Join us for a Conference on Scripture, Theology, and the Sciences on October 25–26 (Just Two Weeks Away)

You are invited to visit Northeastern Seminary on October 25–26 in Rochester, NY for an enriching time of discussion among theologians, biblical scholars, scientists, ecologists, pastors, students, and others.

Keynote Speaker—William Brown

Our keynote speaker is William P. Brown, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Brown’s expertise is in Old Testament theology, with a special emphasis on the ethical implication of creation themes. He has an abiding interest in the sciences and the science-theology conversation. He is the author of many books on biblical interpretation.

One of Brown’s best books, which is directly relevant to the theme of the conference, is The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University Press, 2010). In this book Brown examines seven different creation accounts in the Old Testament and imaginatively links them to his reflections on various aspects of the natural world that we have discovered through scientific exploration.

Brown’s Lectures at the Conference

Brown will give a public lecture in advance of the conference proper on Friday evening, October 25, on the topic of human evolution and the garden of Eden, entitled: “From Ardi to Adam: The Garden and Human Origins.”

The lecture begins at 7:30, but refreshments will be served from 7:00 pm.

The conference proper begins at 8:30 am on Saturday, October 26, with registration and a continental breakfast beginning at 8:00 am.

After an opening liturgy, Brown will present a lecture on God’s speeches to Job from the whirlwind, entitled “Job, Astrobiology, and the Science of Awe.”

Thirty Conference Papers

After Brown’s morning lecture, there will be thirty papers presented in concurrent sessions during the day.

Here are some of the paper topics:

  • Christ of the Neanderthals: Redefining the Imago Dei in Light of Modern Paleoanthropology
  • Why Have You Forsaken Me? Dying in Ecology and Theology
  • “When I Consider Your Heavens”: Cosmology and Worship in the Scientific Era
  • Language, Empathy, and Morality: Adam’s Evolutionary Journey to Maturity and Guilt
  • Experiments in Environmental Guerilla Journalism
  • God Saw that It Was Good, the Problem of Evil, and a Scientifically Informed Theodicy
  • The Chaotic Waters and the Womb: Pastoral Implications of Conceptual Metaphors surrounding Birth and Adoption in Science and Scripture
  • Technology, Time, and Living the Sabbath
  • God’s Agape/Multiple-Routes Design for the Universe
  • Alterations in Times, Seasons, and Biblical Text: The Impact of Horological Science on the Interpretation and Translation of Scripture
  • Servanthood and Service: The Challenges of Implementing Biblical Perspectives within Natural Resource Management

You can download the full schedule of papers here.

We hope you will join us for a time of engaging conversation with the keynote speaker, with paper presenters, and with other attendees.

There will be books by William Brown and some of the other conference speakers available for sale.

Registration and Accommodations

You can see the schedule for the day at the conference website, and here is the registration page.

There is a $20.00 registration discount available for members of the co-sponsoring organizations and for students and alumni of Northeastern Seminary.

Lunch is included in registration.

If you need to stay overnight in Rochester, here is a list of inexpensive accommodations nearby.

Co-Sponsorship of the Conference

This theology conference is one in a series of conferences co-sponsored by Northeastern Seminary and the Canadian-American Theological Association (CATA) over the last seven years.

Since this year’s conference will address the intersection of Scripture, theology, and the sciences, we are delighted to have three other co-sponsoring organizations, all of which address the the science-faith dialogue in helpful ways—the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation,  the American Scientific Affiliation, and BioLogos.

These organizations will have information tables at the conference.

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Introducing Christopher Zoccali—Visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament at Northeastern Seminary

I am happy to announce that Dr. Christopher Zoccali has received a two-year faculty appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament at Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, NY.

I have known Chris Zoccali for many years, beginning when he was my student in an MA program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (he graduated the same year that I began teaching at Roberts Wesleyan College). He then went on to do a PhD in New Testament from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Ceredigion, UK.

His dissertation has been published as Whom God Has Called: The Relationship of Church and Israel in Pauline Interpretation, 1920 to the Present (Pickwick, 2010), a book that received stellar reviews due to Zoccali’s expertise in clarifying multiple variants of the “new perspective” on Paul. Indeed, I have often had him as a guest lecturer on this topic in my courses, since he knows much more about it than I do.

On Jewish and Christian Identity in Paul

Zoccali has developed a nuanced understanding of Paul’s position on the relationship of Jews and gentiles in the church, where being “in Christ” is the “superordinate” identity of a Christ-follower, but which does not erase or nullify Jewish identity.  Indeed, Paul expected that Jewish Christ-followers would express their devotion to God in Torah obedience (though he did not expect this of gentile converts).

Zoccali was especially attuned to this insight by having to negotiate multiple identities, being born into an ethnically Italian family, yet being part of wider American culture. I myself understand this point, being a citizen of many nations (I immigrated from Jamaica to Canada, and then to the USA). I take it that Zoccali’s point about “superordinate” identity means that while I identify myself foremost as being a follower of Christ, this does not mean that I have to give up my Jamaican cultural identity. Nor do African-Americans or Asians (or people of any other ethnicity) need to suppress their cultural or racial heritage to be Christian.

Neither did Jews need to rescind being Jewish if they followed Jesus as Messiah—this was part of Paul’s argument in his writings. However, what could Paul mean in Philippians 3 about counting all his (Jewish) accomplishments as rubbish or dung, if he wasn’t simply trashing his past?

Because of his interest and expertise in this question, Zoccali was invited to write Reading Philippians after Supersessionism: Jews, Gentiles, and Covenant Identity (Cascade, 2017), to address precisely this issue. This book is part of a series called “The New Testament after Supersessionism.” His volume has received excellent reviews, both by academics and by those who deal pastorally with Jewish-Christian relations.

A recent review from a biblical scholar noted: “This volume does much to illuminate blind spots within traditional readings of Philippians and beyond. Reading Philippians after Supersessionism is well-researched, with compelling evidence for intertextual echoes within Philippians that illuminate Paul’s Jewish thought world.”

And the Executive Director and Academic Dean of the Messianic Studies Institute in Columbus, Ohio  encouraged his readers to “check out this volume on Philippians by Christopher Zoccali! I found it very difficult to put down, and read the lion’s share of it within 48 hours!”

Other Publications

Zoccali has written a variety of journal articles and book chapters on the subject of Pauline exegesis, social identity in the New Testament, and related topics.

His more technical articles are published in the Journal for the Study of the New TestamentNeotestamentica; and the Criswell Theological Review. More popular articles have appeared in the Journal of Beliefs and Values; the Dictionary of the Bible and Western Culture; and the Lexham Bible Dictionary.

He wrote an important article on Israel, gentiles, and Christian identity for the T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014) and has been invited to write a book on 2 Peter and Jude in the T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary Series.

A short commentary on Romans that he wrote for the T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark) is currently at press. And he has a contract with Cascade to write an entire commentary volume entitled The Letter to the Romans: From Faithfulness to Faithfulness.

Editor of the Canadian-American Theological Review

Beyond having taught Christopher Zoccali in his early years, and having followed his career, I have had contact with him in his role as editor-in-chief of the Canadian-American Theological Review, the journal sponsored by the Canadian-American Theological Association (CATA), an organization of which I am past president. Since he began as editor in 2013, Zoccali has brought the journal from being two years behind schedule to being almost fully caught up (the second issue of 2019 will be published either by the end of the year or in early 2020). He also oversaw the journal’s indexing by ATLA (now Atla, since it is no longer an acronym).

Under Zoccali’s leadership the Canadian-American Theological Review has published articles by graduate students, young scholars, and established scholars; among the latter are theologians Steve Bouma-Prediger, Hans Boersma, and Eric Flett; Old Testament scholars Marion Taylor, Keith Bodner, and J. Gerald Janzen; and New Testament scholars Nijay Gupta, Michael Gorman, and N. T. Wright (Wright has the lead article in the current issue).

Canadian-American Theological Review 8.1 (2019)

Here is the line up of articles:

  • N. T. Wright, “History, Eschatology, and New Creation in the Fourth Gospel: Early Christian Perspectives on God’s Action in Jesus, with Special Reference to the Prologue of John”
  • James T. Turner, Jr., “Temple Theology, Holistic Eschatology, and the Imago Dei: An Analytic Prolegomenon in Response to N. T. Wright”
  • David A. Miller, “A Holistic Eschatology? Negotiating the Beatific Vision and the New Earth in Recent Theology”
  • Dale Harris, “Hospitality, Homosexuality, and the People of God: A Hermeneutical Study”
  • John Byron, “The Legacy of Cain in Pop and Rock Music”
  • Gordon Oeste, “Feasting with the Enemy: Redemptive Readings of Biblical War Texts”

The issue also contains a number of book reviews.

Ass you can see, this is an interdisciplinary theological journal, publishing articles and book reviews on a wide range of topics relating to Scripture, theology, and culture.

You can take out a journal subscription by becoming a member of the Canadian-American Theological Association (which is very affordable, especially for students). This is a digital subscription, which gives you access to the journal portal on the Association website, where you can read (and download) PDFs of any issue, including individual articles.

Exploring the Intersection of Scripture, Theology, and the Sciences—In Rochester

Hard copies of the latest issue will also be available for purchase at the next CATA Fall conference, which will be held on the campus of Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College, in Rochester, NY, October 25—26, 2019. The conference, entitled God’s Wisdom and the Wonder of Creation: Exploring the Intersection of Scripture, Theology, and the Sciences, will feature Old Testament scholar William P. Brown as the keynote speaker, along with some thirty papers on topics relating to the conference theme.

For more information about the conference, including registration, go to the Northeastern Seminary dedicated conference web page.

Zoccali’s Teaching Experience

Christopher Zoccali has plenty of teaching experience. He has taught some thirty courses at Roberts Wesleyan College (in both Old and New Testament), as well as courses at Nazareth College and Empire State College (in religious studies and biblical studies). Having had him as a guest lecturer in both undergraduate and graduate courses, over the past five years, I can testify to his sharp mind and winsome teaching style, which has had students asking when he will be back.

Well, he’s back. And will be teaching a variety of courses, primarily in New Testament, over the next couple of years.

Welcome Dr. Christopher Zoccali!

Reflections of a Kuyperian Wesleyan

I was recently invited to write a Foreword to a new book of Portuguese essays on a Christian worldview. The book is aimed at Brazilian Christians interested in how the Christian faith can impact all of culture to God’s glory.

This is a unique book. First of all, it is a work of contextualization, written by and for Brazilian Christians. Beyond that, the authors address various topics relevant to a Christian worldview specifically from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. This is unusual, since those who emphasize the importance of a Christian worldview are typically located in the Reformed or Calvinist tradition.

I was invited to write the Foreword since I am someone who bridges this divide in my own work, doing biblical interpretation as a Wesleyan theologian informed by a Christian worldview. And it didn’t hurt that the book I wrote with Brian Walsh on a Christian worldview (The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview [IVP, 1984]) has been translated into Portuguese (A Visão Transformadora: Moldando uma cosmovisão cristã [Cultura Cristã, 2010]).

So I took the opportunity to explore in this Foreword (more fully than I’ve done elsewhere) the extent to which the Reformed and Wesleyan traditions overlap and are compatible (especially as they relate to a Christian worldview), drawing on my experience of these two traditions.

The book is entitled: Cosmovisão Cristã: Reflexões éticas contemporâneas a partir da Teologia Arminio-Wesleyana, which translates into English as: Christian Worldview: Contemporary Ethical Reflections from Arminian-Wesleyan Theology. It contains twenty essays, edited by Vinicius Couto, and will be published by Reflexão Editora in Sao Paulo.

The essays cover topics such as:

  • the nature of worldviews
  • the biblical vision of creation, fall, redemption
  • the mission of the church
  • the nature of Brazilian society
  • ecology
  • wealth and poverty
  • human sexuality
  • feminism
  • the arts
  • citizenship in a democracy
  • abortion
  • tolerance in a pluralistic society
  • education in schools, universities, and churches
  • Marxism
  • the nature of work
  • communication in the twenty-first century.

Each essay is written by an author who works either as an academic or a practitioner in the area addressed.

My thanks to Vinicius Couto for translating my Foreword below into Portuguese.


I am delighted by the invitation to write a Foreword to this book on Christian worldview from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective in the Brazilian context. Like the editor and the authors of the various chapters, I am a Wesleyan Christian, who works in the area of worldviews.

A Cultural and Ecclesial Journey

I started my journey of Christian discipleship in a holiness church in the Wesleyan tradition in Jamaica (the Missionary Church) and earned my BTh at Jamaica Theological Seminary (a theological school founded by this denomination).

After Seminary I immigrated to Canada, where I completed Masters and Doctoral degrees, and then later immigrated to the United States to take up a teaching position. Along the way, I attended churches in various Reformed, Presbyterian, and Baptist denominations, but I found my way back, some twenty years ago, to the Wesleyan tradition (the Free Methodist Church). A few years after that (in 2002) I began teaching at Roberts Wesleyan College and since 2011 I have taught at Northeastern Seminary (both founded by the Free Methodists).

Although I am a Wesleyan, the Reformed theological tradition has been important to me—specifically, that branch of the Reformed tradition associated with the Dutch statesman and thinker Abraham Kuyper. While in Canada I studied at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, a graduate school shaped by Kuyper’s vision, which claims that all human life and culture—indeed all creation—belongs to God.

It was Kuyper who first introduced the importance of a Christian worldview (he called it a “world-and-life view”) to North American Christians in his Stone Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton University in 1898–99.1 Ever since then, the idea of a Christian worldview has usually been thought of as a Calvinist or Reformed theological emphasis.

On Being a Kuyperian Wesleyan

However, I have been teaching biblical theology (with a specialization in Old Testament) for many years in a manner that integrates a Kuyperian understanding of worldviews with a Wesleyan theological perspective.2 Just as my experience of living in three different nations has led me to describe my hybrid cultural identity as “Jamericadian,” so I have come to identify myself theologically as a Kuyperian Wesleyan.

What does that mean? What relationship is there between the Kuyperian branch of the Reformed tradition and Wesleyan theology?

John Wesley said that his theology differed by only a hair’s breadth from that of Calvin.3 That may have been an overstatement, especially given their differences on the question of sanctification.4 However, when it comes to the Kuyperian version of Calvinism and the Wesleyan tradition, there is significant overlap that bears on the topic of this volume.

All the World Belongs to God

Central to the Kuyperian tradition is Christ’s cosmic lordship over all things, which results in an emphasis on the cultural mandate—the call to develop culture to God’s glory (Gen 1:26–26; Gen 2:15). These themes are summarized in a famous quote from Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”5

It is well known that John Wesley said, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”Although the context of that quote was his willingness to be a pastor or evangelist to all people, Wesley himself had a vision of the entire world—including culture, the sciences, and human reason—as belonging to God. He demonstrated his interest in the natural sciences by collecting the best writing of his day on the topic, which was published in a multi-volume work entitled A Compendium of Natural Philosophy, Being a Survey of the Wisdom of God in Creation.7

The range of topics related to a Christian worldview addressed by the Wesleyan-Arminian authors in this volume is entirely in harmony both with Kuyper’s vision and with the breadth of Wesley’s interests.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

In the last decade of his life Wesley came to disavow the unbiblical idea of an immaterial heaven as the final destiny of the believer. By contrast, he affirmed the biblical teaching (Rom 8:19–21; Eph 1:10; Col 1:20) of God’s desire to redeem all things in heaven and earth (including human culture and the natural world) through Christ.8 This emphasis on cosmic redemption (“a new heaven and a new earth”; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1) is also central to the Kuyperian tradition. In both traditions God’s saving work through Christ is understood to be as wide as creation.9

Since this redemption of “all things” is rooted in God’s love for his good but fallen creation—a love that does not diminish even after the fall—the authors in this volume are motivated by their desire to love what God loves. So they are willing to explore what leads to human flourishing in various realms of cultural life.

The Need for Human Effort

Some branches of the Reformed theological tradition have tended to emphasize the sovereignty and glory of God to the exclusion (or even denigration) of human “works” (as if it were opposed to faith). Yet the apostle Paul, who was the chief proponent of justification by faith, saw no contradiction between faith and good works. Paul affirmed that we are saved by faith yet created for good works (Eph 2:8–9), and he enjoined the church in Philippi to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

Within the Reformed tradition, Kuyperians stand out in positively valuing human participation with God in developing culture in ways that contribute to earthly flourishing. This valuation of human subjectivity (the contributions humans can make to God’s world), along with a radical critique of subjectivism (the absolutization of the human subject), was central to my studies at the Institute for Christian Studies, including my doctoral work on the image of God (imago Dei).10 This Kuyperian approach is eminently congruent with the Wesleyan-Arminian emphasis on the need for human effort in the process of sanctification.11

The Role of the Church

But there are some differences of emphasis between the Kuyperian and Wesleyan traditions. The Kuyperian tradition has been very helpful in distinguishing between 1) the church as an institution (denomination or local church) and 2) the church as the body of Christ or God’s people, who may organize themselves in denominations and gather for worship, teaching, and fellowship; but who are still God’s people when they simply live their lives in the world, as parents, spouses, citizens, politicians, engineers, students, teachers, farmers, workers; and also when they organize themselves into non-ecclesial institutions, such as schools, labor unions, etc. So the church in the first (narrower) sense is only one manifestation of the church in the second (wider) sense.

Kuyper thus calls on Christians wherever they are and whatever they do (whether individually or collectively) to represent the Lord Christ (and his kingdom) in their lives. It is the mission of the church (in the broader sense as God’s people / the body of Christ) to conform their lives to the standards and values of the King of all creation.

But the distinctive contribution of the Wesleyan tradition is its emphasis on the crucial role of the gathered (institutional) church for the life of faith and the importance of ecclesial witness. The worship of the gathered church (along with discipleship groups) should be spiritually formative, grounding the life of the people of God for faithful living in the wider world (which is still God’s world). I found this ecclesial emphasis to be underdeveloped in my exposure to the Kuyperian tradition.

But I don’t want to give up on the Kuyperian distinction between the two senses of church. In fact, if we read the Pauline epistles with the broader sense of “church” in mind, they have much more far-reaching implications, addressing what Wesleyans have called “social holiness.”12

The World as God’s Cosmic Temple

There is also a sacramentalism in Wesley, which he learned from the Greek Fathers (who influenced him greatly). While this is sometimes limited to the idea of sanctification as participation in Christ (equivalent to the Greek term theosis), Wesley’s sacramentalism has far-reaching implications for a Christian worldview. I have had to go beyond the Kuyperian understanding of the world as God’s kingdom to view the cosmos as God’s temple. Human beings are the designated image in the cosmic sanctuary of creation, called to channel God’s presence from heaven (pictured in the Bible as God’s throne room, the cosmic Holy of Holies) to earth. The cultural mandate is, therefore, both a royal and a sacred calling.

Earth is not strictly speaking “secular” or “profane,” but is equivalent to the holy place in the cosmic temple, such that ordinary earthly life is constituted as priestly service to the Creator. Of course, the earth, as God’s intended holy place, may be desecrated; but earthly life is never simply “secular.”

I am grateful to have been profoundly shaped by these differing traditions rooted in God’s creation, which have been unfolded and refolded over time by communities of faithful Christ-followers, in ways that engender blessing and shalom in God’s world.

It is my hope that this volume of essays on the Christian worldview, undergirded by the Wesleyan-Arminian theological tradition and offered to the Brazilian church, may challenge us both intellectually and practically to be more faithful disciples of our Lord in a complex and hurting world.

J. Richard Middleton
Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis
Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College
Rochester, NY, USA


NOTES AND REFERENCES

The lectures were published by Eerdmans, originally in 1931 under the title Calvinism, later in different editions as Lectures on Calvinism. On Kuyper’s legacy, see Peter S. Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) and Richard J. Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

This integration of Kuyperian and Wesleyan perspectives goes back even before my formal teaching career to two books I co-authored with Brian Walsh in Canada: The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1984), Portuguese edition: A Visão Transformadora: Moldando uma cosmovisão cristã, translated by Valdeci Santos (São Paulo: Cultura Cristã, 2010); and Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995). The former was written when I was a campus minister with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, the latter when I was a doctoral student at the Institute for Christian Studies.

In Minutes of Some Late Conversations (1745), Wesley was asked how close the gospel came to Calvinism; he replied “within a hair’s breadth” (Friday, August 2, questions 22–23). In a 1765 letter to John Newton, when discussing Calvin’s understanding of justification, Wesley stated: “I do not differ from him an hair’s breadth” (my emphasis).

The differences between Wesley (both John and Charles) and Calvin are most evident (though not limited to) the role of human freedom in relation to divine action (especially predestination) in relation to the Christian’s experience of sanctification.

Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488 (from a speech on October 20, 1880 in Amsterdam).

John Wesley, Journal, June 11, 1739.

John Wesley, A Compendium of Natural Philosophy, Being a Survey of the Wisdom of God in Creation, 3 vols., ed. Robert Mudie (London, UK: Thomas Tegg and Sons, 1836).

See Wesley’s sermons, “The General Deliverance,” sermon 60 (on Rom 8:19–22) and “The New Creation,” sermon 64 (on Rev 21:5), in The Sermons of John Wesley (1872 ed.), ed Thomas Jackson. Also Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1754) on Rom 8:21.

The Kuyperian and Wesleyan perspectives on cosmic redemption come together in Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).

10 This valuation of the human contribution led me to explore the way Scripture was written to address actual historical situations, specifically how the doctrine of the imago Dei constituted a critique of Mesopotamian ideology; see Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005).

11 The emphasis on the importance of human effort shows up in my exploration of the role of human actors in Scripture, such as my discussion of how the prophet Samuel contributed to the fall of King Saul in 1 Samuel. When I taught this material during a 2009 sabbatical in Jamaica, my students immediately recognized this as an Arminian approach to the text. Some of that material is published as Middleton, “Samuel Agonistes: A Conflicted Prophet’s Resistance to God and Contribution to the Failure of Israel’s First King.,” chap. 4 in Prophets, Prophecy, and Ancient Israelite Historiography, ed. by Mark J. Boda and Lissa M. Wray Beal (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013), 69–91.

12 Wesley himself noted (in contrast to the approach of the desert mystics): “The gospel of Christ knows no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.” John Wesley, “Preface,” to Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), viii (paragraph 5), in The Works of John Wesley, vol. 14 (3rd ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 321.