Paul Merritt Bassett (1935-2022)
The community of Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) mourns the passing of the Reverend Doctor Paul M. Bassett on May 7, 2022. Yet, we rejoice in the life and legacy of one of the most highly esteemed teachers of divinity the Church has known. Dr. Bassett served as Professor of the History of Christianity at NTS from 1969 to 2004 when he officially retired. However, his teaching ministry extended for another ten years as he continued to teach courses in the Master of Divinity curriculum. He was a central figure in the revered “second generation faculty” of the Seminary.
Dr. Bassett was a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University (B.A.), Duke Divinity (B.D.), and Duke University (Ph.D.). He also did post-graduate study in experimental psychology at Ohio State University. Prior to joining the faculty at NTS, Bassett taught at Trevecca Nazarene University and West Virginia University. He also served as visiting professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Kansas City), the University of Kansas School of Religion, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Dr. Bassett’s academic memberships and associations included the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies, Rockefeller Fellow in Religion, Wesleyan/Holiness Project Fellow, American Society of Church History, American History Association, American Catholic History Society, Medieval Academy, American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature, Wesleyan Theological Society (president 1981-1982), editor of the Wesleyan Theological Journal (1987), Kansas City Society for Theological Studies, and the Academy of Research Historians in Medieval Spain.
Dr. Stan Ingersol, retired Nazarene archivist, noted that Dr. Bassett’s “international teaching experience includes assignments in Spain, England, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, The Philippines, and several institutions in South America. He has been a consulting editor to Christianity Today, a resident scholar of the Institute of Ecumenical and Cultural Research, a member of the board of editors of the online Journal of Southern Religion, and an Ark Rocker—the writer of a humor column in Preacher’s Magazine.”¹
Bassett’s long-time pastor and student, Rev. Phil Hamner, described him as one whose “passion for scholarship was wedded to holy living.” Pastor Hamner reflected, “I watched this man wrestle with the deep issues of Christian doctrine and tradition in a way that could only be described as vital piety. He wept when he read the prayers of the saints. He pleaded with us to take the Spirit seriously in the formation of Christian tradition.”
Dr. Ron Benefiel, NTS President during the latter years of Dr. Bassett’s tenure, said, “Sometimes in an educational institution, someone will emerge over time who embodies the ethos, character and spirit of the community. They become so associated with the institution that it’s hard to imagine the institution without thinking of them. Paul Bassett was that kind of person for NTS. He was demanding of his students because their knowledge of history and theology mattered in their future leadership as pastors and teachers. He will continue to be a symbol of the character and calling of NTS.”
Dr. Jeren Rowell, current NTS President, said, “We’ve lost a giant of the faith. The story of Nazarene Theological Seminary was shaped profoundly by the scholarship and discipleship of Paul Bassett. Personal tributes from former students across four decades bear witness to the impact of Dr. Bassett’s life and teaching.”
The community of NTS offers our sympathy, love, and prayers to Pearl and the family. As you remember Paul, holding to the hope of resurrection, know that the entire community of Nazarene Theological Seminary is lifting you to the Lord and praying for God’s grace and comfort.
¹Stan Ingersol, Tribute for the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wesleyan Theological Society, Wesleyan Theological Journal, Volume 42, Number 2 Fall, 2007, p. 232.