Lee University, Christopher A. Stephenson

Cleveland, Tennessee

To develop a pneumatological perspective on baptism and the Lord's Supper that nurtures vibrant experiences of the Holy Spirit within traditional liturgical forms and practices, and to encourage substantial Pentecostal contributions to ecumenical dialogue on the sacraments.

Researcher(s): Christopher A. Stephenson 
Academic Discipline:  Theology

Project Summary 

*Redeeming Rituals: Baptism and Lord’s Supper in Pneumatological Perspective* is an exercise in constructive theology that contributes to theological method, the relationship between doctrine and spirituality, and theology of the sacraments. It encourages Pentecostals in North America to overcome their historic fear of the category of “ritual” in order for them to minister more effectively to the increasing number of Christians who desire both vibrant experiences of the Holy Spirit and traditional liturgical forms and practices, and for Pentecostals to contribute more substantially to the process of formal ecumenical dialogue, in which they have participated for almost fifty years. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year?  

First, to what extent should the worship practices of neo-charismatics be incorporated into my research? Neo-Charismatics affirm the continuation of charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they are not members of pentecostal denominations or the charismatics of the Charismatic Movement in the older church traditions. On the one hand, they are the largest of the three demographics of pentecostals. On the other hand, attempting to give representation to the wide diversity of their worship practices may be an insurmountable hurdle. 

Second, and related to the first, what ecumenical challenges do neo-charismatics pose, and what ecumenical opportunities might they provide? While their lack of a singular organizing institution complicates formal ecumenical dialogue with them, many of them do not share the negative attitudes towards ecumenism that sometimes mark denominational pentecostals. 

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations? 

I still plan to share versions of my research findings with some of the local congregations that I named in my proposal, which may help them to discover for the first time how similar some of their most basic theological commitments are to the commitments of those in other church traditions about which they may have previously known very little. I will give the pastors, priests, and rectors of these congregations copies of my published monograph, and I will make available to these same congregational leaders a distilled summary of my research findings that will be intelligible to lay readers. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

My greatest challenge has been overcoming the tendency to demonstrate knowledge of every relevant piece of literature in footnotes, as if writing for a dissertation committee. I have made significant improvement with keeping my own voice central and pointing to the most important literature only when necessary, but this habit is deeply ingrained and does not change easily. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

Scholarly writing in the context of the Christian Church requires a host of theological, moral, and intellectual virtues that ultimately depend on our cooperation with divine grace. In addition to physical and emotional self-care, remember to take time for practices that cultivate virtue, and think of those practices as contributing to your scholarship over the long term. 

What products will emerge from your project? 

The primary product will be a monograph with Oxford University Press. See also my reply to (3) above.