Kenneth Turner – Faculty Spotlight
If you’ve taken any introduction religion classes, chances are you have had a class with Dr. Kenneth Turner. Dr. Turner joined TFC in 2016 and teaches Hebrew, all things Old Testament and some New Testament classes. I recently sat down with him to discuss his most recent work, a commentary on the book of Habakkuk.
What led you to do the commentary on Habakkuk? “The publisher is Zondervan, and the general editor is my mentor and I’d gone to school with several of the other editors, so I was asked to participate and invited to be part of the project. I knew it would become the biggest thing on my resume and it was a daunting task. Of the options presented to me, I chose Habakkuk because it was short…so it would be easier!” (laughs) “Not realizing it was at the far end of the Hebrew poetry continuum that makes it very difficult. I feel like I went back and did another Ph.D. in the study of Hebrew poetry because it’s not an area where there’s a scholarly consensus of how to approach it. How to determine breaks and stanzas. It’s all very technical and difficult, and it affects interpretation. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. It’s been a challenge and a good learning lesson. I’ll be very interested to see the audience for the commentary because it is so heavily based in Hebrew. It will get used by some pastors and students, but the bigger audience will more likely be other scholars and Bible translators.”
How long have you been working on this? “Technically, for 4 – 4 ½ years.”
What’s one thing that has stood out to you, more than anything else that you would want to share with someone? “When I teach Introduction to Old Testament classes, and we get to the prophets, I tell students it’s a tough part of the Old Testament to teach because Christians struggle with several issues. Because it is so dense and tied to historical circumstances, if you don’t even know what century it is, or specific kings or specific events it’s really hard. It’s not like the Psalms or Proverbs where you can read it and appropriate it. So we either ignore it, or we go looking for a few verses that might apply to Jesus which are really rare, or we’ll be sloppy and force a verse to say something that it doesn’t. The downside to that is you’re missing a big part of the Bible. But we also don’t know what a prophet is because there’s this belief that prophets were stalwarts of faith with backbones of steel, but that’s not the case. One of the values of reading the prophets is seeing the prophets themselves and how God interacted with them; as professionals, as servants, and as human beings. They struggled, they complained, they didn’t understand God, they challenged Him, and Habakkuk takes that to a new level. It’s been interesting to live alongside Habakkuk the man and see his own transformation of faith. That’s one of the lessons of the book is he becomes an object lesson. Habakkuk, kind of like Job, is the kind of lesson I can enter into. It’s the nitty-gritty of real life. It’s not a Hallmark card.”
Habakkuk is a short, often overlooked book of the Bible. What do you think readers miss when they ignore the book? “To repeat, I think seeing the process of faith and not jumping to the end and not dismissing the questions and complaints to God because those themselves are valuable. Knowing the Bible says to do everything without grumbling or arguing, but we also have a book called Lamentations and half the Psalms are laments from people who are struggling. Another thing I learned through this is reading Habakkuk on its own terms rather than making it sound like Isaiah or Jeremiah is an important way to think about reading the Bible and applying it. He doesn’t say things the same way. Who are the righteous versus the wicked? Habakkuk shows these guys had their own voices and their own angles. The value in that is that we don’t have to pit the Old Testament against the New Testament. Jesus isn’t Plan B because Plan A failed. Habakkuk shows an interest in all humanity that is quite unusual. There’s a unity of the gospel, and there are no contradictions. Habakkuk is a minor prophet, and if we truly believe all scripture is inspired and is useful, it’s not hard to find the usefulness in Habakkuk, and it’s certainly applicable.”
It was a pleasure to spend the morning speaking with Dr. Turner about his work, and I highly encourage anyone else to take the same opportunity. You will find yourself equally enthralled by his research. Dr. Turner received his Ph.D. and Masters of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. It was there he met his wife, Raegan, with whom he has five children. They currently live in Clarkesville, GA and he enjoys spending time with his family, sports, research, and writing.