CNLP 339: Tim Keller on How to Bring the Gospel to Post-Christian America, How He’d Preach Today if He was Starting Over Again, Why Founders Get Addicted to Their Churches and Why He Left Redeemer

Tim Keller is one of America’s most renowned preachers, authors and thought leaders. Tim talks about what NYC was like when he planted Redeemer Church in 1989, how the city’s changed, how the culture has changed and how his preaching has evolved.

He shares the approach he would take if he was preaching regularly today, why founders get addicted to their church, why he left Redeemer when he did, and offers profound insights into post-Christian America, how to reach it, and even talks through how he works through personal discouragement and disappointment.

Welcome to Episode 339 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey gives his latest thoughts on the COVID-19 crisis and how to respond as leaders.

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The ChurchPulse Weekly Podcast

The ChurchPulse Weekly Crisis Toolkit

Barna State of the Church

Redeemer Churches and Ministries

Foolishness to the Greeks by Lesslie Newbigin

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin

God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Timothy Keller

Unapologetic by Francis Spufford

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Are Churches Behaving Like Malls in the Age of Amazon, Just Hoping for People to Shop Again? by Carey Nieuwhof


1. The Church isn’t prepared to reach a post-Christendom culture

For 1,000 years, the Church has been able to assume a culture of Christendom in the West. Evangelicalism has been waiting for people to give in to the social pressure of going to church and then connecting the dots of the morality they were raised in and still believe. People don’t hold “being a good person” as high of a standard as they did 50 years ago.

People now value “being true to themselves” over “being a good person.” How we evangelize to that mindset is very different. We need to approach evangelism with an argument for why having your identity in Jesus is better than the identity that someone is currently chasing.

2. Political polarization is a major obstacle for churches

When Tim reads the Bible, he sees these 4 things clearly:

  • Christians ought to be sold out for racial justice.
  • Christians should be deeply concerned about the poor.
  • Christians should be pro-life.
  • Christians should believe that, at least for Christians, sex should only be between a man and woman in marriage.

Two of those beliefs look very conservative and two of those look very liberal, and the Church has to find a way to preach both. Most Christian churches will feel pressure to focus on two of these and neglect the others. You can’t give in to letting politics direct what you teach and believe as a church.

3. If Tim Keller started a preaching today, he would shift his message toward identity

Our culture is obsessed with building up our personal identity. So in response to that, Tim’s message would be:

“You think the meaning of life is to be free, but you’re actually not as free as you think you are. You have to live for something. Everybody has to live for something, and whatever that thing is you’re living for will enslave you, and you will feel guilty and shameful because you’ll never feel like you can live up to it.

I don’t care how you guys are forming your identity, there is no identity like the one that you can find in Jesus Christ.”

Keller says that you have to find a way to take the plot line of the culture, and give it a better ending in Jesus.

Quotes from Episode 339

Christianity is the only identity that is received, not achieved. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

When Christ's love becomes your identity, it reorders all your loves. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

You think the meaning of life is to be free, but you're actually not as free as you think you are. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

If you're living for anything but God, you are a slave. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

Today, the meaning of life is to be true to yourself, and I just don't think that our church today has any way of dealing with that. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

The future of Western society and Western culture is multi-ethnic. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

The five components that contribute to human flourishing are relationships, spiritual health, fiscal and material stability, vocation and career, & wellness and behavioral health. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

While science can tell you what you can do, and how to do it efficiently, it can never ever tell you whether you should do it or not. - Jürgen Habermas Click To Tweet

It doesn't say anywhere in the Bible your church has to grow. Ordinarily, if people are growing spiritually, and they're sharing their faith, the church will grow, but that's a byproduct. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

True innovation happens when you start to really dig inside, and go, 'Okay, what does this make possible?' @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

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Annie F. Downs has seen her podcast downloads skyrocket over the last two months as millions tune in to her daily show. She talks about how to connect with your audience, how she pivoted during the lockdown, why so many people listen, why production doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think, and how to share more of yourself with the people you lead.

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CNLP 339: Tim Keller on How to Bring the Gospel to Post-Christian America, How He’d Preach Today if He was Starting Over Again, Why Founders Get Addicted to Their Churches and Why He Left Redeemer


  1. J Baker on October 2, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    Sadly, I was disappointed in the notes from Tim Keller … it’s still an old message … still presenting an either/or ultimatum rather than a way forward – through “AND”. There’s an underlying concept of judgment (rather than support for blends) that fosters separation and spiritual “othering”.

    Chaos is a natural process that occurs when a prior order no longer serves and something new is seeking to come forward. When we define anything except the old Christian orientation as a problem we are not allowing what can serve better to come forward.

    Also, it is possible that people who have been controlled, abused and traumatized by rigid and controlling systems/families/beliefs may medically and psychologically need to establish a healthy sense of self before they can consider another belief system laced with strong prescriptions for behavior and beliefs.

  2. Tdunc on October 2, 2020 at 10:27 am

    I would change one thing Mr Keller:
    Christians should be “For Life”, not just pro-life which is focused on abortion, and taken over by sinful people who fight abortion, yet walk by the dying man in the street or death row.
    Christians should be For Life meaning for alternatives to abortion and the death penalty, for healthcare access, for people fleeing abuse of any kind (domestic or foreign country), for aiding people fighting addiction (Jesus cured lots of demons, remember?).

  3. Sam Jackson on July 13, 2020 at 4:20 am

    Carey, great interview – one of your best episodes!! (Said by a big Keller fan). I would love to hear Tim elaborate on his comment about not being a house church fan in spite of what Francis Chan and others are doing, and that the way forward is churches of 100-800. Do you know where I might be able to find further thoughts/reasons why, from Tim on that statement?
    Looking forward to seeing you in Australia next year after the disappointment of missing you this year!!

  4. Dan Hoffman on May 14, 2020 at 11:18 am

    Great interview Carey. Super helpful! Keller is great!

    I’m a preacher. Could you recommend a book that would unpack Keller’s idea about sharing Christ with a generation that cares primarily about trying to be true to themselves?

  5. Joanne Venneker-Louwe on May 12, 2020 at 10:36 am

    A Complementarian: They will have trouble with the next generation. They are having trouble with this generation.

    • Mark on May 12, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Of course, Gen X was run off.

  6. Mark on May 12, 2020 at 8:00 am

    People also need to hear the differences between being a Christian and being a good church member aka parishioner. Too many of us saw complete scoundrels deemed a “good Christian” and preached into heaven because they were at the church house every time the door was open. Meanwhile the young were condemned to hell from the pulpit even for the sins of others and run out of the congregation by the old people who did not want them. The congregation always wants everything charitable done under their auspices, but then don’t allow too many people to do that. So people are forced to craft a work around and do their good deeds in spite of the congregation. Also, one needs to preach Jesus on Sunday, not 100% of the Sundays on St. Paul taken out of context.

  7. Brian McMichan on May 12, 2020 at 3:49 am

    Tim states … you think the meaning of life is to be free, but you’re actually not as free as you think you are! (??Is this relating to born again believers?)

    I am not aware in what context this was stated, but Tim, please read Luke 4:18-19 …. this is what Christ Jesus quoted as His purpose of coming to earth …. to FREE the (spiritual) captives and give sight to the (spiritually) blind … then His closing words from the cross were, “It is finished!” … He had ACHIEVED His purpose ….. all it takes for people to realise what Christ Jesus achieved is to turn to the LIGHT and BE BORN AGAIN (Christ in … Christian) …… until a person is born again, (the old man washed away) they are controlled by the flesh.

    It is true that the vast majority of people on earth (including many “believers”) are NOT free …. they need to be as Paul said in Gal 2:20 … It is NO LONGER I who live, but Christ Jesus Who lives in me!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 12, 2020 at 6:06 am

      He was speaking to people who buy into a post-modern mindset.

    • Brian Gross on May 19, 2020 at 5:20 pm

      What Keller said would also apply to believers. His point is we are slaves to what we most value/pursue. He is driving home the same point as Romans 6.20-22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

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