DANIEL VAUGHAN: Timothy J. Keller (1950 - 2023) - The Faithful Servant

 May 22, 2023

Somewhere in the dusty digital archives of Middle Tennessee State University, there's a picture of your author sitting on the edge of the University Honors College's outdoor seating area, feet in the grass, sun shining down, head buried in a book. It was a book I'd only had a few weeks, but I read it every second I had a chance. Some books you encounter at just the right moment in your life, and this was one for me.

The book was "The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism" by Timothy Keller. I was in-between classes that day and decided to snag the book out of my backpack and read for a bit in the sun. While doing that, a photographer for the university decided that a college student reading a book outside was a perfect stock photo moment.

Reading the news of Tim Keller's passing Friday morning took me back to that moment. That book found me at a pivotal moment in my life. It was my senior year of college, and what should have been a season of celebration for finishing college, and heading toward law school, was instead a stormy crisis of faith.

Failure isn't a word I'd use lightly to describe where I was then. I'd had a near mental and emotional breakdown from the previous fall between the roles of mock trial leadership and researching and writing an honors college thesis. That stress was compounded by bombing my first try at the Law School Admissions Test - my score on that said I'd flunk out of law school before the end of my first semester.

Additionally, I failed two classes in the spring semester of my senior year. I simply stopped going to class. Looking back, it was probably residual depression from the prior semester. Those F's on my transcript meant I couldn't technically graduate in the spring; I'd have to take remedial courses over the summer, pass them, and then go to law school, which I ended up doing.

During this rock bottom moment, where everything felt like calamity and despair, I randomly came across The Reason for God on Amazon. Now, I know the book made it there through God's faithful direction. Being a poor college student, I didn't have much money, but I still got it.

It was like drinking cold, refreshing water after walking through a dry, hot desert for months. The brilliance of Keller's writing is that he gave a modern restatement of the simplicity of Christianity, faith in Jesus Christ, and why the evidence or "reason" for God demands a response.

The book gets pitched as an apologetic defense of Christianity, but it's more than that. Apologetics implies a full-throated defense of Christianity, which The Reason for God certainly possesses. But the book's beauty is that it's a restatement of purpose, direction, and meaning if you've gotten unmoored from the Christian faith. Keller provided an intellectual anchor for many people who needed just that.

But more than that, what Keller did was nudge people face-to-face that if you end up acknowledging that Jesus is real and what he did and said actually happened, that demands a response from you. In his chapter named "The Reality of the Resurrection," Keller wrote:

Sometimes people approach me and say, "I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don't think I can accept that part." I usually respond: "If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead." That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true it meant we can't live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don't have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.

And so it does. Further, if you're in a moment of crisis in faith, being told of what you know and that this Jesus you serve demands a response is a healthy reminder to go to Him for answers.

I know I'm not alone on this front. Timothy Keller helped reground an entire generation of believers as the age of skepticism emerged. He reminded everyone that even when the world is falling apart, or especially when it is, you must follow the directions of the man who rose from the dead.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ demands an answer. It cannot be ignored or pushed aside. Everyone has to grapple with that one single point of objective truth. Only after that can you face the trials of the earth successfully.

Timothy Keller fulfilled his calling and was a good and faithful servant, even to the end. For that, I am deeply indebted to him, his teachings, and the anchor he provided to a college student reading his book on a spring day. I pray his family knows peace, comfort, and love as they celebrate and remember Keller's life in the days and weeks ahead.

We will continue the race, Timothy Keller. Thank you for finishing your race strong.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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