In Honor and Memory of Tim Keller

On Friday, May 19, 2023, I was writing about something else and was about ready to hit publish when I heard that beloved pastor, mentor, preacher, and teacher, Timothy Keller had passed away. He was 72.

Tim Keller, as he was often called, is the kind of man you write about. So here we are.

I want to start by saying that I am generally very wary of pastors. I don't like how people fawn over them. I don't like the intense desire they have to be idolized, celebrated, and to always be honored. I especially do not like calling them daddy. But this one time, allow me to write about an amazing man of God.

It's ironical that the man I will tell you about in the next few paragraphs HATED and resisted all forms of celebrity. He was incredibly modest. There were no scandals, allegations, impropriety. He lived and breathed the word of God. He was a man whose words and teachings were instrumental in saving many people's lives. I do not say these words lightly but I mean it with every fiber of my being when I say God used Timothy Keller. He was brilliant, insightful, and thoroughly engaging. He found a way to dissect the most complex matter in the simplest format, knowing just when to inject humor and when to be doleful and when to just be quiet. He was just a man who loved God. That simple. Despite writing numerous books and preaching thousands of messages, he remained extremely low-key. Fame or fortune never matter to him. Truth did; the truth of the gospel. 

Dad waited until he was alone with Mom. She kissed him on the forehead and he breathed his last breath. We take comfort in some of his last words, ‘There is no downside for me leaving, not in the slightest.’” - His son said, just after his passing.

I was just listening to his message the night before he passed (I had no idea he was in hospice or that his health had degraded that bad). 


While writing this (I wrote it over the course of almost a week), a huge chunk of what I had written (after the last sentence) got deleted and I almost gave up writing this altogether. And then I decided to still do it. To still bring my heart and intellect, the way Tim Keller did. Because I already poured my heart out once and now, I'm afraid the rest of the tribute won't honor him as much as I intended to. I'm afraid it just won't be as good as what I initially wrote. That said, I will try to retrace my steps.

In a nutshell, I was trying to say that my heart is broken that we won't have his wisdom and genius with us anymore, but John 11:26 comes to mind:

"Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die..."

Yet, it is okay to grieve. Human beings want to last, we want to be durable, we want to survive it all. We want to last. As Christians, we have our eternal hope in Christ and we are assured of life after death. But we must acknowledge that nothing about death is normal even though it literally happens every day. It doesn't feel right. So it's okay to cry and to grieve at such an ending, at the abruptness of death. Even the Bible tells us to weep and to mourn with those who are mourning. But here is the thing, we can grieve with hope, and in the words of Tim Keller himself, "sing for joy at what's coming". 

There are not enough words to describe how transformative this man's teachings were (are). I have learned so much from him: he has helped me confront the gospel, face my doubts, accept grace, confront arrogance, live out the gospel, and best of all, understand Jesus better. Yet, my MOST favorite thing about him was the humility with which he approached the Gospel. His was a profound gift, for sure. There was something about his reverence for God, or shall I say his love for God. He understood that all of us are incredibly flawed and yet, incredibly loved by a good, gracious God. He emphasized the importance of living like Jesus would and touting the values most important to God: love, hope, joy, humility, generosity. 

To reiterate, I am very doubtful of pastors, generally. But Tim Keller was as authentic, devoted, and effective as they came. I truly believe he is a once-in-a-generation kind of person. I've read that biographers or those who wrote about him in general were often worried about what secrets they might uncover once they dug deeper. They always dug deeper and that was it: what you saw was what you got. He was just a man who loved God. I would be remiss to end this without mentioning how he handled opposition. The way he engaged those who disagreed and vilified him is worthy of emulation. He was never didactic, but no matter how complex, he had the intellect to deconstruct almost every issue. And he brought his heart and smile and calm/warm demeanor to it. Christians are always so smug, they feel so superior especially in the morality discourse and elsewhere to be honest (it's why I really can't stand so many Christian influencers)...not Tim. He navigated the caustic so-called culture war by pointing us all to Jesus and asking that we focus on our own "disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, that fail to satisfy us even when we get them". He always implored folks to seek delight since after all, how can you know the reality of God and not be about that?

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a couple of years ago (after suffering through thyroid cancer more than a decade ago), but he was always so joyful and at peace even as he knew his demise was inevitable. To be clear, he acknowledged that he and his wife and their family cried a lot and they have experienced a lot of grief, but they also experienced happiness throughout this process. Oh I was so sad when I first heard the news, but when you think through the life this man lived, you'd definitely be left asking like David Brooks did on The New York Times: "Oh Death, where is your victory? Where is your sting?" 

He lived a life that embodied peace. May his soul rest in even more abundance peace.



P.S: here is my favorite Tim Keller sermon. 

P.P.S: Because it's 2023, one is obliged to say this: it goes without saying that I do not agree with every ideology Tim Keller had nor did I even agree with ALL aspects of his theology. But if there is one thing I learned from this man it's the ability to talk WITH (not "down to") those who disagree with you. And if you only love/admire/respect those who are in lockstep with you regarding every single ideology, not only are you a fool (I mean this in the Biblical sense not as an insult) , you will also never learn, never grow, and never  sharpen the ideoology(ies) you so idolize. 

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