An Interview With Keith Mathison

from Sep 30, 2009 Category: Articles

I first came in contact with Keith Mathison while in college. I attended an historically Dispensational college where a giant Clarence Larkin Dispensational chart adorned one of the classrooms. I came across a new book through Tabletalk magazine called Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? published by P&R in 1995 by a guy named Mathison who, I discovered, was a student of the seminary where many of my professors graduated from, namely Dallas Theological Seminary, a seminary known for its Dispensational ways, a seminary, nevertheless, that I held and continue to hold in high esteem on account of its high standards in training its students in biblical languages and exegesis. Though I myself had never come under the influence of the classic Dispensational hermeneutic (thanks largely to my former professor Robert W. Carver from the Bible Presbyterian Church), the book provided me with a helpful introduction to the hermeneutics behind the hermeneutics of classic Dispensationalism. Aside from its ugly cover (perhaps the real secret to the book’s success), the book became a huge influence among many of the students at the college, although it could not be found among the recommended reading lists on professors’ syllabi.

Three years after getting my hands on the book, I met Keith at the 1999 Ligonier Ministries’ national conference. He gave one of the further study seminars on eschatological heresies. When we met he didn’t speak much, but I soon recognized that his reservation wasn’t due to any sort of awkward shyness but because he’s one of the most sincerely humble men I have ever met who honestly thinks he doesn’t really have much to offer others—he reads, researches, and writes for the simple reason that he loves to study the Word of God and the theology of the Word of God. His writing is simply the result of a life consumed by serious and disciplined study that others, by God’s design, have the opportunity to take part in.

In the summer of 1999 when I began my course of study at Reformed Theological Seminary I needed a job, and the best thing I could find was at Ligonier Ministries working in the development department every evening. It was then when I met Keith’s dear wife, Tricia. We worked together for about four months until she informed me that Keith was going to begin working on the newly formed Ligonier School of Theology to write curriculum, and that Ligonier would need to hire someone part time to help fill the gap left by Keith on “frontline” where the toll-free calls come in. She suggested that I might apply for the job, which I did and was hired the next week. For the next year Keith and I shared a desk (we’re both quite clean and organized, so it worked out well), and in 2001 we both went to work in the editorial department of Ligonier Ministries and served as editorial assistants of Tabletalk.

As I continued my course of study in seminary, Keith continued to write book after book providing the church with thoughtful biblico-theological answers to many of the hard questions the church has faced throughout her history. We have worked together now for about a decade, and every day my appreciation of Keith grows. I thank our Lord for entrusting to this servant from a small Texas town with such a scholarly, ecclesiastically focused, and genuinely humble ministry. I sincerely believe that his books will remain on the shelves of serious students of theology for centuries to come, if the Lord should tarry. It is my hope that in this interview you will come to learn from Keith as I have learned from him, to the end that we might grow in wisdom for God’s kingdom and glory, not our own. (For further explanation as to the reason why I have conducted this interview please read my introductory article here.)

Keith A. Mathison (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is the author of Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?; Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope; The Shape of Sola Scriptura; Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper; and From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be?: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible.

Keith, please provide a brief bio of where you’re from and when and how you became a Christian.
I was born in 1967 in Texas City, Texas (site of one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history). I was raised in Alvin, Texas (home of Nolan Ryan and holder of the U.S. 24 hour total rainfall record—43 inches dropped by Tropical Storm Claudette), an event that I vividly remember since it occurred the summer of 1979 before I began seventh grade. The summer after graduating high school, God granted me faith and repentance while I was reading a pocket New Testament given to me by one of the folks from Gideon’s. I was married in June 1990, and I have two children.

What is your list of the top ten books that everyone should read?

  1. John Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  2. Martin Luther - Commentary on Galatians.
  3. Robert Bruce - The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper.
  4. John Owen - The Mortification of Sin.
  5. The Nicene Creed, The Chalcedonian Definition, and either The Three Forms of Unity or The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
  6. F. F. Bruce - The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament.
  7. Geerhardus Vos - The Pauline Eschatology.
  8. Neil Postman - Amusing Ourselves to Death.
  9. J. R. R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings.
  10. Although it’s not a book, I would encourage every Christian to read and re-read John Newton’s letter “On Controversy.”

What are the five most helpful blogs to your life and ministry?
Not in any particular order:

  1. Greenbaggins (Lane Keister)
  2. De Regnis Duobis (Jason Stellman)
  3. Old Life Theological Society (D. G. Hart and John Muether)
  4. Helm’s Deep (Paul Helm)
  5. Between Two Worlds (Justin Taylor)

Name one book you’re currently reading that you think might be helpful for others.
Michael Horton’s The Gospel Driven Life.

What other book(s) are you currently reading?

When did you write your first book and why did you decide to write it?
I wrote my first book not long after transferring from Dallas Theological Seminary to Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando in 1992. I wrote it to summarize the reasons why I could no longer embrace dispensationalism. I wrote it in case any of my friends from Dallas wanted to know why I had rejected dispensationalism. I did not submit it to any publishers at that time. Not long after arriving at RTS in Orlando, I took a job in the seminary bookstore. The manager there, Darren Edgington, read the work and one day when he was on the phone with P&R Publishing, he mentioned it to them. They asked to see it, so after polishing it up a bit, I sent it to them. Some months later I received word that they wanted to publish it. It came out in 1995.

What projects are you working on currently? And what projects do you hope to work on in the near future?
I recently finished a five-year project that resulted in my book From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology. I had intended for that book to contain three major sections. The first would work through all of Scripture, tracing the eschatological themes of the Bible book by book. The second would trace the history of the church’s thinking about eschatology from the first century to the present. The third section would then pull everything together systematically. In the process of writing, it soon became evident that the first section was going to be quite long. After discussing this with the publisher, it was decided to have the first section be a stand-alone volume to be followed, perhaps, by the other two. In short, one project I hope to work on in the near future is what was originally intended to be section two of the book: an overview of the history of eschatology in the church. Another issue I continue to research is something I discussed briefly in my book Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. In that book, I mentioned the debate over the Lord’s Supper between the theologians Charles Hodge of Princeton and John Williamson Nevin of Mercersburg. The Mercersburg theology caused quite a controversy in the nineteenth century on several fronts. I am interested in studying this controversy in its historical and ecclesiastical context to see how it may be instructive to the church in the 21st century.

What is something that many books or writers are lacking today?
This is a difficult question to answer because I see many things lacking in my own writing. Anything I might say critical of other books and authors likely applies to me as well. I aspire for several things in my writing, but I am well aware that I often fall short of my own goals. If I may put it like this, there are very few authors who recognize that there is an aesthetic element to the craft of writing. It becomes painfully evident, however, when you read those authors who are aware of it. There are certain writers who simply have a way with words. They know how to turn a phrase, and they are a delight to read. Consider G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis, H.L. Mencken, Flannery O’Connor and the like. These writers are not thinking only of what they say when they write but also of how they say it. In the fields I study regularly there are some authors who simply stand out because of their way with words. I think of men such as Alec Motyer, Sinclair Ferguson, T. D. Alexander, Peter Brown, and Carl Trueman. These men write books with substantive content, but they have also learned how to use the English language to communicate their ideas in a way that is not ugly or tiresome. Stay tuned tomorrow for part two of this interview