First, the conference included presentations derived from a range of renewal (pentecostal and charismatic), evangelical, and ecumenical voices. Scholars brought into the discussion Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Reformation, Wesleyan, classical Pentecostal, charismatic renewal, and a range of other perspectives. Yet even these various ecclesial families are dynamic, with earlier and later expressions providing distinctive twists (so that, for instance, the medieval and early modern Catholic traditions exhibit similar but yet divergent emphases). Scripture clearly indicates that the one body of Christ and one fellowship of the Spirit is constituted by many members, each with its unique gifts. These various traditions are, arguably, diverse synchronic and diachronic expressions of the gifts of the Spirit. Presenters and conference attendees represented the full range of biblical, ecclesial, and theological commitments but yet engaged with one another respectfully.
Second, the conference included a range of disciplinary perspectives. There were those trained in the classical theological disciplines of biblical studies, Christian or church history, systematic theology, and even philosophy. However, many others were practical theologians, attracted to the conference because of the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in and across the Christian life. Papers were presented by pastors, chaplains, and missiologists, as well. Last but not least, others working across disciplinary boundaries like psychology-and-theology and the neurosciences-and-theology added to the richness of the conversation. While readers might wonder how such interdisciplinarity may have contributed to a conference on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life, the scriptures also say that the Holy Spirit leads followers of Christ into all truth. Insofar as the various disciplinary methodologies provide pathways of inquiry, to that degree, scholar of faith seeking understanding ought to deploy various methods to complement their quest for the truth that finally belongs to God.
Finally, here was an academic conference that was also spiritually sustained. Beyond offering only theory, the Holy Spirit was present in the prayers offered; mealtimes together allowed for fellowship in addition to the formal and theoretical dialogue; attendees were not just talking heads but embodied persons engaged with one another in a holistic manner. One of the major themes of the conference, the affections and their roles in the Christian life, was manifest in the give-and-take of the conference interactions. In this way, this was not just an intellectual extravaganza – although it surely was that – but also one which engaged with human hearts, hopes, and aspirations.
That is why I think this weekend I attended not just a conference on the Holy Spirit but also participated in a“Holy-Spirit-conference.” I was blessed to have been with others in a Spirit-inspired and Spirit-filled environment, one in which the Spirit was at work in our hearts, minds, and interactions, with effects lasting beyond the actual meeting itself. Did you attend the conference or one like it?
This was not the first scholarly event the Center has sponsored (see a list of prior symposia and consultations), and next year’s is already on the schedule. Is it too much to hope that next year’s event will not just be about renewal across the Americas but might also participate in the renewing work of the Spirit across the Western hemisphere? What do you expect? Perhaps you will come to the next meeting?