Aug 13, 2012

From Eden to Sinai and Beyond: An Interview with T.D. Alexander

5 Min Read

Dr. T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College and associate director for Post-graduate Studies in the Institute of Theology at Queen's University, Belfast. He currently chairs the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological Research, as well as Southern Theological Seminaries, a UK based charity committed to the establishment of a centre for theological education and vocational training in the south of Argentina. He is the author of numerous books, including From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch; From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology; The Servant King: The Bible's Portrait of the Messiah; and Discovering Jesus: Why Four Gospels? He is the co-editor of the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch and the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

Dr. Alexander will be teaching "Issues in Biblical Studies: Theological Trajectories From Eden to Sinai and Beyond" for the Ligonier Academy Doctor of Ministry program the week of January 28 – February 1, 2013. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

Keith Mathison: Tell us a little about yourself. Did you grow up in a Christian family? Or were you converted at a later age?

T.D. Alexander: I was born into a family that had strong Christian convictions running throughout it. While I remember little of my father, who died when I was six years old, I was influenced profoundly by my mother and my father's parents, who lived nearby. In particular, my grandfather, as a man of sincere Christian faith, had an immense impact upon me as a person. He farmed a small holding in an area of Ulster dominated by Presbyterians, who had migrated there centuries before. As an elder and Sunday School teacher, he lived out his faith with both humility and consistency. While a personal commitment to Christ flowed through his veins, like many within this Ulster-Scots culture, he shied away from ostentatious displays of religious convictions. Not surprisingly, I imbibed much of the Christian faith in my youth. Yet, it was only in my mid-teens that I personally appreciated the significance of what Christ did for me through his sacrificial death. Suddenly, the faith that had nurtured me took on an entirely new meaning; I became a new creature in Christ.

Keith Mathison:How are you presently serving the church with your gifts?

T.D. Alexander: This is not an easy question to answer concisely. Picking up on the reference to gifts, I suppose that I would see my service within the church as focusing largely on teaching. Recognizing that God by his grace gives different gifts to different people and that such gifts can never be earned, experience (and hopefully proficiency) suggest that one of my God-given grace-gifts is teaching. Through a remarkable series of twists and turns God directed my paths into university teaching and made it possible for me to lecture in Semitic Studies for nineteen years. Teaching Hebrew and Biblical Studies in a secular environment was both challenging and liberating. During that period God opened doors to engage in writing and editing projects that permitted me to contribute positively, I hope, in the field of biblical studies. I count myself extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to spend so much of my time studying and writing about the Bible.

Keith Mathison: You have titled your upcoming class "Theological Trajectories from Eden to Sinai and Beyond." For any pastors who may be considering the Doctor of Ministry program, can you summarize what you plan to cover in this class?

T.D. Alexander: This class is designed to explore how the books of Genesis and Exodus provide a foundation for understanding the rest of the Bible. Many years ago, I became convinced that the book of Genesis lays the foundation for understanding how messianic thinking is developed in the Old Testament. At the heart of this is the genealogical structure of Genesis, which anticipates the establishment of a royal dynasty. More recently, I've been impressed by the importance of the concept of sacred city and how this both links together the opening chapters of Genesis with the final chapters of Revelation and connects with much material in between. Another concept that has taken on additional significance in my thinking is the Passover and its importance as a paradigm for divine salvation. Hopefully, in the class we shall explore in some detail how these, and other concepts, emerge as important ideas in Genesis and Exodus, and how they are developed as we move through the rest of the Bible.

Keith Mathison: Why would it be helpful for pastors to take a class on this subject?

T.D. Alexander: The more I have worked on Genesis and Exodus, the more I have become convinced that they set the agenda for the rest of Scripture. Unfortunately, while something of this is generally appreciated by most preachers, the full richness of these books tends to be overlooked. I very much hope that by concentrating on them, not only will class participants understand these two books better, but by tracing the trajectory of themes found in them through the rest of Scripture, fresh insights will be thrown on other biblical books, not least John's Gospel. The overall emphasis in the class is to help preachers have a better grasp of how biblical authors communicate their message through narrative texts and how we can best grasp the big picture of the Bible. I very much hope that this particular approach will unlock a much deeper understanding of biblical theology, which in turn will impact how pastors preach.

Keith Mathison: Do you have any words of encouragement for the many pastors who read our blog?

T.D. Alexander: After almost of forty years of studying Scripture, I still find myself making fresh discoveries as I struggle to understand the Bible better. While there is much to be learned from evangelical scholars of past generations, by standing on their shoulders we may sometimes see things that they missed. There are new insights to be gleaned from the careful study of the Bible. There is no quick way to a deeper knowledge of God's truth. Never assume that you have exhausted the interpretation of biblical texts and always be open to the possibility that God may wish to show you something new from Scripture. Importantly, constantly seek to grapple with the whole of Scripture, not just those books or texts that appeal especially to you. In doing so, live out what Scripture teaches. As Paul reminds Timothy, "All Scripture" is God-breathed in order to equip us for good works. As the old saying puts it: apply yourself to the whole of Scripture and apply the whole of Scripture to yourself.