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Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: An interview with Craig S. Keener

Not all biblical scholarship today is God-honoring—some scholars do not even have the basic wisdom that starts with the fear of the Lord. But God does raise up teachers and scholars, and we should not be afraid of finding out the best tools available to help us understand the Greek, Hebrew, and background when we need them. Many evangelical groups tend to be ahead of Pentecostals and charismatics in this regard, but many Pentecostals and charismatics today are learning from their evangelical siblings where to locate the best in biblical research tools.


Do you find that there are certain blind spots that Western Christians have when they read the Bible?

Craig Keener: I could have spent the entire interview on this one question. After the industrial revolution western society became distant from many cultural assumptions shared by most cultures in history, including in biblical times. My experiences in Africa have taught me things about how babies are born, goats are herded, soil is ploughed with old-fashioned hoes, and so forth, that brought me closer to the world of the Bible.

But being in other cultures also brings us face to face with the limited ways we understand the Bible. Too often we just assume that a text cannot mean something because “nobody we know” (i.e., in our culture) takes it that way. In different parts of the world, the church has different blind spots, and we need each other’s eyes to see them. When Jesus told His disciples to forsake everything and care for the poor (Luke 12:33; 14:33), I suspect that He meant something more radical than just giving ten percent to the church on Sunday and thinking our job is done. Really hearing Scripture means being willing to press beyond our comfort zones; to genuinely pursue wisdom, we have to genuinely fear God enough to go where He leads us.

I lived and taught for four months in an area of northern Nigeria where Islamic jihadists targeted and slaughtered pastors, and as many people died over the course of that year as in our Twin Towers on Sept. 11, though Western media apart from Christianity Today mostly ignored it. When Christians there read passages about dying for Christ, they have to take them seriously and count the cost of being Jesus’ disciples. “Taking up the cross” to follow Jesus is no longer just putting up with ingrown toenails.

My wife spent 18 months as a war refugee in a forest in Central Africa a few years ago. After the Rwandan genocide of 1994 the entire region was destabilized, though media in the United States largely ignored it until recently. It’s estimated that 3.5 million people have died; millions of born-again, Spirit-filled Christians there are suffering because of war and everything that comes with it (like famine, cholera, and malaria). We have much we could learn from our brothers and sisters who have suffered deeply, and there are many ways we could serve them. Suffering churches resemble the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation, whereas churches more tempted with compromise with the world’s values resemble more closely Sardis and Laodicea. Each church had different tests, but all were called to overcome. My prayer is that we and our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world will listen to and learn from each other as one body of Christ. We each have blind spots, which is why we all need one another’s eyes. Then, together, we can approach Scripture with fresh eyes and ears and “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”




Interviewer John P. Lathrop in March 2007.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2007

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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