What Makes Us Human? Lessons From Genetics And Genesis

Praveen SethupathyOn April 8, 2018 I will be giving a joint-talk at West Chester University, in West Chester, PA, with Praveen Sethupathy, a Christian geneticist from Cornell University. Our topic is how science and faith can function as co-laborers in the pursuit of truth, in particular the question of what makes us human.

Whereas he will draw on his expertise as a scientist, I will bring my expertise in biblical studies to bear on the question. We will both speak out of our perspective as committed Christians.

Together we will examine what genomic science and the creation accounts in Genesis teach us about the intimate connection between humans and other species, while recognizing the distinctiveness of the human calling to image God.

Praveen and I have done this sort of joint talk before, at the Trinity Forum in Washington, DC and at Brown University in Providence, RI.

SNT Quick Link image

The talk is part of a series called “Sunday Night Theology,” sponsored by The Journey Church of West Chester, PA.

While most of the talks in the series are held at The Journey Church, this particular talk will take place at West Chester University, in the Philips Autograph Library, 5:00pm – 6:30pm, on April 8, 2018.

If you are in the area, you’re invited to join the discussion.


Explore the Bible, Theology, and Spiritual Formation: Take a Course at Northeastern Seminary!

I’ve blogged before about Northeastern Seminary, in Rochester, NY, where I teach biblical worldview and exegesis.

In that blog I called Northeastern Seminary “a hidden gem,” because of its amazing grounding in Scripture, combined with its focus on the ecumenical traditions of the church and its openness to addressing the complex issues of our times.

Changes in the Curriculum at Northeastern Seminary

Since I wrote that blog post, the Seminary has embarked on a pretty significant revision of its curriculum, which will allow more flexibility for students to take courses full-time or part-time, either onsite or online, in whatever order makes sense to them.

In the Fall of 2018 I will be teaching one online course (an introduction to biblical exegesis) and two onsite courses (one on the biblical worldview and an exegesis course on 1 Samuel).

How do we approach theological education at Northeastern Seminary? Here are three faculty perspectives on biblical interpretation and spiritual formation.

Dr. Esau McCaulley—Being in the Word

Dr. Esau McCaulley is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Northeastern Seminary. He teaches an introduction to biblical study in the new curriculum called “Being in the Word,” as well as exegesis courses on particular New Testament books (such as Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Revelation).

In this short video clip (two and a half minutes) Dr. McCaulley shares his passion to help students read biblical texts carefully, beyond their untested assumptions, such that they might encounter the living God, who is the author of Scripture.

Dr. Rebecca Letterman—Being Human

Dr. Rebecca Letterman is Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Northeastern Seminary. She teaches a foundational course on formative spirituality in the new curriculum called “Being Human,” as well as other courses in pastoral and spiritual formation.

You can watch a two minute video here of Dr. Letterman speaking to the importance of personal and spiritual faith development for Christian authenticity.

Dr. J. Richard Middleton—Being in the Story

As Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary, I teach a course on the biblical worldview in the new curriculum called “Being in the Story,” plus an introduction to biblical exegesis for teaching and preaching, and exegesis courses on selected parts of the Old Testament (such as Genesis, 1 Samuel, Job, and the Psalms).

You can click here for a short (minute and a half) video of my discussion of why it is important to study Scripture holistically, for its worldview, with a focus on our response to God’s claim on our lives.

Visiting Students Can Sample a Graduate Course: What Are the Options?

Northeastern Seminary is currently offering a good deal to anyone who wants to explore theological education by taking a course, either onsite or online.

You can find out more here, including the low cost for visiting students to sample a course (for either credit or audit); and you can explore which courses are offered when, to see what might fit your schedule.

Mortimer Planno, Bob Marley, and Rastafari Biblical Interpretation

In two previous blog posts I reported on the theology conference held at the Jamaica Theological Seminary in Kingston (where I did my formative theological studies many years ago) and the trip some of us took afterwards to two Rastafarian heritage sites.

One of our presenters at the theology conference, who was also on the trip, was a Canadian named Christopher Duncanson-Hales. As a Roman Catholic theologian, Duncanson-Hales may have seemed a bit out of place among a largely Protestant group; but he was very familiar with Jamaican culture, and especially with Rastafari.

From his initial visit to Jamaica as a teenager, when he arrived to work with Father Ho Lung’s ministry in Kingston (called the Missionaries of the Poor), he met up with Rastas and intentionally tried to understand their culture and doctrines.

Later, through an extended stay in Jamaica he was apprenticed to the respected Rastafarian elder Sydney DaSilva (president of the Rastafarian Centralization Organization). His many meetings with Ras DaSilva resulted in research notes that became the basis of his academic career focus on Rastafari.

Besides writing his B.A thesis and M.T.S. thesis on Rastafari, Duncanson-Hales addressed Rastafari in his Ph.D. thesis, entitled “The Full Has Never Been Told: Theology and the Encounter with Globalization” (2011, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada).

After completing his Ph.D., he attended the Rastafari Studies Conference and General Assembly Rastafari, held at the University of the West Indies, in Kingston (2013), where he presented a paper entitled “Naming Jah: Who do InI say InI am?” More recently, his article called “Dread Hermeneutics” was published in the journal Black Theology (2017).

A New Research Project on Rastafari

Duncanson-Hales’s next research project is called Echoes of the Memories: A Hermeneutical Investigation of Rastafari Ethnographic Material in the Smithsonian’s Simpson/Yawney Archives. This project will examine the notes of two important ethnographers, who had significant access to Rastafari “reasoning” sessions, with a view to incorporating their analysis into his own study of Rastafari “productive hermeneutics,” that is, how Rastafarians engage the Bible and the world of oppression to produce an alternative symbolic world of hope, at both the oral and visual levels.

The study will also engage in careful analysis of Ras Mortimer Planno’s famous 1969 handwritten treatise, “The Earth Most Strangest Man: The Rastafarian,” which is the first written Rastafari theological statement, almost 200 pages long (also in the Smithsonian archives).

Mortimer Planno (also known as Kumi) was perhaps the most famous Rastafarian elder throughout the history of the movement. Besides being the spiritual teacher of Bob Marley (both lived in Trench Town), Planno is known for having parted the crowd of Rastas who were dancing and drumming on the tarmac at the Kingston airport, in order to make a path for His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I to exit the plane on his historic visit to Jamaica on April 21, 1966.

My father, Jack Middleton, being at the time the head of Special Branch (in the Jamaica Constabulary Force), was in charge of security for Selassie’s visit. Since he knew that Planno was a respected Rasta elder, he asked him to make a path for His Majesty through the crowd of celebrants who had gathered to greet him.

But first he brought Planno up the steps of the plane to meet Selassie in person. After that Planno proceeded to part the crowd of thousands of Rastas so that Selassie could deplane safely.

Ever since, April 21 has been celebrated as Groundation Day by Rastafarians.

My Involvement in the Rastafari Research Project

Duncanson-Hales’s Rastafari projected research project will also involve analysis of the lyrics of Bob Marley’s songs, as they intersect with the Bible and with Planno’s theology.

Although I am not a formal expert on Rastafari, I had many discussions with Rastas on the streets of New Kingston, when I was a teenager. And I have published an essay on the theological vision of the songs of Bob Marley and the Wailers (many of these songs have contributed to the texture of my own spirituality). Also, whereas Duncanson-Hales is a systematic and historical theologian, I am a biblical scholar by training, and can bring my expertise in Old Testament studies to bear on the project.

Therefore I will be lending my expertise as a collaborator on the overall project and as a co-author for selected parts of the study, especially for a book on Rastafari biblical interpretation that would be part of the overall project (Semeia Studies has indicated interest in publishing this).

We are only just in the brainstorming and planning phases for the idea. Given my own prior commitments to book projects, this particular study may be a bit more far off in the future.

We shall see how it develops, Jah willing.