This month, in our "Profiles of Today in the Word" series, we'd like to introduce Dr. John Koessler, professor and chair of the department of Pastoral Studies at Moody Bible Institute. In addition to his academic responsibilities, Dr. Koessler also finds time to contribute to Today in the Word—as our theological editor and a writer of our monthly "Theology Matters" column. Over the years, John Koessler has also written several devotional issues, including studies of the Song of Solomon, several Minor Prophets, and 2 Peter.
Living in the Reality of Redemption
By Heather Moffitt
In his book, A Stranger in the House of God, John Koessler describes how as a child, he lived surrounded by the evidence of the broken dreams of his father, once an aspiring artist. His father's basement wall had an unfinished etching of an open hand, grasping for an unidentified person or thing. His father also channeled his disappointment into alcohol; this substitute for fulfillment would eventually claim his life.
Though his parents did not attend church and were not believers, John found Christ through reading the Gospels while working the late shift at a fast-food restaurant. He dreamed of attending Moody Bible Institute and becoming a pastor. When he applied, his application was turned down.
At first, it might seem that this legacy of broken dreams would be transferred from father to son. But God was working in John's life, leading and directing in ways that demonstrated His work of redemption. God isn't put off by our brokennessHe transforms it into something beyond our imagination. He is a God that used the death of His Son on a cross to make it possible for all of humanity to know Him. He redeems our mess into lives that bring Him glory. John has experienced this reality of redemption, and God has used that to shape a ministry that has impacted a generation of men and women for service to God.
God did not open the door for John to attend Moody as a student, but He did lead him into pastoral ministry. After completing seminary, he served as pastor at Valley Chapel in Green Valley, Illinois. He also began to teach a course at the Moody extension site in Peoria, Illinois. Then he was offered a class on the main campus in Chicago. John drove four hours each way to teach about rural ministry to two students. He loved it. He felt a longing to teach full-time at Moody. After praying extensively about his desire, he called the chair of the department of pastoral studies, Harry Shields, to discuss a textbook question. Dr. Shields answered the phone and said, "Ah, John Koessler! I was just thinking about you! We have some openings in the department, and I wondered if you would be interested in applying?"
John, the former disappointed prospective student, has been a professor (now Chair) of Pastoral Studies at Moody Bible Institute for 14 years. He describes it as his dream job: "Moody has always been a special place to me. I love teaching, and helping to prepare another generation of people who will be serving in the church. I work with wonderful people, and our students are so committed and focused on ministry."
John's background has provided great preparation for his current position teaching pastoral studies as well as serving Today in the Word as theological editor and writer of the "Theology Matters" column. He sees the thread of redemption as essential to the intertwined work of theology and pastoring. "God is a God of grace who works in the midst of the mess. He works with broken people. That's the theological message of the Bible, and it's true in pastoral experience. The inside of a church is often messy. Our awareness of our brokenness allows us a realistic perspective on the hurts of other people."
Theology allows us to see God's redemption in the brokenness. As John says, "The aim of theology is always pastoral, not as an end itself. Pastoral ministrycaring for those in the churchrequires theological reflection to be done well, particularly in preaching. Theology without pastoral care is toxic; pastoral ministry without theology is pragmatic and too easily bends to the cultural fads." In his "Theology Matters" column, John enjoys the chance to raise issues that reveal the theological implications for everyday life.
He and his wife, Jane, have been married for nearly 30 years and have two sons in their early 20s. He describes Jane as an unwavering supporter of his ministry of teaching, preaching, and writing, as well as a tremendous spiritual influence and faithful woman of prayer.
Countless numbers of students at Moody Bible Institute and readers of Today in the Word have been blessed through the ministry of John Koessler, a testimony to God's ability to fulfill dreams out of darkness. His life and work continue to remind those around him that God's redemption is the foundation for our theology and ministry.
You can order John Koessler's book, A Stranger in the House of God, through an online retailer such as amazon.com. To see more of John's writing, visit his Web site at www.johnkoessler.com.