If you’ve written a couple of popular books about the Holy Spirit, sooner or later you’ll get pressed into service by local churches. That’s where you’ll find Jack Levison many Sunday mornings: teaching in a church in the North Texas area or beyond.
In recent months, he has completed a four-week series at First United Methodist in Richardson and led a church retreat at FUMC in Missouri City, Texas. Last summer, he led a program on the Holy Spirit at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in North Carolina, along with his wife, Priscilla Pope-Levison, who is Associate Dean for External Programs and Professor of Ministerial Studies at Perkins. In 2020, he’ll head to the Indianapolis area’s Zionsville UMC to kick off a 40-day, churchwide Lenten study based on one of his books.
“I absolutely love teaching in the church,” he said. “My teaching is basically Bible study, and people are so hungry for good, solid Bible study.”
Recently, he led a class at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, and instead of lecturing as planned, he spent the time answering questions from the congregation.
“When you’re talking about the Holy Spirit, and how we can all experience the Holy Spirit, the questions just bubble up,” he said.
On top of his teaching at SMU and in churches, Levison has two books coming out next year, both exploring the Holy Spirit: A Boundless God: the Spirit according to the Old Testament and An Unconventional God: the Holy Spirit according to Jesus. (Baker Academic will publish both books in 2020.) Those are on top of his latest book, just published in September, The Holy Spirit before Christianity (Baylor University Press) and follow two other books related to the Holy Spirit: Fresh Air: the Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (Paraclete Press, 2012), which has become popular among lay readers, and Forty Days with the Holy Spirit (Paraclete Press, 2015).
So why is Jack Levison so fascinated with the Holy Spirit?
“In most mainlines churches, we don’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit,” he said. (He described how that awkwardness becomes apparent during Pentecost, in a post in the Huffington Post titled “Pentecost for the Rest of Us.”)
Another ongoing project is Levison’s research on The Life of Adam and Eve, an ancient Jewish retelling of Genesis 1-5. In this noncanonical text, Eve is depicted as separate from Adam at the moment when the Temptation occurs, and the serpent is coached by Satan on what to say to Eve. That’s different from the Genesis account, where Adam and Eve are together during the Temptation and Satan is never mentioned. Levison points out how our popular depictions of the Temptation are often influenced more by the version in The Life of Adam and Eve than the Bible.
“This text may be as influential as the Bible, if not more so, in terms of how western Christendom understands the Genesis temptation story,” Levison said. He is working on a book, the first scholarly commentary in English on the text, for the Commentary on Early Jewish Literature Series, published by Walter De Gruyter, a highly regarded academic publishing house in Germany.
Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit); Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible; pain and suffering; prophecy; Hebrew
Pneumatology; interpretation of the Adam and Eve tradition; Second Temple Judaism; gender, Judaism and Christianity
Favorite Bible Verse
Acts 8:30, “So Philip ran up to [the chariot] and heard [the Ethiopian eunuch] reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’”
“This version describes what every Christian should be about,” Levison said. “Look at the verbs – ran, heard, asked. We should be people who run up to people unlike us. Notice as well that Philip didn’t talk, he listened – he heard what the Ethiopian eunuch had to say before saying a word himself. Christians should be good listeners. Then, he asks a simple question. All Christians should be able to ask a simple question so as to understand the other person’s view.”
Book on His Nightstand
The Fault in Our Stars, a young adult novel about cancer, which relates to another area of Levison’s research. Currently, he is co-editing a book based on the 2018 Spirituality for Life Conference. This ecumenical conference, sponsored by the Vatican, Houston Methodist Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center, brought together palliative care and spiritual leaders to explore ways to integrate spirituality into palliative clinical practice. Robert L. Fine, M.D., Clinical Director, Office of Clinical Ethics and Palliative Care at Baylor Scott and White Health in Dallas, is Levison’s co-editor.
Fantasy Dinner Party
He’d invite C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, Pope Francis, Gerald Hawthorne (his college Greek professor), Gerhard von Rad (a theologian and Old Testament scholar who stood up to the Nazis in Germany during WWII), Priscilla (from the New Testament, and maybe her husband, Aquila, too!) and modern-day Priscilla, Jack’s own wife. “The topic of conversation would be how to resist the status quo, and how to do that effectively,” Levison said.
Jack and Priscilla have two grown children, a daughter, Chloe, and a son, Jeremy, both SMU graduates.
Levison enjoys biking, walking and hanging with Priscilla. “If I didn’t do it for my job, writing would be my hobby,” he said. “Writing is where my soul pours out.”
Something You Don’t Know About Him
Levison played baseball in high school. “I was the catcher,” he said. “My Pony League team won the New York State Championship when I was 14.”
Onion Muffin Shortbread, a recipe handed down to me from my mother from the hills of rural western Pennsylvania.
Personal Spiritual Practice
Levison uses an app developed by the Jesuits, called Pray As You Go, for his Lectio Divina (daily Scripture reading), then prays for friends and family. “Then I try to listen in prayer and just be receptive,” he said.