Theologian Kärkkäinen Speaks in Ellendale August 24 on Religious Pluralism

Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

My morning paper tells me that theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen will present a lecture at Trinity Bible College up in Ellendale, North Dakota, on Thursday, August 24, at 7 p.m. Dr. Kärkkäinen will present Trinity’s fourth annual Herman G. Johnson Lecture, titled “Jesus Christ Between Islamic and Christian Faiths: A Missional Impasse or a Promise?” According to Trinity’s Facebook page for the lecture, “This public lecture will discuss a Pentecostal-Evangelical approach to religious diversity and pluralism along with a comparison of Christian and Muslim traditions particularly as they relate to Jesus.”

Dr. Kärkkäinen holds teaching positions at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and the University of Helsinki and writes all sorts of egghead books and articles on religion. He’s also an ordained ELCA Lutheran pastor, which suggests to me that he has his theological head screwed on mostly straight.

I don’t see long Google trail of Dr. Kärkkäinen writing about Islam specifically, but he dedicates a fair amount of his theologizing (which one author says is among the most important of our time) to grappling with religious pluralism. In his 2004 book Trinity and Religious Pluralism: The Doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Theology of Religions, Kärkkäinen says that while other religions don’t lead to salvation, “other religions are important for the Christian church in that they help the church to penetrate more deeply into the divine mystery.” Kärkkäinen has presented Christian perspectives at the “Building Bridges Seminars,” annual meetings of Christian and Muslim scholars organized by Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs since January 2002.

Below is video of Dr. Kärkkäinen’s speech at the 2015 Building Bridges Seminar in Doha, Qatar, on “Human Action within the Sovereignty of God” (Kärkäinen is introduced at 45:30):

Perhaps relevantly to the interests of our local, politically minded audience, the Finnish theologian also has firsthand experience of being pushed around by paranoid anti-immigration restrictions:

Kärkkäinen, along with his wife, Anne, and two daughters, returned to Pasadena on September 5. They had been forced to leave the United States on July 31 when the Department of Homeland Security revoked Kärkkäinen’s “special immigrant religious worker” visa.

Immigration officials, now under the supervision of the Department of Homeland Security, questioned Fuller’s tax-exempt status. They ruled that Kärkkäinen’s role as a seminary professor was not a “traditional religious occupation.” They also claimed that Kärkkäinen, who has two doctorates and two master’s degrees and served as president and theology professor at IsoKirja College in Keuruu, Finland, did not have the necessary experience for his position.

…”What amazes me,” Kärkkäinen said, “is that the world’s most influential country and its administration are obviously unable to make a distinction between threats and friendly, productive immigrants” [Bob Smietana, “Security Gaffes,” Christianity Today, 2004.11.01].

Unlike the fakers who have danced through our neighborhood trolling for fearful donors, Kärkkäinen isn’t coming to talk about immigration policy, and I doubt he’ll say much about politics. Kärkkäinen is a genuine scholar coming to give a serious scholarly lecture on religious diversity and pluralism.


4 Responses to Theologian Kärkkäinen Speaks in Ellendale August 24 on Religious Pluralism

  1. Heidi Marttila-Losure

    Interesting! I’m putting it on the calendar.

  2. Oh, you Finns, always sticking together. ;-)

  3. Heidi Marttila-Losure

    Ha! Right.

    Some trivia that probably no one cares about: His first name translates to “Brother Matt.” The last name means, roughly, “little eager one.”
    The Bible college where he was president and professor is “Big Book College.”

    It would be interesting if he did talk about immigration policy a little. Historically, Finland has not been as welcoming of immigrants as, say, its neighbor Sweden. I think more immigrants have been welcomed in recent years, but neo-Nazi thinking has increased there as well.

  4. Interesting—”Brother Matt”!

    Finland’s immigration website says Finland responded to the Syrian refugee crisis by increasing the number of “quote refugees” it accepted from 750 to 1,050 a year.

    From what little I’ve seen, I get the impression that “Brother Matt” is very much immersed in theology rather than government policy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sticks with how Christians and the Church ought to understand and act in response to a major competing religion rather than getting into what could be viewed as one narrow policy application. We may have to do the heavy lifting of applying his deep theology to public policy. But as a theologian and an immigrant, Kärkkäinen could provide some strong commentary on the Christian response to immigrants of varied faiths.