‘Reason for God’ author Timothy Keller dies after years of cancer battle

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The Rev. Timothy Keller, an evangelical pastor and bestselling Christian apologist noted for bringing the Gospel message to urbanites — died Friday morning at his home in New York City, the Redeemer Churches and Ministries network said in an announcement circulated online.

Mr. Keller, 72, disclosed his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in June 2020.

Mr. Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan in 1989 and, over the next 20 years, built it into a congregation where 5,000 attended weekly. The congregation is atypical, some observers said, for an urban megachurch. In Mr. Keller’s years there — he retired from that pulpit in 2017 — many attendees were single adults, with a number working in the arts or New York’s financial sector.

In a fractious national climate where churches were split by party politics, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Keller was nonpartisan. He rejected critical race theory and criticized those who denied the biblical view of gender and sexuality, but also told congregants they had an obligation to help people in need and commit themselves to racial equality.

Reaction from the Christian community was prompt — and personal.

Russell Moore, editor in chief of Christianity Today magazine, said Friday via Twitter that Mr. Keller’s death “is an incalculable loss to the church, the world, to those of us who loved him [and] those of us he helped in our darkest hours.”

Evangelical author Marvin Olasky, the former editor of World magazine, tweeted a quote from Mr. Keller on the subject of death: “We must do as the Bible tells us to do in the face of death: We should grieve, yet we should have hope; we should wake up from our denial and discover a source of peace that will not leave us; finally, we should laugh and sing.”

Mr. Olasky added, “The last is hard to do in the moment.”

Talk show host Erick Erickson, a friend, said of Mr. Keller, “He loved others. He believed in engaging a world hostile to Christ and learning from those not of the church. He told me frankly that because everyone is made in God’s image that we have much to learn even from those who might reject God. He loved people. He loved the Lord.”

Redeemer has been praised in evangelical circles for its theological depth and for discussing Christian issues in accessible terms.

A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Mr. Keller found Christian faith while a student at Bucknell University. He earned a master’s degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1975 and a doctorate in ministry from six years later. Before arriving in New York City, he led a Presbyterian Church in America congregation in Hopewell, Virginia, for nine years.

He has published more than two dozen books, including 2008’s “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism,” which climbed to No. 7 on The New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list. His most recent title, “Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?,” was published in November.

Mr. Keller is also one of the founders of The Gospel Coalition, an organization that promotes evangelical doctrine and teaching.

Michael Keller, one of Mr. Keller’s three sons, wrote on Thursday on Facebook that his father approached the end with equanimity.

“Over the past few days, he has asked us to pray with him often,” Michael Keller wrote.

He said his father “expressed many times through prayer his desire to go home to be with Jesus.”

Speaking with The Washington Times in September, Mr. Keller said he wrote about forgiveness because society was now fragmented, not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by a burgeoning era of social media, texting and ghosting, where offended parties disappear without explanation.

Most young people, he said, “do not know how to do face-to-face conflict resolution or talking to you saying, ‘This is how you hurt me.’ They don’t do that.”

Mr. Keller said forgiveness must come before seeking justice, even if forgiveness is ignored by many today.

“If you don’t forgive before you pursue justice, you won’t be pursuing justice; you will be pursuing vengeance,” he said.

Mr. Keller is survived by his wife, Kathy, whom he met at Gordon-Conwell; sons David, Michael and Jonathan; seven grandchildren; and a sister, Sharon Johnson of Sorrento, Florida.

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