A Sarcastic Youth Pastor’s Review of Tim Keller’s Excellent The King’s Cross

Regular followers of the blog know that I like to read and review books. I get them from a number of publishing houses blogger programs and then there books that I simply choose to read – The King’s Cross by Tim Keller was one I wanted to read.

There’s a lot I like a lot about Keller. I know some of my friends feel he gets too much attention and to some extent it’s true but like others, there overplayedness shouldn’t actually detract us from appreciating their work (while some of my friends love him). Among his qualities, I like his use of words and concepts and he tends to have the right pastoral balance of intelligence and simplicity when preaching/writing to congregations filled with life-long Christians and seekers. It’s a quality that I hope to mature in.

I was interested in reading The King’s Cross for a couple reasons. One, it’s on the book of Mark and we just finished teaching that in Sr. High Sunday School class (yep, as I was reading I had plenty of thoughts of, “Oohh I wish I would have used that illustration.” There were a also a couple of thoughts of “Hmm, I’m not sure he’s right about that one but hey, who am I? ;)

The second reason I wanted to read this was all my books I’m reading this Lent have to do with the Christ’s work on the cross. So far it’s been Love Wins and Community of Atonement. If Bell’s book was the provocative piece (at least semi-provocative), and McKnight the theological teaser (not sure you can find a more brilliant book that only has 120 pages), then Keller’s book was the devotional.

Please do not read in too much into my use of devotional. I was trying to avoid reading critically (not that it’s a switch you can turn off). I did need to continue reminding myself that these are sermonic in nature and he is consciously avoiding certain features of Mark. So when he doesn’t frame the parables in the context of Mark the way Wright does (even though he’s quoted throughout the book), it’s intentional on his part. It’s not a cheap treatment, definitely not boring or cheesy, but it’s more classic and reinforcing. Hope that makes sense.

Third, I wanted to read it because I’m accustomed to answering ‘No’ to the question, “Have you read Keller’s latest?” Like I mentioned already, I like Keller but I’ve tangled with his following from time to time (The Keller Klan? You heard it here first). I must say that things changed for me after he brought NT Wright to Redeemer but I digress.

I really liked his use of illustrations:
Now, don’t get me wrong, every illustration has a breaking point and when you’re a youth pastor, even when you steal a brilliant illustration from CS Lewis or Martin Luther or even the Apostle Paul, students still say it sucked. Give that same illustration in sermon on a sunday morning, and their parents will cry and grandparents will repent of their sins. I’m telling youth ministry is where it’s at. So of course over the years, I have become a consignor of illustrations. Keller’s church is in Manhattan (and that’s almost as tough of a crowd as AP suburban teens) he needs to have decent illustrations. (But then again, they like Trump too so … :).

Just an example, no one I am aware of has ever used Harry Potter in an illustration relating to substitutionary atonement – a little 2005 emergent, no? :). Anyway, I loved it. And I look forward to his next book The Apostle’s Execution when he uses the Twilight Series to illustrate the Council of Jerusalem. #rumorsIamstarting

Again, Keller writes/speaks beautifully to church people and seekers and as he says in this video, “and everyone in between”. If you are looking for a classic Christ-centered devotional-type on Mark, I hope you check it out.

Here’s the first chapter.



  1. My HUGE beef with Keller. I agree he uses great illustrations and is a very astute observer of culture, etc. He’s a great pastor. But this is almost too big of an issue for me to get over, especially in light of “Love Wins” (not that Rob said anything earth shattering, just said it well)

  2. Bo, Thanks for the comment and the link – I’ll check it out today.

  3. Thanks for the link Bo. I resonate a lot with what Andrew is saying but already knew how Keller felt. I think it’s important to not be too dogmatic on either side of course. That said, I don’t see Keller in a position to publicly handle nuance any more than he has shown. (Although it would be very rock-star if he did).

    Depending on how we define certain terms, I think his insights and demeanor, are among the best of the conservatives. Fair?

  4. Absolutely fair. I’m also absolutely caught up on this issue and its beginning to deteriorate any aspirations of ecumenicism I once had. And I’m not claiming this is a good thing. When it comes to the view of hell Keller holds, I think how does such a smart guy accept such poor exegesis? Is it because it’s what he finds attractive (that’s the scary option) or does his brain simply interpret the evidence different than mine, and he is accepting and serving what he thinks is true? Even with the second option, I sometimes think that if I was in that position (of holding his view of humanity and hell as “true”) I would reject it nonetheless as being barbaric. Of course there’s a problem of letting our moral intuitions guide our exegesis, but I don’t think we can leave them out either (I think they led to anti-slavery and pro-women movements). So anyway it’s complicated, I wish I could give Keller the benefit of the doubt. I should.

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