Tim Keller, Batons, New York, and VOCA
Our normally effervescent pastor broke down and cried for several uncomfortably long spells in his Sunday sermon. Aaron was on staff at Redeemer Presbyterian for 10 years. The man he served on the teaching team with, the founder of Redeemer, Tim Keller, passed into the arms of Jesus Friday, May 19th.
One of the things Aaron said was this: “Tim has officially passed the baton to us, those of us endeavoring to chase the Gospel, especially those of us in New York.” His sermon and a number of other conversations have led me to reflect on Tim’s impact on my life and on the work of VOCA. I am not sure I’d be here if it weren’t for the teaching, example, and institution-building that flowed from Tim’s life.
Gospel: Tim’s famous line is “The Gospel changes everything.” His emphasis on how what Jesus offers confronts both the rebel and the religious has been good medicine for me—I have played both roles. Over what has been many years, this focus has provided me with an anchor, confidence, and clarity about what matters and a source of stable identity.
Make the Case: Tim is always making a case for faith in Jesus as juxtaposed to faith in other things—for him, faith is contested ground. So he provided reasons for belief. He taught us to doubt our doubts as much as we do elements of faith that are hard to understand or offensive.
City: Tim loved cities and taught me to do the same—“the highest concentration of the image of God is found where the most people are—cities.” In order for cities to be all God yearns for them to be, they have to have what he called a healthy Gospel Eco System, which includes specialized ministries like VOCA which focus on faith and work.
Suffering: Tim’s book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, as well as his constant teaching on the subject, have given me a framework and hope to face the struggles in life: my wife’s cancer, loss of loved ones, economic challenges as well as the minor drag of day to day irritation.
Vocational Leveling: Tim’s teaching plays large in VOCA’s model of redemptive work. At a conference years back, he made a convincing argument that sometimes the way we work in the faith-based world is destructive, and many times the outputs of work in the wider world are truly redemptive. He leveled the vocational playing field–while all vocational paths are subject to brokenness, they can be good and beneficial in God’s economy. This teaching gives fuel to our passion at VOCA to validate every vocational path.
I only met Tim a few times, knew him enough to say hello. But his talks and writing have deeply impacted my life and the work we do at VOCA. I look forward to “getting to know him better” on the other side.
Donors make it possible for VOCA to impact workers in NYC and beyond, for us to receive the baton from Tim and others who have paved the way for Christians to positively impact the world through their work. To those that make it possible, we say thank you.
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