New York Pastor Timothy Keller is a mad fan of the writer C.S Lewis. Lewis is the author of the Narnia series as well as lots of other stories and essays about Christian faith. Keller’s passion for Lewis is what led him to his wife Kathy, who he will proudly tell you is featured in Lewis’ work, “Letters to Children.” (Kathy wrote to Lewis when she was a little girl and her letter, as well as Lewis’s response, are published in his book.)
Tim Keller has said many times that if he is not thoroughly prepared for his sermon, he will default to talking about the ideas of C.S Lewis. The reason for this is that he has read everything C.S Lewis has written many, many times over. He knows what Lewis thinks on every topic he has shared a view on and Keller says he has grown to think like Lewis.
How do I know all that about Tim Keller?
For the same reason that Keller knows so much about Lewis.
In 2013, I listened to hundreds of hours of Keller talking about the Bible.
I listened with headphones while the babies had their daytime sleeps, while they played on the swings as I hung the washing, and with my hands in the sink.
I can tell you about Keller’s battle with cancer, the time his wife pretended to smash their wedding plates, who his other favourite thought leaders are (Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Volf) and I can give you his favourite catch cries and a rundown on his understanding of God as the logos.
In early 2014, I even flew the red-eye to Sydney for the weekend to attend a conference he was speaking at, leaving Leigh home with the 4 kids, including the nine-month-old breastfed baby.
I felt so fond of Timothy Keller that I referred to him as Uncle Tim, and if pressed to explain a Biblical concept, I’d default to Keller the way Keller would default to Lewis.
Why so much Keller? I had a thirst for understanding and so many questions. And Keller was deep and knew his Bible. His sermons were long, meaty and intellectual and his love for intertextual analysis made my English-teacher-heart happy. I loved what I later learned was called ‘reformed theology’ and Keller’s insistence that every Old Testament story pointed toward the coming of Jesus.
But these days I’m not so into Keller.
There’s still a lot to love about his work and ideas, but Seminary introduced me to many other ideas and I did not need Uncle Tim so much. It was a little unsettling to discover that I did not agree with Keller on some interpretations of the Bible. Especially his views on the role of women in the church and family. Perhaps I also moved away from Keller because I realised that it wasn’t a good idea to allow my thinking to be shaped so entirely a white American 60-something-year-old living in New York City. He has his own biases, baggage and politics to bring to the Bible and I don’t need to assimilate all of that.
These days I’m trying to read more widely, but I’m finding myself drawn to the more progressive voices and to the writing of female Christian leaders like Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans. I don’t always agree with everything they say, but I am not nervous about that.
Hatmaker is very political and is shunned by some Conservative Evangelical Christians for her LGBT views. There are some who would caution me strongly against letting myself be influenced by her. But she is hilarious, warm, open-minded and cares deeply about justice, hard conversations and loving her neighbour, and I hope all of that rubs off on me.
Held Evans asks really hard questions and doesn’t necessarily give any answers. (A bit like a wonderful lecturer at my Seminary.)
Held Evans asks, “How could I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength while disengaging those very faculties every time I read the Bible?”
To that, I say, “good question, Rachel.”
I still kinda love Uncle Tim, but I also love Hatmaker, Held Evans, AW Tozer, Scot Mc Knight, Bob Goff, John Crist, Sarah Bessey, Jim Cymbala and Brian Harris. I’m trying to read more widely, and asking God to help me be discerning. I’d love to read more Indigenous authors and more Aussies if you’d like to suggest some.
Most importantly, I’m committed to the practice of reading my Bible more than anything else. And I’m relying on the fact that there is no substitute for the greatest teacher of all time; the Holy Spirit. As I open my Bible and read, I pray that He will guide me in understanding and wisdom to correctly know God and His ways.