Northeastern Seminary—A Hidden Gem

Note: This post has been updated April 2017.

I started teaching biblical studies at Northeastern Seminary in 2011, having previously taught for ten years at Roberts Wesleyan College and for six years before that at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (all in Rochester, NY).

Northeastern Seminary was founded in 1998 by faculty from the religion, philosophy, and history departments at Roberts Wesleyan College (in consultation with Wesleyan theologian Tom Oden from Drew University). This was the fruition of a multi-year exploration of the possibility of a graduate-level theological institution on the Roberts campus.

Although Northeastern Seminary is, in effect, a graduate school of Roberts Wesleyan College, it is institutionally and legally separate, with its own charter and accreditation.

 My Teaching at Northeastern Seminary

I learned about Northeastern back in January 2002 when I began teaching Old Testament and Hebrew to undergraduate students at Roberts. My faculty position at the College included a part-time appointment at the Seminary, to teach one or two courses per year, plus serve as guest lecturer in various faculty’s courses as needed. After teaching a couple of Master’s-level elective courses at Northeastern, I settled into teaching a “Scriptural Foundations” course for the fledgling D.Min. program, which began in my second year at Roberts.

My teaching at Northeastern currently includes a Core course called “Biblical Worldview: Story, Theology, Ethics” and an introduction to Biblical Exegesis (both courses are taken by all Masters students in their first semester), plus a number of advanced courses in Biblical Exegesis, which have variable content (I have taught sections of Genesis, 1 and 2 Samuel, the Psalms and Job, and case studies in the New Testament use of the Old Testament).

My goal in these courses is to introduce students to the comprehensive, holistic, life-giving vision of the Scriptures (“Biblical Worldview”) and to hands-on, detailed, close reading of biblical texts (“Biblical Exegesis”). Both sorts of courses are intended to help students become responsible interpreters of Scripture for teaching and preaching in the church.

A Unique Tradition and Perspective

Northeastern Seminary continues the tradition of Roberts Wesleyan College, which was founded by B. T. Roberts in 1866. Roberts was an advocate of Wesleyan “social holiness,” so his Christian faith led him to oppose slavery and oppression of the poor, and to support women’s right to vote and even ordination (his book Ordaining Women was published in 1891). Along with a number of others, he founded the Free Methodist Church in 1860.

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While the Seminary derives from the Free Methodist tradition and is nourished by the vision of B. T. Roberts, it is ecumenical in scope, with students from over thirty denominations, including Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, independent/ non-denominational, United Church of Christ, Anglican/ Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and various Wesleyan traditions (Free Methodist, United Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, AME, AME Zion, CME).

The student body currently numbers 165 and includes about one-third African-Americans. The average age is 42 (though students range from those just out of college to those in their sixties or seventies).

The Seminary curriculum was developed to cater to working people (both ordained and lay), so courses are offered in the evenings, and students from distance locations in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany are linked by video conferencing. Since it opened its doors in 1998 Northeastern Seminary has graduated about 400 students, serving in widely different forms of ministry in North America and throughout the world.

The Seminary is committed to grounding students in the classic tradition of theological orthodoxy (reaching back through the ecumenical creeds to the Bible) with relevance to the current needs of church and society in a postmodern age.

The Core Curriculum at Northeastern

Northeastern Seminary has an unusual Core curriculum, which includes a sequence of four semesters of comprehensive, interdisciplinary, foundational courses (labeled BHT for Bible/History/Theology). Each course is organized around a different historical period:

Semester 1: Biblical Worldview: Story, Theology, Ethics (taught by Dr. J. Richard Middleton).

Semester 2: The Formative Era: From Synagogue to Cathedral – Growth and Change in the Early and Medieval Church (taught by Dr. Rebecca Letterman).

Semester 3: The Protestant Era: Reformation and Revival in the Church (taught by Dr. Josef Sykora).

Semester 4: The Modern and Postmodern Era: The Church in an Age of Science, Technology, and Secularization (taught by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt).

These four interdisciplinary courses are each combined with an accompanying Core course in Biblical Exegesis: Introduction to exegesis the first semester, then case studies in various texts of the Old and New Testaments in the following three semesters.

These courses are accompanied by four semesters of an intentional spiritual formation component, which includes retreats, chapel services, and faith sharing groups directed by trained spiritual facilitators, each of whom mentors a group of 6-10 students.

There are also a variety of post-Core courses in Bible, theology, ethics, history, ministry, pastoral/ spiritual formation, and field education that students take (the particular combination depends on which degree program a student is enrolled in).

The curriculum exposes adult learners to serious study of Scripture and to the ecumenical church in its complex development throughout history, while equipping them with practical courses in ministry. This rigorous academic approach is intertwined with spiritual formation so that students integrate their biblical and theological learning with their growing faith.

Programs of Study at Northeastern Seminary

The seminary currently offers five degrees, all of which are fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (professional), the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (regional), and the New York Board of Regents (state).

Four are Master’s degree programs:

  • M.A (Theological Studies)
  • M.Div.
  • M.A. in Theology and Social Justice
  • M.A. in Transformational Leadership

The fifth is a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree.

While the first M.A. is the degree of choice for those desiring an academic grounding in theological studies (with the possibility of a thesis), the others are explicitly professional degrees, meant to prepare students for various forms of ministry in the church and the world.

The D.Min. is an advanced professional development degree for those with a minimum of three years ministry experience after the M.Div. (it requires a major research project or dissertation).

Northeastern Seminary has worked out an arrangement with the graduate department of Social Work at Roberts Wesleyan College to allow interested students to complete either the M.Div. or the M.A. (Theological Studies) in tandem with an M.S.W., with less time than it would take to do both degrees separately (due to course overlap).

The Seminary has also entered into an agreement with the religion and philosophy department at Roberts, which, when NY State approval is received, will allow religion students to enter the Seminary after three years of undergraduate study instead of four (students would jointly receive their B.A along with their Seminary degree).

Northeastern Seminary Faculty

The Seminary has seven regular faculty, who teach the Core courses and electives; some faculty are also involved in administration and supervise Field Education.

  • Dr. Douglas R. Cullum (Ph.D., Drew University), Vice President and Dean; Professor of Historical and Pastoral Theology
  • Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt (Th.D., Boston University School of Theology), Professor of Theology and Social Ethics.
  • Dr. Nelson J. Grimm (Ph.D., University at Buffalo), Director of Field Education and Professor of Applied Theology.
  • Dr. Rebecca S. Letterman (Ph.D., Cornell University), Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation.
  • Dr. J. Richard Middleton (Ph.D., Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam), Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis.
  • Dr. Esau McCaulley (Ph.D., University of St. Andrews), Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity.
  • Dr. Josef Sykora (Ph.D., Durham University), Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program; Assistant Professor of Biblical Interpretation.

There are also faculty members at Roberts Wesleyan College who hold special appointments as part-time faculty at the Seminary .

  • Dr. David Basinger (Ph.D., University of Nebraska at Lincoln), Professor of Philosophy and Ethics.
  • Dr. Scott Brenon Caton (Ph.D., University of Rochester), Professor of History and Culture.

The Seminary also has numerous adjunct faculty from the College and the community who teach a variety of elective courses on different topics (some are pastors, others teach in other institutions).

D.Min. Dissertations and M.A. Theses that I’ve Supervised

Although Northeastern Seminary has as its goal the preparation of women and men for various forms of ministry in the contemporary church and world, the curriculum allows for those who desire to pursue academic research in a variety of areas.

Since I began teaching full-time at Northeastern in 2011, I’ve supervised quite a variety of D.Min. dissertations and M.A. theses. Some of these have addressed topics at the interface of theology and biblical studies, while others have explored theological issues in connection with philosophy, ethics, liturgy, and cultural studies. You can get a good sense of the interdisciplinary nature of the Seminary from the titles of the dissertations and theses I’ve supervised:

  • Reclaiming the Biblical Message: A Caribbean Theological Perspective (Ajilon Ferdinand)
  • The Open Vocation of Humanity as Established in the Genesis Cosmogonies and Its Implication on Scripture (Traci Birge)
  • Indwelling the Biblical Story: The Liturgical Grounding of the Church’s Identity and Mission (Jonathan Poag)
  • Living Sacramentally: The Problem of Being and Doing with Special Reference to Thomas Aquinas (Margaret Giordano)
  • The New Creation Fugue: The Interweaving of Individual, Community, and Cosmos in Paul’s Theology of New Creation (Calvin Smith)
  • Two Pauline Ways to Describe the Ethics of the Resurrection Life (Matthew Davis)
  • Introducing the Incarnate Christ: How John’s Logos Theology Sets the Stage for the Narrative Development of Jesus’s Identity (Christopher Cordell Sullivan)

An Open and Ecumenical Orthodoxy

Northeastern Seminary combines the best of classical theological orthodoxy with a generous openness to a variety of viewpoints from many ecumenical traditions. The Wesleyan theological roots that nourish the Seminary are characterized by fidelity to Scripture and the ecumenical creeds of the church, while the contemporary plant puts out shoots in multiple directions and flowers into an open-ended exploration of how the faith (once for all delivered to the saints) relates to the contemporary world, with its often difficult questions and issues.

Northeastern Seminary could therefore be characterized (as I myself was once described, when being introduced as a retreat speaker) as being “more conservative than the conservatives and more liberal than the liberals.” Without wanting to claim that every faculty member is just like me (they are certainly not), I think this paradoxical summary gets at my experience of the Seminary as transcending the typical “culture wars” approach to life found in many theological traditions.

In classes, faculty and students engage in guided investigation of Scripture, tradition, and the world around us, grounded in our commitment to the triune God revealed in the incarnate Christ, yet without narrow assumptions that prejudge important questions in advance.

Our full- and part-time faculty come from Methodist, Lutheran, Charismatic, Episcopal/Anglican, Brethren, and Roman Catholic traditions, and most have been shaped by complex denominational experiences beyond their current church membership (including Presbyterian, American Baptist, Primitive Baptist, and Missionary Church).

While each faculty member has their own theological orientation and disciplinary specialization, we all respect each other and honor both our common faith in Christ and the diversity and expertise we bring to the table. One important clue to the atmosphere of the Seminary is that faculty meetings are often characterized by laughter—we really like each other!

Northeastern Seminary—A Hidden Gem

In short, Northeastern Seminary is a hidden gem. I’m delighted to be teaching at this unique theological school.

If you’re interested in learning more about Northeastern Seminary, you can can find answers to many of your questions on the FAQ page. Further inquires can be directed to the relevant admission staff members.

Esau McCaulley was Dynamite! Report on the Rochester Preaching Conference

I just came from presenting with Rev. Esau McCaulley (doctoral candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews) at the annual Preaching Conference of the Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools, held at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry (May 21, 2015). We had a great time, with lots of discussion, both in the Q&A after each talk and during lunch with the attendees.

My presentation on Matthew’s use of the Old Testament in the infancy narratives had considerable overlap with his presentation on Paul’s understanding of the Law in Galatians 3:10-14.

Just as I addressed Matthew’s use of four Old Testament quotations, Rev. McCaulley addressed Paul’s use of four OT passages in the Galatians text. In both presentations we argued that the New Testament writer in question (Matthew/ Paul) was reading the OT texts in context with significant discernment.

Further, we both focused on how the broader biblical narrative of Israel’s crisis/exile and coming Messianic resolution framed the argument of the New Testament text. And in both cases we addressed the communal and socio-political implications of the text relevant for preaching.

It looked like we had collaborated on our presentations, but we hadn’t. This just shows that when Rev. McCaulley begins as a new faculty member at Northeastern Seminary (part-time, at a distance this Fall, and full-time on campus in Fall 2016) there’s going to be great synergy in the biblical studies courses—and, indeed, with the entire core curriculum of NES, which emphasizes the relationship of Bible, theology, and praxis.

In fact, since Rev. McCaulley just signed his contract with Northeastern (the day before the conference), he is already technically on the faculty.

So I want to affirm the welcome to Professor Esau McCaulley that Doug Cullum, the Dean of NES, extended at the conference. Lots of students are eagerly looking forward to taking your courses and being mentored by you.

You can access Esau McCaulley’s blog here.

Herod as Pharaoh? My Talk for the Upcoming Rochester Preaching Conference (May 21, 2015)

On Thursday, May 21, I’ll be speaking at a conference called “From Interpretation to Preaching.”

My presentation will address Matthew’s use of Old Testament quotations/ citations in the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2). There are four, five, or six citations, depending how you count them.

In chapter 1 Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 (the Immanuel prophecy), while chapter 2 contains quotes from Micah 5:2 (with an addition from 2 Samuel 5:2), Hosea 11:1, and Jeremiah 31:15 (plus a closing citation of “the prophets,” but there is no agreement what the OT reference is).

What Is Matthew Doing with the Old Testament?

As an Old Testament scholar, I’m interested in what Matthew is doing with these texts. Are they functioning simply as “proof texts,” or is there some exegetical strategy to their use?

Another, more theological, question is whether the infancy narratives in Matthew are simply a set of “feel-good” stories for the Christmas season; or do they have some intrinsic connection to the thrust of his Gospel? And if so, what might that be?

The title of my talk is “Herod as Pharaoh.”

Herod, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar

The connection to Pharaoh comes from Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (which focuses on the exodus from Egypt). But I could just as easily have called the talk “Herod as Nebuchadnezzar” in connection with his use of Jeremiah 31:15 (which addresses the Babylonian exile).

Herod and David

There is also a link to David (as the shepherd of Israel) from the bit of 2 Samuel 5:2 that Matthew includes in the Micah 5 quote. But this is not an idealized David; the context indicates this is a David who is remarkably like Herod (and Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar).

The connection becomes clear from investigating each of the OT quotes in context. Not only do all the quotes address the crisis of ancient Israel in various sociopolitical contexts, but the context of the three prophetic quotes in Matthew 2 revolves around God bringing Israel back from exile and binding up their wounds.

Jesus as an Alternative “Son of David”

Matthew 1-2 is setting up Jesus, “the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1) as a different kind of leader for Israel after their time of extended exile. Unlike Herod, and even David (both of whom have certain affinities to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar), this Messiah doesn’t slaughter or oppress helpless Israelites, but rather tends them as a true shepherd (and ultimately suffers with them).

Matthew’s infancy narratives thus constitute a significant challenge to the leadership of first-century Israel.

So the subtitle of my talk is: “Matthew’s Subversive Use of Old Testament Quotations in the Infancy Narratives.”

Implications for Preaching

The introduction of Jesus in Matthew 1-2 has significant implications for us today, including for preaching that aims to get beyond pious platitudes. Indeed, Matthew’s vision of Jesus, the true “son of David,” generates a serious ethical challenge for the nature of leadership in the church and the wider society.

Esau McCaulley on Paul and the Law in Galatians

After my presentation, we will be hearing from Rev. Esau McCaulley (PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews), who will be joining the faculty of Northeastern Seminary in July 2015.

His talk is entitled “Preaching Paul and the Law in Galatians”; this is how he describes his focus:

“Everyone who preaches from Paul’s letters must eventually talk about the Law. This session will show how recovering the narrative of Israel’s history that informed Paul’s understanding of the Law can bring nuance and vigor to our preaching about the relationship between faith, Law, and the reign of the Messiah.”

For more information on Esau’s talk, see his expanded explanation here.

Second Annual Rochester Preaching Conference

Rev. McCaulley and I will be giving our presentations at the second annual preaching conference sponsored by the Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools.

The three Schools are Northeastern Seminary (where I currently teach), Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (where I used to teach), and St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry (where my church used to meet, until just recently). So I’ve got a connection to all three institutions.

Last year’s conference was held at Northeastern Seminary and the speaker was the president of Colgate Rochester, Dr. Marvin McMickle. In 2016 the conference will be held at Colgate Rochester and the speaker(s) will be come from St. Bernard’s.

This year’s preaching conference will take place at St. Bernard’s, with a focus on the value of serious biblical exegesis for good preaching (hence the title: “From Interpretation to Preaching”).

So this conference is not meant to be an introduction to preaching; rather, it is for those who want to dig deeper into Scripture, in order to reinvigorate their preaching. And you don’t even have to be a preacher to attend.

You can register for the 2015 Rochester preaching conference here.

This blog is also posted on the Northeastern Seminary website.