New York City’s Evangelical Giant’s Voice Silenced, But Not Ended

Printed from:

Editor’s Note:  Tim Keller, perhaps the best known Evangelical leader in the United States since Billy Graham, died May 19, 2023 of pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

An ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of America, Keller in 1989 founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

He wrote 31 books, some of the most best known being The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (2008), The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (2008), and Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014).

He influenced millions of Christians with his lucid and powerful exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was particularly influential among urban, secularly minded professionals because of his understanding of modern culture, the breadth of his knowledge, and his persuasive approach to interpreting the Bible and the orthodox Christian worldview.

This remembrance of Keller is this week’s religion column in NewBostonPost.


Pastor Tim Keller died last month, making it just a little harder for me and many others to hear God’s voice.

Sometimes when Tim spoke, it was like hearing the gospel for the very first time. For very many others, it actually was.

I saw Tim for the first and only time in the 1990s when my family visited New York City. My daughter was touring prospective colleges there, and given the possibility she might be in New York for the next four years, friends suggested that we visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church.   We attended one Sunday and were never the same again.

The church service was in a large auditorium at Hunter College. Tim stood at a microphone — no podium — dressed in a business suit, and spoke with a calm but confident voice.  He was explaining a passage from the Bible, a passage I had heard many times before; but this felt entirely different from anything I’d heard before.  His demeanor was that of a friend or mentor — not an authority figure.  He put the characters in historical context, addressing not just what they did but how they must have felt.  He related the story to the rest of God’s Word, and out came ideas and a deeper understanding and meaning than I ever had heard before. It was not just another slant on a familiar Bible story. Somehow, when you hear the truth, you just recognize it — no need for shouting, excessive emotion, or clever manipulation. I never forgot that sermon or what he taught me — even some 25 years later.

In light of Tim Keller’s enormous success as a preacher, it is ironic that, as the story has it, Tim got a “C” in preaching at seminary.

My appreciation for Tim’s preaching continued to soar after I started getting cassette tapes and later compact discs of his sermons. They would arrive by mail, and my wife and I would vie for who would get to listen to Tim’s next sermon first. Eventually we could just download them online through the web site Gospel In Life. (Because, as Gospel in Life has as its motto, “the gospel changes everything.”)

Lest you think me too informal, Pastor Timothy James Keller went by Tim or Tim Keller. Never Dr. Keller, although he had earned a doctorate. He was one of us, and he just wanted us to know that God loves us, and for us to have the same kind of relationship with, trust in, and love for God that he had.

In New York, Tim spoke to skeptics, type A personalities, and highly educated secular people — people who had come to New York City with a mission not to connect with God but to make their mark on the world.  But his approach to sharing the gospel helped convinced many of these New Yorkers that God’s words are true and still relevant.

For sources, Tim went high and Tim went low. Tim read everything, old and new:  the New York newspapers, magazines, the latest books, old books, obscure poems. I learned more from Tim about philosophy than I ever did in college.

He could talk about almost anything with anyone. He cared about everyone he met.

The church grew – and Redeemer spun off churches around New York City and then around the world.  New York attendance was in the thousands, with four or five services around the city each Sunday. But after the evening service, Tim routinely held a question-and-answer session. He loved hearing people’s questions, and, humbly and thoughtfully, he answered the questions and discussed God’s word. Later in life, when his children were grown, Tim put these ideas to paper. By the end of his life, Tim had written more than 30 books.

Tim loved New York and had a great affection for all cities. He noticed that in the Biblical books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah the Israelites who in 586 B.C. were taken away as captives to Babylon for 70 years were initially inclined to live outside that city away from the Babylonians. Yet God instructed them through the prophets to put their new roots down in the city, to work to make it thrive, and even pray for the city’s success. He wanted the Israelites to be in the city, but not be of the city. Tim welcomed this idea and did just that in New York and around the world with his Redeemer City to City ministry.

What was Tim’s message?  In a nutshell:  “You are far worse and flawed than you ever imagined, but more loved by God than you ever could hope.” God delights in us as a bride groom delights in his bride. Even though we come up short, God still loves us, and we are forgiven. Jesus offers us credit before God for the perfect life which He lived — something we could never do ourselves — and substituted Himself in our place for the punishment of our sins. We should repent of making false gods out of other priorities and receive this gift through faith.  We should love God first above all things, and then love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Our response to his invitation to love Him and our neighbor is not because of our faith in His promise. It is all by God’s grace. And because God has been so gracious to us even though we are undeserving, we should be gracious to others.

Tim died May 19 after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. I and many others already miss him.  But he is not truly dead; rather, he is with the Lord Almighty, awaiting the resurrection. That means he is very much alive.  As Jesus said of Moses, “for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:37-38).

And as Tim said just before he “died”:  “See you soon!”

We look forward to that, confident that God never breaks a promise, and that we will live with Him forever.


Doug Vassos is a retired dentist and a member of Park Street Church in Boston.


New to NewBostonPost?  How many media outlets in Massachusetts do you consider religion-friendly?  Well, you’ve found one.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.