Biography of Pastor Timothy Keller

Full Biography of Pastor Timothy Keller

Pastor Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons.  For 28 years he led a diverse congregation of young professionals that grew to a weekly attendance of over 5,000.

He is also the Chairman & Co-Founder of Redeemer City to City (CTC), which starts new churches in New York and other global cities, and publishes books and resources for ministry in an urban environment. In 2017 Dr. Keller transitioned to CTC full time to teach and mentor church planters and seminary students through a joint venture with Reformed Theological Seminary's (RTS), the City Ministry Program. He also works with CTC's global affiliates to launch church planting movements.

Dr. Keller’s books, including the New York Times bestselling The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold over 2 million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

Christianity Today has said, “Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”

Dr. Keller was born September 23, 1950 to Louise A. Keller (Clemente) and William B. Keller, a television advertising manager, and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He previously served as the pastor of West Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia, Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Director of Mercy Ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America.

Keller discovered InterVarsity Fellowship and came to faith in 1970. He helped lead InterVarsity small groups and continued to be involved with the organization when he completed his divinity degree at Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary.

After becoming an ordained pastor, Keller’s career was a mix of practical pastoring and teaching. He spent nine years pastoring at West Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Virginia and five years teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary.

In 2008, Keller published his first book since his 1989 report to his denomination on diaconal ministries, Ministries of Mercy. The book, The Reason for God, was based on common objections to the Christian faith heard during his ministry in New York City. The book reached seventh on the New York Times Nonfiction bestseller list.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church grew from 50 people to a total attendance of over 5,000 people each Sunday as of 2008, leading some to call Keller "the most successful Christian evangelist in the city" In 2004, Christianity Today praised Redeemer as "one of Manhattan's most vital congregations".

The church's emphasis on young urban professionals, whom Keller believed exhibit disproportionate influence over the culture and its ideas, has given the church an unusual makeup for a US megachurch. The majority of the congregation is made up of single adults; it is also over forty percent Asian-American, and has many congregants working in the arts and financial services. In his preaching, "he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths, [but] he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere." Keller often critiqued both political parties and avoided taking public stances on political issues, resulting in a politically centrist church.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church has also founded Hope for New York, a non-profit organization that sends volunteers and grants to over 40 faith-based ministries serving social needs in New York City; the Center for Faith and Work, to train professionals in Christian theology; and Redeemer City to City, to train and fund pastors in New York and other cities.

Keller was a co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, a group of Reformed leaders from around the United States. His mentoring of younger church leaders, such as Scott Sauls in Nashville and Steve Chong in Sydney, increased his influence globally.

On July 1, 2017, Keller stepped down from his role as senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The move was part of a larger vision to shift his efforts from preaching to training the next generation of church leaders and starting new churches in global cities through Redeemer City to City.

Keller shunned the label "evangelical" because of its political and fundamentalist connotation, preferring to call himself orthodox because "he believes in the importance of personal conversion or being 'born again,' and the full authority of the Bible." He identified with Calvinist theology, although he had been critiqued by some in that tradition for his interpretation of its doctrines. He was described as a "doctrine-friendly emerging pastor".

The centerpiece and underpinning of Keller's ministry was his teaching of the doctrine of the gospel, emphasizing the doctrines of total depravity, unmerited grace and substitutionary atonement. This teaching is summarized in his oft-used explanation, "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." This understanding of the gospel is contrasted to what Keller called "traditional religion" (which he defines as a set of rules, rituals or actions that enable an individual to earn salvation or favor with God) as well as "irreligion" (which he defines as the belief that there is no God or no need for his favor). This has been referred to as a "gospel third way," or "gospel-centered" approach. Typical of this teaching is his interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (see The Prodigal God), based on a teaching of one of Keller's mentors, Edmund Clowney.

Keller's preaching and writing in his apologetics is characterized by a respectful orientation towards an educated and skeptical audience outside the faith. His most explicit work on the subject was The Reason for God, which he attributed to thousands of conversations with skeptical New Yorkers over the course of his ministry (Reason, p. xix).

On creationism, Keller stated that his view is not strictly literal and that evolution is "neither ruled in nor ruled out" in his church. Keller wrote on the topic for the BioLogos Foundation.

Keller's major influences in apologetics included C. S. Lewis, Cornelius Van Til, John Stott, Alvin Plantinga, N.T Wright, and Miroslav Volf.

Keller criticized the evangelical alliance with Republicans and argued that Christianity is a much broader global movement that agrees with some liberal and some conservative issues (and critiques them both). He argued for giving to charitable causes and caring for the needs of the poor, based on biblical texts such as the Torah and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Attributed partly to his congregation of upwardly mobile Manhattanites, Keller was a leader in applying Christian theology to secular vocations such as business, art and entrepreneurship. The Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer has sponsored business competitions and theological education for working professionals. His views on Christianity and culture are outlined in his books Every Good Endeavor and Center Church.

Keller was an avid fan of the work of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both well-known Christian authors, and also supported the Harry Potter novels which have been considered pagan by certain conservative Christians.

His ministry career took a new turn in 1989 when he accepted an invitation to plant a church in Manhattan, New York. In The Reason for God, he recalled, “I was told by almost everyone that it was a fool’s errand. Church meant moderate or conservative; the city was liberal and edgy. Church meant families; New York City was filled with young singles and ‘nontraditional’ households. Church most of all meant belief, but Manhattan was the land of skeptics, critics, and cynics.”

Keller’s church plant not only survived but thrived. He led Redeemer Presbyterian Church until 2017, eventually preaching to service containing thousands of people.

Realizing that many of his urban attendees didn’t come from Christian homes and didn’t claim Christianity for themselves, Keller developed a particular approach. Rather than reach out to other conservative Christians to consolidate influence, he reached out to skeptics to hear their questions. His apologetics books pushed readers to consider what was behind their skepticism about Christianity and whether it may hold the answers they sought.

Keller’s approach didn’t just push nonbelievers to rethink how they saw the world. He encouraged Christian leaders to consider where they worked, how to deliver a message that fit their context, and how to combine mercy ministry with communicating Christian ideas. His approach aided his church but led to church networks where other leaders developed effective ministries for reaching urban populations.

By the time he retired from preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian, Keller had written multiple bestselling books, debated atheists, and been cited as a key figure showing evangelical Christians could love knowledge and love cities well.

Keller was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020. He continued to speak at various venues at a slower pace, freely admitting that he knew his cancer meant his time was limited.

He passed away in hospice on May 19, 2023. His last reported words included, “I’m thankful for the time God has given me, but I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home.”

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