Dr. Isaiah Allen, Soldier and Scholar

by Colonel Richard Munn

Historical records of many varieties—correspondence, transcripts, and independent accounts—reliably attest that Catherine Booth influenced the early years of The Salvation Army with rather remarkable scholarly content and capacity. In that regard she was distinct from her husband, William, more the visionary and prophetic figure.

While our movement has always valued robust, forceful scholarship and contributes to evangelical and ecumenical dialogue, our academic libraries and scholarly contributors are small in comparison with sister denominations.

So, the credentialed scholars in our ranks are a real treasure, to be valued, nurtured, and encouraged. We need the thinkers.

The USA Eastern Territory has such a gem, currently serving on the faculty of Booth University College in Winnipeg, Canada: Dr. Isaiah Allen, a delightfully thoughtful, precise scholar of the highest caliber.

SAconnects had a chance to catch up with Dr. Allen recently for the story behind the story.

You originally come from the USA Eastern Territory. How and when did your relationship with Christ and The Salvation Army begin?

My mother, who attends the corps in Schenectady, N.Y., was pivotal in my relationship with Christ, The Salvation Army, and scripture. I remember her teaching me how to pray, teaching me of my need for forgiveness and of God’s love, and taking me to The Salvation Army when I was 9 years old. Even before that, I remember her showing me the Bible that she had and read as a child. I resolved that day that I would read it through. I was 8 years old and it took me five years, but at age 13 I finished reading the Bible through for the first time. I loved it. I found words of wisdom and life. I determined that I would study scripture as deeply and vigorously as possible.

What roles have you served in the USA East over the years?

I taught Sunday school and led a weekly group for young teens in the Schenectady Corps when I first became a soldier. In that corps, being a soldier meant joining in salvation warfare. We were joining an Army, not a club. I went to training to be an officer from Schenectady and served as a corps officer in Wilmington, Del., for three years and Easton, Pa., for six years. After leaving officership to pursue a call toward academia, I served as a Sunday school teacher and the junior soldier sergeant in the Lexington, Ky., Corps for seven years. After finishing my graduate degree (Master of Divinity, Asbury Theological Seminary) and starting my Ph.D. in biblical studies, I was delighted to serve as the Corps Leadership Development Bureau director for the USA East for four years. In that post, I labored in the harvest fields alongside dedicated soldiers.

You are committed to academic excellence—what is your story in that regard?

I was the first of my household to earn a degree, and academic study was not the expected pathway for most of us. Yet, I felt compelled, even driven by the Spirit, to examine scripture at the highest level I could, so I took every opportunity available to me to deepen my study, even when the disciplines were challenging—like learning Hebrew, Greek, German, and French. I found Booth University College and Asbury Theological Seminary to be tremendously supportive of both intellectual rigor and spiritual maturity. By God’s grace, I did extremely well at Asbury, winning the Inductive Bible Study scholarship and the Ichthus Award for Old Testament Exegesis. After graduating, I was awarded a two-year postgraduate biblical languages fellowship to teach New Testament Greek full-time just when I started my Ph.D. So, I found my faith growing and becoming more reliably grounded as I studied and served. If the Bible is God’s inspired revelation to us, then no question or critical method can ultimately assail it.

What is your current teaching role, and how did you land at Booth University College in Winnipeg?

First, while I was a cadet I met some Booth University College (UC) alumni and they shared their positive experiences. Then, as a commissioned officer, the USA East had a cooperative degree completion program with Booth UC. Spending four years in that part-time degree-completion program was my first direct exposure to Booth UC and Winnipeg. Each year, I would spend four to six weeks on Booth campuses for intensive courses. Some professors became mentors and friends. When I heard that a position was open for a New Testament scholar at Booth, it seemed that God was opening the door that I had been preparing for my whole life.

Finally, any words from your heart to ours, that will encourage and strengthen our SAconnects readers?

At the center of everything I do, every day, I am thinking about Jesus’ Great Commission: “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18–20). That is our primary business—as soldiers and as an Army. There are many methods and modes, but there is no worthier goal. In my setting, it means bearing witness to the Lord Jesus Christ in my scholarship and writing, among colleagues and other academics, with students, staff, and neighbors. It’s never the easiest road. Every context entails unique challenges, but Jesus ends the Great Commission with a promise: “I am with you always.” Driven and steered by this mandate, we will find God present in all we do.

Thank you, Isaiah. Your accomplishments are an inspiration to us all. Keep us on your mailing list.