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A tale of two preachers

Tim Keller and Harry Reeder have ministered and helped generations. Let's pray God will continue to raise up new preachers like them.

FEATURES AUTOR 376/Arturo_Terrazas 23 DE MAYO DE 2023 19:10 h
Tim Keller (1950-2023) y Harry Reeder (1948-2023).

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”. Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens begins his book A Tale of Two Cities with this phrase, a work that partly reflects the contrast between London and Paris. In this article I want to use the same analogy, in this case not London and Paris, but rather Alabama and New York.

This May has been a month of great sadness for the evangelical community in general and the Presbyterian community in particular. Within two days of each other, preachers Harry Reeder and Tim Keller departed to the presence of the Lord.

Both preachers have things in common: both were preachers in Presbyterian churches, both were influential in the United States. Tim Keller in New York and Harry Reeder in Alabama.

Both were authors. Both preached the same message throughout their years of ministry: salvation in Jesus and the new life He has offered us.

We can also see contrasts between the two preachers. One preached in the South, the other in the North. One had to deal with the results of years of racial segregation in the South for decades, the other had to deal with the postmodern culture of New York.

Perhaps the starkest contrast is the influence of the two. Tim Keller is a well-known man not only for the church where he preached, but also for being a prolific author. Keller's books have been translated into Spanish and other languages.

Harry Reeder, on the other hand, is not well known outside the sphere of the Presbyterian church in the United States; only one of his books has been translated into Spanish.

Despite their differences, both had an impact on their respective ministries. I would like to begin by mentioning some elements of Harry Reeder's ministry before mentioning Tim Keller's ministry.

I first heard about Harry Reeder in my seminary years in Mississippi. I read his book on church revitalisation, From Embers to a Flame: How God can Revitalize your Church.

Two of the best known quotes from his book are the following:

The systematic preaching of the Word is impossible without the systematic study of it. It will not be enough to skim through a few verses in daily Bible reading, nor to study a passage only when we have to preach from it. No. We must daily soak ourselves in the Scriptures. We must not just study, as through a microscope, the linguistic minutiae of a few verses, but take our telescope and scan the wide expanses of God’s Word, assimilating its grand theme of divine sovereignty in the redemption of mankind.

The Word has the ability to “connect” with anyone anywhere because it is written by the One who created all of us and knows us better than we know ourselves.

One of the things that also had an impact on me was the leadership course that Harry Reeder taught for many years.

The course was about the leadership of two officers in the American Civil War. On the one side, Southern General Thomas Jackson, hero of the Battle of Chancellorsville. On the side of the Northern army, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, hero of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Both had been fervent Calvinists. Jackson was an elder in his church, while Chamberlain studied at a seminary and taught at Bowdoin College in the US state of Maine.

Harry Reeder had a privileged memory. Once he learned your name, he never forgot it. He knew the names of the battles of the American Civil War, the movements of the troops, as well as the names of the officers.

He mentioned the spiritual awakening that came after the war, as well as the process of reconciliation. A process he wanted to imitate in his own community as a preacher and pastor of a church.

Tim Keller, in contrast to Harry Reeder, was born in the state of Pennsylvania. He studied and ministered primarily in the northern United States.

I first heard of Tim Keller in my seminary years. I still remember a sermon that struck me, Praying your Tears. Keller's style was different. For the first time I saw someone who had done not only biblical but also cultural exegesis.

One influence on Keller was Edmund Clowney, professor of preaching at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I highly recommend the series, Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World. It can be found here

I listened to this series during my years in Mississippi and it made a deep impression on me. It was a privilege to have not only great teachers in seminary, but also homework in different subjects where we saw the contrast between preachers like Keller and Reeder.

Both Keller and Redeer preached exactly the same thing. The difference was their audience. Just as we have to do exegesis of the text to be preached, we have to do exegesis of the congregation that will receive our message.

Both preachers marked me deeply, I studied in the south of the United States and now minister in a big city.

I think it is difficult to write down the many quotes that have stuck with me from Tim Keller, because he wrote so many books and I have heard so much preaching, which can be heard in different media.

I would like to paraphrase something that Keller mentioned when he was already reaching what is usually considered old age:

If we live to old age we can feel our bodies (and our beauty) fading, yet if we are growing in God’s grace, our souls, as it were, are becoming stronger and more beautiful. At death this reversal becomes complete. Our bodies disintegrate and we become blindingly glorious. Comfort yourself with these words. We all long to come to a place called home. Jesus is waiting for us in that place.

Tim Keller and Harry Reeder have ministered and helped several generations. God has called them into His presence.

Lets pray that God will continue to raise up new preachers like them, who can interpret the text and the congregation, that God will raise up people who will continue to preach the eternal message that changes lives.

I want to close with the comfort we can find in the hope of the resurrection. Both Tim Keller and Harry Reeder were Presbyterian pastors. At many funerals where they ministered they ended their sermons with the great truths found in question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

The souls of believers, are at death made perfect in holiness, and immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, rest in their graves until the resurrection.1

We will see our brothers in the faith again, as well as our teachers who have preached the everlasting gospel to us.

Arturo Terrazas holds a PhD in linguistics, is professor of Old Testament and academic dean at the IBSTE Faculty of Theology in Castelldefels, Catalonia, Spain, and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Spain.


1 The base texts for the answer to question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism are : Luke 23:42-43; Hebrews 12:22-23; Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Isaiah 57:2; Job 19:25-26.




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