We have lost a Giant –A Tribute to Tim Keller

My wife and I have listened to so much of Tim Keller’s preaching in Gospel in Life that whenever we are on a long drive to Long Island or NJ, we would turn on his sermons, always refreshing, thought provoking, and full of Christ centeredness and the grace of God. Today he has passed, and when I heard the news this morning, I was stunned, and literally broke into tears. For though I have only spoken to him once shortly after a class, and been to his apartment on his and Kathy’s invitation for a meal for the 3rd cohort students. Although I don’t know him personally that much, and he definitely doesn’t know me or remembers me as his student (he’s got real good memory), somehow I feel his presence much through the online sermons, and also the books he’s written, and the articles he posted which are always fascinating. I meant to read his article on the decline of American church for a while, but I got buried with my two classes I am taking now. I will get to it soon. Like Don Carson wrote today, we have lost a giant.   

The spiritual giant and hero of my life since about 10 years ago for me is Tim Keller. My family and I moved to New York City about 13 years ago and we started a church in downtown Battery Park Manhattan with the vision of building strong and biblical people to plant strong biblical churches from the Hope international movement. Coming from a strong staunchly church planting discipleship making with the charismatic worship background, my family moved into the US from Malaysia. When we started the church in Manhattan some 10 years ago, we were living in Syosset, Long Island,  a long commute from NYC and essentially I was doing remote pastoring and also part-time bi-vocational weekend pastoring, and we only see the congregation on Sunday. So you can imagine the challenge of geographic distance and also time constraint. But that’s not the biggest challenge! The biggest handicap is the lack of reformed theology of knowing who God is, and His sovereignty and grace and him initiated to choose us, and save us even before the foundation of the earth!

That’s when we bumped into the compelling warm expositional preaching of Tim Keller. After 3-4 years into church plant pastoring the church I began to feel the lack of doctrinal and confessional grounding that I needed as a pastor where most of the students are from the top universities. I remember some students in my church who was in Columbia at that time will come on Sunday for our worship service and then in the afternoon she would switch over to Redeemer to listen to Tim Keller preaching . By the grace of God I started listening to Tim’s preaching online and at that time we have to pay $2 per sermon to listen to him. But now everything’s free on the gospel centered life. I was so taken in by the breadth and depth and the logical argument and revelation insight of his preaching and I marveled at the grace and beauty of God in his sermons. It’s not full of imperatives, but full of the indicatives of who God is, a very God centered approach. I love that! So much so, I started a blog, podcast called God Centered Orthodoxy.

The church closed and I felt I was in the wilderness. I began to yearn for the presence and reality of the sovereignty and big God that I learnt from Tim Keller, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, etc. I am not looking for techniques, emerging church, or relating to the culture. Like my wife said the biggest turning point of our ministry and lives in listening to Tim Keller’s preaching is he successfully turned our eyes from a vision driven ministry to Christ’s grace working in our lives. It was crushing to recover from a failure of a church plant and ministry after planted and pastored two thriving churches in Malaysia.

Tim Keller is a transformational leader because he sees the beauty and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and how that transforms us from human driven vision serving him to serving and loving him in his sovereignty and grace. It’s the grace of God that we are saved and chosen to be his witnesses and disciples. It’s by this sense of God choosing me first, instead of me making the final move of choosing God is totally liberating and empowering and indeed transformational. That’s a huge difference and I feel it so refreshing and energizing to pursue what God has for me. And I would say the best thing he has done among many others is that he was instrumental to bring Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) to New York City. I was so driven to learn theology that I even signed up to remote classes with Gordon Cornwell seminary in New York City before RTS came to NYC and I learned a class called preaching. But nothing more. But when RTS started their campus classes in New York City, it’s like the Lord’s favor came upon me and I jumped on it to enroll myself for the Master of Arts in biblical studies. Through this study of theology like systematic theology, biblical theology, church history, Greek and Hebrew languages, it changed my world and my understanding of a deeper sense of who God is and who I am, like Calvin said you never know who you are until you know your God. In fact I sat under Tim’s class called Christianity in the Secular Age and also Introduction to Reformed Theology and pastoral taught by him and Ligon Duncan, which I enjoyed tremendously and largely impacted by the teachings of Calvin, Augustine and the like.

Today I’m glad that I’m a year shy of getting my MDiv from RTS Orlando I’m looking forward to being called by God to be a pastor of a local church serving Christ in his glory and his beauty and his power and his Kingdom, Amen.

Thank you Tim Keller, you have fought a good fight, run a good race, and met with our Savior Messiah our Lord Jesus Christ now. We will miss you and the Lord will continue the fire He has used you in NYC and the world.

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