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Who was Timothy Keller?

Timothy Keller

Reverend Timothy James Keller (1950—2023) was an author, theologian, apologist, and founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He also co-founded and chaired Redeemer City to City, a training network for pastors and church planters in global cities. After a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Timothy Keller died on May 19, 2023, at age 72.

Keller was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to William and Louise Clemente Keller. As a boy, he attended a Lutheran church with his family, but it wasn’t until college that he became a Christian. While studying at Bucknell University in the late 1960s, Keller came to faith in Jesus Christ through his involvement with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. His early days as a believer were deeply influenced by the writings of evangelical scholars such as John Stott, C. S. Lewis, and F. F. Bruce.

While earning his Master of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Keller met his future wife, Kathy Kristy. They were married in 1975 and had three sons, David, Michael, and Jonathan.

Keller was ordained in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and, at age 24, began pastoring West Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia. Nine years later, he returned to Pennsylvania to teach practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he also obtained his Doctor of Ministry in 1981.

During this period Keller worked on staff for his denomination, the PCA, helping to plant churches and recruit pastors. Against almost all human advice at the time, Tim and Kathy eventually answered the PCA’s call to start a church in New York City. The couple moved to the city and began holding gatherings and preaching to unchurched young professionals and their families. In 1989, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan was born.

Within a year, weekly attendance grew from 50 to an average of more than 500. But after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, church growth exploded, bringing Redeemer Presbyterian Church into the national spotlight. By 2017, when Timothy Keller stepped down from the pulpit to devote himself entirely to Redeemer City to City, the urban beacon had flourished into a network of five independent campuses and multiple daughter congregations throughout the city, with around 6,000 a week in attendance. The church had also founded three non-profit ministries to meet the city’s social needs, train lay professionals in Christian theology, and support urban pastors and intercity outreaches.

In 2008, 58-year-old Keller published his first bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, an apologetics work based on numerous conversations with skeptics while ministering to New Yorkers. His books, more than 30 in all, span the topics of theology, apologetics, the nature of God, the gospel, forgiveness, Christian living, marriage, and cultural engagement.

Timothy Keller’s preaching focused on human sin and God’s grace. The core of this Calvinist’s theology is summarized in his oft-repeated quote: “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” (The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, Penguin Books, 2011, p. 44).

As one of the founders of The Gospel Coalition, Keller was no stranger to criticism. Conservative evangelicals repeatedly accused him of “cultural accommodation” and being “too soft on sin and worldliness.” Yet those on the “Reformed side of evangelicalism walked away from him in part because he never wanted to frame his convictions in combative ways” (, accessed 6/9/23). Progressive Christians didn’t like him much, either, because of his belief in complementarianism and stance against homosexuality and LGBTQ inclusion.

Nevertheless, Timothy Keller left a legacy as a trailblazer for Christian renewal in urban centers, inspiring and training ministers to take the love of Christ into some of the most secular and skeptical communities in our nation and world. Fred Harrell, founding pastor of City Church in San Francisco, was directly impacted by Keller’s passion for urban church planting. He said, “[Tim] spoke to the person who wasn’t yet present in the room. He inspired consumeristic Christians to adopt a more missional mindset, inviting them to bring their non-Christian friends without fear of embarrassment. His sermons avoided unnecessary alienation, allowing the message of Jesus to be accessible to anyone. It was a revelation for me and an idea that preachers today would be wise to remember and practice” (ibid., accessed 6/9/23).

Here are some notable quotations from Timothy Keller:

“All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better.”

“You don’t fall into love. You commit to it. Love says, ‘I will be there no matter what.’”

“The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”

“Mercy isn’t just the job of the Christian. Mercy is the mark of the Christian.”

“If the suffering Jesus endured did not make him give up on us, nothing will.”

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This page last updated: June 12, 2023