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Choosing Role Models

I have written before on how helpful I have found the ministry of Tim Keller, formerly of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

For over 30 year I have been a regular listener to his sermons and reader of his many books. Twenty years ago, when I wrote a master’s dissertation entitled ‘Preaching the Heart of Modern Idolatries’, I used Tim Keller’s preaching as a case study. I was therefore delighted to receive a review copy of Colin Hansen’s book Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation.

The title does not sound very scintillating, but this book provides a brilliant overview of the people, places, events, ideas and books that have shaped his life and ministry.

I like the word formation’ because it suggests development. There is an awareness in this book that at many stages Keller was not the finished article.

There is a certain irony that Gwyn Walters, Tim Keller’s preaching professor at Gordon-Conwell, gave Keller a ‘C’ in his preaching class. His feedback to Keller was,

“You are a big teapot with a little spout. You need to learn how to let it out.”

What a helpful observation.

Some preachers have a lot of content but are not good at communicating what they know. I guess that is at least better than being a small teapot with a big spout: having the gift of the gab but having nothing of value to say.

Keller persevered as a preacher, learning from other preachers how to communicate the store of theological material stored in his brain.

I also like the word spiritual’ because it is a reminder that the source of all usefulness in Christian ministry comes from what God has shown us through his Spirit.

One of the early lessons that Keller learned through the ministry of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship was how to read Scripture. This has proven to be a vital foundation for a preaching ministry that has taken seriously the biblical injunction to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Just this week Keller posted the following tweet:

“Nothing more important for a Christian to do than to read right through the whole Bible over and over and over, at the very least once a year. You have to keep checking and refining your beliefs by immersion in the Scripture.”

I, like Keller, have enjoyed using Robert Murray McCheyne’s Yearly Bible Reading Plan that takes me through the whole Bible in one year and the New Testament and Psalms twice. It is exciting to begin the year reading from the four great beginnings of Genesis, Ezra, Matthew, and Acts. There is no better way of getting a feel for the big picture of the Bible.

I also like the third word, ‘theological’ because it reminds me that our biblical understanding is greatly enhanced by learning from a wide range of theological voices. Keller’s reading list is phenomenal in both size and range, but one thing which stands out to me is that he has thoroughly absorbed a smaller body of key seminal texts that have shaped his thinking.

And finally he recognises the key shaping influence of listening to his wife.

What are the key influences in your life and preaching?

Are you choosing wisely?

Photo by Taha on Unsplash

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