Why I Will Go Hear Tim Keller
The first time I heard Tim Keller was on bootlegged cassette tapes of sermons he preached on Ephesians 5. If you don’t know, Ephesians 5 is one of the most nuclear texts in the Bible, especially in our current culture. Keller managed to stay true to the text, to say something really profound, to be relevant to sceptics, and to preach the good news in the process. Who was this guy?
Twenty years later, Keller’s church has grown into a network of several churches, he is a popular published author, and I don’t have to bootleg tapes any more—you download sermons for free, or get a subscription from Redeemer (http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/).
When I heard that he was coming to Durham, I immediately wanted to share my enthusiasm for his preaching with everyone I could. I think he is, flat out, one of the best preacher-teachers at work today. Why?
Because he just talks to us. He never devolves into that preacher’s tone that is almost unavoidable in the pulpit. He is plainspoken and straightforward. I love the way he just launches into the text—no long and clever introductions from Tim Keller. He pays his congregation the compliment of assuming that they are interested and want to hear the truth. He knows that the truth is interesting. It doesn’t need adornment so much as it needs, simply, explaining.
Because he is relevant. God did the Christian world a great good when he called Tim Keller to New York City. The City keeps him on his toes, and on his toes Keller stands pretty tall. He reads and interacts with cultural elites and thought leaders. He never shows off his learning, but it’s clear that he anticipates and understands the most serious objections and questions that modern people have to the ideas of the Christian faith. Keller has been amazingly effective at engaging Christianity’s cultured despisers. A Keller sermon is relevant to believers and unbelievers alike.
Because he is planted. Keller came to New York City, somewhat reluctantly at first, in 1989. He is in some ways an unlikely church-planter for NYC—he is Midwestern to the core. But he had been deeply impacted by the missiology of Harvie Conn, who taught him to see the incredible potential of a city. And so the Kellers settled into New York and learned to make it their home. Their church has become a great center for good for the city, both in its own ministries and in the many satellite ministries and organizations that have been spawned by Hope for New York. When he is asked to speak about how Christians can be a blessing to their city, Keller has a lot to share.
Because he believes in the power of truth. All you have to do with the truth is to tell it. Keller knows how to do that. Ideas are powerful things, and Keller has the capacity to unpack an idea in a way that makes it shine. You know you’ve been in the presence of someone who paints the beauty of truth when you find yourself repeating and rehearsing that truth to yourself after he has stopped talking. A Keller sermon stays with me for a good while after I listen to it. One of my favorite rhythms is to listen to a forty minute sermon on my iPod at the beginning of my bike ride and then spend the rest of the ride ruminating on what I’ve heard. Good stuff.
Because he is balanced. Keller manages to hold together in a creative tension several things that are so easily torn asunder: word and deed, soul and body, justice and mercy, to name a few. His church is justly renowned for combining a radically evangelical message with a full commitment to social justice—a combination not often or easily maintained. And in the process, he has transcended some of the typical categories that Christians have gotten mired in. Without denigrating politics, he has refused to allow his teaching about justice to devolve into an argument about how one should vote. The Gospel, and only the Gospel, is the center; all else is held in balance on the periphery.
And because he always gets down to the Gospel. Keller is a miner of the deep veins of the Gospel strata. No matter what the text, what the subject, he can always find his way down deep into the Gospel. His summary of that Gospel is so famous that I hear many quoting him who probably don’t know the source: "In the gospel we discover that we are far more wicked than we ever dared believe, yet more loved than we ever dared hope."