by Justin Brierley
Ranked as one of America’s most influential Christians and with a ministry reaching sceptics from Manhattan to Mumbai, Tim Keller talks to Justin Brierley about inspiring a new generation of intellectually engaged evangelicals
I’m not the first person to draw comparisons between Tim Keller and CS Lewis, but when I mention it to the New York pastor himself, he almost falls over himself to downplay the similarities. While acknowledging a debt of inspiration to the British author, he insists that it is ‘silly’ to equate his work with the apologetic genius of Lewis, and that such comparisons owe more to overenthusiastic book cover publicity than reality.
Despite his protestations, I’m still inclined to see the resemblance. Keller is an intellectually compelling preacher and author with a similar ability to Lewis to help thinking people, including the sceptical, to understand and embrace Christianity. There are differences, of course. Unlike the bookish Oxford don, Keller is an urbane and culturally savvy communicator, as evidenced by the growth of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which he founded in New York after moving to the city with his wife Kathy and their three children in 1989.
As well as drawing large crowds to downtown Manhattan, Keller’s stock has risen dramatically around the world in the last decade. When Oxford University hosted a major student mission, Keller was the natural choice to speak to a young generation of intellectual enquirers. When John Stott passed away, Keller was the person asked to deliver the eulogy at the US memorial.
Keller particularly came to public attention for his breakthrough book The Reason for God (Hodder & Stoughton), which provided an accessible case for Christianity at a time when Richard Dawkins and his fellow atheists were riding high in the best-seller charts.
Answering the most common objections raised by sceptics who visited his Manhattan church it (again) invited comparisons with CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. His latest book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (Hodder & Stoughton), could also equally be seen as an homage to Lewis’ apologetic classic The Problem of Pain.
The book came during a difficult year in his own life – both of Keller’s parents passed away while it was being written, an experience he modestly describes as the ‘garden variety’ of suffering. He acknowledges that the book is aimed at people who have suffered more extreme forms of pain, such as those in his own congregation who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11.
On the Sunday after the attack, thousands of people tried to cram into Redeemer’s services. Many of the young urbanites who came that day, looking for meaning in the midst of tragedy, stayed…
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