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An Ode to Dr. Keller

May 20, 20234 min read

Reverend Timothy Keller died yesterday, after a three-year cancer battle, and I can’t stop thinking about who I would be had I never encountered his book The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism.

I bought it on the same day I picked up Bob Goff’s Love Does. They were displayed right next to each other on the table at Barnes & Noble. It was 2009, and I’d never heard of either man, but obviously, I was searching; somehow trying to believe in God again.

I’ve read two dozen of Keller’s books since, so I’m wistful and plaintive over his passing.

Timothy Keller

The story of losing my religion is typical in many ways. I wasn’t mad at God exactly, after a sad, confusing season, but rather enraged by the ignorant meddling and judgmental rigidity of Christians who’d entered my story uninvited. I didn’t walk away from Christianity as much as I strolled backward out of the faith, like an outlaw from a saloon, double-barreling all of Christendom with my middle fingers.

It was charming.

But in 2009, Keller and Goff rekindled a dying flame in me with their humble, intelligent Christianity. They challenged what I thought I knew and ushered me out of a furious apostasy into a new relationship with God.

Who knew such a thing was possible in this political/religious climate?

recognize your beliefs

In 1989, Dr. Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, a place that “good Christians” love to deride as liberal, faithless, non-churchgoing, pagan, etc.

People told him he was crazy because churches were dying all over the city. They said he’d have to tuck it in, scrub some of the demanding parts out of the gospel, but Keller, a theologian, didn’t.

He doubled down.

Keller waved the gospel like a giant flag over New York City, using his scholar’s mind and deep love of Jesus to patiently explain why the gospel is STILL SUCH GOOD NEWS. Today Redeemer has 5,000 regular congregants and has spawned a network of daughter churches all over the city.

Keller preached the gospel, even the hard parts, to people like me - the skeptics, the apostates, and the wounded. Through his books and sermons, I saw glimmers of the goodness of God, rather than the tired religious circus I was used to. He didn’t avoid topics like suffering, righteousness, and holiness, he spoke right to them, refusing to spare this current Babylon. His deft mind and commitment to reason, broke down the ineffable until it felt like a pure, strong signal amid all the self-righteous, power-hungry noise.

In 2010, as a direct result of his work, I picked up my old bible again and decided to spend a year reading it. Something Dr. Keller would consider a triumph.

how religion works

Back then I made a deal with God. I would spend a year reading the Bible with an open mind and heart. If after a year, I didn’t believe it was the inspired word of God, I wouldn’t. What did I have to lose anyway?

On day two of my project (and every day since) I felt God flood the scriptures with golden light, showing me things I had never seen before. Would that have even happened without Dr. Keller? I don’t know.

I can say with honesty and delight that Dr. Keller is a force behind what I do now: Helping people listen for the still small voice, so they can grow into who God had in mind all along. Bob Goff had a hand in that too.

share the goods

Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship. In Greek, the word workmanship is poema. I am a poem. You are a poem. Our lives are about so much more than losing weight and paying bills. Our job is to glorify God with our lives, to make this world look and behave more like heaven. To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

I like helping people figure out how to do that.

Dr. Keller took a hard and improbable route into the heart of New York City to go find people, like me, who are repulsed by religion and desperate for Jesus. He found us, thousands, maybe millions of us. It’s this pioneering model I attempt to follow.

Can you imagine the conversation he and Jesus are having today?

Thank you, Dr. Keller. Rest in Love.


May 20, 2023

Erin Kirk

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