We spoke to Pastor GUNA RAMAN, CEO of City to City Asia Pacific – sister organisation to the church planting organisation co-founded by #TimothyKeller.
Pastor Guna looks back on his encounters with Pastor Keller, and shares how his personal life and ministry have been profoundly impacted by Keller’s preaching and teaching.
When did you first encounter Pastor Timothy Keller?
My first encounter with Timothy Keller was through his book Counterfeit Gods that I picked up after attending the worship service at Redeemer Presbyterian Church one Sunday morning in 2010.
The book exposed the idols in my heart and I began to see the “sin beneath my sins”, softening my heart to the Gospel again. This led me to hunger for more of Keller’s books and sermons.
I was awed by his ability to so masterfully articulate the Gospel, so much so that every time I read something he wrote or heard him preach, I went away adoring Jesus for His sacrificial work on the Cross.
In 2012, my wife and I went on a sabbatical to New York City (NYC) and we attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Again, sitting under the preaching of Keller was life-altering.
Every Sunday we would come out of the service awed not so much by the man but by the way he took the text and awoke our senses to the beauty and the power of the Gospel.
How did you get involved in City to City (CTC)?
After coming back from the sabbatical in NYC, I became gradually involved in the work of CTC by volunteering my time as regional director for the work in Southeast Asia. This was from 2016 to 2018 while I was still the senior pastor of Agape Baptist Church.
In September 2018, I transited to serving in a full-time capacity as the CEO of City to City Asia Pacific.
How has Pastor Keller personally impacted your life?
Keller was exceedingly sharp, articulate and deeply intellectual. Yet he was unassumingly humble.
It was amazing to me that he was willing to learn from others, and no opinion from anyone was without any value. It put those of us who interacted with him at ease to ask questions and make our thoughts known.
Keller emphasised the importance of listening to others and seeking out diverse perspectives, and he modelled a servant leadership style that I had never seen before in a leader of his calibre.
What was one lesson, principle or teaching from Pastor Keller that stands out to you? Why?
I have more than one.
Keller helped me see cities in a whole new light. According to Keller, the city is a unique and diverse environment that presents both challenges and opportunities for the church. Keller has argued that Christians have a responsibility to engage with the culture around them, to seek the common good, and to work for the flourishing (shalom) of their communities.
This involves a willingness to listen to and learn from people with diverse backgrounds in the city as well as a commitment to addressing issues of inequality, poverty and injustice.
Keller also emphasised the importance of presenting the Gospel in a way that is both intellectually rigorous and culturally relevant to city dwellers. This involves a willingness to engage with difficult questions and objections, as well as a commitment to communicating the Gospel in a way that resonates with the people in our cities.
Keller modelled all this in his preaching and writing, and he inspired a love for the city in many of us. His passion for the gospel and for cities has inspired and empowered countless church planters worldwide to plant churches in an urban context.
And I am honoured to lead that Gospel movement in the Asia Pacific region.
Keller was also huge about contextualisation. He believed that in order to effectively communicate the Gospel message, it is important to understand and engage with the culture and context of the people we are trying to reach.
This means that while we may use different language, illustrations and cultural references to communicate the Gospel, we must always maintain the centrality of Jesus Christ and the message of salvation through faith in Him.
Overall, his approach to contextualisation involves a balance between adapting to the culture and remaining faithful to the Gospel message, while also showing humility and respect for the people and context we are ministering to.
At City to City Asia Pacific, this had led us to work on translating our church planting training into several key languages in Asia, where city leaders are now able to hear the Gospel in their heart language.
Any final comment on the life and legacy of Pastor Timothy Keller?
Keller’s preaching and writing have taught millions of people how to read the Bible and apply the Gospel to every aspect of life.
He often said that the Gospel changes everything. I found that to be so true both in my life and ministry.
I felt a second wind to my life and ministry when my heart was reawakened to the Gospel through the work of Tim Keller.
What a man and what a legacy. It is an honour to have ever known him, to be so profoundly shaped by him, to have laboured alongside him and to have caught the vision that he had for Gospel movements in cities.
Keller’s legacy will continue to bless and inspire future generations for years to come.