Skip To Main Content
Dr. Tim Keller
David Browder

Many of you know (and many of you do not know) that I have a deep admiration for the late Rev. Dr. Tim Keller. He was a great, great pastor and thinker and I track very closely with his theological outlook as I am what is loosely known as a Reformed Anglican. Indeed, some of my theological “fathers” within the Anglican tradition were great influences on him. I’m speaking of men like J.I. Packer, John Stott, Alister McGrath, and Dick Lucas. Keller was to me what they were to him.

In 2017, Princeton Theological Seminary decided to award Dr. Keller the Abraham Kuyper Award which is an award for “Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life”. If anyone in the past half century is deserving of a prize of that description, it would have been he. Keller, though, is a part of a denomination that defines marriage and sexuality along biblical lines and does not ordain women. This was enough for there to be protests and, eventually, Princeton, somewhat gutlessly, rescinded the award. By the new standard, Abraham Kuyper, a decidedly orthodox, Reformed minister, thinker, and leader, would not be eligible for his own award.

You have now set the stage for a first-class culture war showing, have you not? Illiberal progressivism cancels a conservative pastor and then the conservative pastor fires back, excoriates Princeton, and receives a windfall of support and fundraising from those sympathetic to him. 

You might be surprised to learn that is not what happened. Dr. Keller believed it was more important for the students and faculty to hear his lecture than it was for him to receive the prize. He went to Princeton and gave the lecture anyway- just as principled, winsome, persuasive, and warm as any lecture or sermon he ever gave.

It was a stunning counter-cultural moment for a stunning, counter-cultural Gospel. As Christianity Today announced in the headline of its article about the man, “Tim Keller Practiced the Grace He Preached”. 

I did have a very slight personal brush with Dr. Keller. About the time of his Princeton lecture, Tim Keller began following me on Twitter. Me! I was honored and stunned! Why would a man of his stature be interested in the thoughts of a young pastor just learning his craft? Perhaps he thought I might be on the right track to make something of my ministry one day. I don’t know.

Well, I got off on the wrong track for a period. There was a cultural flashpoint that I was weighing in hard about for some time. One day I looked at my follows and he was no longer there. I was crestfallen. What had I done? Oh yeah. I know. It was that thing I was weighing in on so heavily. I had just become one of the crowd taking up his Twitter feed with the same old thing.

More specifically, I had become captivated by the tyranny of the immediate. I had been caught up in the heat of a very particular moment. I had forgotten the image of God in people and I had forgotten the grace of God that I preach so regularly. I had become a noisy gong and a clanging symbol without love (1 Cor. 13 slightly reinterpreted) and ceased being salt and light. He probably didn’t intend it, but that slight rebuke caused me to take a very hard look at myself in light of how I communicate the Gospel. 

I’ve never forgotten that. I’m sure I will give in to the tyranny of the immediate again. There are always worthwhile things to fight and contend for. How it is done, though, is profoundly and permanently changed by the life and death of Jesus Christ. It is shaped by how He reveals Himself and how He overcame the world, the flesh, and the devil. Christian wisdom shows us the ever-reforming arc of being formed into the likeness of Christ in that respect. People like Tim Keller, certainly imperfect himself, can help us begin walking that long, slow, wonderful path. I’m grateful for people like him.