Dr. Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and bestselling author of dozens of books, posted a sobering announcement on Facebook early Sunday morning.
“I will shortly be returning to the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD in order to spend April doing a variation of the immunotherapy that I received last June,” he wrote. “It was successful in eradicating 99% of the tumors. However, new tumors have developed. They are unfortunately in some fairly inconvenient places, so the doctors encouraged us to go through the treatment again, this time targeting a different genetic marker of the cancer.”
Dr. Keller was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in May of 2020.
“It was fairly brutal last June, so we approach this with an awareness of how much prayer we need,” he continued. “Please pray for our trust and dependence on God, for his providential oversight of the medical preparations now in process, and for our desire to glorify God in whatever comes our way. Thank You.”
During previous conversations, Dr. Keller has acknowledged that 80% of those who receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis die within a year, so he’s been extremely grateful and pleased to be defying the difficult odds.
“Theoretically everyone knows that they could die at any moment,” Tim Keller wrote in his book, Hope in Times of Fear. “But a diagnosis of cancer or heart disease or the threat of a pandemic transfers us into the realm of those who know it is as an immediate reality.”
Clearly, Dr. Timothy Keller isn’t afraid to die. Since his diagnosis, he’s continued to study, write, and speak whenever possible. It could be argued that his messages contain a new urgency, grit, and credibility, too.
At the same time, the man who’s been called a modern C.S. Lewis remains interested in pursuing treatments designed to possibly prolong his time here on earth, and why not? Tim is happily married to Kathy, and together they have three sons. He loves being a grandfather. And while he’s a prolific writer, he also reads upwards of 150 books per year.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Dr. Keller on numerous occasions in my role here at Focus on the Family. His low-key and understated temperament belies his obvious deep-thinking nature. It’s been said Tim is shy about himself and boastful about Jesus, and I’ve seen that up close as he talks about the power of the Gospel to transform lives.
Writing from his Roosevelt Island apartment in the midst of his failing health, the pastor observed:
“A person who gets a diagnosis of cancer will rightly put his relative hope in doctors and medical treatment,” Keller writes. “But his main dependence must be in God. He can have certainty that his plan and will for him is always good and perfect (Romans 8:28) and that the inevitable destiny is resurrection. If he puts his heart’s main hope in medicine, then an unfavorable report will be devastating. But if his heart’s main hope is in the Lord, he will be like a mountain that cannot be shaken or moved (Psalm 125:1).”
It seems fitting that 72-year-old Tim Keller would be entering this next season of his cancer journey in the midst of the Lenten season, the 40-day period leading up to the dramatic events of Holy Week, including the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. For the last five decades of his life, the Pennsylvania native has been teaching and interpreting the truths of the Scriptures for his congregants, readers, and listeners. He was also living out his faith very publicly and authentically all these years, too. Yet, there’s something even more profound, poignant and powerful at play when we witness faith under fire and a pastor stepping into the flames without being burned.
Dr. Timothy Keller has preached thousands of sermons and written millions of words, but his cancer journey undoubtedly remains his most effective and far-reaching message of them all.