In the mid-Seventies when my husband Steve and I came to Berkeley, the one word of advice we received from all of our Christian friends was, “Go to Earl Palmer’s church!” and some added, “The church that looks like a Pizza Hut.”
Steve and I were not Presbyterians then, but have been so ever since. Earl’s preaching shaped us and our sons. Forty years ago when we moved to Berkeley, Earl was captivated by the vision a young scholar of ethics, David Gill, had for a school where Christians could take graduate-level classes about Christian faith. Earl brought the Reformed tradition’s commitment to the “priesthood of all believers” and much encouragement to David’s shaping of New College Berkeley. In the 40 years since New College’s founding (including the 25 years since Earl left the Berkeley pulpit), he has taught for us every year, on subjects ranging from biblical books, such as Romans, Revelation, John, Acts, James, and this year on the Psalms; on New Testament themes of love and encouragement; and on great people of the faith, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C. S. Lewis. We have soaked it in and will continue to do so! On Saturday April 7th, Earl will offer a seminar on The Gospel of John!
During the years when Steve and I were raising our sons and were imbibing Earl’s sermons Sunday after Sunday, Earl wrote The 24-Hour Christian (1987). The title expressed what we aspired to be, but seldom achieved. The book ends with the reassurance that we don’t live as Christians through our own mastery, but that the One who calls us “friends” is “the companion of our journey throughout the whole twenty-four hours. Each day is another beginning. We can join in at any hour—very early or very late, at night or midday—better early than late. The most important of times is now” (p. 143).
In Earl’s more recent book about II Timothy, To Run the Race (2014), he wrote that Paul encouraged Timothy, in Earl’s words, “to do the work of a welcomer,” inviting people into “a larger hope” (p. 117). This is what all of us in the priesthood of believers are asked to do, and it’s exactly what our dear friend and teacher has done through a lifetime of living and speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Earl helps us hold onto that larger hope and extend it to the world.
A member of the NCB faculty, Dr. Margaret Horwitz, told me that she thinks often about the C. S. Lewis phrase “touchstone of reality” (a title of one of Earl’s New College Berkeley seminars). She said that Earl is a touchstone of reality for her, keeping her in touch with the reality of Jesus Christ, the ground of our being and hope. He does that for me, and for many of us, too.
Through clear and robust biblical teaching and preaching, Earl has welcomed us into the larger hope of Jesus Christ, shaping our discipleship and that of many people around the world. Because we are so grateful for his way of helping us follow Jesus Christ, the communities of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley and New College Berkeley are establishing the Berkeley Palmer Lectureship. The purpose of the lectureship is to honor Earl with a regular series of future lectures given by scholars who, like Earl, help us understand how Scripture informs our daily discipleship and how we understand what constitutes a good life. The lectures will bring the lens of biblical scholarship to issues of concern to the university, the seminary, and the church now and into the future, giving us a touchstone of reality and hope.
In a statement that informs this lectureship and in his book about the epistle of James, Earl Palmer wrote: "The gospel offers surprises that are both salty and joyous….We make the best discoveries when we cease trying to ensure that the answers of Jesus always support the prearranged solutions that we so badly want, or think we want" (The Book That James Wrote, 1997, p. xii).
The lectureship welcomes that spirit of hopeful adventure! It does so in this particular place, Berkeley, California, where the social currents are strong, the conversations bracing, and the need for a salty and joyous touchstone of reality, manifestly evident. Join us on the evening of May 5 (7 p.m., at First Pres. Berkeley) for the inaugural Berkeley Palmer Lecture given by the Rev. Dr. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Barnes will address the topic: The Temptation to Be Less Than Human.
Fifteen years ago in honor of New College Berkeley’s 25th anniversary, Earl Palmer wrote about this particular place in which First Pres Berkeley and New College Berkeley invite people to know Jesus Christ.
Such a Windy Place
Such a windy place
to find the water and food that will
last and give me time while dust
and leaves, ideas and words blow constantly
in my face
How can I pause and think
wonder and ask
decide and do
in such a windy place
It takes a Good Shepherd with skill and will
who loves his sheep on a thousand hills
while we pause and think
wonder and ask
decide and do
in such a windy place
- Earl F. Palmer, 2002