Friday, April 20, 2007

Muck Lecture: Karl Ludvig Reichelt and the Johannine Approach to Religious Studies

Last night was the final lecture by Terry Muck of Asbury Theological Seminaryat Salt Lake Theological Seminary in connection with the final weekend of his intensive course on world religions. His lecture was titled "The Johannine Approach to Religious Studies." Muck began this three-part series several months ago and in his first installment he looked at the Christian study of non-Christian religions and how this has a legitimate place in missions. His second lecture built upon this and discussed how mission workers can be good religious studies scholars, and included interaction with Rodney Stark's writings as an example of this, and its relevance to understanding the growth of religions. This final installment provided an example of a contextualized approach to Asian religions, that of Karl Ludvig Reichelt.

Muck shared a brief biography of Reichelt (1877-1952) as a Norwegian Lutheran, raised in a conservative pietistic church community. He later began missionary work among Chinese Buddhist monks, and Muck described him as a missionary, scholar, and pilgrim. Reichelt began his work in very traditional ways through open air preaching and the distribution of evangelistic tracts in Chinese. While Reichelt did see some success in this in terms of a few converts, nevertheless, Muck characterized this as an effort with no appreciable success. Reichelt then changed approaches and adopted a contextualized mission approach that might be understood as standing between traditional and pluralistic approaches.

Reichelt became a student of Buddhism and did his best to understand how this religion and culture understood not only its own religious expression, but also how its cultural filter interpreted reality. Reichelt developed his missional approch that he dubbed a Johannine model based upon John's Gospel and its discussion of the logos in chapter 1. It would eventually lead to his establishment of a pilgrim's study facility, the infamous Tao Fong Shan Centre in Hong Kong. (Further discussion of Reichelt may be found in Eric J. Sharpe, Karl Ludvig Reichelt: Missionary, Scholar & Pilgraim [Tao Fong Shan Ecumenical Centre, 1984].)

Muck pointed out that Reichelt's approach resonated with the Chinese mindset. His emphasis on harmony and relationships appealed to the Buddhist and Confucian foundations of Chinese culture. His work remains one of the classic studies in missional contextualization, and one with great lessons for those working among new religions in the West.

The following day Muck began the first day of his two-day course. Two items stuck out for me today as we reviewed the primary "worldview base" of the three major sources of the world's religions, including India, China, and the Middle East. Muck summarized these systems, noting that in Indian systems the key elements are samsara, karma, and dharma. In Chinese systems the essential ideas are the Tao, Ying/Yang, divination, and ancestors. In the Middle Eastern traditions the elemetns are monotheism, ethics, history, and judgment/reward. As we reviewed these central defining elements of these worldview bases Muck commented that these should be understood as "more than just doctrines." These serve as the very filters through which other religious cultures understand reality. Thus struck me in application to new religions in that evangelicals many times approach their adherents with the mindset that they can persuade new religionists to merely replace doctrines one for another without recognizing that these elements are not merely doctrinal, they serve as foundational prisms for viewing reality.

A key missiological question that arises from this is how the story of Jesus can be presented within the framework assumed by these worldview bases that does not require the religious other to assume a Western worldview. The second issue arises from this consideration in that Westerners need to move beyond their efforts at making others see the world as we do. Of course, these questions have application to ministry among new religions. Evangelicals might not only consider the foundational depth of the worldview base of religious others as more than superficial and doctrinaire, and also consider how greater portions of a new religions culture can be retained and the gospel communicated in light of these frameworks.

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