CNLP 414: Tim Keller on Rethinking His Beliefs About Suffering, What Cancer is Teaching Him, How Culture is Changing and the Future of the Church

Tim Keller shares some personal reflections about his recent battle with pancreatic cancer and how it’s causing him to rethink his beliefs about God and suffering, drawing him even more deeply into truths he used to only partially understand.

Tim also reflects on what a year of crisis has done to the church, and shares some thoughts on the future of the church, how culture has changed in the last year, and what needs to happen next.

Welcome to Episode 414 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 shares his take on the future church.

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Conversation Links

Hope in Times of Fear by Timothy Keller

ChurchPulse Weekly Podcast

Tim Keller on How to Bring the Gospel to Post-Christian America

Growing My Faith in the Face of Death by Timothy Keller

The Songs of Jesus by Timothy Keller

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright

Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge

No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

The 30-Day Pivot

The Big Church Leadership Mistake of 2021 (That You Can Still Avoid) by Carey Nieuwhof

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Insights From Tim

1. Most of our current forms of apologetics and evangelism are obsolete

In the times of the Reformation, protestant arguments and catechisms weren’t just built around the truth that comes from the Bible, they were also built in response to the opposition of the times. At that time if people weren’t Protestant, they were Catholic, so much of the Reformation-based arguments were designed to take people from cultural Catholicism.

Today, we still use many of those same arguments written 500 years ago, but the culture has shifted. The argument is no longer about Catholic vs. Protestant, but “where do people get their identity from?” We now need to make the argument that people are better off placing their identity in Jesus, rather than placing it somewhere else.

2. Tim sees 3 major identity misplacements coming out of the pandemic

If the church wants to have effective apologetics and evangelism strategies after the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to have a clear answer for these 3 Identity Heresies:

  • The Therapeutic/Individualistic Misplacements – where your identity is found in chasing down whatever your deepest desires are
  • The Progressive/Victim Misplacement – where your identity is found in whatever minority group you’re in, and how you’ve been oppressed
  • The Christian Nationalist Misplacement – where you’re not a real American unless you’re a white, Protestant Christian who does not like immigrants.

All three of these are unbiblical, and as the Church, we need to push back against them.

3. The Resurrection has a much bigger impact on our day-to-day life than we think

While studying for his most recent book on the Resurrection, Tim found that some systematic theologies hardly focus on the Resurrection at all. Tim thinks this is a mistake and argues that the Resurrection deserves more attention, and has a lot more practical application into our lives than we think.

The importance of the Resurrection was amplified for Tim when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while writing the book. Going through his own personal crisis caused him to look much deeper at the Resurrection and what it practically means for our lives. For deeper reading on this, don’t miss out on Tim’s new book.

Quotes from Episode 414

I do not think we should just go back to the way it was. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet We can draw a lot more people in evangelistically if we're really smart on how we use digital church. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet Christianity is the only religion that gives you a God who actually has suffered. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet It's the death and Resurrection of Christ that saved us, which means God tends to work through weakness. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet If the Resurrection happened, then everything's going to be okay. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet We have to use the digital to woo people into face-to-face relationships. Or they're not really going to be changed by the gospel. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet You never really are just only teaching people what the Bible says. You're also inoculating them against the dominant alternatives. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet Too many church leaders step right back into the past the moment they step back in their building. Click To Tweet Crisis is a cradle for innovation, and the future belongs to the innovators. Click To Tweet You do not need a pandemic to be disrupted. The church was being disrupted a long time ago. Click To Tweet Online is not an add-on. It is a future. Click To Tweet You can't have a massive impact online when you spend 10% of your staffing resources on it. Click To Tweet Unpredictability crushes those who look for stability. Click To Tweet It's hard to go back to normal when normal disappeared. Click To Tweet The future is not scary to those who are ready to embrace it. Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 414

Looking for a key quote? More of a reader?

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.


Getting a stuck church growing, or helping a church that’s reaching new people grow even further can seem daunting.

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Whether you’re a church that isn’t growing, has plateaued, or whether you wish your church was growing faster than it is, I’d love to help you break through. That’s why I created the Church Growth Masterclass.

The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

Naturally, I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.

But I believe you can position your church to grow.

You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The 5 keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
  • 5 essentials for church growth
  • 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
  • How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.

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Next Episode: Dave Ferguson

Dave Ferguson peers into the future to talk about the future of the micro-church, networks and how red light, green light and yellow light thinking will change the future. Plus, he talks about how to be resilient in the face of constant change and instability.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 415.

CNLP 414: Tim Keller on Rethinking His Beliefs About Suffering, What Cancer is Teaching Him, How Culture is Changing and the Future of the Church

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