Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (5,000 in weekly attendance)
Bucknell University, BA, 1972
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, M.Div., 1975
Westminster Theological Seminary, D.Min, 1981
Wife, Kathy; 3 Sons, David, Michael and Jonathan
Tim Keller: Counterfeit Gods
Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Tim says that when many people hear the term “idolatry,” they immediately think of people bowing down to statues, however; idolatry can be much more than that.
“That ancient concept has never been more relevant,” he said. “Idolatry does happen here, it’s not only something you do physically – bowing down to statues – it’s also a matter of the heart. An idol is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life or identity.”
Tim says that idols are not bad; they are good things turned into ultimate things. “Anything can be an idol. The obvious idols are money, sex and power,” he said. “There’s too much emphasis on possessions of money, too much emphasis on physical beauty.”
According to Tim, another example of idolatry can be our dedication to family. “You can make an idol out of your family, out of your children and out of your spouse,” he said. “You can even make an idol out of your commitment to your religion. You can look to your moral performance to save you. Therefore, you cannot understand your own heart, you cannot understand your culture unless you learn how to understand and discern idols.”
A HEART FOR THE CITY
Tim was raised in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. In the '80s, he served as a pastor in the small, blue-collar town of Hopewell, Virginia, for nine years. He was also a college professor, teaching at Westminster Seminary and working for his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). During that time, he was recruited by the PCA to start a church in Manhattan. Many feared starting a church at that time in New York City because of crime, violence and negative influences, but Tim found the opportunity to start a church in New York City fascinating. He felt as if his mentors and colleagues at Westminster had prepared his heart for the city.
In the spring of 1989, Tim and his wife, Kathy, started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in a Seventh-day Adventist building. They avoided advertising believing New Yorkers would be skeptical of someone selling them something. Only personal invitations brought new people. Tim said that the most interesting people began coming to the church.
“It was astounding how easy it was to have curious non-believers come to church,” he said. “Before too long there were people in the aisles. There was enthusiasm. There was enormous energy after the service.”
The church began with 50 people in attendance, and by the end of 1989, there were about 250 people attending regularly. A year later, they had 600 in attendance. Today, over 5,000 people attend five services every Sunday in three locations in Manhattan.
Over the past 20 years, Tim has had a unique connection with both Christians and non-Christians. He preaches a theology of grace that uses the same language to challenge both the prodigal son and the elder brother. Also, Redeemer holds high moral standards, one – to have no other gods. Tim preaches about idolatry – putting something else in the place of God. He aims to focus on Jesus. Redeemer’s embrace of grace is crucial to the city’s culture and has given people the permission to try and fail, interact freely with people of other faiths and morals and to tolerate ambiguity.
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