‘A deep loss for us’: Redeemer Presbyterian churches reflect on Tim Keller's death

Dr. Timothy Keller, senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, speaks at Movement Day Global Cities at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City on Thursday October 27, 2016.
Dr. Timothy Keller, senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, speaks at Movement Day Global Cities at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City on Thursday October 27, 2016. | The Christian Post/Leonardo Blair

The campuses of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City took time during their worship services on Sunday to remember the church network's late founder, pastor and author Tim Keller, who died of cancer last Friday. 

Founded by Keller in 1989, the church has grown to five campuses in the New York area: Redeemer Downtown, Redeemer East Side, Redeemer West Side, Redeemer Lincoln Square and Redeemer East Harlem. 

The Rev. Rich McCaskill, worship leader at Redeemer East Side, told those gathered for worship at the Manhattan-based campus Sunday that Keller's passing was "a deep loss for us."

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"His ministry has deeply impacted every single one of us in this room," said McCaskill, adding that Keller engaged in "faithful service" by "pointing New Yorkers to the hope and freedom that Jesus brings."

"We are grieving. And, as you know, grief has many facets. It's a bumpy journey, often more like a roller coaster than a carousel. But no matter where you are this morning in that process, the Bible tells us that you are not alone."

At Redeemer Downtown, Sunday worship included a conversation between the Rev. Jeff White, who worked in ministry with Keller for decades, and the campus' Senior Pastor Pete Nicholas.

White first met Keller when Keller was 34 and was not yet widely known, noting that it did not take him long to realize that "this guy had a way of expressing the Gospel and showing people the beauty of Jesus."

White noted that "one of the good things" about knowing Keller before he became famous was that it "created a certain familiarity between me and Tim."

"Once he began to get a reputation, other people were kind of in awe of him, but I would still go up behind him and rub his hairless head and occasionally headbutt him into the chest," said White. "He was a lovely person who had a gentle smile, a gentle laugh, and a great smirk."

Nicholas asked White what he thought Keller would want people to remember when mourning his death. White responded that one thing is that "grieving is OK."

"Scripture encourages us to grieve, but not without hope," White continued. "Tim would actually want us to stare — and anyone to stare — death directly in the face."

"We don't do that. We tend to hide from it. We don't think about it. But I think Tim would want us to understand that life is either totally meaningful or totally meaningless, depending on what death is."

White believes "death gives life to the 'God question,' which is not simply 'Does God exist?' but 'Will I meet God someday?'"

At the Redeemer West Side campus on Sunday, Senior Pastor David Bisgrove discussed Keller's death near the beginning of the service, stating how many doubted Keller and his wife would be successful in planting a church in Manhattan.

"Everybody said, 'Are you crazy?' And so, finally, Tim and Kathy looked at each other and said, 'We're crazy. We'll go and do it.' And so, they came," observed Bisgrove.

"But as Christians know, 'the foolishness of God is wiser than our wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than our strength.' So what seemed to most people, God turned into an amazing strength for so many of us."

Redeemer campuses also played the video Keller made several weeks ago for the pastoral leadership team, in which he advised how Redeemer should continue to operate in the future.

Keller died last Friday following a lengthy battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that began in 2020. He was recently placed into hospice care at his home. He announced in March that new tumors had developed, requiring him to repeat the immunotherapy treatment he received last year.

Many church leaders and others took to social media to remember Keller, including Andrew T. Walker, a Christian ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

"For me, he stands out as a Christian leader for whom ideas mattered," tweeted Walker last Friday. "I can distinctly recall being in college and reading the Reason for God and being struck at the utter reasonableness of the case he made for Christianity. Rest in Christ."

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