Interview with Dr. Harold A. Netland

10.27.2020  |  Season 2  |  Episode 5



SHOW NOTES

In this episode, Dr. Madison Pierce and Dr. James Arcadi interview Dr. Harold A. Netland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

James and Madison learn about Harold’s experiences growing up in Japan, as well as his return there as a missionary, his thoughts about religious pluralism, and get an exciting preview of the book he’s writing on religious experience.

Tune in to hear about Harold’s rich experiences and his vision for ministering in the 2020s and 2030s.

But before Harold joins, Madison and James recount some of their childhood Halloween costumes.

Want to check out more of Dr. Netland’s work? Here are some of his most recent books:

Transcript

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Intro
[00:00:00] You’re listening to Foreword, a podcast from faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, hosted by Michelle Knight, Josh Jipp, Madison Pierce, and James Arcadi. Foreword invites listeners into the mission of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School through conversations with faculty, staff, and guests.

James Arcadi
Hey everyone! I’m James Arcadi.

Madison Pierce
And I’m Madison Pierce. Hey, y’all.

Arcadi
You know, we’re…we’re coming up on Halloween. I don’t know if you’ve ever had any cool Halloween costumes, maybe when you were in your…in your younger days that you might want to share with our…our listeners and viewers.

Pierce
I…I mean, I did all of the classics. Like, I was a witch one year, I think I was a cat, um, you know, pretty…pretty standard, but maybe my most interesting one is that I was Queen Nefertiti—

Arcadi
All right!

Pierce
—which I…I do kind of feel like is on brand. Like, it was just weird enough, like, you know, powerful woman, like all the, you know, historical figure, all that—

Arcadi
Sure.

Pierce
—I had like, a big, gold, like, cylindrical hat that was made out of cardboard, uh, so—

Arcadi
Yeah!

Pierce
—my mom…my mom sews, and is pretty crafty, so—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Pierce
—I felt like, you know, sky’s the limit with my costumes. She’s…she’s putting together one for Isla this year and stuff, so we’re…we’re lucky in that way.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

Arcadi
Um, so I remember a…a few costumes. I think maybe one of my favorite ones was—it was in high school—I was a Jawa [PIERCE LAUGHS] from…from Star Wars. And what was cool about this outfit is like, there was no part of me that was visible. So it had like this black thing that went over my face, so, you know, kind of a…a mesh sort of screen, and with the hood over it [PIERCE LAUGHS], and gloves and everything, and so, you know, I walked around school that day.

Pierce
That’s incredible.

Arcadi
Um, but then, when trick-or-treating time came—ok, this is when I got a little bit, I don’t know, a little naughty or something—I sat on my porch with a bowl of candy in my lap. [PIERCE LAUGHS] Alright, and you couldn’t tell if I was like, you know, a stuffed an…or a stuffed creature, like a scarecrow or something like that, or if it was just me. And so, I totally did the thing where like, you know, older kids would come up to get…to get candy, because it’s just there in my…in my lap in a bowl. And I wouldn’t grab them or jump out, I would just kind of like, move forward a little bit [LAUGHTER] and just, you know, scared…scared some…some adolescents probably in my…in my neighborhood. So, that was a fun one.

Pierce
That’s amazing. That, um, actually, so that’s my nightmare, first of all, [ARCADI LAUGHS] because I actually, I have…I’m…I’m scared of one thing.—

Arcadi
Really?

Pierce
—Like, I have…I have a really irrational phobia—

Arcadi
Uh huh.

Pierce
—and I know it’s irrational, but…I probably shouldn’t tell anybody this. [ARCADI LAUGHS] But, I…I’m scared of wax people.

Arcadi
Wax people? Huh.

Pierce
Or, and like, and people, like, and statues—

Arcadi
Sure.

Pierce
—and stuff like that to a degree—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Pierce
—because, when I was younger, I actually, like, I went to Madame Tussauds and hallucinated—

Arcadi
Whoa.

Pierce
—like, that they were moving and stuff. And so—

Arcadi
Wow.

Pierce
—like, a…like a person that I don’t think is going to move moving, is like, my number one fear. Like, that would—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Pierce
—that would paralyze me, so…[LAUGHS]

Arcadi
I’m sorry to like, bring up these…these fears to you. [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
No, I mean, until that part of the story, I was like, “James is a Jawa.” Like, “I love James and I like him twice as much just because I know he’s been a Jawa.” So, I love that.

Arcadi
Yeah.

Pierce
That’s an amazing costume.

Arcadi
It was…It was some just good, fun Star Wars kind of uh…kind of adventures in the first part of the day, but then, yeah, a little bit entertaining your…your fears, I guess.

Pierce
My nightmare.

[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]

Arcadi
I don’t know if that’s irrational. That actually sounds kind of rational, you know, because those wax figures are…yeah, they’re not quite…yeah. I can…I can sympathize, or empathize, with that…with that situation.

Pierce
I’m not scared of heights, I’m not scared of spiders or snakes, I’m scared of wax people. So…anyways. [LAUGHS]

Arcadi
Well, no…no wax people on this episode here.

Pierce
[LAUGHS] No.

Arcadi
Actually real, live people [PIERCE LAUGHS] talking together—you, me, and Dr. Harold Netland. And we’re really excited to have this conversation with him.

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Yep, let’s go see Harold. [LAUGHTER]

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

James Arcadi
Welcome to Foreword: a TEDS Faculty Podcast! We’re, uh, so excited that you’re joining with us today to have a conversation with Dr. Harold Netland. Dr. Netland is a long-time member of the faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I believe been on the faculty since 1993, so a lot of experiences here at TEDS to share and chat about. Dr. Netland is a professor of the Philosophy of Religion as well as Intercultural Studies, so he sort of resides in two departments on campus, and I’ll be excited to kind of hear a bit more about how that intersection works. Prior to TEDS, Dr. Netland did missions work in Japan. He also did his PhD at Claremont University out in California, and, uh, if I understand correctly, he is also a graduate of my alma mater Biola, uh…Biola University, maybe Biola College back then—if that…that’s right—

Harold Netland
Right.

Arcadi
—Um, so, anyway, Dr. Netland—Harold—we’re excited for you to be here with us and, um, I think we’ll just be eager to hear a bit more about some of your…your experiences, so—

Netland
Well, thanks!

Arcadi
Yeah!

Netland
It’s good to be with you.

Arcadi
[00:05:35] Great! Thanks, Harold. Maybe you could just say a bit more about some of your…your background, and some of your, like, what kind of led you into academic study, what kind of led you into…to ministry…how you ended up here at…at TEDS, and kind of a little bit more about just…what’s brought you to the point in your career where you are now.

Netland
Let me give a quick overview, and then if you want to pick up on anything, feel free to do that, but, uh—

Arcadi
Yeah, great!

Netland
—there’s a lot involved in that question. I was actually born in Japan. My parents were missionaries, so until age 18, most of my life was in Japan. And then from age 18, for the next, uh, 11 years, I was pretty much in Southern California—Biola. It was Biola College, and, um,  I can still remember the name change—

Arcadi
Oh!

Netland
—and somehow Biola University just didn’t sound right [ARCADI LAUGHS], but that’s…that’s what happened. Um, after 11 years in Southern California, my wife and I then returned to Japan for just about 10 years, and we worked with the Evangelical Free Church and did a variety of things—university student work, helped out in church planting, and, uh, then taught at Tokyo Christian University. I was able to be a part of the establishment of that. It was three separate schools that came together to form one theological college in Tokyo, and so spent about four years there, then came in the summer of ‘93 to the states, and that’s not what we had planned on. When…when Ruth and I went to Japan—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—we fully expected, “All right, we’ll be here ‘till we retire, and then find a place back in the states somewhere—sit in our rocking chairs.” [ARCADI LAUGHS] And, uh, so ten years after going to Japan, we ended up here at TEDS. I had never lived in the Midwest. I’d been through O’Hare [ARCADI LAUGHS], but that was about the extent of my Midwest experience.

Arcadi
Sure.

Netland
I’d never been to TEDS. And it was really, uh, I suppose—David Hesselgrave, who was a missions professor at the time, and Wal Kaiser—

Arcadi
Oh yes!

Netland
—who was Dean at the time—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—uh, they started a conversation that went on over a number of years, and Ruth and I finally came to the point where we felt, “This is what the Lord had in mind for us.” And now we’ve been here 20…in our 27th year, so it really goes fast.

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
Um, it’s not what we had in mind when we, you know, as young adults, we’re looking at the future and thinking, “Okay, so, what’s…what’s the next 30, 40 years going to be like?” But, uh, you learn to hold the future loosely—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—and follow God where He leads, and it’s…it’s just been a terrific 25+ years here at TEDS.

Pierce
That’s amazing, Harold. I think we’ll probably come back around to some of your experiences in Japan in a little bit, but you…you raise this kind of idea of “institutional memory,” and you have a lot of it here at TEDS. I mean, I think, as you said, you’ve been here since 1993.

Netland
Yes.

Pierce
Um, so I…I think, I mean, James and I are relative newcomers to TEDS. I…I’d love to hear some of what you think…some of the ways that you’ve seen our institution—I don’t know, what we’ve been consistent in, some of the ways that we’ve “progressed,” or changed over the years. I mean, what…what has your experience been like here?

Netland
[00:09:36] Yeah, good. When I came, I was the second youngest faculty member. There was one other person who was younger than I, and clearly that’s no longer the case. The school did not provide computers when I came. I had this big, clunky Mac—Mac Plus. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those [ARCADI LAUGHS], and I had to bring my own machine into the office. And Jim Moore—I think it was probably my third year here—finally got money out of the Dean’s Office so that we could, you know, each faculty member could have their own computer. So technology has changed, and TEDS has been fairly cautious in how it has approached technology and online learning. And probably overall that’s been good, although we’ve been forced to do a lot more of this in the last year, obviously. But, Madison and James, for you coming in and seeing how we are now at TEDS—believe me, I mean, it was the Dark Ages back then. [LAUGHTER] Um, how has it changed? The fundamental commitments have not changed, and that, to me, is just amazing. So, if…if you go through the distinctives of TEDS—training pastors, training scholars, commitment to personal piety, commitment to the life of the intellect—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—kind of a mainstream Evangelical institution—not off on the left, not off on the right. Those commitments have…have been there. I would like to think that we’re more engaged with society and culture now than when I first came. Um…I think that’s the case, and, um, and in some ways, we have a more diverse faculty than we had back then, although it’s always been diverse in terms of theological commitments and, uh, approaches to scholarship and what not. But, the important things have stayed the same, and it’s still a wonderful place to be.

Arcadi
Hmm. Can I just follow up briefly on—

Netland
Sure!

Arcadi
—how you’ve sort of seen, um, more recent, like, engagement culturally, or maybe more sort of like, you know, other aspects…I don’t know, socially, culturally, that maybe weren’t as much when you were first, uh, here at TEDS.

Netland
I think back…back then, the idea was, um, you know, Biblical Studies—you do Biblical Studies.—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—you do exegesis—biblical interpretation. And, uh, theology—you do theology. Uh, and then, the missions department—that’s the place for practical theology. That’s where you go if you want to engage society, um, “What’s the relationship between the Gospel and culture? Ok, those are discussions for people ‘over there.’” That’s no longer the case, and you have people in Biblical Studies using tools and resources from sociological analysis, cultural anthropology. You have people in theology who are engaging a broader spectrum of issues—social justice-type issues, and the interface between society and culture and how that shapes the practice of the “doing” of theology. Um, it used to be much more segmented, I think, and compartmentalized. So, to be honest, we’re not where I’d like to be on this, but I think we’re going in the right direction.

Pierce
Yeah. I agree.

Arcadi
That’s great!

Pierce
Yeah. Sorry—

Arcadi
I mean, I wonder if I can…Oh, go ahead…no, Madison—

Pierce
No please…no…I was just going to say, I’m probably being distracting. Those of you that are listening at home cannot see this, but my eyes are watering and I…so I’m like, wiping it, but I’m not crying. [LAUGHS] But anyways, I thought I would—

Netland
Oh, I didn’t want to make you cry this early, already, Madison. [PIERCE LAUGHS]]

Arcadi
Your devotion to TEDS, Madison—

Netland
Yeah.

Arcadi
—is very commendable. [NETLAND LAUGHS]—

Pierce
[FAKE CRYING] This is such a beautiful picture of TEDS!—

Netland
Quite moving, yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Go ahead, James.

Arcadi
Hey, yeah! Well, Harold, I mean, on that point, I’m kind of curious—your own…in thinking about that kind of, sort of, segmentation and disciplines—

Netland
Yeah.

Arcadi
—and interdisciplinary work, and kind of movement more towards…whether it’s cultural engagement or cross-disciplinary conversation engagement. You yourself—to me, at least—seem like the picture of “interdisciplinary.” I mean, even the fact that you have a joint appointment in…in my department, in our department, the Department of Biblical and Systematic Theology, but also in…in Intercultural Studies and Missions. So, I guess I’m kind of curious for yourself, how did you come to this—

Netland
Yeah.

Arcadi
—intersection point, and how do you see the intersection point between philosophy of religion and…and missions as…as has been so apparent in your…in your life and career?

Netland
Yeah. Um, good question. Let me just tell the background a little bit here.

Arcadi
Sure!

Netland
[00:15:00] Uh, when it works well, it works well. [ARCADI LAUGHS] When it doesn’t work well, um, then you’re homeless—yeah, you know, intellectually homeless.

Arcadi
Yeah!

Netland
But, um, I did my undergrad at Biola. I was a history major. I loved history, and I thought I would go on in history. I, uh, I started out doing church history at the School of Theology—United Methodist School at Claremont there. Um, but I found my interests moving from history to philosophy, so the history of philosophy—intellectual history. And, uh, and the word “philosophy” kind of scared me at the time. [ARCADI LAUGHS] You know, this was late 70’s, 1980.

Arcadi
Yeah!

Netland
Um… it was not at all like today. Philosophy was very hostile to any kind of religious perspective, especially orthodox Chrisitans. And, um…but I found my interests continually moving in that direction, and, uh, I ended up studying at the Talbot School of Theology at Claremont, and then at Fuller, although I didn’t take a degree from any of them. I was…I was very much trying to chart my own course. So, I tell students, “Do as I say, don’t do as I did. Finish the program.” [LAUGHTER] Um, but I…but I was trying to put together my own education, and, you know, what interested me, and then I ended up in the Philosophy program at Claremont Graduate School. John Hick had just come, I had read his material, and I wanted to study with him, and so that’s where I ended up. And I loved it. It was just…it was terrific. So that became my academic “home,” or my disciplinary “home base”—

Arcadi
Mmhmm.

Netland
—but I had grown up in Japan as a missionary kid—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—and I was working in Southern California with international students. And so, Monday through Friday I’d be, you know, doing seminars, and studying, and all this esoteric stuff. Then on the weekends, I’d go down to L.A. and be involved with international student ministries. And so I kept that foot in practical ministry and outreach. By the time I was finishing my doctoral program, I really felt the Lord was calling me back to Japan, but there weren’t a lot of models for PhDs in philosophy—in missions. And, so I struggled with that, and, uh, Ruth—my wife—and I felt called to some kind of university student work in Japan, and that’s where we headed out. Um, I have found that the Lord brought together in a beautiful way that training in philosophy and religious studies with the experience in Japan. And it’s not that, you know, bible studies I was leading with business men, they would ask me, um, about some esoteric philosophical question, but the training, the way to think, the way to deal with—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—tough questions and whatnot—this was enormously helpful. And, so, I began to kind of put things together on my own, so to speak. And…now, since coming to TEDS, initially, Wal Kaiser—they had an opening in Missions, and he said, “Well, we’d like you to consider coming in missions.” And my…my first response was, “Well, I’d be bored silly if I spent all my time teaching missions.”

Arcadi
[LAUGHS] Huh.

Netland
I mean, can you imagine anything more boring? [ARCADI LAUGHS] And so I said, “Well, I’d really like to kind of work across disciplines—”

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
“—and do something in philosophy of religion, world religions, as well as missions. I could see something like that.” And he didn’t bat an eye. He said, “Great! Let’s talk about it!” Now, after I’ve been here for 25 years, I see how unusual that is and, in some ways, how crazy it is. [ARCADI LAUGHS] I mean, it’s hard enough to keep up in one discipline—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—let alone try to integrate. But, my own personal feeling is we need much more integration across disciplines. We’ve become too siloed, too segmented, and there’s something really healthy about having to learn the vocabulary—the language—of another discipline, and how to frame questions outside your own guild. That was a long answer to your question, James.

Arcadi
Well, it’s a complicated situation, it sounds like—

Netland
It is. It is.

Arcadi
—but, I mean, that sounds really rich to me.

Pierce
Yeah, that’s great. I appreciate that, Harold, a lot. And, I…um, in going back through some of your work in preparation for this, was struck by the fact that you so frequently do, um, co-authored work—that you’re collaborating a lot. And I…I wonder if that also kind of plays into this question of…of you trying to navigate a lot of different disciplines and then, you know, being a really hospitable colleague. So I think that’s a…a neat kind of, you know, aspect of your work as well. I don’t know if you wanted to jump in there and say something about that, but…

Netland
[00:20:31] I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve also found out it’s a lot more difficult working with another author [ARCADI LAUGHS] than just doing it on your own. But I hope the end product is richer and better for that. Yeah.

Pierce
Yeah. Um, I think that…you’ve also done quite a bit in…in terms of—so this is jumping ahead a little bit to some of the…the work that you’ve done, or some of the topics that you’ve covered, and one of them is religious pluralism.

Netland
Yeah.

Pierce
And so, um, you know, we can, um, set aside Christianity as, you know, entirely unique—you know, and that is, of course, a kind of a loaded term in…in some of these discussions.

Netland
Mmhmm.

Pierce
Or, we can say that all religions effectively, you know, lead in the same direction. So, could you tell us a little bit about your understanding of how Christianity relates to other religions?

Netland
Yeah. Well, I distinguish between “Christianity and other religions” and “the Gospel and other religions,” because “Christianity”—it’s a loaded term.

Pierce
Yeah.

Netland
Uh, but, the way we normally use it, it refers to an empirical Christian tradition that has a history and a location. So, when we Evangelicals use the word “Christianity,” we often mean “The Gospel, the pure Gospel.” And, of course, “My church has a pure Gospel.” And…but, when others hear the word “Christianity,” they think of the history of the actual church—actual christians—throughout the ages. And that’s a very mixed reality, positive and negative. So, the last book I wrote, I…I put “Christianity” in the title, because I…I really wanted to talk about that. Um, it’s not just “The Gospel,” it’s this very messy empirical reality—the church—throughout 2,000 years. What’s the relationship between this and other religions? Um, “The Gospel and other religions” is really the key question for me. And, um, the question that I…I really think we need to grapple with today, and the American church really needs to explore more carefully is, “What does it mean to be disciples of Jesus in a world that is ethnically, religiously, very diverse, and, at this moment in history, where you have the legacy of 2,000 years of the empirical, Christian church?” So, “What does it mean for us today to be disciples of Jesus here and now?”

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
Um, and that’s a complicated question.

Pierce
Yeah. I’ve heard you talk a lot about preparing our students for the coming decades. And…and now you’re starting to talk about the 20’s and 30’s—

Netland
Yeah.

Pierce
—which always strikes me a little bit. I mean, are we in…like, firmly in the “roaring 20’s” again? I don’t know.

Netland
Oh my! [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
[LAUGHS] But, uh, could you—

Arcadi
It’s been roaring this year. [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Oh, yeah.

Netland
Oh many levels.

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Yes. Harold, could you tell us a little bit about what that looks like?

Netland
Yeah.

Pierce
I mean, what is your vision for theological education that prepares the next generation, either, you know, doing that ministry or shaping those ministers?

Netland
Oh boy. [PIERCE LAUGHS] Well, um, I…I think TEDS has the right, um, commitments when it comes to, um, trying to position ourselves as a middle Evangelical institution. I think that’s important. It’s easy to fall into extremes—right, left, whatever. Um, I think we need to be training, for the church, pastors—effective men and women who have the skills to deal with people. We also need to be training scholars. And so, I want to affirm what we’re doing at TEDS on that score. I think we do very well in the biblical languages, training people how to learn how to open up the word, understand the word, teach the word, think theologically. But what I consistently hear from alumni, and what I sense personally as I look at society and where we’re headed, is there’s a big disconnect between what the graduates feel equipped to do and how they make the connections between what’s happening on the ground.

Arcadi
Interesting.

Netland
[00:25:28] And I think we’re doing better, but, um, I really do feel the White Evangelical church in America today is at a crossroads, and, um, I…I see much of what’s going on in the broader White Evangelical church—and I know I’m painting with very broad strokes. I…I know that. But I think there’s a sense of trying to hold on to what we think we had in the past. I don’t think we ever had it, but there’s this vision of what they think the past was like. They see the present and the future, and I think many Evangetlicals are scared—“Where is this going?” And, uh, “How should we try to recover what we used to have?” In my view, that’s precisely the wrong way to approach these issues. And so, a short answer would be, I think pastors, Christian leaders, in the American church today—not only Whites, but I’m thinking primarily about White leaders—really need to think missiologically about where we are today. So if you go to another culture, then it’s kind of expected you study the society, the language, the culture, try not to offend anybody, you look for bridges that you can build and so on. And…and my comment is simply, “Why don’t we do that here?”

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
Uh, the society is changing, the culture is changing, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The question becomes, “At this moment, how do we live as salt and light—disciples of Jesus?”

Pierce
Yeah. Amen.

Arcadi
Yeah, that’s really…that’s really cool. Thanks for that, Harold. Um, I mean, kind of another intersection point that…that I was thinking about in terms of your own…uh, your own work, and even what you’re working on right now—um, so, as I understand it, you’re kind of working on…you’re working on a book on the…the intersection of, I guess, epistemology and, um, religious experience? And obviously, I mean, here’s a cool place where…where [NETLAND LAUGHS], you know, intercultural studies and missiology intersects with philosophy. So, um, can you say a little bit about like, well…what is a religious experience and how are you kind of thinking about that with respect to the—

Netland
Yeah.

Arcadi
—epistemological issues that you’re investigating?

Netland
Well, my son in law is a surfer [ARCADI LAUGHS], so you catch the right wave, and that’s a religious experience, you know? [LAUGHTER] Okay, it’s pretty broad. It’s pretty broad.

Arcadi
I’ve caught that wave. [LAUGHTER]

Netland
You…you caught that wave!

Pierce
[LAUGHS] As someone who’s never lived in California, I’m feeling a little bit left out right now.—

Netland
Oh my. Yeah.

Pierce
—[LAUGHS] No, I’m just joking.

Netland
Um, well, come at it this way. Come at it this way.

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
Um, historically, I think, from the time of the Reformation, the Reformation reacting against the magisterium, the Roman Catholic church—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—the institutional authority in the Roman Catholic church, there clearly is a move towards a more personal experience of God through the Holy Spirit and the Word. You have Pietism, you have the Puritans, you have Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley—contemporaries.

Arcadi
Sure.

Netland
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was doing kind of a comparative study of Edwards and Wesley on how they approach this issue of religious experience, because within the Christian framework, they both are counting on and appealing to the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life to accomplish all kinds of things. But they’re also both very much aware that not everything that seems to be the work of the Spirit really is the work of the Spirit. And so, they’re both very sensitive to basic epistemological questions, although they’re working within a Christian theological framework. That personal experiential dimension has been a big part of Evangelicals over the past few centuries. Now, when Ruth and I were in Japan, my wife was pregnant with our first daughter—this would be the early ‘80’s—and we lived in a part of…outside of Tokyo, west of Tokyo, where there really weren’t any other Americans. And one day, she had gone to the maternity clinic and came back and she was all excited; “Oh, you’ll never believe who I met at the clinic today!” Well, it was another American! Turns out, she was also from Minnesota—my wife was. She was a graduate at the University of Minnesota—my wife was. And so, they set up a time to have coffee, and Ruth was all excited; “Oh, good! We get to talk about America and Minnesota, and all that kind of stuff.” I was gone when the woman came, but my wife told me, no sooner had she entered the door than she said to my wife, “Let me tell you how I found perfect peace and happiness in Soka Gakkai Buddhism.”

Arcadi
Huh.

Netland
And she was actually a ward director for Soka Gakkai Buddhism in that part of Tokyo.

Arcadi
Okay.

Netland
[00:30:55] Now, it turns out, at the U of M, she had met a Japanese international student, fell in love, they got married, he was a Buddhist, she converted. And, my wife said, “Her testimony was beautiful!” I mean, you change a few words, and it would have been a spectacular Christian testimony. And, there…there are lots of these kinds of experiences. So, bring it to a close—experience is very important, and I think there…there’s an epistemological framework in which we can trust, in a fallibilist manner, our experiences. But you’ve got to go beyond simply the experience, and have some broader framework from within which you can assess experiences, whether they are validical or not, or else you’ll end up like Ruth was with this woman; “Wow! That’s beautiful!” You know, “Good for you.” Uh, so that’s part of what motivated me to get into this discussion.

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
And then the seven chapters—it’s not a definitive statement, it’s much more exploratory—but trying to chart a way in which we can, within the Christian tradition, look at some of these basic epistemological issues and…and have a responsible framework for understanding them.

Arcadi
So…so is the…is the idea trying to operate within Christianity; “How do you think about religious experiences?” Or is it more of kind of a comparison of different traditions—

Netland
Yeah.

Arcadi
—different faiths and their religious experiences—

Netland
Yeah.

Arcadi
—and how a Christian ought to think about that; how a Christian ought to think about, you know, the person your wife encountered, or is it more, “How do I think, as a Christian, about my own religious experiences?”

Netland
It’s both, but it…I started out thinking I would do a comparative study—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—experience in Buddhism and experience in Christianity. And I just found right away, I mean, the literature is just massive, and that’s not going to happen. So I focus it mainly on theistic experiences—experiences of a theistic god—broadly within the Christian tradition. But, there are theistic experiences outside of explicitly the Christian tradition. One of the fascinating things to me is how many reports there are of visions of Jesus, appearances, apparitions of Jesus, by just a wide assortment of people.

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
And, so, it’s written with a Christian audience in mind, but in…in addressing these issues, for example, there’s a chapter on mysticism there. And I look primarily at Hindu/Buddhist discussions, and not at the Chrilstian mystical tradition, simply because of time. But, uh…so there’s a little bit of a comparison going on, but it’s primarily for those within the broadly Christian tradition; how should we approach and assess theistic experiences?

Arcadi
Mmm. That sounds really rich, really helpful.

Pierce
That’s great, Harold. Uh, and when and where can we find this?

Netland
That’s a very good question. [LAUGHTER]

Pierce
[LAUGHS] Okay. TBD?

Netland
It’s supposed to be done by Christmas, so I need to turn it…turn the manuscript in before Christmas, and then probably it will be a year or so after that before it’s out, yeah. Baker Academic—

Pierce
Great.

Netland
—is putting it out.

Pierce
Oh, with Baker? Oh good. Good.

Netland
Yeah.

Pierce
That’s wonderful. I, um…we’re about to wrap, Harold, but, uh, I think it’s really interesting—I don’t know if this is how you would frame this, too, so please feel free to push back—but, what I hear a lot in your work is a theme of kind of, you know, looking at people’s own perceptions, and then helping them to understand where those might be misconceptions, and…and then kind of reframing those things. And I really appreciate that because I think that is an important part of our kind of contemporary work is to say, “You know what, this is what we think is true of God, this is what it seems like people think is true of God, and we’ve got to bridge those two things.” I think that’s a really important part of our work, and it sounds like that…that’s kind of a thread in what you’re doing as well, so I’m glad to join in, or join with you in that, I guess. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Netland
[00:35:22] Yeah, no, that’s a good observation. And, um, I think there’s a…there’s a need for that, and I have…I went from a very conservative undergraduate institution—Biola back then is not like Biola when you were there—

Arcadi
Yeah.

Netland
—it was more of a fundamentalist school. I went from there to the School of Theology at Claremont, which is pushing the edge for left-wing thinking. And one of the first lessons I learned was, “They misunderstand us, just like we misunderstand them.” And, so…and then in Japan, too, I found misunderstandings all around. And so, trying to overcome misunderstandings—where do we agree? Where do we disagree? You don’t compromise, you hold fast to your convictions, but can we get beyond unhelpful stereotypes and really see where the other person is coming from, and then deal with things on that basis. It’s important, I think.

Arcadi
Yeah, incredibly important. Yeah, definitely. And a great place, I think, for us to wrap up! So thanks so much, Harold, for…for chatting with us today. Really excited about the work that you’ve been doing over the decades at TEDS, grateful to be inheriting, in some sense, if I can use that term, the work that you’ve done at…at TEDS. And, um, really excited about some of the…the things that are coming out in your research, and in your publication, and in your teaching as well. So, thanks so much. Good to have you with us today.

Netland
Well, thank you!

Arcadi
And that’s just the Foreword! We’re really grateful to Harold Netland for speaking with us today. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Netland, you can check out his web page on the TIU site. Um, you’ll see that he teaches in a variety of our programs here at TEDS, including the Master’s of Divinity program, various M.A. programs, and, of course, our…our PhD programs. So we’re thankful to him for being with us today. We’re always thankful to our producer, Curtis Pierce, and our graduate assistant, Lauren Januzik, and we’re of course grateful to you, our listeners, for joining with us in these conversations. I’m James Arcadi.

Pierce
And I’m Madison Pierce. Thanks, y’all.

Outro
Foreword is a podcast hosted by faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can subscribe to our newest episodes on your preferred podcast app or at forewordpodcast.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook @forewordpodcast to get updates and additional links to content. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is located 25 miles north of Chicago, with extension sites across the country and online. Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. You can find more information at teds.edu.

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