Celebrating 25 Years of Ministry: An Interview with Dr. Keith Essex

July 10, 2017

Dr. Keith Essex, Associate Professor of Bible Exposition, has given 25 years of his life and experience to TMS. After a quarter-century of faithful service, Assistant Professor of Bible Exposition, Dr. Mark Zhakevich sat down to ask Dr. Essex what he’s learned, his perspective of the seminary, and what he’s looking forward to in the next chapter of his life.

(M.Z.): How does it feel to be done after 25 years of teaching at TMS?

(K.E.): To a certain extent it hasn’t become experiential. I am sure it’s going to hit in September when I’m not teaching. In the meantime, it’s just a normal summer for me. The Lord intervened when I had a surgery so I’ve been basically out of commission for about five weeks. Because of that, the impact of being done has not really hit me.

My wife and I went out on Thursday she asked, “Well how does it feel to be retired?” because Friday officially was my last day. And I said, “Well it just hasn’t hit yet.” She just turned 70 on June 21st and she said, “For the first time in my life, I feel old”. That’s probably what I have to look forward to. Now that I have a wife who feels old, I’m probably going to feel older now, too.

(M.Z.): But what’s next? I know that you are not going to just sit around and get old.

(K.E.): Well, I still have work to finish off as far as some of the D.Min. projects. I’ve got five students that I’ll be advising next year. Nathan Busenitz has asked if I will consider to come back in the spring and teach one course. If that can fit into the schedule I will be willing to do so, and then finally I’ll get back to my main script on Ezra and Nehemiah.

(M.Z.): What’s the tentative goal for that?

(K.E) My tentative goal is by the end of the year, and I’ve only got about five chapters left of 23 and then, of course, a total re-write along with the editor from Kress. When it will see the actual publication, I don’t know at this point, but I’ll be working hard on it once I get back from Europe in September.

(M.Z.): What would you say is the overarching emphasis or theme of Ezra and Nehemiah summarized in a sentence?

(K.E.): Well, I take the position that fits into the theology of the Old Testament and shows that post-exilic Israel was still disobedient to God through their response to the Mosaic Covenant, even though God had shown Himself and a new way faithful to the Abrahamic covenant by bringing the remnant back. That’s crystallized in the song in Nehemiah chapter nine. God has been faithful to the covenant and has been faithful to Israel, yet Israel remains unfaithful to Him just like their history continues on into that post-exilic generation.

(M.Z.): You have a heart and a commitment to not just England, but international alumni. Do you foresee any specific engagement with those men whether it’s in England or elsewhere?

(K.E.): Well, at this point I see myself as a helper. I will be in Europe again in August—going both to Switzerland and back to Italy. It’s my fourth time in Italy with Italian Theological Academy, in Messina, with Johnny Gravino, and I know they are starting to expand.

Johnny would like me to be more involved there. I know that Martin, very quickly, though were just flying through on the way to Italy, said they would love to have me there for a week to see their ministry. Louise and I are more than happy to be used in any way that the Lord sees fit. I know there’s been talk of a training center—where that may or may not end as far as the UK is concerned is out of my hands. I am ready to talk when anybody is ready to talk.

(M.Z.): How long have you been passionate about the UK?

(K.E.): My passion for the UK came back in 2008. That was the first time I went back to my hometown after 44 years. I hadn’t been there since I was 17 years of age.

It’s a town called Desborough, it’s about 80 miles north of London in the Midlands and I still have an aunt and cousin there. My aunt actually lives in town and my cousin lives in the bigger town about six miles away. It’s where God just said, “This is home.” Even my wife was astounded how much I remembered. I was actually born in the town. We were actually able to go into the house where I was born and the room I was born.

Even though I had moved close to 50 years ago, from there to the U.S., Desborough was still home. I just said, “Well, whatever time I have left, I don’t know what it looks like, but you could use me here.” Like any Christian, you’re really challenged by the fact that the UK is really a post-Christian culture way beyond where we are in the United States.

And then when I got back, the men from Britain started having their weekly breakfasts to start talking about ministry in England. They invited me to be a part of them and we continued them. In fact, we’ve had those breakfasts with British students all the way through last semester. We still have the British students in our home and we talk about ministry in the UK.

When Grace Life London was set up and Tom and Ross determined they needed some external elders, I was invited to be one of the four external elders and saw that as God opening the door. Since then I’ve been going to the UK two or three times a year to be involved as an external elder.

We do four meetings a year by Skype, but to actually be there has been a tremendous help to the church. Being a very young church, Louise and I have become the church grandparents. They all look to us as the mature grandparent-type couple that is part of the church. We usually worship at Grace Life London for about half a dozen to eight Sundays a year.

(M.Z.): Do you have a favorite Premier League team?

(K.E.): [laughs] No I really don’t. It’s very interesting, two years ago, when I was growing up in the Midlands, the closest to what is now Premier League team was Leicester City. My dad and granddad would take me to one game a year at Leicester where I could go see whoever I wanted to see. At that point, Leicester had the England goalkeeper. That was my position that I played as a kid. I always sat behind the goal because it was the cheapest seats. So I got to see Reggie Mathews for 45 minutes.

Then, of course, I would go see whoever the star was that I wanted to see—Arsenal, Manchester United, etcetera—but it was always Leicester. Actually, it was one of those British breakfasts a year ago in fall that, I think it was Leon Coates, he realized that Leicester is about seven points ahead in the Premier League. He said, “Leicester is always at the bottom. Leicester’s never been any good.”

This is the closest Premier League team—I know how bad they are. Of course it was a Cinderella year and of course last year they almost got relegated. I think they were third from the bottom, almost just did eek out staying in. It was a Cinderella year and everybody else had it down year, so those of us who’ve been Leicester’s supporters for very many years had our century year in the sun. It’ll never happen again in my lifetime.

And I ministered in Leicester and got a very close British couple at Melbourne Hall, where F. B. Meyer ministered. We ministered in that church a number of times. He just retired so I don’t know whether that will continue or not. I was actually in Leicester just as they put all the banners out and everything for winning the league. So I got to be there for the celebration.

(M.Z.): Focusing on TMS little bit again, what is your favorite memory in the 25 years you’ve dedicated?

(K.E.): Well, the favorite memory always is interaction with the students. I would probably telescope 25 years worth of discipleship labs because that’s where you really get to know the students. As fulfilling as it is to be in the classroom and teaching, the greater fulfillment I think in my life and the grads I tend to be closest to as they have gone out in the ministry are those that I had in D-Labs and stayed in contact with. For me, the main purpose of the D-Lab is for students to get to know the professors and for professors to get to know students.

That has really happened over the years that I’ve been there. That in many ways is my favorite memory. One of my first D.Min. projects was actually evaluating the D-Labs and it was exciting. When I was doing it at fraternity, I found out that when I went back the next summer all the faculty knew me because the director made available my project to all the faculties, saying, “We should be doing something like this ourselves.” I think I would say that is my fondest memory, just the two hours a week I spent with men around a table interacting, praying, sharing etcetera.

(M.Z.): How can a new student maximize his time at TMS? (We’ll probably have 100 students coming in this fall.)

(K.E.): Well, number one you have to devote yourself to the courses. That’s the number one reason you’re here. To maximize the experience is to put total effort into every class. Not just your favorites, but also the ones that are not. Just give it 110%. Second of all is being involved in ministry. Better to take a year longer to get through school to make sure that you’re doing ministry. Then talking about the D-Labs, you can’t get to know every professor well, but you can get to know one well. I would tell the students to have their antenna up during their first couple years and see if there is a bond that grows between them and a faculty member.

Now obviously, for almost 10 years now, it has been automatic for us to be very close to the men from the families that come from England. Seminary Wives has been faithful in the very first year for English ladies. They basically get put in my wife’s seminary wives group just because Louise has that connection now with Britain.

I will say those are the three things. Give it all you got as far as academics, be involved in ministry, and third of all pray you can develop a close relationship with one faculty while you’re here.

(M.Z.): As you look back, everything is in your rear-view mirror for now. What are you praying for TMS?

(K.E.): I’ll pray that the Lord will continue to keep TMS faithful to the task for which God has raised it up. I’m one who realizes that we are dealing with new realities as far as the culture is concerned. But I don’t want to stand on the sideline and be a critic. I want to be there to encourage and help in any way that I can. I just think in terms of how Dr. Rosscup embraced me when I first came. I was just a neophyte, almost kid, at 45 and really didn’t know anything about being a seminary professor. He allowed me to be me and was very accepting as he prayed for me and encouraged me.

I would want to do the same because obviously, we’re going to have quite a contingent of younger seminary professors now. Dr. Busenitz was talking about Nate last week when we had lunch and said, “You realize he’s taking over as Dean of the Faculty at 39 years of age.” That’s exactly how old I was when I was sent out here right around when the seminary started. We have to realize that a lot of the young men are now where we were 25 to 30 years ago—31 years ago when TMS started. So in thinking through some of the ways we were encouraged and discipled by the older men, I would like to be used similarly.

(M.Z.): Thank you for your time, Dr. Essex. And thank you for your impact on TMS and on me, specifically.

Thank you, Dr. Essex, for your many years of faithful service to TMS. We are so grateful for your ministry to us and pray that the Lord blesses your future ministry endeavors.




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