I recently had the privilege of representing Vanguard University at the 48th annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (February 28–March 2), held this year in College Park, Maryland, a suburb of our nation’s capital. At this academic conference, I put forward a fresh reading of a famous but rarely actualized biblical passage: Paul’s “armor of God” discussion (Ephesians 6:10-20). In this blog, I’ll provide a brief overview of my conference experience.
SPS: The Society for Pentecostal Studies
Established in 1970, the Society for Pentecostal Studies is “an international community of scholars working within the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions.”
To be more specific, “the purpose of the Society is to stimulate, encourage, recognize, and publicize the work of Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars and scholars of Pentecostalism; to study the implications of Pentecostal theology in relation to other academic disciplines, seeking a Pentecostal world-and-life view; and to support fully, to the extent appropriate for an academic society, the following statement of purposes:
- To encourage fellowship and facilitate coordination of effort among Pentecostal believers throughout the world.
- To demonstrate to the world the essential unity of Spirit-baptized believers, fulfilling the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, “That they all may be one” (John 17:21).
- To cooperate in an endeavor to respond to the unchanging commission of the Lord Jesus, to carry His message to all people of all nations.
- To promote courtesy and mutual understanding, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, until we all come in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:3, 13).
- To afford prayerful and practical assistance to any Pentecostal body in need of such.
- To promote and maintain the scriptural purity of the Society by Bible study and prayer.
- To uphold and maintain those Pentecostal truths, “most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1)” (http://sps-usa.org/home/who-we-are).
Washington, D.C.: Location of this Year’s Meeting of the SPS
Though my trip didn’t allow for any sightseeing, I did manage to photos from the freeway as I drove by some familiar landmarks:
The actual venue for the conference was the College Park Marriott Hotel. Here is a picture which indicates what the weather in D.C. is like between winter storms:
My Contribution to this Year’s Meeting
The theme of this year’s meeting of the SPS was “Reception History: Receiving Scripture in the Pentecostal & Charismatic Traditions.” Though the focus of reception history is not so much on the original meaning of biblical texts, but on the manner in which they’ve been interpreted over the years by diverse communities of faith, the paper I was invited to present places a heavy emphasis on what the apostle Paul most likely had in mind when he encouraged the original recipients of his Epistle to the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), and then indicates how a Spirit-sensitive reading of the apostle’s “armor of God” discussion will influence a contemporary understanding and application of it. The title of the paper is “Paul and the Whole Armor of God: A Less Mystical, More Practical, Still Pentecostal Interpretation and Approach.” Perhaps it’s because of my suggestion that there is such a thing as a “Pentecostal” interpretation of this passage that my paper was selected for presentation.
So, (with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek) I’m going to propose that instead of merely analyzing the interpretive history of Ephesians 6:10-20, my paper contributed to it!
To be more specific (and serious), I indicate in the paper’s abstract that . . .
The immediate aim of this paper is a treatment of Ephesians 6:10-20 that’s both exegetically responsible and existentially impactful. The ultimate goal is more church members actually actualizing Paul’s “armor of God” discussion in their everyday lives.
After identifying some of the key earmarks of what I consider to be an exegetically-responsible handling of this passage, I endeavor to indicate what a less mystical, more practical, yet still Spirit-sensitive interpretation of (and approach to) putting on the full armor of God might look like. Central to my argument is the suggestion that, given the importance of the Holy Spirit to Paul’s theology as a whole and his letter to the Ephesians in particular, anything other than a Spirit-sensitive reading of his “armor of God” discussion will fail to be exegetically responsible. As well, my paper will suggest that it’s a Spirit-sensitive read of this discussion that will underwrite presentations of it that prove to be genuinely catalytic (change effecting) in the lives of congregants.
Along the way, the reader will, I trust, intuit some of the pastoral implications of a Spirit-sensitive understanding of this famous but often neglected biblical passage.
In the end, I’m hopeful the interpretation of Ephesians 6:10-20 presented in this academic paper might function as a helpful resource for church leaders as they take seriously their responsibility to encourage and equip their parishioners to put on (and keep on) the full armor of God.
Here’s a photo of me giving the presentation at SPS.
I’m happy to be able to report that the paper was favorably received. My respondent, Dr. Jackie D. Johns of the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN), not only encouraged the session audience to read the paper in its entirety, but also encouraged me privately to pursue its publication. This is very gratifying since I’m currently in a discussion with a major Christian publisher regarding the possibility of a book on the larger topic of why and how the New Testament encourages Christians to deal with the Devil.
My aim in this proposed work will be twofold: (1) to indicate the significance of a pneumatological realism to an engagement in spiritual warfare, and, in the process to (2) provide churches with an endurance training curriculum that might help stem the flow of young adult church-goers joining the currently burgeoning ranks of our culture’s post-Christian populace.
For those interested in what a sneak peek of this proposed work might have to say, my SPS paper can be accessed via this link.
While I wish that I could’ve spent more time in our nation’s capital, my experience at SPS in D.C. in 2019 AD was well worth the time and effort. Indeed, I felt so good about the trip that, on the way home, I did something I never do:
Take a selfie!
Seriously, Vanguard University was wonderfully represented this year by several talented faculty members and administrators. I’m very, very grateful I could be counted among them!