Rev Principal W Gordon Campbell
Gordon began working life as a modern languages teacher. Following theological studies at Union, …View all articles
Could Desi really be sixty-five?
I can imagine this question on the lips of almost anyone who knows Dr T. Desmond Alexander (Desi), whose youthful looks, characteristic energy or ease in using new technologies all belie the passage of time. Nonetheless, a set of essays just published in Desi’s honour - The Seed of Promise - confirms that the answer is “yes”, having been produced to mark his attainment of that very milestone.
The editors of this collection of essays, and all contributors, are to be congratulated for managing to keep the venture a surprise, until they could spring it on Desi (to his delight) at the point of publication. The conversation that took place when the good news broke is available to watch here.
Desi once supervised the PhD projects of the volume’s two editors, Rita Cefalu and Paul Williamson, while former students are also to be found among the fifteen other contributors. Their essays sample continuities and connexions in the Canon arising from the seed and display patient and probing approaches to Scripture. Together, they testify variously to the influence of Desi’s scholarship and discipleship “in shaping [their] spiritual formation as biblical theologians,” as the editors’ preface to this collection nicely puts it, and to multiple scenarios of mentoring, collegiality or friendship.
Biblical theology - with which much of Desi’s own work is synonymous - carefully accounts for the big-picture dynamics and grand organic themes that emerge and evolve in Scripture. One such dynamic, which proves to be programmatic in its potential, is precisely the seed (or offspring/progeny) of promise, planted in Gen 3.15, with the Sufferings and Glory of the Messiah (the book’s sub-title) a related subtheme that snakes (!) its way onwards through the Canon. A majority of the essays trace its developmental shoots through a range of Old Testament texts, while the remainder pursue them into the New. All, in one way or another, model a biblical-theological approach to their topic and text(s). While a blog-post is no vehicle for surveying seventeen essays, let alone engaging significantly with any of them, I can perhaps give a flavour.
In following where the promise leads, the direction taken by Old Testament explorers is sometimes what might be expected. This includes early meanders of curse and blessing through Genesis itself, excursions by biblical authors among ambiguous figures of promise in Israel’s evolving story, like judges or kings - from the “greatest”, Solomon, to a “loser”, Jehoiachin - or weighing the subtleties of Isaiah’s view of human kingship. Some trajectories, however, are less obvious, as when readers are helped to ponder characters’ generosity and faithfulness in Ruth, or to reflect on how Psalms may and must be reread in light of Jesus - at once their interpreter and, sometimes, fulfiller - or to correlate multifaceted wisdom, and the wisdom literature, with redemption and with Messiah.
As for the New Testament, one essay expounds Mark’s Transfiguration account in terms of the twin themes of glory and suffering, while another examines the Johannine texts (notably use of seed in Jn 7 - 8) and their use of cosmic drama, predicated on the enmity between seed and serpent. Consideration was sure to be given to Rom 16.20, as the only explicit NT echo of Gen 3.15, although the conclusion was not foregone that Romans’ own big themes turn out to be neatly summarised therein. Where one might also have expected a walk in Galatians 3, other essayists instead take us by the arm to revisit Peter’s speeches in Acts 2 - 3 redemptive-historically, or examine Hebrews’ take on Melchizedek (in Heb 7) as creative biblical theology in its own right.
For honouring Desi’s achievements in the sphere of biblical theology, there may be no better way than to draw collective inspiration from his work and to emulate it by following the biblical-theological trail he has blazed. This, the contributors to The Seed of Promise succeed in doing. Personally, I have enjoyed dipping into my copy of this fitting and fruitful tribute to my colleague Desi Alexander and his work. For any who might want to explore further Desi’s own scholarship, the volume even includes a handy, select bibliography of his work. Enjoy!