How to Preach Like Tim Keller Without Sounding Like Him

It’s not usually a good idea to reject D.A. Carson’s advice. At The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference this past April, Carson said, “Young pastors shouldn’t try to imitate Keller’s preaching. If you do, you’ll sound like a twit.”

In case you’re wondering what a twit is, Urban Dictionary says it’s the kind of person that makes a retarded chimp look smart. My Australian friend, Jeff, says that it’s a pregnant fish. Ether way, it’s not good. Especially if D.A. Carson calls you one.

And let’s be honest, there’s some pastors out there, caught up in the Evangelical Hollywood, whose preaching is a smorgasbord of the most popular reformed podcasts.

The pastor/copycat focuses on style, not substance. That’s not what I’m talking about.

The key to not sounding like a twit is to filter out the personality as you adopt what any pastor does well homiletically. In Keller’s case, if you start using phrases like “the idols of your heart,” or “older and younger brother,” your church will know that you’ve been reading or listening to Keller. After all, they’ve read Prodigal God, too.

That said, there is a lot we can take from Keller in order to improve our preaching. The reason you read this blog is because you want to raise your pastoral game (not that it is a game). So lets take few things from Keller, and make our preaching better for it.

1. Provide a road map for your sermon. I’ve sometimes heard Keller briefly list his points at the beginning of his sermon. It’s kinda like when you scan through the turns on Google Maps before you depart. Keller does this with phrases, not sentences. Their brevity is what makes them easy for the audience to remember throughout the message. The trick is to do this without revealing too much. You don’t want to divulge so much information at the beginning that your audience doesn’t feel like they need to listen to you for the next half hour.

2. Expose the souls of your listeners with illustrations from movies and novels. Keller is a master at using characters to reveal the human condition. He draws his listeners in with the story, and holds up a mirror that reflects back to them their need for grace through the experiences of the characters. You have to “exegete” the movies you watch in order to do this. Resolve to jot down at least one illustration every time the credits roll at the end of a movie.

3. Deconstruct your church’s idolatry. This is Keller’s specialty. We all believe false “gospels” and trust in false functional “saviors”. We do this when something (often a good thing) in this world becomes most important to us. Show your people how they tend to make idols out of big things like family and career, and less important things like their local sports teams or scrap booking.

4. Preach the gospel in every sermon. Goes without saying, right? Incredibly enough, there have been several occasions where I have downloaded a message from TGC or heard one of its conference speakers in a church context, and the preacher didn’t preach the gospel. I haven’t heard such a message from Keller (maybe I will someday, hopefully not). The grace of Christ is what changes people. The gospel is the power of salvation, both justification and sanctification. Preach the gospel in every sermon!

I’m not telling you to imitate Keller’s preaching. I’m telling you to learn from him. I’m telling you to borrow some tools from his homiletical tool belt and use them to build God’s house in your neck of the woods. Something tells me that Carson would call us a twit if we didn’t do that.


  1. Great blog! Tim Keller also gives some principles on preaching to secular people at: