[In 1959, Ian S. Kemp had received an invitation from the then principal of Union Biblical Seminary, Dr. Frank Kline, to join the faculty of the seminary in Yavatmal. In the same year, he reached India from New Zealand and, in 1960, started teaching New Testament and Biblical Preaching. This continued until he returned back to his home country in 1979. He gained his degrees from University of New Zealand and Regents Park College (UK). His four years of classical Greek learning at The University of New Zealand inspired him to take up New Testament studies later on. He co-authored a commentary with Jey J. Kanagaraj, entitled The Gospel according to John (Asia Bible Commentary Series, 2000). Currently, he resides in Auckland, New Zealand. Ian Kemp kindly offered to drink a nice cup of Indian coffee with me, and share a few thoughts about how he, as a scholar from New Zealand, reflects on some of the important issues.]
Question: Kemp, you taught New Testament and Biblical Preaching in UBS for about twenty years. I also heard that you were/are a very good expository preacher. May you share with us a few important things we need to be cautious of when preaching from the Bible?
Kemp: Interesting question. I may suggest the following things as key factors when somebody prepares a sermon from the Bible: firstly, know the context of the text; don’t take the text out of the context; secondly, ask the chosen passage certain leading questions for answer; thirdly, understand the text properly within the immediate and larger contexts; fourthly, write down some of the leading ideas from the passage; fifthly, group the ideas into a logical order; sixthly, write a proposition (i.e., the essence of the message in one sentence); seventhly, outline the sermon; and eighthly, apply the sermon into the contemporary context. Moreover, it is preferable to add certain practical examples into the sermon so that the preacher may be able to interlock the hearers into her/his preaching. If there is no initiative to apply the message into the contemporary life situation of the people, then it may simply remain as a lecture. We need to clearly distinguish between a lecture and a sermon. Above all, I believe, Holy Spirit is the controlling and motivating guide behind all the life-touching sermons.
Question: Thanks for your contribution toward Johannine scholarship. Nowadays, I read your commentary in the Asia Bible Commentary Series. Tell a few things about the way you prefer to interpret John’s Gospel.
Kemp: The focus of John’s Gospel is life/eternal life. This, I think, is one of the characteristic features of the book of John. I live a human life on the surface of the world because I have physical life; but at the same time I have an ever-continuing life and fellowship with Christ because I am a spiritually re-born person. This is one of the narratorial mechanisms of the Gospel of John. From this pre-knowledge, I attempt for a holistic and life applicatory interpretation of the Gospel. We need to apply the life-and-death aspects of the Gospel into the real life situations of all with whom we interact on a day-to-day basis.
Question: I have heard/read that the Gospel of John is a Gospel with an “Indian Spirit”. Can you comment on that?
Kemp: That’s good. Just as the Indian mind is philosophically-rooted in several respects, John’s Gospel begins in a philosophical way. I personally think that some of the Indian religious traditions are built up around stories and fables those are beyond human comprehension. John 1:1 says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NRSV). I think, the very beginning phrase of the Gospel (i.e., “In the beginning…”) itself can catch the attention of a person with an Indian mind. In 1:14 John further says: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (NRSV). These Johannine references forces a person who reads the Gospel of John to inquire about ‘who Jesus is?’
Question: Can you share a few things about John and Missions?
Kemp: I think, the aspect of mission is a running theme in the Gospel of John. I would like to point out two important things, one from the beginning and another from the end of the Gospel. Firstly, the aspect of historical reality of the ‘Word’ prompts us to share good news with others. That means, the incarnation of the ‘Logos’ is a paradigm for mission in the contemporary Indian/global scenario. Secondly, Jesus says: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21b). The mission model of God is explicitly told to the world by way of ‘sending’ His only begotten son. From this I infer that mission is in one or other way closely connected to sending and being sent.
Thanks Ian Kemp for your valuable sharing.
Interviewed by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India