Timothy J. Keller (born 1950) is an American pastor, theologian and Christian apologist. He is best known as the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York, and the author of The New York Times bestselling books The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, and Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
Keller was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Bucknell University (BA, 1972), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1975) and Westminster Theological Seminary, where he received his D.Min in 1981, under the supervision of Harvie M. Conn. He became a Christian while at Bucknell University, due to the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, with which he later served as a staff member. He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and served as a pastor in Virginia for nine years, while serving as director of church planting for the PCA. He also served on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he and his wife Kathy were involved in urban ministry.
Keller was recruited by his denomination to start Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan in 1989 despite his relative lack of experience and after two others had turned down the position. Today the church’s attendance is over 5,000 each week.
In 2008, Keller published his first book in 20 years (since his report to his denomination on diaconal ministries titled “Ministries of Mercy” in 1989). The book, entitled The Reason for God, was based on common objections to the Christian faith heard during his ministry in New York City. The book reached #7 on the New York Times Nonfiction bestseller list, and Keller has since continued to write popular books based on his ministry, becoming a well-known figure only toward the end of his career as a pastor.
Keller has been described as a "C.S. Lewis for the 21st Century", although he has disavowed comparisons to his hero. He frequently draws on secular or academic sources like The New York Times, and media coverage has treated him as an anomaly: a pastor who appeals to Manhattan yuppies and intellectuals.
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
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 him "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 believes 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 critiques both political parties and avoids 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 shuns 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 identifies with Reformed Theology, although he has been critiqued by some in that tradition for his modern interpretation of its doctrines. He has been described as a "doctrine-friendly emerging pastor" and a "neo-Calvinist."
The Gospel versus religion
The centerpiece and underpinning of Keller’s ministry has been 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 calls “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.
Another pervasive influence and distinctive characteristic in Keller’s preaching and writing is his apologetics, which is characterized by a respectful orientation towards an educated and skeptical audience outside the faith. His most explicit work on the subject is The Reason for God, which reached #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and which he attributes to thousands of conversations with skeptical New Yorkers over the course of his ministry (Reason, xix). Elsewhere he has written about the loss of a Christian culture in the West, including in the academic and cultural establishments, and the need for Christians to contextualize to the current secular and anti-religious cultural climate. Keller is considered to be a leading figure of the evangelical intelligentsia movement.
Another central theme in Keller’s teaching is idolatry, based on teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, and on the Ten Commandments and other parts of the Bible. Keller states that contemporary idol worship continues today in the form of an addiction or devotion to money, career, sex, power and anything people seek to give significance and satisfaction in life other than God (see his book Counterfeit Gods, NYTimes, Morning Joe).
Social justice and politics
Keller disavows the “social gospel” that has characterized Mainline Protestant churches, which advocates liberal political causes and de-emphasizes the doctrines of sin and substitutionary sacrifice. However he has 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 (see his books Generous Justice, Ministries of Mercy). He has also critiqued both conservative and liberal politics for having a reductionistic view of the poor, among other things.
Attributed partly to his congregation of upwardly mobile Manhattanites, Keller has been 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 is an avid fan of the work of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, both well-known Christian authors, and also supports the Harry Potter novels which have been considered pagan by certain conservative Christians.
Sex and gender
Keller has a complementarian view of gender that believes that the Bible teaches defined roles for both genders, but the specific duties accompanying each gender's role is undefined. He believes that "Marriage provides the personal growth that comes through cross-gender relationships." He elaborates on the biblical view of sex and marriage in his book The Meaning of Marriage. As a signatory of the Manhattan Declaration, Keller is opposed to abortion, but is not opposed to contraception.
Cities and urban church planting
While at Westminster Theological Seminary, Keller was mentored by Harvie Conn, an early advocate of ministry in urban centers, and was recruited to start Redeemer Presbyterian Church because of a lack of biblically orthodox churches in center-city Manhattan.
He has since become a worldwide spokesman for the need to create new kinds of churches in urban centers to address rapid urbanization. He delivered a plenary address on the subject at the .
Through Redeemer City to City, Keller mentors and chairs a network of center-city churches that represents similar ministry values worldwide. He writes extensively on the importance of cities and gives a biblical theological framework for ministry in cities in his book on ministry, Center Church.
- Resources for Deacons: Love Expressed through Mercy Ministries (Christian Education and Publications, 1985) ISBN 0-9703541-6-9
- Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (P&R Publishing, 1997) ISBN 0-87552-217-3
- Church Planter Manual (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2002)
- The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton Adult, February 2008) ISBN 0-525-95049-4
- The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Dutton Adult, November 2008) ISBN 0-525-95079-6
- Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton Adult, October 2009) ISBN 0-525-95136-9
- Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just (Dutton Adult, November 2010) ISBN 0-525-95190-3
- King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Dutton Adult, February 2011) ISBN 0-525-95210-1
- The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton Adult, November 2011) ISBN 0-525-95247-0
- The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy (10Publishing, March 2012) ISBN 978-1906173418
- Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan, September 2012) ISBN 0-310-494184
- Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton, November 2012) ISBN 978-0-525-95270-1
- Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, February 2013) ISBN 978-1908762573
- Judges For You (The Good Book Company, August 2013) ISBN 978-1908762900
- Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Dutton, October 2013) ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9
- Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions (Dutton, 2013) ISBN 978-0-525-95435-4
- Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Company, February 2014) ISBN 978-1908762917
- Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014) ISBN 978-0-525-95414-9
- Center Church Europe (Wijnen, Uitgeverij Van, 2014) Contributors are José de Segovia, Leonardo De Chirico, Michael Herbst, Frank Hinkelmann, Martin de Jong, Jens Bruun Kofoed, Daniel Liechti, András Lovas, David Novak, Stefan Paas and Martin Reppenhagen. ISBN 978-9-051-94480-8
- Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Company, February 2015) ISBN 978-1910307298
- Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Viking, June 2015) ISBN 978-0525953036
- The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotionals in the Psalms (Viking, November 2015) ISBN 978-0525955146
- Schaller, Lyle E, ed. (1993), Center City Churches: The New Urban Frontier, Abingdon Press, ISBN 0-687-04802-8.
- Bustard, Ned, ed. (2000), It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, Square Halo Books, ISBN 978-0-9785097-1-2.
- Carson, DA, ed. (2002), Worship by the Book, Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-21625-7.
- Piper, John; Taylor, Justin, eds. (2007), The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, Crossway Books, ISBN 978-1-58134-922-1.
- Dallas Willard, ed. (2010), A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions, IVP Books, ISBN 0-8308-3845-7
All of Timothy Keller's sermons and church-related talks at Redeemer Presbyterian Church can be found at .