Nathan Troester/courtesy of Icon Media Group
Influential church leader Timothy Keller has died at the age of 72.
He was a founder of The Gospel Coalition — a group of evangelical congregations concerned with the direction of their faith tradition.
Keller was a Presbyterian pastor in New York City, who helped his congregation and the nation mourn in the days following the September 11th terrorist attacks – a time when so many were asking why God would allow this to happen.
“The Bible indicates,” he said to his church in a sermon on September 16th, 2001 “that the love and hope of God and the love and home that comes from one another has to be rubbed into our grief. And that’s what we’re here to do.”
The problem of tragedy – and the human response to it – was one he returned to time and again in his preaching.
In another of his sermons in 2006, he consoled his congregation by saying “Getting rid of your belief in God to handle evil and suffering will not help.”
Keller was the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, which announced his death Friday morning. He’d been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer in 2020
His program Redeemer City to City helped evangelical leaders learn to work in urban settings, where such congregations were less common.
As co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, his concerns were two-fold: first, that evangelical Christianity had become too politicized, and second, that moral relativism had gone unchallenged.
Collin Hansen, vice president of the organization, says Keller sought “to be relevant, but also to be timeless.”
Hansen was also a close friend and wrote the biography Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation.
“Tim always believed that preaching the gospel and seeing that lived out in local churches” he says, “was the best way to be obedient in our faith, to obey Jesus and to love our neighbors, which includes paying attention to their social concerns.”
Keller was also known for working to make Christianity what he called “intellectually credible.” To that end, he wrote a number of books, including The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.
In it, Keller describes the belief in a Christian God as sound and rational. Among the questions he addressed in the book was this: Is skepticism or faith on the rise today? His answer was “yes” – the world is getting both more and less religious at the same time.
The tension between those realities continues to shape American public life today.
This story originally appeared on NPR