WS Update: My Friend and Pastor

May 22, 2023

Thirty-five years ago this past week I graduated from Columbia Business School and was about to start a new job at Memorial Sloan Kettering. A friend from Columbia told me about a new church that was about to be planted on the Upper East Side not far from my apartment. This sounded like the dumbest idea I had heard in a long time, revealing my heart’s distorted view of grace and shallow understanding of the cross. That church planter turned out to be Tim Keller and I started attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church during its preview services in the Spring of 1989. I won’t bore you with a lot of stories of the journey except to say that sitting under Tim’s preaching and participating in the vision God gave Tim and Kathy to serve and love New York City chipped away at my shallow view of grace and Jesus’ love for the world he created.

Tim was relentless in his preaching of Jesus’ sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross. Everyone knew what the third point of every sermon was going to be. The narrative tension of a sermon from Galatians or Jonah or Ecclesiastes was going to find its resolution in Christ’s death for us. This was no gimmick but flowed from Tim’s deep personal, life-changing understanding that Christ’s death was the only news that could dismantle the crippling idols that rob us of our humanity and the world of peace.  

I am still processing my own grief about the loss of my friend and pastor, and am grateful that I had a chance to visit him last week in the hospital to express my love and gratitude to him. As I bent over to kiss him on his forehead Kathy said: “We aren’t saying goodbye, but ‘see you on the other side’.” So Tim, thank you and let me speak for so many whose lives you changed when I say I rejoice that “You have gone home at last! This is your real country! You belong there. This is the land you have been looking for all your life. Go further up, go further in!”  

And I will see you on the other side.

PS.  I had the privilege to write a chapter for a book last year honoring Tim’s legacy in New York City.  I’ve included a link here for those who might be interested in a more detailed reflection on Tim’s influence on my life.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

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