Lee University, Christopher A. Stephenson

Cleveland, Tennessee
2021

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 is 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 about worship and your discipline will be guiding your project?

I argue that *lex orandi, lex credendi* is beneficial to pentecostal theological method. I seek a reciprocal relationship between spirituality and doctrine that encourages Pentecostals to develop theology that is coherent with their spirituality. I attempt a constructive theology of baptism and the Lord’s supper that "redeems rituals” for Pentecostals. Finally, I suggest points of dialogue between Pentecostals and Catholics on the two sacraments. 

How do you envision this project will strengthen the worship life of congregations?

I hope that Pentecostals will see their worship practices as inviting robust theologies of baptism and Lord’s supper. Their emphasis on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit through worship suggests the possibility of assigning more soteriological significance to baptism than they usually do. Also, Pentecostals could come to see the Lord’s supper as a privileged occasion for the Spirit to orient them to the death of Christ in order to cultivate holiness of heart and life. 

What do you expect might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

The most dangerous pitfall for my project is the temptation to oversimplify the global diversity of Pentecostalism on the practices of baptism and Lord’s supper by projecting assumptions about Pentecostalism in the United States onto the global movement. I plan to guard against this pitfall by relying on research that analyzes the beliefs and practices of Pentecostals outside the US and that helps establish the self-understanding of Pentecostals outside the US through field work. 

What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?

I especially look forward to two things. First, I want to receive advice from Teacher-Scholars about what strategies proved to be most successful for them in the previous year of their research, especially the area of time management. Second, I want to meet the recipients of the worshipping community grants and hear about conducting research on congregational life from within a local church setting.