25 Quotes from Tim Keller’s New Book on Preaching

qRenowned preacher and author Timothy Keller has a new book on preaching called Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism that comes out June 9th, 2015. 

Keller, founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is known for his faithful biblical exposition presented in a culturally relevant way. Faithful exposition applied to life in a culturally specific way is the goal of our Training National Trainers program and the motivating passion of Leadership Resources‘ ministry.

We’ve already read the book and will share a review on this blog shortly, but until then, we thought we would whet your appetite by sharing 25 powerful quotes from Tim Keller on preaching:


“…while the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the listener as well as the preacher.”

“Preaching has two basic objects in view: the Word and the human listener. It is not enough to just harvest the wheat; it must be prepared in some edible form or it can’t nourish and delight. Sound preaching arises out of two loves—love of the Word of God and love of people—and from them both a desire to show people God’s glorious grace.” (14)

“To reach people gospel preachers must challenge the culture’s story at points of confrontation and finally retell the culture’s story, as it were, revealing how its deepest aspirations for good can be fulfilled only in Christ.” (20)

“Cultural engagement in preaching must never be for the sake of appearing “relevant” but rather must be for the purpose of laying bare the listener’s life foundations.” (21)

“According to Paul you can preach with genuine spiritual power only if you offer Christ as a living reality to be encountered and embraced by those who listen.” (23)

“To preach the text truly and the gospel every time, to engage the culture and reach the heart, to cooperate with the Spirit’s mission in the world—we must preach Christ from all of Scripture.” (23)

“Expository preaching is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true.” (32)

“Both [legalism and antinomianism] come from the belief that God does not really love us or will our joy, and from a failure to see that “both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.” For both the legalist and the antinomian, obedience to the law is simply the way to get things from God, not a way to get God, not a way to resemble, know, delight, and love him for his sake.” (55)

“Both legalism and antinomianism are healed only by the gospel…If you think the real problem out there in the world is legalism, you probably have one foot in antinomianism, and if you think the real problem with people is antinomianism, you probably have one foot in legalism.” (56)

“Insider language [in churches] is frequently also an enabler of hypocrisy, as it offers a shortcut to sounding spiritual without actually having a heart filled with love and delight.” (106)

“It is a mistake to think that faithful believers in our time are not profoundly shaped by the narratives of modernity. We certainly are, and so when you unveil these narratives and interact with them in the ordinary course of preaching the Word, you help them see where they themselves may be more influenced by their society than by the Scripture, and you give them important ways of communicating their faith to others.” (118)

“The key to preaching to a culture…is to identify its baseline cultural narratives.” (124)

“The simplistic cultural narrative is that we should simply express our deepest desires. In reality, we know that there are some deep things in our hearts that will thwart us from becoming the true selves we should be. The process of sanctification, of growth into the likeness of Christ, is also, then, the process of becoming the true self God created us to be.” (139)

“One of the main ways that a Christian preacher can engage this narrative [of create-your-own-morality] is to identify the Christian moral understandings from which so many of the secular moral ideals have come.” (151)

“The Christian answer to the overly optimistic or overly pessimistic late-modern view of history is to point to the Resurrection. Christianity is at the same time both far more pessimistic about history and the human race than any other worldview and far more optimistic about the material world’s future than any other worldview.” (154)

“Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Knowledge is data and facts, but wisdom is knowing what is the good and right way to live. Wisdom is a kind of understanding about the nature of reality that science cannot possibly give you. The wisdom literature of the Bible provides Christian preachers with many rich themes and passages for thoughtfully engaging the late-modern faith in science.” (155)

For engaging with the late-modern mind, Keller exhorts preachers: “Try to remember that you are at odds with a system of beliefs far more than you are at war with a group of people. Contemporary people are the victims of the late-modern mind far more than they are its perpetrators. Seen in this light the Christian gospel is more of a prison break than a battle.” (156)

“The philosophies of the world will come and go, rise and fall, but the wisdom we preach—the Word of God—will still be here.” (156)

“Preaching cannot simply be accurate and sound. It must capture the listeners’ interest and imaginations; it must be compelling and penetrate to their hearts.” (157)

“The essence of a good illustration…is to evoke a remembered sense experience and bring it into connection with a principle. That makes the truth real both by helping listeners better understand it and by inclining their hearts more to love it…Sometimes stories [as illustrations] stir the emotions but don’t illumine the mind. Make sure that your stories are true illustrations, in that they do both.” (173)

“Some modern expository preachers spend so much time on understanding and explaining the text that they have little time to think about two other things: practical application and striking, memorable, fluent use of language.” (177)

“Insightful preaching comes from depth of research and reading and experimentation.” (177)

“…preaching Christ is not only the ultimate way to fully understand a text, nor just the best way to simultaneously reach those who don’t believe and those who do, but also the way to be sure that your address moves beyond a dry lecture and becomes a real proclamation of the truth that reaches the heart.” (179)

“If you spend most of your time reading instead of with people, you will apply the Bible text to the authors of the books you read (which is fairly unhelpful). If you spend most of your time in Christian meetings or in the evangelical subculture, your sermons will apply the Bible text to the needs of evangelicals (which is far more helpful but still incomplete). The only way beyond this limitation is to deliberately diversify your people context.” (181)

“A good preacher will combine warmth and force. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, I believe all of us tend naturally toward being mainly warm and gentle or mainly forceful and authoritative in the pulpit. We must recognize our imbalance and seek the Lord for growth into the fullness of his holy character.” (200)

“…the temptation will be to let the pulpit drive you to the Word, but instead you must let the word drive you to the pulpit. Prepare the preacher more than you prepare the sermon.” (205)

Bonus Resources: Tim Keller Speaking on Preaching at The Gospel Coalition Conference

Timothy Keller’s Lectures on Preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary

  • Lecture 1- What is Good Preaching? [watch | listen]
  • Lecture 2- Preaching to Secular People and Secularized Believers  [watch | listen]
  • Lecture 3- Preaching the Gospel Every Time [watch | listen]
  • Lecture 4- Preaching to the Heart [watch | listen]

Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.