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CBC/AGTS alumni perspective: Craig Keener

Name: Craig Keener

Graduation Year (CBC): 1982 Major: Bible

Graduation Year (AGTS): 1985, 1987 Major: Biblical languages; MDiv

Current Position: F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary

City and State: Wilmore, Kentucky

Tell us about your career and what you do now.

After AGTS, I went on to Duke for my Ph.D., also doing campus ministry while there. For many years, while studying, I felt that I had nothing to show for my labors, but God had a long-range plan in mind. Now I teach New Testament for masters and Ph.D. students from a range of denominations. Also, I research and write, with 22 books published so far (altogether more than a million copies sold, over half of those being, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament). Five of the books have won awards in Christianity Today, and a study Bible, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, for which I wrote the New Testament notes won Bible of the Year in last year’s Christian Book Awards as well as the Religion: Christianity Book of the Year in last year’s International Book Awards. Besides works related to the theme of the Spirit, in support of women in ministry, and so forth, I have written several commentaries (4 volumes on Acts; 2 on John; and 1-volume commentaries on Matthew, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Revelation, and a forthcoming one on Galatians). I am also a newly elected Vice President of the Evangelical Theological Society.

What is your favorite memory from CBC?

Am I the only one who would have trouble narrowing this down? To name a few, leading people to Christ on the street with my friend Bruce Kinabrew, especially on Impact teams, prophecies in chapel, and listening to God speak in class through Opal Reddin, or Ben Aker, or my other teachers from those years. Lately, though, I think of the times of the outpouring of the Spirit where days were spent seeking God in special ways … back then I thought that was just “normal” but I often serve in circles now that have never seen yet long for such experiences of the Spirit.

What is your favorite memory from AGTS?

Again there are so many, such as times of prayer in the Spirit with friends, the privilege of studying with my wonderful professors, and so on. Yet ironically, what first comes to my mind right now are times of deep brokenness, when I experienced the comfort of God in an inexplicable way. Probably nothing ever drew me closer to God than the experience of His intimacy and comfort in the midst of sorrow—especially the Lord’s reminder that He knew our pain, and had come to embrace our pain. There is just no one like Jesus!

How did CBC help you identify/develop your calling?

The Lord often gave me direction as I was praying there, but I will focus here on one aspect of how He shaped my calling at CBC. When I first came, I planned to attend for just two years; I knew the Lord wanted me to study Greek and Hebrew. I knew that God was calling me to call His people back to Scripture, but I did not really know what that meant. I assumed that meant I would travel from one church to another as a guest preacher. However, what I would often hear in prayer, I would then hear the next week in class as Ben Aker shared exegetical insights. I learned new ways of delving into Scripture and realized that a Bible professor could help equip so many ministers who would, in turn, equip others. This role might be in the “background,” but it seemed a fuller way to fulfill my calling. As I prayed, I felt led to continue my studies at CBC, and eventually went on to AGTS and then a Ph.D. at Duke University. Through writing, I have found that I can serve the church even more widely. God has blessed my life beyond measure, and many key aspects of my direction began at CBC. P.S., thousands of the references in my academic books come from notes I took while reading in the CBC and AGTS libraries.

How did AGTS help you identify/develop your calling?

AGTS provided a refreshing integration of Word and Spirit, of academic study and concern for practical ministry. While at CBC, there times I felt as if such goals were in conflict as many of us students spent too much time arguing with each other over fine points of doctrine. By the time we got to seminary, most of us were more mature and had experienced enough of the real challenges of ministering to people’s hurts that we were desperate for whatever our professors and fellow students could teach us! One crucial and unexpected change in my direction came as I felt led to do the missions major in the MDiv. I had no idea at the time how that would shape my subsequent years in cross-cultural ministry, and ultimately even my marriage (my wife, Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, is from Congo-Brazzaville, where she was also a refugee for 18 months, discussed in our nonacademic book, Impossible Love).

What advice would you give a current student preparing for the workforce?

Although I am a professor, I know firsthand that academic learning provides only partial preparation for ministry. Everyone God calls faces testing, sometimes very hard testing (some of it mentioned in Impossible Love). The Lord is worthy of our trust even in the hardest of times; those are the times when (contrary to what we feel) our faith grows most. God often does things quite differently from what we expect, but He is always faithful, and He always deserves our trust.

What would you look for if you were in a position to hire a new graduate?

A humble man or woman of God. The fear of the Lord produces humility, and God is near the humble, who are always ready to learn from His Spirit and His Word.