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Divinity Symposium Explores World Religions

By Sarah H. Dolan | March 5, 2010

The Christian mission in a world of many faiths may appear reserved for front-line missionaries whose frequent flier miles often reach Gold Medallion status. But according to Fuller Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, the Christian encounter with world religions occurs in America more than any other country.

"We live in a melting pot," Kärkkäinen explained. "Religion is very much part of our everyday experience. Different forms of faith and religion are not just in our backyards [other countries]. They are also in our front yards, which should not be ignored."

Kärkkäinen was one of several featured presenters at Regent University School of Divinity's The Great Commission and the Non-Christian Religions symposium on February 27. The panel of Renewal Christianity scholars explored the Christian encounter with faiths such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

"Christians in America tend to think of other religions not only as wrong, but as distant and weird," said Kärkkäinen. "It's easier to dislike something because it's not personal, and you become distant and close-minded."

His advice for Christians, who want to make a lasting impact on people of other faiths, is to first find common ground and build relationships. And from there, literally put a person's face to the religion.

"I lived for many years in Thailand and built relationships with the Thai people who were mostly Buddhists," Kärkkäinen said. "What I found extremely important for me is that I not only learn about Buddhism, but that I also came to know people who are Buddhists. I talked with real people who sincerely believed that I was wrong. Yet to learn how people in other faiths think, believe and behave helped me be more sympathetic to their needs, especially when I try to get them to know the light of Christ."

Other presenters at the symposium included Dr. Kirsteen Kim, associate senior lecturer in theology at Leeds Trinity University College; Dr. Cephas Omenyo, associate professor of religion and vice dean of the faculty of arts at the University of Ghana; Dr. Tony Richie, adjunct professor at the Church of God Theological Seminary in Tennessee; and Dr. Steven M. Studebaker, assistant professor of theology and the Howard and Shirley Bentall chair in evangelical thought at McMaster University.

To learn more about the School of Divinity, visit their website.

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