Back from Bangor: Theological Conferences & Pentecostals

There we were, sitting in a trendy cafe-bar, eating fashionable finger-food on a university campus in Welsh-speaking North Wales, a British pastor, a Swedish missionary/theology lecturer, a Swedish mega-church pastor and a Swiss pastor-theologian. Not exactly my typical day off! Earlier that morning my Swedish missionary friend and I had had breakfast in the same place with a Singaporean theologian, whilst chatting about liturgical worship and Cambridge experiences. But back to lunch. I'm sure it's not too often that influential mega-church pastors chat with the pastor of a church less than a hundredth of the size about the Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers. To be honest, I was quite surprised to encounter a mega-church pastor at an academic theological conference, yet over lunch he raised a very valid (and important) point; the theology circulating in the academy today is the theology that will be circulating in the pews in 30 years time and so it's important for pastors to know what's going on in the world of academic theology. He's right. Just take Ladd for example: what he was writing about the kingdom in the 1970s is pretty much standard evangelical fare today. Sometimes what's circulating in the academy might be helpful and sometimes not, but it needs to be understood in order to be either embraced or addressed.

The Swiss-German pastor-theologian was, in fact, a pastor in the Apostolic Church. (It's amazing how common membership of the Apostolic Church creates some sort of bond, even in an academic context!) He was telling me about how in German-speaking Switzerland the Apostolic pastors get together for theological study days.

One of the best aspects of the conference was the opportunity for informal discussions over tea and coffee or at meal times; presenters could be asked questions about their papers or issues coming out of papers could be talked over at greater length.

The papers were good too though. The first evening was a particular highlight as Drs Simon Chan and Daniela Augustine read papers on The Empowered Community, looking at the the ecclesiological implications of Spirit Baptism. Both Augustine and Chan are incredibly learned, thought-provoking, even challenging, yet reverent and humble systematic theologians. (Dr Augustine says she's really a theological ethicist, but her paper at the conference was wonderful systematics, where academic theology and worship collided before our eyes).

Dr Kimberly Alexander surprised me with a paper on the church as healing community. Beforehand I wasn't really convinced that healing had great ecclesiological implications, but Dr Alexander's paper convinced me that I was wrong. She also demonstrated the validity of a 'from below' ecclesiological methodology, extracting the implicit ecclesiology of early American Pentecostals from their healing practices.

Dr Matthias Wenk (the aforementioned Swiss Apostolic pastor) brought together serious New Testament scholarship with serious pastoral concerns in his paper on the church as holy community.

Although not physically present, Dr Frank Macchia joined us by video-link to present a very stimulating paper on the church as eschatological community. Some of his proposals were very helpful to some issues I had been thinking through in my own research.

Dr Peter Althouse also stimulated my thinking by rooting his paper right in the centre of the issue I'm working on: the relationship of Christ's Ascension to Ecclesiology. Althouse's finding of promise in Michael Horton's work for Pentecostal ecclesiology also resonated with me (although I'm sure it wouldn't resonate with Michael Horton) as did his desire to restore the sacraments to the status of sacraments (rather than ordinances) within Pentecostalism.

A book containing the conference papers should be coming out before the end of the year from the CPT Press. There were a number of other theologians presenting papers in addition to the few I've mentioned, so the book should contain 11 papers and 3 responses. (Yes, that's how many papers we listened to in less than two days.)

So the Pentecostal ecclesiology conference in Bangor was an intellectually stimulating way to spend two days off work. Hopefully the motivation it's provided for my PhD research won't disappear too soon.