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!

The Times They Are a Changing (Institutions on the Move)

In a strange coincidence, I received notification today that two of the graduate schools I have studied at (and taught at) are selling their buildings. Both have been trying to sell their buildings for a while, and both have now found buyers.

I received both notifications by email today, with links that pointed to online postings from the day before.

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

First, I heard the news about Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (Rochester, NY).

I attended Colgate Rochester in the eighties as an M.A. student, while serving as Protestant Chaplain at the University of Rochester, and then I moved back to Rochester in the nineties for a tenure track faculty position in Old Testament.

It was as a student at Colgate Rochester that I was first introduced to the writings of Walter Brueggemann, whose vision of the relevance the the Old Testament has shaped my understanding of Scripture. And Brueggemann sent me a nice note of congratulation when I started teaching there.

I lived in the dorms for my first semester as a student at Colgate and then again for a semester when I began teaching (before my family had moved to Rochester).

But for a long time the beautiful buildings on the “Hill” have been underused, ever since the other theological partner schools that shared the campus (Bexley Hall and St. Bernard’s) moved to other locations, and the largely residential student population shifted to primarily commuting students.

So with all those empty buildings, including dorms and the large cafeteria, it makes sense that the Divinity School plans to move to a smaller facility in the city, sometime over the next two years. It would be a significant cost savings, while allowing them to invest the funds from the sale in the future of the institution.

Institute for Christian Studies

Later in the day I heard the news about the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto).

I attended the ICS in the late seventies for my first graduate courses, before I transferred to the University of Guelph for my M.A. in philosophy. While studying at the ICS and during my time in Guelph I worked for the ICS teaching non-credit worldview courses on university campuses in southern Ontario.

It was at the ICS that I received an in-depth exposure to thinking about a Christian worldview, through the institution’s intellectual heritage that could be traced back to the life and thought of Abraham Kuyper.

During my studies at ICS my wife and I lived in a small apartment on the top floor (with roof access), which came with the position of being in charge of janitorial work for the entire building.

I later returned to the ICS in the nineties for my PhD, and taught many adjunct courses in Biblical Studies and Worldview Studies in the Master’s programs. At this point we didn’t live in Toronto, but I commuted to the ICS from St. Catharines a couple days per week.

It was during this time that I was introduced to the work of N. T. Wright, who spoke at the ICS on a number of occasions. Wright’s serious historical and theological interpretation of the New Testament has impacted my vision of the text, including its rootnedness in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.

Between the two times I attended the ICS, the school moved from the fourth floor of the building (where I first had classes) to the second floor, and then to the first floor, having sold the greater share of the five-story building they owned in downtown Toronto to investors.

But now, with the investors going out of business, and the option to buy back the entire building being too much at this time (given the price of real estate in Toronto), it makes sense to sell the entire building (including their own share), while continuing to rent one floor. Just as with Colgate Rochester, this would allow them to invest the funds from the sale in the future of the institution.

A Future Orientation

What do these two similar stories tell us about the state of Christian higher education today? What do they tell us about what is really important?

Yes, institutions need buildings with adequate space and facilities to pursue their mission. But these two stories point to the very real need to cut costs and become leaner and more efficient for the sake of the mission.

I have all sorts of fond memories of these two buildings (the beautiful stone towers of CRCDS and the old fourth floor of ICS). But it simply won’t do to focus nostalgically on the past. To be effective and faithful, institutions need to be aware of what serves the mission. So while being deeply grounded in tradition (never forgetting the past), faithful institutions need to be oriented to the present and to anticipate the future.

I am a grateful recipient of the formative intellectual traditions I inherited from both these graduate schools. And I am fully supportive of these ways in which each is preparing to meet future challenges.