Interview with Rev. William Boekestein

William Boekestein’s latest book is Bible Studies on Mark (Reformed Fellowship, 2016), a twenty-one-lesson guide to Mark’s Gospel with study questions for each chapter. Here’s an opportunity to better get to know him and his book.

Back-cover bios tend to provide only brief and professional information. Help us get to know you better by telling us about your pathway to ministry.

When I graduated from high school I was certain that my days in a classroom were over; I was going to be a carpenter like my father. And I was for a few years, both in Michigan and in California. While working as a home builder for my cousin in California, mostly out of curiosity I responded to an advertisement from a missionary in India who was looking for a helper and companion. I went to India not as a missionary but as a twenty-year-old with almost no sense of direction. After three months of seeing God’s Word work powerfully in the lives of hurting people, I had a new and growing desire to teach the Bible. Upon returning to the States I enrolled at Kuyper College (with my future wife, Amy). Seven years later I graduated from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. After serving Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, for seven years, I have been pastoring Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, since May of 2015.

Do you have a ministry team?

I do. It was formed in 2003 and has been growing ever since! Amy and I married after graduating from college together. The Lord gave us two children (Asher and Eva) by the time I graduated from seminary. Mina joined us just after moving to Carbondale, and Hazel came along the year before we arrived in Michigan. No one could say that family life is always easy. But these teammates have brought me tremendous joy along the journey!

Clearly you enjoy writing, having written nine books in less than nine years of ministry. Do you have other hobbies or interests?

I do love to write. Someone has said that thoughts disentangle themselves as they pass from the mind, through the lips, and over the fingertips. I find that nothing clarifies my thoughts and sharpens my thinking like writing (and rewriting!) ideas. The discipline of squeezing out unnecessary words to make an article fit its allowed word count can pay dividends in other areas of communication. For a writer, finding the right word for a sentence is like, for a shopaholic, finding the perfect item of clothing. Maybe as a former carpenter, writing satisfies a desire to turn the raw materials of words into a sort of finished (though imperfect) product.

Beyond writing I love to hunt. The mid-century ranch home we bought in Kalamazoo is surrounded by great hunting land. My wife can almost see me in my deer hunting tree stand from our kitchen window! As our kids have grown, it has been a joy to see them begin to show interest in the sport as well.

We also love to bike as a family. We live very close to an excellent bike path (that conveniently passes an ice-cream shop!). In the last year we’ve begun riding tandem bikes, which is a great way to put on some distance with kids who, on their own, would not be able to make it so far.

Why did you decide to write a study on the book of Mark?

This book grew out of my conviction that clear, lively, and practical expository preaching can well lend itself to written Bible study material. Preaching should be the explanation and application of Scripture with an acute awareness of God’s redemptive work in Christ. Preaching through this Gospel is an excellent way to meet Jesus, the fulcrum of the biblical drama. The same can be true when we study the book on our own or in a small group.

What major themes do you find in this Gospel that the reader should remember?

Mark, along with the other Gospels, vividly demonstrates a central reality of the Scripture—in Christ, God is the primary actor. The Gospels show Christ fighting the forces of darkness, showing compassion on the needy, and fulfilling God’s royal law on behalf of God’s children. Christ lived and died and lives again to establish a kingdom of righteousness into which believers are graciously drawn by his Spirit. The Gospels can help us fix our eyes on Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. When we do, we can begin to live out another important theme of the gospel: God’s children are to follow Jesus in cross bearing and holy living.

Your study guide explains a Bible book that was written almost two thousand years ago to a very different culture. Does your book intend to bridge the gap between Mark’s world and ours?

The book is meant to bridge that gap in the same sense that preaching does. A preacher of the Bible should always plant one foot in the world of Scripture and the other in the world of his audience. This book “preaches” by helping the reader better understand parts of the story that aren’t immediately clear to modern readers.

But the Bible teacher’s task of bringing our two worlds together is aided by the character of Scripture itself. Every book of the Bible has a time and culture stamp, you might say. But the books are also timeless. At Pentecost people from a host of nations with their own languages and cultures were able to understand the basic message of the Bible, the gospel. So, today, aided by the Holy Spirit, this message still resonates with God’s chosen people. Though we live two millennia after the book was written, we still hunger, thirst, and hurt. It doesn’t take much translation for us to see relief in Jesus’ compassionate giving.

How, in your opinion, can this book best be used?

Scripture studies are almost always aided by well-written guides. Without a guide, we either struggle to know what to think or say about a text or we get in the habit of merely sharing our own thoughts that might have little to do with the intent of the biblical author. One of the dangers, though, of using a study guide is that the Bible can become eclipsed. It is easy to subconsciously begin to treat the Bible as the raw materials and the study guide as the finished product, favoring the latter. To avoid misusing supplemental materials it is important for students of the Scripture to carefully interrogate the Bible text they are studying. Ask hard questions of the text. Search for the theme of the verses you are studying. Be an investigator. Note observations and applications. Use the questions in your study guide to stimulate thought before turning to the answers in the book. In this way the book becomes a sounding board for your ideas and conclusions rather than a source book. The Bereans took such an approach. They “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, New International Version).

Dr. Jason Van Vliet praised your book by saying you pack “more food for the soul into a short paragraph than many others do in an entire page.”

These are kind words! If Jason is right, then the book takes its cue from the Gospel itself. John Mark’s writing—the Spirit’s writing—is anything but dry and wordy. Mark tells the story of Jesus in a rapid-fire, can’t-sit-still kind of way. The movement in the story is often tied together by one of Mark’s favorite adverbs, “immediately.” Mark assures us that rich theological writing doesn’t have to be dry and long-winded.

Compiled by the Editor