This past week I attended, for the first time, the national meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies in Seattle and was really happy to be part of the program. I was there to read a paper, co-written with my colleage Rich Davis, called, “Against Postmodern Pentecostalism” (our paper takes a careful look at the epistemological project James K. A. Smith presents in his Thinking in Tongues, The Fall of Interpretation, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism, among a few others).
If you asked most academics why they value conferences they’re probably going to talk about how it’s a great place to share new ideas and get substantive feedback from other people in your area of specialty. Academic conferences can also be a place to network and make connections with people you would, probably, not otherwise meet. I’m quite pleased to say that both of these were present at this recent SPS meeting. My session was very well attended and I got scores of helpful comments and questions regarding the paper. (Somehow we ended up having a lot more time than expected so after taking 30 minutes to read the paper I fielded questions for another 45!) I also met a lot of new people doing work on interesting projects and got reacquainted with classmates of mine from Soutwestern Assemblies of God University.
Both of these are truly valuable and, alone, typically make it worth one’s time to attend conferences. I left Seattle feeling academically challenged to continue the hard work of scholarship. I’ve got a few new ideas for projects to begin, and the resolve to finish off a few ones I’ve been working on for some time. However, some conferences, like this SPS meeting, have an additional benefit. I also left with a stronger desire to ensure that my academic research program is ultimately aimed at something more than my own CV. There was a clear sense of purpose and mission among almost everyone I met at SPS. We all seemed to be on the same page. We all seemed to recognize that our scholarship should ultimately aim at advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This meant I left the conference not just wanting to ratchet up my scholarly activities, but to also increase the amount of time I spend praying about how God can use me and the abilities he’s given me for his Kingdom. This is someting I hope my fellow brothers and sisters in the SPS do not take for granted—certainly not all conferences have that same ethos (though, thankfully, this is something one will also find true of the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s annual meeting).
Over the lunch hour on Thursday I heard Seattle Pacific University’s Provost Jeffrey Van Duzer give a talk on the relationship between business and theology. He closed with a reminder that when someone asks a Chrstian whether he or she is in full-time ministry, every single person should respond affirmatively. I think he’s right about that, but that also means we all need to take seriously our preparation for what we do as ministers. Whether you have a Ph.D. or are still working on your B.A., we all need to see our scholarly activities as contributions to the Kingdom. I was glad, and encouraged, to see that the members of SPS have already started implementing the sentiment behind Van Duzer’s reminder and it makes me excited about attending next year’s conference.