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!

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Jesus Is Risen! So What?

As we enter Holy Week, culminating in Easter this coming Sunday, BioLogos is publishing a number of short online articles about the resurrection of Jesus under the general rubric of “Resurrection: Answering the Skeptics.”

Resurrection.” Giovanni Bellini (1479)

I have contributed a couple of these articles, both of which have been published today.

Why Is the Resurrection of Jesus Important?

The first one is called “Why Is the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Important for Christian Faith?

My approach is to view the resurrection as testimony to God’s valuation of the embodied nature of reality, which is evident in creation, the incarnation, and the new creation. In connection with the new creation, I draw on Paul’s notion of the resurrection of Jesus as the “firstfruits” of a harvest that is to come.

You can read the article here, including the discussion that ensued.

What Do We Do with the Multiple Accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection?

My second piece is called “Why Are There Multiple Accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection in the Bible?” Here I’ve tried to explain why the various accounts of the resurrection in the Gospels (which don’t quite harmonize with each other) isn’t a problem for me, but actually makes them more believable.

Facebook Live Discussion of the Resurrection

These two articles, along with others, are meant to lead up to the Facebook Live event this evening at 7:00 pm EST that BioLogos is hosting. As I explained in my blog posted last week, I will be joining three other Christians (one philosopher and two scientists) to answer questions about the significance of the resurrection.

You can join the discussion by going to the BioLogos Facebook page.

Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

In preparation for this event, you might be interested in reading some of the other BioLogos articles on the resurrection.

Yesterday BioLogos posted a two-part article called “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”

In Part 1 four scientists responded to the following question:

As a scientist, you are trained to be skeptical about extraordinary claims—and the Resurrection is definitely an extraordinary claim. On what basis do you accept this claim as true?

In Part 2 three scientists responded to a related question:

Is belief in the Resurrection unscientific? What would you say to someone who challenges your scientific credentials because you believe that a dead man walked out of the grave?

N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

On the topic of the resurrection, I especially recommend Jim Stump’s “Still Surprised by Easter,” in which he shares what he (the senior editor at BioLogos) learned from reading N. T. Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God over the Lenten season a few years ago.

I myself found Wright’s book extremely helpful when I was working on A New Heaven and a New Earth.

More on Science and the Resurrection

If you want to read a bit more, there is an excellent article on the BioLogos website called “Does Modern Science Make Miracles Impossible?” The author clearly shows that it is entirely coherent to accept that God usually works through natural processes and yet sometimes (as a sign of the coming Kingdom) brings about events that cannot be explained by natural processes.

The implication is that David Hume’s famous argument against the possibility of miracles is not really an argument, but simply a disposition.

This is precisely the thrust of an older, but illuminating article on the BioLogos website by historian Rick Kennedy called “Did David Hume ‘Banish’ Miracles?” I highly recommend this article for anyone (not just philosophers) interested in the topic.

And BioLogos just reprinted a helpful piece from the Huffinton Post called “Does the Resurrection Contradict Science?

I wish you good reading.

And I look forward to interacting with anyone interested tonight on Facebook Live.

 

J. Todd Billings’s Critique of Tom Wright’s “New View of Heaven”

J. Todd Billings’s has a short article that recently appeared in Christianity Today called “The New View of Heaven Is Too Small.” In it Billings critiques what he calls “the new view of heaven,” citing both Tom Wright’s and my own writings on eschatology.

Billings is, first of all, appreciative of the new emphasis among evangelicals on the renewal of earthly creation as the eschatological hope (a view Tom Wright and I both espouse). But he thinks that Wright’s emphasis on our righteous “works” or “deeds” (in the sense of our cultural activity) enduring into the new creation is wrong-headed.

Instead, Billings thinks that Wright (and, by implication, Middleton) should focus instead on our worship and glorification of God as the true telos of the new creation.

Four Views on Heaven

Interestingly, I have just agreed to write a chapter in a new Zondervan book tentatively called Four Views on Heaven, in which one of the chapters would be precisely on the view that Billings advocates.

Whereas my chapter would focus on the new earth, arguing that we will engage in ordinary human activities (without sin), one chapter would develop the view of a new earth in which life will be focused on the worship of God. A third chapter would be on the classic Protestant view of a heavenly destiny discontinuous with earth, and a fourth would be on the traditional Catholic/Thomistic view of the beatific vision.

How to respond to Billings? First of all, it is important to say that I greatly respect Todd Billings for his theological contribution to the contemporary church. And I specifically affirm his point that the glorification of God is of supreme importance in a Christian vision (applicable to both life today and to the eschaton).

What Does It Mean to Glorify God?

The problem comes with what it means to glorify God. I take it that it is faithfulness to God (in all of life) that truly brings God glory. However, in popular parlance glorifying God often refers to verbal or hymnic exaltation of God. That is, it is basically identified with what we today call “worship.”

I have been involved in worship renewal, in this sense, for many years, and think this is an important part of the Christian life. Such worship and glorification of God (which can, however, involve supplication, confession, and lament; it does not have to all be “praise”) is crucial to the Christian life. Whether practiced in private devotion or in communal contexts, such worship focuses our allegiance to the true Lord of heaven and earth, which then spills over (or ought to spill over) into our daily walk of discipleship.

So “worship” is important; but not when it is separated from the rest of life. Indeed, Paul describes the transformation of the mind and our doing the will of God as true worship (Rom 12:1–2).

Ethics is Lived Eschatology

Billings actually makes good points in his critique of what I would consider some offhand comments Wright makes about the results of our work lasting into the new creation. Billings asks why some work would last into eternity (a Bach concerto, which Wright mentions) and not others (the work of a mechanic, for example). I agree that it certainly should not be based on whether the work consists of high art of merely a trade.

However, this does not lead me to dismiss the idea that we will be engaged in ordinary activities in the new creation. Indeed, I think we should take seriously Paul’s idea that while some of our works will be burned up in the judgment, some would be purified and withstand judgment into the age to come (1 Cor 3:12–15).

At the same time, I find that trying to know too many details about the afterlife presses eschatological language too far, since such language is largely metaphorical or symbolic and evokes that which currently lies beyond human experience. The primary point of such language is not to satisfy our curiosity about the world to come, but to motivate us in the present to be faithful to God in all that we do. As I have been saying of late, ethics is lived eschatology (A New Heaven and a New Earth, p. 24).

This implies that whatever is our true telos or goal in the eschaton should also be the focus of our lives today. However, I can find no biblical warrant for the idea that worship (in the specific sense of private devotion or communal praise) should be the exclusive (or primary) focus of our lives today.

The Biblical Emphasis on Human Works or Deeds

Both the Old and New Testaments make the claim that allegiance to God must be expressed in obedience or deeds that stem from this allegiance; thus Jesus quotes the Shema (love the Lord your God) and pairs it with the injunction to love our neighbor as the two great commandments (Matt 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28).

In the Old Testament, allegiance to God is not equivalent to worship and is not evidenced primarily by worship. Indeed, the Old Testament contains a powerful prophetic critique of what we would today call “worship” (sacrifices, sabbaths, fasting, prayer, sacred festivals) if this is not accompanied by justice and righteousness, which is what is really important (Isa 1:10–20; 58:1–14; Jer 7:1–15; Amos 5:1–25; Micah 6:1–8).

Jesus himself critiques actions typically regarded as expressing devotion or worship (such as tithing) as of less importance than justice, mercy, and faithfulness, which he calls “the weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23–24).

The Old Testament emphasis on faithfulness to the covenant as proof of allegiance to YHWH is matched by the New Testament claim that although we are saved by faith, we are judged by our works. This may be paradoxical, but it is a pervasive theme, showing up in Jesus’s parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31–46), in various statements by the apostle Paul (Rom 2:6–8; 2 Cor 5:10), and in the emphasis of James that faith without works is dead (James 2:14–26).

Both the Old and New Testaments (along with Second Temple Judaism) stress the importance of “works” or “deeds” (mitzvot) as the proof of faith or commitment to God.

A Theological Lens for Reading Scripture

Another way to get at what is going on in Billings’s article is to suggest his vision of the eschaton is filtered through a later theological lens.

Of course, we all read the Bible through a particular lens. The question is, which lens?

Billings’s lens seems to be that of Reformed and Patristic theology, of a sort that tends to downplay human action in order to elevate God’s glory as the telos of human life.

I fully affirm the biblical emphasis on living our lives to the glory of God, but as a Kuyperian-Wesleyan I see no contradiction in principle between God’s glory and human action.

As a Kuyperian (in the tradition of Abraham Kuyper), I have been influenced by that branch of the Reformed tradition that emphasizes Christian involvement in cultural life to the glory of God. As a Wesleyan (in the tradition of John Wesley), I have been impressed by the need for human effort in the process of sanctification.

Here it might be helpful to note that Wesley was an Anglican—as is Tom Wright.

Even Paul, the chief proponent of justification by faith saw no contradiction between faith and good works, affirming that we are saved by faith yet created for good works (Eph 2:8–9), and enjoining us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)—a motif that fits well with the Kuyperian emphasis on cultural action and the Wesleyan emphasis on sanctification.

So I fully affirm that the goal of life is (and will be, in the new creation) the glory of God. But rather than reducing this to what we today call worship, we should understand that God is glorified when creation—human and non-human—functions as it was intended to, in harmony with God’s will for flourishing.

And if this is our vision of the new creation, it should affect how we live now.

As Paul affirms in 2 Cor 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ—new creation! The old has passed away, the new has come.”