Phillips was employed by the Times from 1952 to 1973 and legendary for a much-admired stylistic flair to his reporting, the newspaper noted, before leaving journalism for a life spreading the message of Christianity.
Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of the newspaper, referred to Phillips in a memoir as "the most original stylist I've ever edited."
Phillips often included wry comments in his articles, including one about participants in New York City's 1961 St. Patrick's Day parade: "It seemed they marched from Midtown to exhaustion."
His most famous story came in 1965 and involved Daniel Burros, 28, Grand Dragon of the New York State Ku Klux Klan and former official in the American Nazi Party. Phillips wrote, after rigorous research, that Burros was Jewish, a former Hebrew school student who was bar mitzvahed at age 13.
Burros threatened to kill Phillips if the expose was published, but instead committed suicide the day it was a Page 1 story, the Times said.
Phillips helped found the New Testament Missionary Fellowship, a Pentecostal congregation in Manhattan, and wrote several books about his life in journalism and religion.