World Religions by Kenneth “KJ” Van Ek

A lot of my first-year friends tested out of it. I even thought about testing out of it. I know enough about World Religions, I thought. I’ve seen the News and plenty of funny culture-clash movies, so I get “Islam” and “Eastern Religions.” I’m also a fairly capable wikipaedia-er… who needs a semester-long, 3-times-a-week course to learn a few facts about World Religions?

Needless to say, I took the course. And I remember having the above mindset all the way through the first half of the semester. I remember thinking to myself, Not only am I just learning facts I could easily find on the internet, but we’re barely touching the surface of each of these deep, complex religions, and we’re doing this so quickly that none of it is even sticking!

So, I spoke with Professor Bolt, who graciously sets up halfway-point 15-minute office “checkups” with his students (which I now think EVERY professor should do), and shared some of my concerns and frustrations with him. It was then that he shared with me what Professor Nydam might refer to as “the gold” of the course; the facts are important, but it’s the Reformed framework for cross-religious engagement that’s the course’s most important takeaway.

Yeah, the facts and arguments are important, but so is the ability to redeem, to approach with grace, to understand a religion’s history, to understand how Reformed theologians have historically engaged with World Religions, and to interact well with people who believe differently than we do. For each religion we studied, we were given a framework, and I found each framework incredibly helpful, useful, and practical this summer at my cross-cultural internship.

I did my cross-cultural internship this summer with ACMNP (A Christian Ministry in the National Parks). I was able to serve on a ministry team in Glacier National Park in Montana. Over the course of the summer, I engaged with Native Americans, WASPs, relativist anti-Christian emerging adults, people who called “Nature” their religion, and I even had a few great conversations with a guy who was born a Catholic, became a “born-again” Christian, experimented with drugs in the 70′s, and then became a Buddhist, which he still practices today.

Without World Religions, I think I would have survived these encounters. But I don’t know how well I or the faith I subscribe to would have come across. Taking this course gave me the frameworks I needed to engage meaningfully and intentionally with each person I came in contact with, regardless of their religious beliefs or background, and it helped me engage with them (most importantly) with grace and understanding.

I shared the Gospel this summer with non-believers more than I ever have in my entire life, and I believe that World Religions (and a little bit of the Holy Spirit) gave me the words and confidence I needed to do it well.