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  • Writer's pictureMary Nolte

A Tribute to Timothy Keller

Updated: May 21, 2023

“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.” ~Timothy Keller

I had to quote Keller today, the day his faith became sight. He had a profound impact on my family, especially my daughter Phage, both as a struggling teen, reading his “The Reason for God,” and later on, when she moved to New York and sat under his preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian. I cannot speak for my family, but for me, Keller opened my eyes to the beauty of man. Not a single individual, but rather all of us, humanity, the pinnacle of God’s creation. I had not always seen much beauty in we who are made in the image of God. We seemed rather marred and quite atrocious, to be honest. Then the New York years happened, and everytime we visited our daughter, we tried to visit Keller’s church as well.

He had a way of expressing the gospel that reached beyond the bounds of the “churched” and touched the hearts of the “unchurched.”

It is one thing to express the gospel to those who’ve been raised with the lingo but quite another to express it to those who’ve never heard it, who hear the biblical phrases as somewhat alien. For Keller, the Gospel was always real and fresh and alive. You could hear his passion for it in every sermon. He spoke it in human terms, and humans, all humans, could sense there was something about this gospel that was special and necessary. To me, Keller embodied the picture of Christ when He ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:10-11), as He walked so much among the party crowd that some accused Him of being a drunkard (Luke 7:34). Keller loved people, and he knew people, ordinary, unchurched, culturally affluent people, needed Jesus. For me, who had been raised in the church, saved at 8 years old, and teetered on the edge of Phariseeism, I needed the message that Keller preached. I needed the example of the man God had raised up to proclaim the good news to the city that never sleeps. God used Tim Keller to convict me of self-righteousness.

For Keller didn’t start by loving people. He started by loving God, and as God revealed Himself, Keller saw the depth of his own sinfulness. When you see that depth, you are always looking up to those around you.

As Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). I once heard someone say that we should be serving up the gospel to the world around us, as one beggar tells another where to find bread. That is an accurate description of what I observed in Timothy Keller when I watched him preach. He was so grateful for the “bread” of the gospel, so aware that he had not earned it, did not deserve it, and so excited to share it with the rest of us. For we are all the “chiefest of sinners,” “more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe.” Yet God, in his grace still chooses to reveal himself to us and pour undeniable grace upon us, proving that even in this fallen state, humankind is beautiful. The gospel message is for everyone. Christ died for the vilest. I know this because He died for me. I mourned Keller’s death but then told my husband what my brother told me when my dad died, “His faith has become sight.” He may not utter another word on this earth or pen another unforgettable phrase, but the message he preached will go on for eternity.

In Christ, “we are more loved and accepted…than we ever dared hope.”


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