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.

Birthday Reflections on (Almost) a Year of Blogging

I started blogging in mid-February 2014. So I really should wait another month to reflect on the past year. But today is my birthday, so I think it’s appropriate to take an opportunity to look back.

A Posture of Gratitude

I am, first of all, grateful to God for the gift of life—this fragile, contingent existence we have as human beings, subject to all the ups and downs of joy and suffering. Despite the difficulty, which often accompanies the joy, I receive every moment (and another year) as a gift.

I am grateful also for the gift of salvation through Christ. It is amazing that the incomprehensible Creator of the universe should enter human existence and suffer death so that death would be overcome and we can participate in the renewal of life that comes with resurrection—a renewal that begins even now, with the ultimate hope of a new heaven and a new earth.

And I am grateful for the continuing presence of God’s Spirit—in my life, in the life of my family, my friends, my church, and my seminary (all of which are signposts of grace and means of support in a life that cannot be lived in isolation).

So I am aware, at this milestone in my life, that the essential posture of healthy existence is gratitude, a response of openness and thanksgiving to our loving Creator and Redeemer, who continually calls us into newness, often through other people.

I am specifically grateful for my loving wife, Marcia, who has been a faithful friend and partner on a life journey that has had many twists and turns. And kudos to my two sons, Andrew and Kevin (both in their twenties), who have figured out a great deal about life and have become their own persons. I am immensely grateful to God for the gift of family, both near and far.

And I am a part of an amazing church, the Community of the Savior, whose commitment to the ancient-future Christian faith sustains me and empowers me for a life of ministry.

I thank God for the opportunity I have had to teach over the years at different institutions—first at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto while pursuing my doctoral degree; then at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School for six years; then ten years of teaching undergraduates at Roberts Wesleyan College; and now the last (almost) four years at Northeastern Seminary (NES).

I’d have to say that NES is simply the best environment in which I have ever worked. I have many wonderful students and amazing faculty and staff colleagues; and my Dean, Doug Cullum, is specially gifted by God with theological insight, deep compassion, and organizational skills par excellence (and he is also one of the pastors at my church; not sure how he does it all).

And it was Lisa Bennett, Associate VP for Communication & Enrollment at NES, who prompted me to begin blogging.

Blogging

Blogging—right. I was going to talk about that.

The first thing to say is that blogging has turned out to be just a hard as I thought it would be when I wrote my first post on the difficulty I foresaw in blogging as an introvert.

But it has also been rewarding. Through this website (and the various social media sites that this blog is linked to) I have been able to get into contact with friends and colleagues from the past and I’ve met lots of new people who share similar interests.

The biggest problem with blogging is that it is extremely time-consuming. Maybe some people can just knock off a few comments and post them without much thought. But I tend to agonize over what I’m going to say; writing a blog post takes a long time (especially if it is a content post, and not just an announcement). And then I edit, edit, edit. And then I edit some more.

When I look back at my second blog post (“Creation to Eschaton—And the Kitchen Sink?”) in which I suggested the topics I expected to post on, I see that I have accomplished only some of my predictions so far. I have posted on topics of creation, evolution, suffering, doubt, redemption, and the eschaton. But I certainly haven’t addressed all the specific issues I listed there. And I haven’t talked much about Caribbean theology (except in telling some of my life story). The good news is I haven’t run out of ideas for blog posts; I have lots of topics left to discuss (and new ones constantly arise).

I’m also aware that I began two multi-part book reviews (one on Bruce Glass’s Exploring Faith and Reason, the other on Ron Osborn’s Death Before the Fall) that I have not yet completed. I hope to get to those shortly.

I’m also interested in suggestions and questions from readers of this blog that might lead to other topics (some have already given me ideas for new posts that I want to write in the coming year).

So, for now, one last note of gratitude: Thanks to all my readers; I value your interaction (either through posted comments or emails).

So here’s to another year; I pray that my posts might stimulate and encourage you in your life, your thinking, and your faith.