In his message at TGC Netherlands 2023, Michael Keller talks about the influence of Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans on his father, Tim Keller, and he shares how these influences shaped the way Tim Keller presented the gospel—particularly in the context of New York City in the 1980s and beyond.
Michael Keller identifies two key piety-based innovations that Tim Keller drew from Jonathan Edwards:
1. Justification by faith alone: We’re accepted by God not because of our obedience but because of God’s grace. This was a response to the prevalent idea that being a Christian meant adhering to certain behaviors. Tim Keller’s famous phrase “You’re accepted, and then you obey” encapsulated this perspective.
2. The integration of intellectual understanding with experiential knowledge: Jonathan Edwards argued that simply knowing doctrinal truths intellectually isn’t enough—there has to be a heartfelt, experiential understanding. Tim Keller aimed to make the truth not just understandable but also experiential in his preaching, believing that if the truth about Jesus doesn’t deeply affect and change a person, he hasn’t truly understood it.
The gospel’s good news remains unchanged and doesn’t need reinvention. And yet it’s essential to present it in a way that resonates with the specific culture and audience. Throughout his pastoral ministry, Tim Keller did this gracefully.