.

Keller preached Christ from the text. He didn’t commit the equal and opposite errors he himself warned us against in his book on preaching. He didn’t preach Christ without preaching the text, nor did he preach the text without preaching Christ.[4] He preached the Word in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2), resolving to know nothing among us but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). May it be so of us.

Preaching Christ is the only true way to preach to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Keller proved that if we are going to preach Biblically, imaginatively, powerfully, and affectionately, then we need to preach Christocentrically.[5] Preaching Christ is the only true way to preach to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Keller reminded us that “the gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”[6] And when Keller came to the end, I trust that he experienced what he himself preached in his sermon on Psalm 88, “At the cross, Jesus Christ experienced darkness as his only friend so that in your darkness you can know that Jesus is still your friend. If he didn’t abandon us in his greatest moment of darkness, why would he abandon us in ours?”[7]

3. He Loved his wife as Christ Loved the Church

In his recent biography of Keller, Collin Hansen said the single greatest influence on Keller’s spiritual and intellectual formation wasn’t CS Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, or Jonathan Edwards; it was his own wife and best friend, Kathy Kristy.[8] Like a certain Pevensie girl from Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, she is called Kathy the Valiant.[9]

As a pastor, I never think twice before taking engaged couples through The Meaning of Marriage. The Kellers demonstrated a prayerful mutuality, loving self-sacrifice, and complementary love that so gloriously illustrated the model set forth in our Lord Jesus Christ for the church.

Tim and Kathy taught me that friendship is the ultimate foundation of a healthy marriage and that the gospel is the key to flourishing in marriage. And it wouldn’t be a faithful article on Keller if idolatry weren’t mentioned, so I remind readers to keep an eye on Keller when it comes to marriage. It was him who said that if we take our spouses, good things given to us by God, and make them ultimate, one of two things will happen: we will either crush them by our expectations, or they will crush us by their limitations.

If we turn to Christ for the love currency we need, our marriage will survive, even if our spouse’s love safes are empty.[10]

4. He Engaged the Culture Without Compromising Scripture

Keller was marvelous at engaging culture on a point of shared agreement or appreciation, and then showing people that the origin of that particular belief was the God of the Christian Scriptures. He would use a timely quote from Martin Luther King Jr. or David Foster Wallace on justice to show people that Christ is the ultimate answer to injustice and the object of our satisfaction.[11] He could unpack and dismantle opposing arguments in a way that would dignify those who held the views.

Tim was ruled by the inerrant, authoritative Word of God that he proclaimed. He did not flinch from this authority while he disarmed people by his knowledge of the culture until he confronted them with the Christ of Scripture. Keller was brilliant at becoming “all things to all people, that by all means he might save some” (1 Cor 9:22).

Like Martin Lloyd-Jones, Keller was often criticized from both sides of the theological spectrum. Keller was thought to be too liberal by many conservatives and too conservative by many liberals. He never proposed a system of legalism or liberalism. He refused to bow the knee to fundamentalism or universalism. He was often criticized by every which way. But he left even his critics in awe of Jesus more often than not.

5. He Demonstrated a Passion for Earthly Justice Without Losing Sight of our Heavenly Hope

Keller was unapologetic about the Bible’s emphasis on caring for the poor and widows (James 1:27), even serving for a season as Director of Mercy Ministries for the PCA.[12] He preached against many earthly injustices. He didn’t hold back when it came to preaching against racism, abuse, or abortion. He did not hesitate to preach what we should do as an overflow of his emphasis on what Jesus has done.

Still, Keller set out also to convince everyone who heard him preach that Christianity, among all the world religions, contains the greatest resources for eternal hope. He pointed out that all the key aspects universally beloved by all when it comes to fantasy and science fiction stories ­– love without parting, communicating with intelligent, non-human life, good triumphing over evil, life triumphing over death – are finally true in Jesus Christ.[13]

But Keller’s emphasis on Christian hope did not make him into someone so heavenly minded that he was no earthly good. In fact, the opposite was the case. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”[14] This was true of Tim Keller. He pursued earthly justice, all the while proclaiming the fantastic, hope-fueling truths of the Christian’s eternal destiny.

Let us keep our eyes on Timothy Keller who always pointed us to Christ.



[1] Edwards, A Supernatural and Divine Light

[2] Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

[3] Graham Goldsworthy

[4] Keller, Preaching

[5] 2014 John Reed Miller Lecture Series on Preaching

[6] Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

[7] Keller, How to Deal with Dark Times

[8] Hansen, Timothy Keller

[9] Ibid.

[10] Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

[11] 2014 John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching

[12] Keller, Ministries of Mercy and Resources for Deacons: Love Expressed through Mercy Ministries

[13] Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

[14] Lewis, Mere Christianity