Essays Celebrating Paul Livermore—an Incomparable Faculty Colleague

In a previous post I introduced an essay I wrote, entitled  “The Blessing of Abraham and the Missio Dei: Reframing the Purpose of Israel’s Election in Genesis 12:1–3.”

A Festschrift for Paul Livermore

The essay has been published in a volume of twenty-five essays that I co-edited with Doug Cullum, the Vice President and Dean of Northeastern Seminary. This volume is a Festschrift in honor of our retired colleague Paul Livermore, one of the founding faculty members of the Seminary—indeed, the person who first came up with the vision to start the Seminary.

Paul Livermore retired in 2013, after thirty-three years of faithful service to both Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary. This short video commemorates his life and ministry at both institutions.

 

 

The video is interspersed with Livermore’s comments. Three things he says stand out to me.

One is his comment that in a given class lecture, only one-tenth of what a professor knows is visible (often it is students’ questions that uncover some of the hidden nine-tenths). This was very true for Paul, who had an amazing wealth of knowledge about a wide range of subjects.

Another is that hell for a professor would be a huge stack of bad student papers to grade (how honest can you get!). But that heaven would consist in reading some really excellent papers.

The third thing I note about Paul is that there is a recording of his reciting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), which plays over the opening video scenes; this shows how deeply grounded he has always been in the Old Testament.

The title of the Festschrift is Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis, which suggests something of the range of intellectual and practical interests that have characterized Paul Livermore throughout his career. These interests have spanned theological scholarship (in different academic disciplines) and a commitment to the life of the church.

Here you can read a brief four-page biographical sketch of Paul Livermore’s career, from the Introduction to the Festschrift.

From Biblical Studies to Patristics

Paul Livermore was formally trained in New Testament and Second Temple Judaism (he was a doctoral assistant to Bruce Metzger at Princeton). His doctoral dissertation was called “The Setting and Argument of Romans 1:18–3:20: The Empirical Verification of the Power of Sin” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1978).

Although he started out teaching Biblical Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College, Livermore eventually became an expert in Patristic theology. As someone in the Wesleyan theological tradition, he was drawn to the Church Fathers (especially the Eastern Fathers, as John Wesley himself had been) and he crafted an influential interdisciplinary course at Northeastern Seminary that addressed the development of doctrine, spirituality, and the church in the centuries after the New Testament.

Originally called “The Formative Era,” the course is now called “Being Christian,” and focuses on the attempt of the early church to clarify what it meant to be Christian in the first few centuries of the Common Era.

Since Livermore retired, the course has been taught by Dr. Rebecca Letterman and (in its current configuration) by Dr. Josef Sykora. The Seminary offers this course as part of six foundational courses, called The Great Conversation.

Contributors and Essays in the Festschrift

Paul Livermore’s impact on a range of faculty colleagues, church leaders, and students is confirmed by the wide variety of essays in the volume, which span Old and New Testament studies, theology, history, pastoral ministry, the Apocrypha, and the ancient Near East.

The essays are grouped into three sections:

  • Part 1: Grappling with Scripture in Ancient and Contemporary Contexts (eleven essays).
  • Part 2: Insights from the History of the Church (nine essays).
  • Part 3: Exploration and Reflections—Theological and Otherwise (five essays).

There are essays by current and former faculty at Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College, including:

  • Jeffrey Altman (Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Roberts Wesleyan College)
  • David Basinger (Professor of Philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary, and Chief Academic Officer, Roberts Wesleyan College)
  • Douglas Cullum (Professor of Historical and Pastoral Theology, Vice-President and Dean, Northeastern Seminary)
  • Timothy Dwyer (Professor of Bible and Ministry, Chair of the Ministry Department, Warner University)
  • Elizabeth Gerhardt (Professor of Theology and Social Ethics, Northeastern Seminary)
  • Rebecca Letterman (Professor of Spiritual Formation, Northeastern Seminary)
  • Wayne McCown (Provost Emeritus of Roberts Wesleyan College and Founding Dean Emeritus of Northeastern Seminary)
  • J. Richard Middleton (Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis, Northeastern Seminary)

There are essays by past students of Paul Livermore, including:

  • David Belles (Academic Dean, International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies Bible College, Richmond Heights, OH)
  • T. L. Birge (Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Azusa Pacific University)
  • Margaret Flowers (Professor Emerita of Biology, Wells College, Aurora, NY)
  • Joel H. Hunt (author, Athens, GA)
  • Mark McMonagle (Vicar, St Brendan Orthodox Mission, Honeoye Falls, NY)
  • John Miller (Professor and Program Chair, Elim Bible Institute and College, Lima, NY)
  • Suzzane Pearson (Spiritual Director, Rochester, NY)
  • Linda Schwab (Professor Emerita of Chemistry, Wells College, Aurora, NY)
  • Louis Stulman (Professor of Religious Studies, University of Findlay)
  • Thomas Worth (Pastor, Community Covenant Church, Manlius, NY)

There are also essays by colleagues of Paul Livermore from various academic and church contexts, including:

  • Donald Bastian (Bishop Emeritus of the Free Methodist Church)
  • Joseph Coleson (Professor of Old Testament, Emeritus, Nazarene Theological Seminary)
  • Eugene Lemcio (Professor Emeritus of New Testament, School of Theology, Seattle Pacific University)
  • James McNutt (Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History, Thomas More University)
  • Frank Anthony Spina (Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Seattle Pacific Seminary and School of Theology, Seattle Pacific University)
  • James Sweeney (J. Russell Bucher Professor of New Testament, Director of the Master of Divinity Program, Winebrenner Theological Seminary)
  • Karen Winslow (Professor of Biblical Studies, Chair of Biblical and Theological Studies, Director of Master of Arts in Theological Studies, Azusa Pacific Seminary)

You can see the full Table of Contents here.

Paul Livermore, the Old Testament, and Judaism

In the video commemorating Paul Livermore’s retirement, he mentions teaching Hebrew in his first semester at Roberts Wesleyan College and the extremely bright students he had in the class. Two of his brightest students (who went on to do doctoral work in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern Studies), were Louis Stulman and Joel Hunt. I don’t know if they were in that particular Hebrew class, but Stulman’s essay on the Hebrew Bible as trauma and resistance literature and Hunt’s essay on the meaning of an ancient Mesopotamian prayer are included in the Festschrift.

Livermore’s deep connection to the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition is evident in a 1987 article he wrote for the Wesleyan Theological Journal, where he challenged various Christian stereotypes about “legalism” and Jewish understandings of the Law/Torah. The article title is taken from a comment Rabbi Akiva makes about the Torah as the “precious instrument” (klî ḥemdah, also translated “precious vessel” or “desirable instrument) in Pirkei Avot 3:14 (Pirkei Avot or “Chapters of the Fathers” is a collection of ancient Rabbinical teaching on various ethical subjects).

You can read the full article here: Paul W. Livermore, “The Precious Instrument: A Study of the Concept of Law in Judaism and Evangelicalism,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 22 (1987) 17–37. This essay is cited in James McNutt’s chapter (see below).

Various of Livermore’s colleagues from other academic contexts have also contributed essays in Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and Judaism.

These include Joseph Coleson, who probes beneath the idea of “covenant” to a more foundational relationship between God and his people in the Bible; Eugene Lemcio, who engages in an eschatological reading of “Bel and the Dragon” (in the Apocrypha); James McNutt, who exposes the anti-Judaism in the writings of biblical scholar Adolf Schlatter; Frank Anthony Spina, who addresses the irony of reading Joshua as a Christian text; and Karen Winslow, who explores the understanding of the Akedah (Genesis 22) among Second Temple Jews.

It was Paul Livermore’s interest in the Jewish tradition that encouraged me to complete my own essay exploring a non-supersessionist reading of the call of Abraham, which is included in the Festschrift.

Tolle, Lege (Take Up and Read)

And then there are all the essays on New Testament, church history, spirituality, ethics, and beyond!

These essays pay tribute to the multidisciplinary impact of Paul Livermore, founding faculty member and Professor Emeritus of Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College.

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis is a book well worth owning, with essays to be mulled over and savored.

Endorsements and Reviews

Brian T. Hartley, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Theology at Greenville University:

“Paul Livermore’s deep influence over three generations of students can be clearly discerned through these twenty-five essays that span key refrains in Scripture, theology, and church history. Dr. Livermore’s character, passion, and vision for bridging the divide between church and academy all receive clear witness through probing pieces that explore central themes which lay at the heart of his own scholarship and teaching.”
David W. Kendall, Bishop Emeritus, Free Methodist Church-USA:
“I have known and worked with Dr. Paul Livermore for nearly forty years. I regard him as both friend and mentor, scholar and learner, accomplished and humble, and a lover of God and people. I am pleased to commend this volume as a fitting tribute to the breadth and depth of Paul’s character and influence for so many of us—his students, colleagues, and friends.”
Deana L. Porterfield, President, Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary:
“This collection weaves together multiple voices to create a beautiful tribute to the deep impact of the life and teaching of Dr. Paul Livermore. It is an accessible but rich compilation focused on his commitment to the cause of Christ through scholarship, teaching, and service to the church. Each author magnifies an aspect of Dr. Livermore’s insights, through their own lens of scholarship, to honor a life and mind dedicated wholly to God.”

Reframing Abraham’s Call in Genesis 12—Beyond Supersessionism

For a long time I have understood the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3) as fundamentally missional or instrumental, in the sense that the ultimate purpose for which God calls this ancestor of Israel is to mediate the blessings of salvation to the nations.

I taught the book of Genesis with this orientation for many years. And this understanding of Genesis 12:1–3 has played an integral role in my framing of the canonical narrative of Scripture in books I have written, such as Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (1995) and A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (2014). It can be found also in a variety of essays written in the intervening years.

Three Challenges to My Interpretation of Abraham’s Call

However, my missional/vocational interpretation of Genesis 12:1–3, and thus my instrumental understanding of Israel’s election, was itself called into question—no less than three times.

Initially, I was challenged by two Christian scholars who had participated in Jewish-Christian dialogue—the Canadian Catholic theologian Gregory Baum (who I met through the Canadian Theological Society) and the American Old Testament scholar Werner Lemke (who was my colleague at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School).

Both Baum (who had heard a paper I gave in 1995) and Lemke (who read my book Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be in 1996) challenged me to repent of my implicit Christian supersessionism towards my Jewish brothers and sisters. This was something I had not been conscious of in my thinking.

The third challenge, which helped me positively reframe the call of Abraham, was an email conversation in 2007 with the British Old Testament scholar Walter Moberly, as we discussed a chapter he was writing on the call of Abraham for his book The Theology of the Book of Genesis (2009).

These three challenges led me to take seriously the problematic approach to Judaism that I had inherited from the church, which assumed that once the messiah had come, Judaism had become irrelevant and could be safely discarded.

Of course, I would never have put things in quite so stark a way. But I see how my interpretation of Genesis 12 could be harnessed to support that idea.

The question I now had to grapple with was how I could be faithful to my Christian understanding of redemptive history (I am a Christian, not a Jew—even though my mother was Jewish), while respecting God’s desire to bless, not just the nations through Abraham, but Abraham himself—and his descendants, the people of Israel.

On the Way to a New Reading of Abraham’s Call

This required me to engage in a much more careful reading of Genesis 12 than I had previously done.

The result was that when I was composing my chapter on the plot of the biblical story for A New Heaven and a New Earth, I wrote a lengthy excursus on the call of Abraham that attempted to take into account Moberly’s analysis of the issues, while still maintaining (in the end) a missional reading of Abraham’s call.

Once I had completed the excursus, however, I judged that it was too much of a sidetrack from the flow of the chapter and so I ended up simply summarizing the fruits of my analysis in two brief sections—one about the call of Abraham (pp. 61–62), the other about the place of the exodus from Egypt in the larger biblical story (p. 63). Although I did not abandon a missional reading of the role of Abraham/Israel in the story of salvation, I did affirm God’s purposes for the flourishing of Abraham/Israel—on the way to this larger purpose.

Ever since writing this excursus, I intended to work it up into a published essay on the subject, but never got around to the task. I was, however, recently encouraged to do this by New Testament scholar Andy Johnson, who drew on my unpublished analysis for his chapter on the call of Abraham in Holiness and the Missio Dei (2016).

I was further motivated to work on this material by my participation in an ecumenical Jewish minyan in New York City called the Hadar Institute, through which my respect has been greatly enlarged for Jews seeking to respond in faithfulness to God’s covenant.

My connection to Hadar (formerly called Mechon Hadar) came through one of its founding Rabbis, Shai Held. Having had email correspondence and an initial phone call with Rabbi Held (in 2015), and then reading many of his writings. I have twice participated in the week-long Executive Seminar sponsored by Hadar (in 2016 and 2017). I blogged about my first experience of the Executive Seminar here.

At my request, Walter Moberly, along with other Christian Old Testament scholars, joined me in writing endorsements for Held’s recently published two-volume commentary on the Pentateuch, entitled The Heart of Torah. I then organized and chaired a panel discussion of The Heart of Torah at the Society of Biblical Literature in November 2019. I blogged about this SBL panel here.

Beyond a Supersessionist Reading of Abraham’s Call

Most recently my engagement with Genesis 12 and the question of supersessionism led to an essay called “The Blessing of Abraham and the Missio Dei: Reframing the Purpose of Israel’s Election in Genesis 12:1–3.” In this essay, I tried to be faithful to the text of Genesis 12:1–3 (paying attention to its details), while understanding the role of this text in the larger biblical canon—in a way that honors both the Christian and Jewish traditions. At the end of my analysis, I interacted specifically with Martin Buber’s understanding of Israel’s election and the blessing of the nations.

The essay has now been published as chapter 4 in Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis: Essays in Tribute to Paul Livermore, ed. by Douglas R. Cullum and J. Richard Middleton (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2020), 44–64.

This is a volume of twenty-five essays that I co-edited with Doug Cullum, the Vice President and Dean of Northeastern Seminary. It is a Festschrift in honor of our retired faculty colleague Dr. Paul Livermore, one of the charter faculty members of the Seminary—indeed, the person who first came up with the vision to start Northeastern Seminary.

Although I have been moving towards a new reading of Genesis 12 for a while now, the decisive impetus to work on the essay “The Blessing of Abraham and the Missio Dei” was my participation in this Festschrift. I am delighted to offer the current essay in tribute to Paul Livermore, who has always been interested in how the New Testament and the early Christian tradition (articulated by the Church Fathers) are related to the Jewish context in which they were birthed.

I have written a follow-up blog with more details about the fascinating essays in the book, along with an introduction to the incomparable Paul Livermore, whose life of teaching generated these essays from faculty colleagues, church leaders, and past students.

A Visit with Walter Moberly and St. Cuthbert in Durham

This is part 3 of my journey through the UK.

Having left Aberdeen, I got on the train from Scotland to England, arriving in Durham around suppertime. I was welcomed at the station by Walter Moberly, professor of Old Testament at Durham University.

Walter Moberly is a brilliant scholar who cares immensely about reading Scripture theologically for the sake of the church. I have benefited greatly from his work over the years; indeed, my very first email contact with him (ten years ago), prodded me to significantly nuance my interpretation of a particular biblical text (Genesis 12:1-3).

Walter was also the doctoral supervisor of my colleague Josef Sykora, for which I am very grateful.

Abraham’s Response to God in Genesis 22

I came to Durham, at Walter’s invitation, to give a paper in the Old Testament research seminar for postgraduate students in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. My topic was “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22.”

My interpretation of this famous story (known in Jewish tradition as the Aqedah or the binding of Isaac) deviated significantly Walter’s (he has written extensively on the topic). Whereas I was critical of Abraham’s silent response to God in Genesis 22, Walter has defended Abraham in numerous articles and thinks the story was meant to teach about the true attitude of the heart when Israel offers sacrifices at the Jerusalem temple.

I don’t doubt that the story came to have that use, but I wanted to understand what it could mean in the narrative world of the Abraham story itself.

Despite our disagreement, and the questions that he raised in the wake of my presentation, Walter was extremely gracious to me throughout my visit to Durham.

The Hospitality of Walter Moberly

He was, in fact, a wonderful host. I stayed with Walter and Jenny Moberly in their house near the university, the very house that Charles Kingsley Barrett (the famous New Testament scholar) used to live in.

Having lived and taught in Durham since 1989, Walter Moberly has become very knowledgeable about the history of the university and the cathedral (which are both on the same grounds).

He gave me a fascinating walking tour of Durham cathedral, which dates back almost to the Norman conquest (which took place in 1066). Construction began in the late eleventh century and was completed in the early twelfth century—which makes the cathedral about a thousand years old (that’s pretty impressive to someone from the New World).

St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral

Among the historical details I learned was that St. Cuthbert (634–687), the monk who became bishop of Lindisfarne and who died there, was buried in Durham cathedral.

When it became evident that the island of Lindisfarne (off the east coast of Northumbria) would no longer be safe from invasion by enemies, the monks moved their order (along with the body of Cuthbert) to Durham and he was re-interred there. This was before the Cathedral was built.

Legend has it that when Cuthbert’s tomb was opened (first to move him to Durham, then to rebury him in the cathedral once it was built) his body was incorrupt. This magnified the fame of Cuthbert, who was a saint in his own right independently of this phenomenon.

Even when emissaries from Oliver Cromwell (the staunch Puritan) opened Cuthbert’s tomb in the seventeenth century, they were awed by the incorruption of his body, and re-buried him, despite Cromwell’s distaste for the veneration of saints.

I had the amazing experience of sitting where this picture was taken, looking at Cuthbert’s tomb (the dark rectangle set in the floor), overwhelmed by the depths of time (a twenty-first century man contemplating a seventh century monk buried in a twelfth century cathedral).

I prayed silently, offering thanks for the faithfulness of God from the beginning of creation, through all the ages of the world, including his revelation through Abraham, Israel, and Jesus, up through medieval England, and into all the lands of the world, right up to the present day—and on into the consummation of all things.

Thanks be to God, the Alpha and the Omega, the creator and redeemer of all times—including this brief epoch we call human history.

My next post takes us to the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield.