This past Friday I attended a presentation of a paper at the Society of Pentecostal Studies by my friend Tony Jones. The “SPS” is a guild of Pentecostal theologians who gather once a year for a conference of academic workshops and plenary sessions devoted to theological topics related to Pentecostalism. Unfortunately, once word got out that “the” Tony Jones was speaking – the raca hit the fan. To their credit, the SPS stood by their decision, despite facing harsh criticism from particular pissed powerful pentecostal potentates who called for a boycott to the event and managed to have Tony banned from participating in a lunch workshop at North Central University. The lunch was subsequently held at the Radisson hotel for the whopping price of $24.00 per meal and may have been the best attended luncheon of the event.
As one who is familiar with Pentecostals, Tony encouraged me to attend. Now, clearly, I am not a theologian, nor do I desire in any way to be one. I definitely respect theologians, but I am more of a mystic and a practitioner than I am a student. So the prospect of sitting and listening to theological papers submitted by scholarly professors is not my idea of a good time. But I was pleasantly surprised.
I was first surprised that while the conversations were deep and theological, it was much more pragmatic than I thought. Secondly, despite the bad press, the folk attending the conference – the actual pentecostal theologians – were quite cordial, receptive and positively responsive. As Tony spoke – both generously and firmly – I heard many in the crowd vocally affirming his points. Although there was one brief intense moment during the q&a, the exchange of ideas was kind and respectful. I will include high lights from his paper in my next post.
What my experience at the SPS conference taught me was that when addressing issues of God, openness and dialogue are the key. At all cost, we must confront and overcome the arrogance and fear that deny ardent followers to ‘come and reason together’ lest we perish in ignorance and the world in its sin.
One final observation: if you ever chose to attend an event such as this, one must procure a sport coat as this was dominant uniform for both men and women.