Rev Tim Keller 1950-2023: “We Take Comfort in His Last Words”

By: Mike Crooks

The Reverend Timothy Keller, founding pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, passed away at his home on May 19, aged 72 years.

Mr Keller, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020, was hospitalised last week for complications from treatment.

On May 18, he returned home under hospice care to be with his family, including wife Kathy Keller, for the “little time” he had left.

“Timothy J. Keller, husband, father, grandfather, mentor, friend, pastor, and scholar died this morning at home,” his son, Michael Keller, posted on social media.

“Dad waited until he was alone with Mom. She kissed him on the forehead and he breathed his last breath.

“We take comfort in some of his last words – ‘There is no downside for me leaving, not in the slightest’.”

A Church for All

Born in Pennsylvania, Mr Keller studied theology and was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

He moved to New York in the late 1980s where he was recruited to start the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

The church attracted young New Yorkers, growing from 50 people to a total attendance of over 5000 people each Sunday.

His congregation “felt that they were not trespassers, they felt welcomed, they felt that they were expected, and they were not under pressure to immediately bow the knee”, Keller said in a Christianity Today podcast last year.

The RPC also founded Hope for New York, a non profit that sends out volunteers and distributes grants to ministries that provide social services.

Mr Keller published a number of books, including the 2008 book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, which sold more than three million copies.

In 2017, he stepped down from his role as senior pastor of RPC as part of his shift from preaching to training the next generation of ministers.

Cancer Battle

Keller was first diagnosed with cancer in May 2020.

“I have Stage IV pancreatic cancer,” the minister tweeted at the end of that year.

“But it is endlessly comforting to have a God who is both infinitely more wise and more loving than I am. He has plenty of good reasons for everything he does and allows that I cannot know, and therein is my hope and strength.”

He underwent immunotherapy last year, which he reported at the time was “successful in eradicating 99 per cent of the tumours”.

Happiness and Grief

In 2021, months after his cancer diagnosis, Mr Keller shared his thoughts on happiness and grief amid his struggle.

“I can sincerely say, without any sentimentality or exaggeration, that I’ve never been happier in my life, that I’ve never had more days filled with comfort,” he wrote in the Atlantic.

“But it is equally true that I’ve never had so many days of grief. One of our dearest friends lost her husband to cancer six years ago. Even now, she says, she might seem fine, and then out of nowhere some reminder or thought will sideswipe her and cripple her with sorrow.”

“Grateful”

In November last year, he told the Christian Post: “Most people are gone within months or a year; I’m still going strong and I’m going into two-and-a-half years. I’m very, very grateful to God”.

Still, he acknowledged that the cancer was “still there” and could “break out anytime”.

He added that every time he had a scan, he experienced “scanxiety”.

“You know that it doesn’t matter how good the last one was,” he said. “This one could show that it’s out of control.”

“Send me home”

In March, new tumours were found, and he underwent further treatment, which involved complications.

“He has expressed many times through prayer his desire to go home to be with Jesus,” the minister’s son, Michael Keller, wrote in a Twitter post.

“His family is very sad because we all wanted more time, but we know he has very little at this point.”

While under hospice care, his son Michael, a pastor himself, revealed a prayer his father said from bed:

“In prayer, he said two nights ago, ‘I’m thankful for all the people who’ve prayed for me over the years. I’m thankful for my family, that loves me. I’m thankful for the time God has given me, but I’m ready… to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home’.”

He is survived by his wife Kathy, sons David, Michael and Jonathan, sister Sharon Johnson, and seven grandchildren.


Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

Feature image: Tim Keller Facebook

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