The spiritual legacy of C.S. Lewis continues to bear abundant fruit. And, although his humility would prevent him from accepting it, Lewis shares credit in the blessings being passed on to new generations by those whose lives he directly touched.
Some of these gifted Gospel communicators have publicly praised Lewis for his role in their own conversions or moments of deeper epiphany into the work of our Creator.
One such Christian leader was Timothy Keller, who recently died at the age of 72. Although he was just a few years older than me, Keller and I shared a number of traits. Raised Lutheran, we accepted the truths about Jesus’s work as kids, but it wasn’t until our young adulthood that we were confronted with the fact that trusting Christ as a loving Savior falls far short of taking up our own crosses and following him as Lord.
It’s no accident that our mutual spiritual awakenings coincided with our introduction to the writings of C.S. Lewis during our collegiate years. Both of us became pastors, although the paths of ministry we followed differed, as befits children of a heavenly Father who guides each of his children as the unique person he has created them to be.
Keller was ordained in the Presbyterian tradition, and devoted most of his energy to helping the Christian Church establish a far more intentional ministry in cities. I was ordained in the Lutheran branch of the Body of Christ, and served much of my ministry as a military chaplain. Both of us were pastors in evangelical, Scripture-affirming denominations within our respective traditions.
I’m sure there are other parallels, such as both being married since the mid-70s and having three kids, but the last similarity I wish to note is that we both have writing as part of our vocations. Not that I would compare my own modest talents to Keller’s.
Tim Keller was a prolific author. And the influence of C.S. Lewis on his thinking, and writing, is pervasive in Keller’s work. Last year The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association presented him with the prestigious “Pinnacle Award.”
Timothy Keller has written more than 35 books, published by a variety of companies, with some co-authored by his wife Kathy. His published body of work represents a variety of categories including apologetics, biblical studies, theology, prayer, devotionals, marriage, Bible study, the Church, and cultural engagement – with sales exceeding 7.5 million units and translated into more than 25 languages.
Keller’s prodigious literary output is one reason he has been likened to C.S. Lewis. Another obvious reason is the subject matter, particularly the prominent place occupied by Christian apologetics.
Like Lewis, Keller was an avid reader. This trait provided the foundation for both authors’ literary contributions to Christian thinking. “A Reading List to Understand Tim Keller” includes a number of the works of great importance to him.
Read This Twice, which gathers book endorsements found on the internet, provides a list of 64 books endorsed by Tim Keller. What makes this curious site special is they provide quotations for his recommendations and the sources from which they are gleaned. Oddly, the aggregator appears to lean heavily on contemporary Twitter sources. Consequently, it includes not a single book written by C.S. Lewis himself, belying the Inkling’s seminal influence on Keller.
The endorsement website also offers access to book recommendations on subjects of a visitor’s choice, compliments of Sona. Sona, as a caution to those among us who are wary of artificial intelligence, is an “AI-driven book recommendation assistant that makes it easy for you to discover your next read. Just provide your specific preferences, and [she] will quickly search through a large database of books to offer you options that closely align with your request.” The invitation closes with: “Try ‘Sona’ and enjoy a seamless, personalized book-finding experience.”
In “Remembering Tim Keller – Today’s C.S. Lewis,” the writer plays with his title.
It is often said that Dr. Timothy Keller, who died last Friday at his home in Manhattan, was this generation’s C.S. Lewis. The dust jacket for The Reason for God says so.
Tim would have had none of it. He just wasn’t that kind of person. I remember sitting down with him after yet another remarkable talk that he had delivered, sparkling with ideas and insight, with lots more to explore, and all he wanted to talk about was his kids and how great they were. Tim was a simple child of God with, like all of us, the normal joys and worries in life.
And yet . . . that impact! It was enormous. Although it might be an overstatement to ascribe C.S. Lewis status to his contribution, it would only be a slight overstatement.
Tim Keller certainly shared some of C.S. Lewis’ righteous qualities, but some writers are adamant about acknowledging their distinctions. A fellow Presbyterian pastor has a great post on this subject titled “Tim Keller is NOT this generation’s C.S. Lewis.” The author persuasively argues that their vocations were too different to make such a claim.
But please, can we not call him another C.S. Lewis? Any time we call a great person “another” anybody, we are doing disservice to both figures. Lewis’ vocation was to serve as a man of letters who wove his faith into his writing. Keller’s vocation is to be a pastor and equipper who employs writing as but one of his tools.
There are even some conservative Reformed authorities who view Keller (and C.S. Lewis) with suspicion. According to Christian Network Europe “Laurens van der Tang . . . wrote in De Wachter Sions (The Watchman of Sion) . . . that the books of Christian writers, such as Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Tim Keller” may possess positive elements but are incomplete. “He argues that they did not pay enough attention to man’s death state, the need for repentance and God’s holy wrath on sin.”
He concludes that “distancing is appropriate” and that these “authors cannot replace theologians from the Reformation or the Dutch Second Reformation.” Also, the Dutch Rev. A. Schreuder writes that “whoever reads the works of the Big Three misses the ultimate point of the personal appropriation of salvation.”
Fortunately, such opinions are in the minority. Most Christians find all three writers inspiring. As this very article reports, “the combination of reason, feeling and imagination is also why Christians in many different surveys indicate that they see Lewis . . . as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.”
A glance at virtually any one of Keller’s books will reveal at least one reference to the writings of C.S. Lewis. In Shaped by the Gospel, he references four of Lewis’ books and essays. In his book On Death, Keller discusses that when we stand in God’s very presence – a joy he even now knows – and alludes to a powerful metaphor offered by C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory.
C.S. Lewis says if these lower reaches of the stream of God’s glory are so intoxicating, what will it be like to drink from the fountainhead?
The Atlantic published a poignant essay by Keller as he faced his impending death. “Growing My Faith in the Face of Death: I spent a lifetime counseling others before my diagnosis. Will I be able to take my own advice?”
The subtitle says it all. It’s a challenge many Christians one day face, and it is particularly sobering for pastors. In the article, Keller relates an acutely tragic conversation.
A significant number of believers in God find their faith shaken or destroyed when they learn that they will die at a time and in a way that seems unfair to them. Before my diagnosis, I had seen this in people of many faiths. One woman with cancer told me years ago, “I’m not a believer anymore—that doesn’t work for me. I can’t believe in a personal God who would do something like this to me.” Cancer killed her God.
Yes, reality and the suffering consequences of the Fall may have shattered the spectral image of her god (lower case “g”), but I hope that through the ministry of Keller and others that unfortunate woman came to know the true God before she stood in his presence.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8).
Timothy Keller, like C.S. Lewis before him, who served as one of Keller’s mentors, left us with a treasure trove of edifying literature. In the past I’ve often been too busy to read much of Keller’s work. However, as of now I am in the process of rectifying that problem. If you join me in that journey, I’m sure neither of us will be disappointed.