Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Terry Muck Intensive Course: World Religions and Folk Religiosity

As I mentioned in my previous post, Terry Muck of Asbury Theological Seminary began the first of three weekends as part of an intensive course at Salt Lake Theological Seminary titled "Exegeting Religious Cultures for Mission." Terry is a great scholar with a combination of high academic professionalism and the ability to write and teach at popular and postgraduate levels. He also brings a wealth of experience to the issues, and addresses the issues with an eye toward cultural interaction and missiological engagement.

For me, three things stood out over the course of the weekend.

1. Folk religious emphasis. While we discussed overviews of the "high religions" of Hinduism and Buddhism, we also spent a good deal of time looking at the folk religious aspects of these world religions. Terry referenced Paul Hiebert, Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tienou's book Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Respnse to Popular Beliefs (Baker, 1999), and with it evangelicalism's tendency to ignore or minimize folk religious considerations when it comes to world religions in cross-cultural missions contexts overseas. As I have mentioned here previously, I believe the same unfortunate tendency exists with evangelical approaches to new religions.

2. Humility in understanding. Terry repeatedly emphasized the need for Christians to understand and engage those in world religions with a sense of respect and humility. This is especially necessary in our increasingly pluralistic, globalized, and post-9/11 world. My hope is that this same attitude can also be applied by Christians to new religions in the West in increasing measure.

3. Risky investment. Terry said that one of Jesus' parables that speaks most meaningfully for him when it comes to theological engagement with religious others is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:15-28. We might recall that in this story it is the disciple who takes risks in the investment and use of the talents who is rewarded most liberally, rather than the one who plays it safe and buries the talents in the ground. I appreciate the work of Terry and others who are engaging in risk in the use of the talents God has entrusted them with as they engage the world's religions, and I hope more risk takers can be found among those who work among new religions.

Look for an interview with Terry Muck here in the near future.

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