Heath Thomas (Ph.D., Old Testament, University of Gloucestershire, United Kingdom) has been the Dean of the Hobbs College for Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University since December 2015. He also serves as Associate Vice President for Church Relations and Professor of Old Testament at OBU. Prior to arriving at Oklahoma Baptist University, Dr. Thomas served as Director of Ph.D. Studies and Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
An OBU graduate (1998), Dr. Thomas also holds degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the University of Gloucestershire (UK). Dr. Thomas has served on staff at churches in Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina, and in the United Kingdom. Passionate about opening up the Scriptures for today, he preaches and teaches regularly, and serves as interim pastor when he is able. Dr. Thomas is married to Jill and they have four children (Harrison, Isabelle, Simon, and Sophia). They reside in the Shawnee area with their magnificent Weimaraner, Smoky.
Professionally, Dr. Thomas sustains a recurring interest on the biblical books of Lamentations and the Minor Prophets, and he has published a number of works related to these. He also maintains research interests on lament literature in Scripture, a Christian theology of lament, and theological interpretation of Scripture. He is currently writing commentaries and monographs on the Minor Prophets, among some other projects.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Habakkuk?
I have always had an extended interest in prayer, lament, and Christian spirituality. I have been working in that area since 2000 or so, which led me to the book of Lamentations. I did my research on Lamentations in the UK in 2003 and then arrived back in the USA in 2007. Around 2008, I believe, I began work on this commentary. The resonance between lament prayer and deep Christian faith came together in Habakkuk.
No one is prepared to pray like the prophet prayed. In fact, it is out of sheer bewilderment in present circumstances with a firm eye to the faithfulness of God that one prays like Habakkuk. One cannot be prepared for this…it can only be borne in the fires of faith.
I have found that Habakkuk reveals all of the deepest aspects of spiritual formation: waiting on God, suffering, prayer, confusion, trust, and faith. The book reveals in a radical way the uncompromising faithfulness of God.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
This commentary is written for many people. Its primary readership would be pastors, ministers, and students training for those fields. Alternatively, I have found that laypeople in local churches can identify with its subject matter and the presentation one finds within it. I have used this commentary to preach and teach through Habakkuk and will again in the next month.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Habakkuk?
Habakkuk has an afterlife, and the Christian church has received the book as a source of guidance, hope, and faith for the past 2000 years. One of the distinctive features of this commentary (and the only commentary that does this, so far as I am aware) is that it presents the story of the reception of Habakkuk in the commentary tradition in the Christian Church since the apostolic fathers. As such, the commentators in the Christian tradition appear in my exegetical analysis.
Another feature of this commentary is extensive, intentional, thoughtful theological interpretation that engages the theological tradition whilst using the resources of original languages, poetics, and philology.
Finally, I attempt to provide theological reflection throughout the commentary so that we might reflect how Habakkuk opens up for us God, church, and world as well as, significantly, Jesus Christ. It presents reflections on spiritual formation, prayer, meditation, stillness before the Lord, and the power of memory in the Christian life. I think this is unique among Habakkuk studies.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
Of course, Hab. 2:2-5 was central and transformative for me. I am not sure if I could in any way capture the magnitude or complexity of these verses. But any reflection on the faithfulness of God, the One who brings life out of death is nothing short of breathtaking. It is fascinating to me that these verses took on a new significance (and several surprises) that I was not anticipating in my study. I gained a deeper appreciation on the immensity of God and the supremacy of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
I think I was challenged with the primacy of prayer in the Christian life. As I say in the commentary, from Habakkuk we discover that prayer is the first and best reflex of the Church. When confronted with the terrors of this world, we are invited into communion with our God through prayer. And in prayer, we discover the magnitude of Jesus, who is God’s response to bring all broken things back to himself, including the brokenness that we face.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Habakkuk?
I think [Martin] Luther’s commentary on Habakkuk is a must read. So is [John] Calvin’s. Jerome’s commentary (now in English!) is not to be missed. Finally, Theodoret of Cyrus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Cyril of Alexandria have a theological, practical and pastoral dimension that is still relevant today. I was surprised by these. I would also say that Donald Gowan’s monograph The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk is a classic.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I am currently serving as an interim at a local church and will be for some time. I love serving in the local church! In terms of publication, I am now working on Habakkuk (again!) and the other 5 of the final six Minor Prophets for an extensive exegetical commentary for Baker Academic. I am also completing a work on a theological introduction to the Minor Prophets with Craig Bartholomew for InterVarsity Press Academic. After these, I will complete an introduction to the Old Testament with Baker Academic and begin working on another project which I cannot mention at this stage.
I am also very excited to note that I am editing a series called the Hobbs College Library, a 21-volume library designed as an on-ramp to the full theological curriculum. This is a partnership between B&H Academic and Oklahoma Baptist University. Each volume is written by experts in the world. Its authorship is multi-generational, multiethnic, global, and ecumenical. It is designed to provide the basics of Bible (5 volumes), Theology (7 volumes), and Ministry (9 volumes) in 100 pages or so. That’s why I say it is an on-ramp. It provides access to the theological curriculum to a wide readership that would otherwise not have access to the full curriculum. Two volumes have already appeared (Matthew Emerson’s The Story of Scripture and Scott Pace’s Preaching by the Book), and we will see 3 each year until 2025, I believe. We are grateful for this partnership and excited to see how it will serve the church.
- Author interviews (index)