Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation by Collin Hansen. Zondervan. 309 pages. 2023
If you have been blessed by the ministry of Tim Keller as I have (he died on May 19 after battling pancreatic cancer for three years), I believe you will enjoy this book that tells Keller’s story from the perspective of his influences, more than his influence, by Collin Hansen. The author had three years of interviews with Keller for the book, as well as free access to Keller’s family, friends, and colleagues. The book is the story of the people, the books, the lectures, and ultimately the God who formed Keller.
The book is not the definitive biography of Keller but does follow his life chronologically as it describes his influences. Keller would be baptized as a Roman Catholic, confirmed as a Lutheran, enrolled in seminary as a Wesleyan Arminian, and ordained as a Presbyterian.
His mother Louise moved the family from a Roman Catholic Church to a Lutheran church, and then to the Evangelical Congregational Church. Keller would go to Bucknell University and profess Christ in 1970 after which he became a part of InterVarsity leadership. After seminary, Keller would serve at West Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia for nine years. Through role models in books and other pastors in Hopewell, Keller learned what it meant to be a pastor and not just a preacher. Keller would recall his time in Hopewell as the most formative ministry years of his life.
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Keller would then go to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to replace Edmund Clowney, his only personal mentor as a preaching professor. Hansen writes that no other preacher reached Keller like Clowney. No other preacher took personal interest in him in quite the same way, giving Keller confidence he could lead a church.
In 1989, Keller would plant Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City where Keller contextualized his preaching and teaching. Hansen tells us that what made Redeemer unique was the combination of Harvie Conn’s vision for social concern—living out faith in vocations and loving neighbors by doing justice and mercy—with what Tim Keller had learned from Richard Lovelace and Jack Miller on spiritual renewal. In less than thirty months, Redeemer attendance grew from zero to one thousand. Hansen writes that it was a revival, and everyone knew it, in part because Keller had prompted them to pray for it.
Hansen writes about Keller’s leadership, telling us though the evidence suggests otherwise, Keller often insisted he was not a great leader. Hansen states that many church planters can’t grow into institutional leaders. He tells us that although Keller never became an effective manager, fellow leaders admire him for his character.
Hansen writes about Keller’s time with his only brother when he was dying of AIDS, eventually leading him to Christ, and then preaching his funeral. Hansen also takes us through the aftermath of 9-11, when Redeemer Presbyterian Church grew initially by thousands of visitors and then permanently by hundreds of members.
This well researched book focuses on people and books that influenced Keller. Some of the most significant were:
- I. Packer’s book Knowing God, which Keller read in 1971, gave him a taste of Reformed theology.
- Dick Merritt’s style and substance were both formative for Keller.
- Barbara Boyd taught Keller how to study the Bible,
- Keller ultimately combined much of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s theological specificity with John Stott’s ecumenical instincts.
- InterVarsity taught him to value what Christians hold in common over the doctrines that divide them.
- Even before Kathy Kristy took the name Keller, she would become the most formative intellectual and spiritual influence on Tim Keller’s life.
- C. Sproul gave Keller a vision for how to speak persuasively to non-Christians, with intelligent command of the issues.
- Through the lives of Francis Schaeffer and R. C. Sproul, he also saw how to connect the gospel to every square inch of common grace in God’s creation.
- Keller took two New Testament courses with Andrew Lincoln, which helped tip Keller off the balance beam where he had been straddling Reformed and Arminian theology.
- Keller credited Elizabeth Elliot for contributing to his entire view of humans’ relationship to God.
- Keller may have entered Gordon-Conwell an Arminian with a vow to enter ministry in the Evangelical Congregational Church. But he graduated from Gordon-Conwell summa cum laude as a Calvinist, in large part because of Roger Nicole.
- More than any other book, with the exception of the Bible, Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace, shaped his views of the church and directed the course of Keller’s ministry.
- Jonathan Edwards brought to preaching what Keller appreciated in the writing of C. S. Lewis, his favorite author. Logic, when fired with captivating illustrations, changes hearts.
- No Puritan influenced Keller more than John Owen.
- Harvie Conn fulfilled one aspect of Edmund Clowney’s vision for Westminster by introducing Keller to cutting-edge missions’ emphases on contextual teaching. He fulfilled another when he applied biblical theology to cities.
- Jack Miller was Tim and Kathy Keller’s pastor for five years, from 1984 to 1989, at New Life Presbyterian Church in Glenside. Miller taught Tim Keller how to preach grace from every text of Scripture.
- 20 Quotes from Worthy: Living in Light of the Gospel. Here are 20 quotes from Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Worthy: Living in Light of the Gospel.
- Popular Blunders About Christ’s Return. On this episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast, John Piper responds to a question about his new book Come Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ. “Would you be willing to take ten minutes or so on this episode to sketch for us some of the misconceptions — the blunders and the urban legends — about the second coming that you hope your book will help people to avoid in the future?”
- Go to Work, Go to Church – Christ is Coming Back. On this episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast, John Piper addresses a question about his latest book Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ, “The entire final third of this new book is all about how we should live in the light of the second coming. One of the chapters in that section stands out because of its brief and simple title — chapter 21: “Go to Work, Go to Church.” Is there a biblical basis for these simple directives? And, if so, explain what you write in that chapter, because it seems like a lot of people are curious.”
- Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold. My wife Tammy has published a book about HOW to study the Bible. The book is available on Amazon in both a Kindle and paperback edition. She writes “Maybe you have read the Bible but want to dig deeper and know God and know yourself better. Throughout the book I use the analogy of making a quilt to show how the Bible is telling one big story about what God is doing in the world through Christ. Quilting takes much patience and precision, just like studying the Bible, but the end result is well worth it.
– Won’t you read along with us?
The providence of God is his purposeful sovereignty by which he will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe. God’s providence carries his plans into action, guides all things toward his ultimate goal, and leads to the final consummation.
John Piper draws on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry to lead readers on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence—from Genesis to Revelation—to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history.
Exploring the goal, nature, and extent of God’s purposes for the world, Piper offers an invitation to know the God who holds all things in his hands yet remains intimately involved in the lives of his people.
You can download the PDF of the book free from Desiring God.
Watch this six-minute video as John Piper talks about the book, and this interview with Dr. Joe Rigney of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
This week we complete our review of the book by looking at the Conclusion: Seeing and Savoring the Providence of God:
- Whether God planned to permit something or planned to be more directly involved, nothing comes to pass but what God planned as part of the process of pursuing his ultimate goal.
- If we are going to understand anything, at the most important level, we start with this reality: God created the world, holds it in existence, and governs all of it for his purposes.
- God has shown us, again and again, that things are not what they seem and that he is always weaving something wise and good out of the painful, perplexing threads that look like a tangle in our lives.
- For those who trust Christ, God’s sovereignty in suffering is not an unyielding problem but an unfailing hope.
- God promises to turn every sorrow to joy, every loss to gain, every groan to glory.
- For thousands of suffering Christians, the all-pervasive providence of God is not a barrier for faith but the ground of faith-preserving, sanity-sustaining, love-empowering hope.