My interest in the Hebrew Bible (First Testament, which Christians usually call “the Old Testament”) was sparked by the ministry of a pastor during my days as a student at the University of Saskatchewan. Rev. Henry Harder had left a seminary professorship in Old Testament (his expression) in California to pastor our church of about 300 members in northern Saskatchewan. As God’s instrument, he inspired me to devote my life to the study of the Scriptures for the glory of God, for the building up of his church, and for the advance of biblical knowledge. For the past thirty years, I have had the supreme delight of sharing the word of God with students in four institutions, seeking to challenge them to fulfill in their own lives the motto of Wheaton College: “For Christ and His Kingdom.” It has been a special joy to watch as young biblical scholars, who often took introductory courses in the First Testament only because they were required to do so by the curriculum, suddenly awaken to the fact that the First Testament is understandable and that its message is both life-giving and relevant to for everyday life, even in the 21st century.
The paradigm for my own research and ministry was set by Ezra, as described in Ezra 7:10: “He committed himself to the study the Torah of Yahweh, to put it into practice, and to teach his revealed will in Israel.” This statement requires us constantly to ask serious questions of the Scriptures: What does the text say? Why does the text say it like that? What did the text mean to the original audience? What does the text have to say to me today? To answer these questions we need to understand both the worlds out of which the biblical texts arose and the worlds in which we moderns live.
Although both Ellen (my wife) and I were nurtured in the faith in a Mennonite Brethren context, for the last five decades we have had the joy of fellowship and ministry in Evangelical Free, Plymouth Brethren, Anglican, Baptist General Conference, Evangelical Covenant, Southern Baptist, and independent congregations, most recently College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Everywhere we have been inspired by people who are hungry for the life-giving word of God, eager to serve him, and serious about integrating their faith with their daily lives. It has been a high honor in the last chapter of my official scholarly career to work with the faculty of Wheaton College in training young people for this very purpose.
In addition to speaking in churches, teaching in formal classroom situations, and mentoring students who were pursuing Masters and Doctoral degrees, we have had the delight of preaching and teaching in many churches around the world. In north American contexts, I have found weekend seminars on such topics as “Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship,” “Resurrecting the First Testament,” and “Rediscovering the Gospel according to Moses” to be particularly satisfying. From the time we first met, Ellen and I have also been concerned about the broader world. In recent years I have had the privilege of lecturing and preaching in England, Russia, Denmark, China, Greece, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kenya, Australia, and of course, Canada, the land of our births.
However, our lives have involved more than research, writing, teaching, and preaching. When I have needed a break from my studies or the pressures of teaching, I have found my greatest joys in visiting our children and grandchildren in British Columbia, Germany, and wherever else they have lived. And yes, having grown up on a farm in northern Saskatchewan—where it was always “all hands on deck”—I have also found considerable satisfaction in home improvement projects. But nothing is more therapeutic than gardening, creating a miniature paradise in the little corner of the world in which we live. Having been placed on God’s good earth to represent him and tend his creation for its well-being and for his glory, this too is an expression of worship and devotion to God.