People have their preferences. I like Tim Keller more than John Piper. This isn’t to say that I don’t like Piper, only that I like Keller more in an celebrity deathmatch comparison kind of way. Both are phenomenally great preachers and teachers, gifted and anointed in ways that I’m not, just as I’m gifted in some ways they’re not. Some people and pastors (Sam and Billy) really admire Piper a lot. I won’t make a point-by-point comparison; I’ll simply list my reasons.
Here are some of the reasons I like Keller a lot:
- He is unassuming.
Not only is he the real deal, he exudes a tone of voice that is relationally inviting to all who hear him or meet him. Some preachers come across shrill and combative, while Keller comes across plausible, considerate, reasonable, and approachable.
- He graciously preaches the Gospel clearly and compellingly.
Every sermon or talk (I’ve heard) points to Christ as the ultimate yearning of our deepest need. Even in a 8-minute sermonette at the 5th anniversary interfaith memorial service [transcript via kellered, mirrored at Reformissionary], he points to Christ, without unnecesssarily offending listeners of different faiths, yet upholding the power of the resurrected Christ.
- His preaching is accessible and edifying to both non-Christians and Christians. Preaching and teaching has to answer the “So What?” question (most often used by Lon Solomon) and meet people where they’re at, lest it borders on meaninglessness. A NYTimes’ February 2006 article describes Keller this way:
Observing Dr. Keller’s professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal. While he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths, he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere. “A big part is he preaches on such an intellectual level,” said Suzanne Perron, 37, a fashion designer who is one of many who had stopped going to church before she discovered Redeemer several years ago. “You can go to Redeemer and you can not be a Christian and listen to that sermon and be completely engaged.”
- He allows us to see that the writers of the past and present are both relevant to life and faith today. With the cultural elite and the average person also, there’s a common respect for the wisdom of the ancient sages and the wit of the contemporary. Or to say it more theologically, drawing from both general relevation and special revelation speaks to everyone together all at once. New York Metro noted Keller’s marketing genius to influence the influentials:
Keller has become the most successful Christian Evangelist in the city by recognizing what marketers have known for decades: that young professionals and artists are �disproportionately influential� in creating the country�s culture and that you have to meet this coveted demographic on its own terms. With intellectual, brimstone-free sermons that manage to cite Woody Allen alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…
Or, in his own words: “When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone… two thinkers, you become confused… ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice… two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice.” (at 1:10 of Resurgence session #8.)
- He is authoritative without being authoritarian. Many preachers shout down other people and their points of view. Many preachers are overbearingly forceful with their own convictions. In an advertising and marketing saturated world, I sure don’t need another hard sell; not only does it not work in the city, it doesn’t work in the smaller towns either.
- He believes that doctrines are important and actually shows how it matters. Of course thelogy, theological training, and theological doctrines are important and valuable. But knowledge alone puffs up, and what people need is not more shouting about how important theology and doctrines are. Let’s see how they make a difference in the way we live, in the way we treat people, in the way we talk to people who have differing convictions and beliefs. See Keller (in his own words) speaking of the importance of doctrine.
- He is fair and honest. He readily admits his finitude and frail humanity. He acknowledges his limited knowledge and perspectives, and even if someone might perceive that he’s presumptuous. I think he’s one who actually lives up to the recent notion of “humble orthodoxy.” Plus, he doesn’t have to use guilt just because he’s been seminary-trained. *wink wink*
- His passion for the cities of the world reflects the City of God. At the end of the day, it’s about the City of God that comes down from heaven, it’s not the great suburb of God! 🙂 His joke, not mine; a little unfair, but hilarious! See or hear (begin at 8:00) how he told it at the 2006 Resurgence conference.
- He is respectful of other’s convictions, preferences, and callings. He recognizes there is more than one way to do church. Watch this video to hear how he explains it in his own words: Preaching and the missional church.
- He encourages people to think out the implications of their faith. Granted, he does not put ideas on the bottom shelf, and allows the listener to wrestle with the complexities of life and faith. Many of his talks are intricately layered that it takes me several listens to just begin to understand its fascinating nuances. It’s commendable for the preacher to teach the Bible to people, or even teach people the Bible. But, as Andy Stanley has also said, go beyond that and help people to actually live out what the Bible commands. Keller would say something more like this: work out the implications of the Gospel in your work and your life!
- He speaks to the heart of the matter. He gets at the question behind the question. With surgical precision, he unveils the idols of our hearts, persuades the listener to consider the more beautiful alternative to faith and trust in God’s beauty, freedom, and provision. I’ve found that melting a frozen ice block goes much more smoothly than confrontationally whacking away at it.
- He deconstructs and reconstructs. All of us have presuppositions and worldview foundations behind what we believe and why we believe the way we do. Cultures are just another layer of packaging. There’s things in every culture that is good and not so good. Postmodernism gives us some great tools to get at those underlying cognitive notions, and it’s refreshing to see someone put them to use for the good, instead of alarming attacking the latest cultural shifts. Keller is a master at deconstructing defeater beliefs and doubts, subject of a forthcoming book.
- He teaches the Bible in a refreshing culturally engaging way. I know this list is getting a bit repetitive and redundant. Is it just me, or does it seem like to you too that so many preachers know the Bible but don’t know it’s 2006 and not 1966?
- He reads and comments on blogs. Most (if not all) pastors are very busy with their lives of ministry, and yet Keller is one of the few megachurch pastors who’d take the time to read _and_ to comment in the blogosphere. This shows connectedness with us pajama-wearing bloggers as well as the well-dressed-in-Sunday-best pew sitters.
If you’ve read (scanned) this far, you ought to recognize the sardonic tongue-in-cheek between-the-line comedic tone; please don’t take this so seriously or authoritative. This is only a short list of what I’ve found inspiring whenever I hear Tim talk. He is undoubtedly one of my favorites.
Both Piper and Keller will be hanging out, with Mark Driscoll too at that, at this sold out conference next week, so I’d like to think they’re all on friendly terms and this little remark can provide a chuckle re: the absurdity of publicity and accolades. [are they scalping tickets on eBay or Craigslist, per chance? Conference audio are rumored to be online, for free, after the event.]
Being a church connoisseur, I like all kinds of preachers for different reasons. We need all kinds to speak to all kinds of people, perspectives, and contexts. It’s been my experience that people’s preference for a preacher or church polity often reflects their personality. I’m not one to be overbearing or forceful; I prefer to be human and empathetic.