Pastor and apologist Tim Keller dies at age 72
The theologian and author brought Reformed and evangelistic ministry to New York City
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Tim Keller, whom Newsweek described as the “C.S. Lewis for the 21st Century,” died on Friday from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 72.
A pastor, best-selling author, and evangelical apologist, Keller was a known for his defense of Biblical Christianity in an age of secularism. He authored multiple books on Christian instruction, exposition, and apologetics, including The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. He was co-founder, with theologian D.A. Carson, of the Gospel Coalition.
Born in Allentown, Pa., in 1950, Keller graduated from Bucknell University and met his wife, Kathy, while both were students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He received a doctorate from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1981, and later served as a pastor in Hopewell, Va., before returning to Westminster to teach.
In 1989, Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. In an era of denim-clad pastors preaching among guitarists and video screens, Keller often preached in a coat and tie with an organ and brass quartet, attracting an ethnically diverse congregation composed mainly of young, single professionals.
From 1989 to 2017, Redeemer grew from 50 people to more than 5,000 across multiple locations. Keller gained popularity among an educated and skeptical audience. He quoted The Village Voice and Friedrich Nietzsche as readily as C.S. Lewis and the Apostle Paul: His goal was to enter into a skeptic’s worldview, challenge it, and retell the story based on the gospel.
In 2017, Keller stepped down as senior pastor of the church he founded and became chairman of Redeemer City to City, a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains, and provides leaders to plant churches worldwide.
Keller once called himself an “evangelical” but later preferred the term “orthodox,” explaining that “evangelical” had become synonymous with “hypocrite.” He said the word “orthodox” better conveyed his belief in the importance of personal conversion and the full authority of the Bible.
In more recent years, Keller stirred debates on Twitter and in op-ed pages with his positions on subjects such as the role of women in church leadership, the role of Christians in politics, and the role of the government in establishing moral laws. He believed churches should allow women to be deacons, and he urged Christians not to be divided over “debatable political differences.”
Some Christian conservatives who took exception to the latter admonition critiqued him publicly. But most of those critiques included expressions of respect. “I continue to admire him, even if I have turned elsewhere for guidance in our contemporary political moment,” wrote James Wood, associate editor of the journal First Things, in an essay last year. (Wood noted he’d given away copies of The Prodigal God to his groomsmen and named his dog after the New York minister.)
In June 2020, Keller announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In a 2021 interview, then–WORLD senior reporter Sophia Lee asked Keller how he wanted people who did not know him personally to remember him after he died. “I want my children and grandchildren to remember the things I tried to teach them by word and example,” he said. “I want my books to continue to be read because I intentionally sought to present Biblical teaching that I thought would have abiding relevance. But apart from that, I don’t think it’s my job to care about my ‘legacy.’”
Keller is survived by his wife, Kathy, and three sons.
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