[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
#22 Timothy J. Keller, New York Light b.1950
New York City is among the least devout cities in America by almost any measure, and like many cities of the America’s northeastern corridor New York is a difficult place for Christian churches and ministries to get traction. On a Sunday morning in New York, as Newsweek reports, “it’s fair to say that many, if not most, of the inhabitants of Manhattan —mostly single, professional, well educated and young—are sleeping it off somewhere. Half of America has roused itself by now and is heading off to church, but in the city that never sleeps, the Sabbath is a time for slumber.”
There are pockets of spiritual vitality, of course, with perhaps the most compelling example the work of Tim Keller, one of the city’s successful evangelical ministers.
Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian church (Presbyterian Church in America) grew from 50 people in 1989 to total attendance of more than 5,000 people attend one of five services at three sites each Sunday. While this would hardly register as a mega-church in places such as Atlanta or Dallas, in NYC the size of the church alone is staggering. Although clearly an evangelical by every criterion, Keller shuns the label because of its political connotation, preferring to call himself simply orthodox.
Redeemer attracts a large number of city-based professionals, many of whom first attend as skeptics. Redeemer has been named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Churches in America, and the church has begun more than 100 churches though its Church Planting Center.
Keller was raised in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Bucknell University (B.A., 1972), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1975) and Westminster Theological Seminary, where he received his D.Min in 1981. 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
Keller may be best known as an orthodox leader who has developed and exported successful evangelistic strategies in urban settings, strategies that emphasize elements of social justice. This is fascinating because his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is known more for its Reformed precision than its evangelistic fervor.
Beyond Manhattan, Keller is admired for several recent best-selling books–Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and Counterfeit Gods–and also for his leadership of Resurgence, which calls itself a reformed movement that” trains missional leaders to serve the Church to transform cultures for Christ.”
“Once highly protective of his community’s grass-roots approach to growth—tell a friend, bring a friend—Keller is now pitching himself as a C. S. Lewis for the 21st century, a high-profile Christian apologist who can make orthodox belief not just palatable but necessary. To complement this role, Keller is also reaching out to young, urban Christians around the world, offering to help them build churches like his. To put it bluntly, Keller wants to be the Rick Warren of global cities. ‘It’s hard to say this without sounding snobby,’ says Keller in an interview, ‘but some of what we do at Redeemer, we feel would be good everywhere … We want to, as humbly as we possibly can, renew churches.’”
Christianity Today noted: “Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”