Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian: A Preaching Phenomenon in the Secular City
Can you imagine being turned away from your own church, because the building is full? This is the bittersweet scenario often faced at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, where Tim Keller is the regular preacher. It is especially surprising given that Redeemer only began as a church plant in 1989 and has now grown to four services each Sunday, with about 6,000 attending.
Tim Keller's preaching is engaging, lively and personal. It is relaxed, but not casual. He is extraordinarily well prepared. The preaching is confident, yet self-deprecating rather than triumphalistic. And it is poetic: the 5.45pm sermon on the 18 June, 2006 climaxed with verses from two classical hymns and a Lucy Shaw poem, all set in a brilliantly poetic conclusive section.
The sermons are expository, though not as tightly so as those of John Stott and Dick Lucas. This frustrates some evangelicals. Rather, Keller's preaching oozes the whole Bible, deeply grounded in biblical theology and Reformed systematics. Further, it more obviously engages with the academic and popular philosophers, writers and poets of this world, especially those honored by New Yorkers. As such, the sermons are evangelistic, pastoral, apologetic, and prophetic, in that order. Keller is plainly aware many in the congregation have not yet made a profession of faith and are being progressively drawn by the Spirit.
Keller's preaching lays the foundation for Redeemer's mission: "To build a great city for all people – through a gospel movement that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice and cultural renewal to New York, and through it, to the world."1 The church has started and supports a plethora of social, vocational and creative arts ministries. Church planting is also a major commitment: one of the beneficiaries being Christ Church, New York, an independent evangelical Anglican church plant staffed by Australians John Mason and Justin Moffat.
Redeemer's fruitfulness needs to be placed in context. The current work is the harvest of years of prayer, hard work and faithful exposition. Tim and Kathy Keller bring lifetimes of costly experience, including leadership in the denomination's social ministry program, associated with Westminster Seminary2. Only after much prayer, research, discussion and leading by the Holy Spirit was the New York work begun. Prayer continues to be a hallmark. Moreover, New York needs an army of Tim Kellers and Redeemers to reach its variant people groups, given its regional population of 8 million and strategic location.
God gifts each preacher differently, according to the good works He has prepared for them. Tim Keller's ministry is unique and cannot be mimicked. Nonetheless, much can be learnt from him and the work at Redeemer. In particular, the work evidences the value of prayerful, long-term strategic planning and faithful, contextually-sensitive exposition of the Scriptures coupled with transformational social ministries.
Editor's note: check out http://www.redeemer.com/ and similarly http://www.marshillchurch.org/
Adrian Lane teaches Preaching and Pastoral Care at Ridley College and has had the privilege of sitting under Tim Keller's ministry during study leaves.