Dr. John Kessler’s 'Magnum Opus'

Friday, November 1, 2013

Old Testament Theology - Dr. John KesslerDr. John Kessler has been an Old Testament professor at Tyndale Seminary since 1992. He holds a Conjoint Doctorate from the Sorbonne University (Paris IV) and the Catholic University of Paris. He has produced two monographs, one co-edited volume and numerous articles relating to the Old Testament. One of these is his recent book, Old Testament Theology: Divine Call and Human Response (Baylor University Press, 2013). Considered by some to be his ‘magnum opus,’ the book is an expanded version of the course ‘Old Testament Theology and History’ which Dr. Kessler has taught numerous times over the years.

Dr. Kessler takes a distinctive approach to his subject. Whereas many works of Old Testament Theology are structured according to the “covenants” or “individual topics” within the Old Testament, Dr. Kessler organizes his text according to the qualities and characteristics which God desires humankind to manifest as they live in relationship to Him. He states “the book is profoundly relational in that it is centred on the question of how God calls people to live in relationship to Himself, to fellow members of the community, to all humankind, and to the creation.”

A second distinctive of the book is Kessler’s emphasis on the presence of various kinds or patterns of “relational response” contained within the Old Testament. He notes, “Many readers expect the Old Testament to say the same thing on every page. This is not the case. The Old Testament contains a number of differing portraits of life lived in relationship with God.” Kessler delimits various “theological streams” (groups of texts which manifest a similar vocabulary and outlook) and notes the “relational response”—the values, virtues, character traits and patterns of life –emphasized by each one. Kessler argues that the various streams function much like parts in a symphony. At times one stands as a “counterpoint” to another. He stresses that hearing the individual and distinctive contribution of each part, powerfully enables the reader of the Old Testament to appreciate its message as a whole.

Although an academic work, Dr. Kessler’s book is refreshingly practical. Dr. Kessler states “what people need to learn to look for in the Old Testament is not primarily the external forms – the names, places, or kings or cities – but rather the patterns of “relational response” being emphasized in any given text.” Thus, at the end of his discussion of the various “theological streams” he includes a section on “New Testament resonances” to help readers appropriate and reframe a given Old Testament stream for their life today.

Dr. Kessler has written the book with two types of readers in mind: students and scholars. Either way, the book is for serious students of Old Testament theology. His hope is that the book will make a significant contribution to the teaching of Old Testament theology in seminaries across Canada and around the world, as well as to life of the people of God.


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