Reprinted with permission from the September – October 2010 issue of The Fourth R.
The Scholar in Winter
Roy Hoover has been at the center of Westar activities for most of the organization’s 25 years. He’s been co-author of two of Westar’s most important books— its first publication, The Five Gospels, and The Authentic Letters of Paul—while also editing the popular Profiles of Jesus. And, he has been one of the most active Fellows as a frequent faculty member for Jesus Seminars on the Road.
Roy has also served on the Board of Directors of both Polebridge Press (since 1997) and the Westar Institute (since 2003). He and his wife, Elizabeth, were particularly generous in the Campaign for Westar that ran 2007-2011.
“Many of us see the value of Westar scholarship, with its collaborative culture, as an on-going post-doctoral seminar,” he explained. “The opportunity to participate in significant research projects in this collegial way has been a very rewarding part of our professional experience.”
Roy’s significant commitment to Westar would have been hard to predict from the religious environment of his childhood and youth. His father was a pastor in an evangelical church for 40 years. “That early life experience led me to take religion seriously; but taking religion seriously led me to question the theology and culture in which I was raised,” Roy said.
He was drawn to the mainline Protestant churches whose understanding of the Christian tradition was open to modern knowledge and thought. “When some years later I was invited to become the pastor of the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, I told the congregation that I did not feel that I had left home, but that I had come home.”
Roy applied for admission to the doctoral program in Christian Origins at Harvard thinking that it would help him to become a better minister. But eventually, he recognized that what he liked best about the ministry was preaching and teaching, and that drew him toward academia.
In 1967, Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, offered him the opportunity to teach, and teaching became his vocation. Early in his years at Whitman, Roy Was elected Chair of the Division of Humanities and Arts and then served as Dean of Faculty during a period of administration transition. As a full professor, Roy was named Weyerhaeuser Professor of Biblical Literature. He received the Whitman College Faculty Achievement Award in 1992 and was named Emeritus Professor in 1999.
Reflecting on his first engagement with Westar, he said, “I was delighted to receive a letter from Bob Funk in 1986, inviting me to a meeting at Willamette University to discuss joining the search for the historical Jesus. I was very interested because I was convinced the search for the historical Jesus did not end with Albert Schweitzer. This was exactly the scholarly project I wanted to pursue.”
In 1995, the Reverend Marilyn Muehlbach called Bob Funk to ask if he would do a program on the Jesus Seminar at her Unity Church of North Idaho in Coeur d’Alene. Bob asked Roy to do the program with him, and the first Jesus Seminar on the Road was born. More than 100 people came to the event, which became the prototype for the 20–25 seminars Westar does each year at churches around the nation.
Roy has been one of the most frequent presenters among Westar scholars. “My commitment to the JSOR program is rooted in my appreciation and interest in the church. It was, after all, going to be my life’s work,” he said. “But, I also feel we have an ethical obligation as scholars of the New Testament to do what we can to share with people what we have learned about the history of the Christian tradition, and how such knowledge can inform our interest in living the good life—life according to the good—today.”