March 8, 2022
Experiences surrounding dreams, miracles, and prayer are a strong area of interest for Dale C. Allison, Jr., Princeton Theological Seminary’s Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament. In fact, he has turned his favorite class, Bible and Religious Experience, into a book for release in July 2022, Encountering Mystery: Religious Experience in a Secular Age (Eerdmans). He includes chapters on mystical raptures, experiences surrounding death, and modern stories of angels, with guidance for pastors on how to respond to congregants who may wish to share these and other types of unusual experiences.
“I had a profound mystical experience at age 16, and that’s what got me interested in the Bible, passionately interested in Christianity and all subjects regarding religion,” he says. “I’ve had a series of strange or mystical religious experiences since then and got tired of keeping them to myself. The more I read, the more I realized how normal I was.”
It’s not unusual for students to come to Allison after class to tell him about a mystical experience or encounter that they’ve felt uncomfortable sharing with others.
“I want to destigmatize things that commonly happen but are underreported because people are embarrassed or worried that something is wrong with them,” he says. “At the same time, I’m constantly interacting with modern psychology and neuroscience. We must take all knowledge into account when trying to understand things.”
Hermeneutics and the history of interpretation are two of Allison’s other favorite subjects; specifically, how larger social currents change how people see things.
“I like to take doctrines or beliefs attested in scripture and see what’s been going on with them over the last 200 years, such as biblical texts about women and how they’ve been understood through the centuries, or the doctrine of hell and how its interpretation has been bound up with prison reform or the history of torture in the West,” he says.
Outside of the Seminary, Allison is best known as a world-class New Testament scholar and a premier interpreter of the Gospel of Matthew, and for his several books on the historical Jesus. His most recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemics, History, released in April 2021, considers the earliest traditions around the narrative of Jesus' resurrection, taking an even-handed approach and discussing both apologetical and skeptical viewpoints.
Prior to Princeton Seminary, Allison served on the faculty at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was initially drawn to Princeton Seminary in part because of the opportunity it afforded him to work with a large group of PhD students, and he admires their passion for learning.
“I am happy whenever I encounter genuine curiosity and I do run into that often here at Princeton Seminary,” he says. “And I am thrilled when they are thrilled to be learning.”
“One of the biggest lessons I learned was how to be charitable to views other than my own. Christian charity was shown to me, not just in the readings for class, but from the professors, and the Seminary community.”