Once, I threw a Tim Keller book across the room and I had only read the first chapter.
I still remember exactly where I was in 2011, sitting on a second-hand beige couch in the downstairs living room of our apartment.
The book was King’s Cross, the opening chapter was called ‘The Dance’, and I simply couldn’t keep reading. Not in that moment. Why? Because I had just read a sequence of thought that I had never before considered, that struck me with the force of a thousand mic drops and caused the book to fly out of my hands and sail across the room.
Tim had painted a picture[i] of the love and goodness and glory of the triune God, so compelling, that I had to stop and simply worship. And so alone in the room with tears in my eyes, I began praying and praising, gripped by the holy amazement of God that characterized so much of Tim’s teaching and living.
It was the first time a Christian book had ever made me do that. There have been plenty of times, I’ve needed to put a book down in order to grasp the complexity of the author’s argument. But only a few times have I put one down because it painted a picture of God so beautiful, so profound, that it would have been wrong for me in that moment to do anything else but pause and immediately exult in God.
Over the years, I would discover that Tim had a habit of doing that to me; whether it was a paragraph in a book or a single sentence in a sermon that connected the dots in a way that made an audible “whoa” escape my lips, Dr. Keller had a way of opening the Bible and helping me see that Jesus was a better saviour than I had ever dreamed; that I am “simultaneously more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, yet more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.” It would be time well-spent to slowly read through a recently compiled list of some of his more well-known quotes.
When I was asked to write a short reflection on how I have been shaped and impacted by him, my initial thought was “How have I not been?!” His life has profoundly influenced my preaching, marriage, leadership, theology, posture, missiology, church planting, writing, apologetics, and the way that I walk through suffering, criticism, or sorrow.
Few people outside of the Scriptures – living or dead – have impacted my life the way that Tim has. There’s a reason our two youngest sons bear the middle names of “Keller” and “Spurgeon”. He lived to “get the gospel right and get the gospel out.” And it thrills me to consider that part of the legacy he leaves behind is countless millions of people just like me – who because of his life and ministry – are committed to doing likewise.
So this week, along with so many others, I honour Dr. Tim Keller. I grieve over our loss, yet rejoice over his life. Thank you, Tim, for running faithfully, for finishing well, and for relentlessly making Jesus the hero.
I am who I am today because of your teaching and example.
And I’m sorry for throwing your book.
[i] “Why would a triune God create a world? If he were a unipersonal God, you might say, “Well, he created the world so he can have beings who give him worshipful love, and that would give him joy.” But the triune God already had that—and he received love within himself in a far purer, more powerful form than we human beings can ever give him. So why would he create us? There’s only one answer. He must have created us not to get joy but to give it. He must have created us to invite us into the dance, to say: If you glorify me, if you center your entire life on me, if you find me beautiful for who I am in myself, then you will step into the dance, which is what you are made for. You are made not just to believe in me or to be spiritual in some general way, not just to pray and get a bit of inspiration when things are tough. You are made to center everything in your life on me, to think of everything in terms of your relationship to me. To serve me unconditionally. That’s where you’ll find your joy. That’s what the dance is about.”
Timothy Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Dutton Adult: 2011), p 9-10.