Congratulations Dr. Paul Blair!

Congratulations to Paul Blair, who completed his Doctor of Ministry degree with a presentation of his research at Providence Theological Seminary yesterday.  I had the privilege of supervising Paul as he wrote his dissertation, “Waterless Places: An Examination of Theology and Practice in the Exorcism of Spaces.”  Here are my introductory remarks from yesterday’s presentation:

When I joined the faculty of Providence a little over four years ago, I never would have imagined that I would end up supervising a Doctor of Ministry thesis on the subject of the exorcism of spaces.  But, then again, I could never have imagined a student like Paul Blair.  Those of you who have come to this presentation simply on the basis of the title may be bringing certain preconceptions about the type of person who would devote their time to such a project.  You can leave those preconceptions at the door for Paul is far from being a Hollywood exorcist or a middle-of-the-night television faith healer.  In fact, Paul did not go seeking this project.  Rather, it found him as he went about his work as chaplain at the Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg. Paul brought with him to this work an undergraduate education in the sciences and two master’s degrees in theology from Roman Catholic seminaries.  He is now an active member of an Orthodox congregation in Winnipeg.  Seeing as this dissertation was written here at Providence, an interdenominational school in the evangelical tradition, it truly is an ecumenical undertaking.  Paul’s thesis demonstrates all that one might hope to find in a Doctor of Ministry dissertation.  There is robust theological reflection, penetrating field work, and a constructive marshalling of resources for practitioners.  For good measure, there is even an old-fashioned ghost story or two, which stand seamlessly alongside his own translations of the Latin Fathers.  In his close and careful reflection, Paul has demonstrated for us all what pastoral theology can and should be.

Here is the abstract for “Waterless Places”:

The present research seeks to understand the notion of spiritual infestation from a Christian perspective and offer potential theoretical and practical guidelines for Christian ministers to bring about pastoral resolutions to such situations. This has been accomplished by investigating three qualitative research questions. First, phenomenological interviews were conducted among staff at an urban Canadian hospital regarding the kinds of experiences which they had encountered in their workplace and had prompted them to request pastoral support from the hospital’s chaplaincy department. The results of these interviews identified concerns over demonic and ghostly presences. This, in turn, led to a theological-philosophical investigation into taxonomies of malign spiritual beings and the tenability of a Christian account of spiritual location and local operation. A doctrine of subtle materiality, derived principally from ante-Nicene and other early sources, and supplemented by modern quantum mechanical insights has provided a theoretical basis for conceptualizing these realities. Finally, a descriptive search for exorcistic resources from various Christian traditions was conducted in order to construct an adaptable liturgical framework for responding to incidents of spiritual infestation. The results of this work are intended to contribute to a wider appreciation and consideration of this often overlooked dimension of the church’s vocation to confront the influence of spiritual evil in the world.

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