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2016 Society for Pentecostal Studies: A Personal Reflection and General Report

The Diversity Committee session on “Global Hermeneutics,” chaired by Meghan Musy (McMaster Divinity College) with presentations by Amos Yong (Fuller Theological Seminary) and Craig Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary) was packed in more ways than one. For one thing, it was packed with attendees. Not only was there standing room only but some (including me) sat in the floor on the steps of the entrance. It was also packed with information in the stimulating presentations by these two great scholars who continue to set high standards for their respective disciplines (Yong, Systematic Theology; Keener, New Testament). Their personal and professional interaction was dynamic indeed. Later conversation over dinner with Bill Faupel, Hal Knight, and Israel Kamudzandu (both of Saint Paul School of Theology) about this session was invigorating for me as well.

The Practical Theology/Christian Formation discussion, chaired by Marcia Clarke (University of Birmingham) was a standout session. Mark Cartledge (Regent University) and Frank Macchia (Vanguard University) had a provocative time comparing and contrasting the respective roles of C. S. Lewis and Karl Barth as public theologians. I came away thinking about how different these two great thinkers were and yet how their presence continues to influence so many even today.

Of course, it was an honor for me to present in Ecumenical Studies on “Discussing a Discerning Theology of Christian Evangelism for a Multi-faith World” alongside of Peter Althouse on “Pentecostal Responses to Mass Incarceration” and chaired by Daniel Tobin. Another Ecumenical Studies session that was really a standout conversation was Cheryl Bridges Johns’ (Pentecostal Theological Seminary) presentation on “Pentecostal Ecumenism and the Challenge of the ‘Other’: A Proposal for the Future.” The response by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Reformed Church of America) was both stimulating and challenging in its suggestion for increasing openness regarding Pentecostal ecumenical involvement.

Several presentations illustrated for me the surprisingly vast range of Pentecostal ecclesiology. Daniel Tomberlin’s (Vidalia Church of God) “Believers’ Baptism in the Pentecostal Tradition: A Response to Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” indicates the breadth and depth of contemporary Pentecostal sacramental theology. In this vein, it was a genuine pleasure to hear Alex Mayfield (Boston College), winner of the “Young Scholar’s Award,” present on “Seal of the Spirit: The Sacrament of Confirmation and Pentecostal ‘Spirit Baptism’.” In like manner, Monte Lee Rice’s (Independent Scholar) “Before His Face through Times of Refreshing: Towards a Pentecostal Aesthetic of Sacred Time,” along with Ed Rybarczyk’s (Vanguard) penetrating response, suggests the as yet largely untapped fecundity of Pentecostal liturgical theology.

My Biggest Regret

Of course, other conference participants would offer different highlights. One of the common complaints often heard at SPS, and I heard it this year especially, is that it’s difficult to choose between parallel sessions. There are so many good presentations, but no one can attend them all as many of them occur simultaneously. I suppose that’s a good problem to have. However, I admit that more than once I felt a twinge of regret when someone would mention how greatly they enjoyed a session I didn’t get to attend. Perhaps these few reviews will offer an idea of the 2016 SPS experience. One can also purchase the 2016 conference papers at SPS-USA.org.

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2016

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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