Prominent NYC-based pastor and best-selling author Timothy Keller dies at 72

In this undated photo, pastor and author Timothy Keller speaks at an engagement. Keller died Friday, May 19, 2023, at the age of 72. (Rachel Martin/Redeemer City to City via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Timothy Keller, a pastor and best-selling author who founded the influential Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, died this morning at home after three-year bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

His family announced that he had been in hospice care, and that he died with his wife of 48 years, Kathy, by his side.

Keller and his family launched Redeemer in 1989, and the congregation went on to welcome more than 5,000 attendees across its multiple locations each week.

A new evangelical church in Manhattan filled with young adults was unique in a city known more for its secularism and the Gothic spires of its older sanctuaries. But Keller was passionate about evangelizing to people in cities, and his ministry would go on to help start 1,000 churches in 150 other cities around the world.

Keller became an evangelical Christian in college, and he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America in 1975. Active in the so-called New Calvinist movement, Keller brought a gentleness to a brand of Christianity known for its emphasis on sin and the depravity of humanity.

He once wrote, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Keller’s teachings reached far beyond the spaces that Redeemer rented for its Sunday services. He wrote prolifically for the public in erudite essays and 31 books, several of them New York Times bestsellers. In 2005, he helped found the Gospel Coalition, a prominent network of conservative evangelical churches and New Calvinist leaders.

Keller was quick to point out that Christianity did not fit neatly into a two-party political system. Though he eschewed the bombast of a culture warrior, many of his views on hot-button social issues — same-sex marriage and abortion — remained conservative but nuanced.

Still, in an essay for The New Yorker in 2017, Keller lamented that it was harder to wear the label “evangelical” after President Donald Trump’s election, which many other leading evangelicals had championed.

“‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite,’” he wrote. “When I used the word to describe myself in the nineteen-seventies, it meant I was not a fundamentalist. If I use the name today, however, it means to hearers that I am.”

Among those expressing admiration for Keller on Friday was former President George W. Bush.

“He was a great church builder, a prolific author, and a profound philosopher,” Bush said in a statement. “I’m one of many who is blessed to have learned from Dr. Keller’s teachings and benefited from his compassion.”

Keller was born in 1950 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Bill and Louise Keller. He was educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. Early in his career, he served churches and ministries in Virginia and Georgia. He stepped down from his senior pastor role at Redeemer in 2017 but continued on as a staff member.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons, David, Michael, and Jonathan, his sister Sharon Johnson, along with his three daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren.

Keller was diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer in 2020. In the years since, he chronicled his treatments and asked for prayers from his more than 900,000 social media followers.

In 2020, he published a short book, “On Death,” which urged Christians not to fear their mortal end.

“When you are at a funeral, especially one for a friend or a loved one,” he wrote, “listen to God speaking to you, telling you that everything in life is temporary except for His love.”

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