Treading carefully not to seem as though we revel in the death of another human being—we don’t—we do feel as though enough time has passed to pour water on the fire surrounding the idolatry of a man who was ashamed of the gospel. Tim Keller was an influential pastor and author, but he was also a divisive figure who dramatically overstepped the bounds of traditional biblical teaching. His ministry, centered at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, was characterized by a troubling emphasis on social justice, a concept deeply entangled with contemporary political ideologies and far removed from the true Gospel message.
Keller’s death on May 19, 2023, has triggered a veritable flood of accolades from across the Christian spectrum, a spectacle that reveals a profound misunderstanding of biblical unity and the purpose of the gospel. In lauding Keller as a near Messiah-like figure within Evangelicalism, these professing Christians are not uniting in Christ—they are uniting in worldly pursuits.
Here’s just one example:
Matt Smethurst, editor at The Gospel Coalition, describes the “outpouring of gratitude” for Keller as “the most amazing thing” he’s ever witnessed on Twitter. This proclamation is a startling distortion of biblical unity. It mirrors a mass gathering around the image of a man and his social ideals, eclipsing the radiant, life-giving truth of the Gospel itself.
Instead of a body unified in Christ, drawn together by the power of the Gospel, we see warriors for social justice rallying around a mortal man and his earthbound agenda. True unity, as modeled in Scripture, cannot be achieved through man’s charisma or humanistic ideals, but solely through the saving power and transformative message of Jesus Christ.
The core of Christianity—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners—is nowhere to be found in this mass adulation of Keller. Instead, we see a misplaced focus on temporal matters, on a social justice agenda that pulls focus from the eternal truths of Scripture, and a pursuit of unity that leaves one with no other choice but to believe that Tim Keller was ashamed of the gospel, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.
Just watch this if you don’t that’s true:
Christians are indeed called to unity, but not around the personality or the popular teachings of a man. As Paul states emphatically in Ephesians 4:5, we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” We don’t find unity in political agreement or social causes, no matter how appealing they might appear. We find unity in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This widespread acclaim for Keller and his views is not just problematic—it’s profoundly unbiblical. It’s the creation of a cult of personality, replacing Christ as the center of our faith with a charismatic figure. And unfortunately, his death has brought many out of the woodwork.
To be clear: no amount of social justice can save a soul. No charismatic pastor can take the place of Christ. No popular cause can replace the eternal truths of the Gospel. Unity is important, but it must be unity in Christ—not unity in man or man-made causes. The outcry following Keller’s death reveals a dangerous trend within Christianity—a trend that we must confront with the unchanging truth of the Gospel.