Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary


Religion, Mission and Ministry PhD

First Advisor

Wagner Kuhn

Second Advisor

Richard Davidson

Third Advisor

Ante Jeroncic


This dissertation argues that current categories of religions are overly reliant on Western Enlightenment-based presuppositions and academic thinking that creates barriers in understanding God’s desire for all people to have abundant life. Many theologians and missiologists utilize these inherited categories without first subjecting them to the biblical canon. As a result, the theological and missiological discourse on religions is often grounded in extra-biblical presuppositions rooted primarily in an overly high view of human reason that do not accurately portray a biblical approach to relational life. These presuppositions do not accurately portray a biblical approach to relational life. I, therefore, compared and contrasted categories of religions as they have been developed with the description of relational life found in the biblical passages of Genesis 1-3, John 1:1-18, and Revelation 20-22, which I argue are theologically central to the biblical canon.

The purpose of this dissertation is to deconstruct the categories of religions that have been inherited and used by theologians and missiologists. The categories of religions are meant to be wide ranging and include terms or terminology that scholars have used to describe large groups of people or ideologies such as: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, Christianity, animism, folk religions, tribal religions, atheism, Marxism, etc. In the space created by deconstructing the categories of religions a constructive theology of relational life rooted in the biblical themes of creation, Incarnation, and re-creation is developed. Relational life is terminology meant to be used in place of the terms culture and religion and signifies relationships between God and humanity and humanity with each other.

This project utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to research. It involved surveying and critically engaging with current literature in a number of fields including historical studies of religion, anthropology, sociology, biblical studies, systematic theology, and missiology. This follows Veli-Matti Kärkäinnen and Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s methodological arguments in favor of an interdisciplinary approach to theology.

By deconstructing the categories of religions three major implications for missiology and theology were discovered. The first implication is that in the development of the categories of religions, people were turned into objects and classified based on vague abstract concepts. The second implication is that the categories often were developed with racialized understandings of humanity. The third implication is that the development of the categories often was done in tandem with the development of the false teleological hope in the progress of human reason, with the categories serving to clarify where certain people fit on the scale of progress. While many philosophy of religion and history of religion scholars have recognized these problems they have struggled to develop meaningful solutions to the problems. This dissertation suggests that a solution for the implications is found in the Bible by contrasting the categories of religions with relational life as portrayed in the biblical canon themes of creation, Incarnation, and re-creation found in Genesis 1-3, John 1:1-18, and Revelation 20-22.

From the study of these biblical passages it is then argued that a biblical understanding of relational life includes at least the following elements: work and rest, food and eating, language, human relationships and marriage, and clothing. These elements are rooted in the universal concepts that humanity is created in the Image of God, that God incarnated as Jesus to save humanity from sin and rebellion, and that God will re-create this Earth and live with humanity. These elements are, at the same time, more particular descriptors of humanity than the categories of religions and thus more reliable for understanding relational life. Therefore, it is better for theologians and missiologists to focus on the localized particularities of humanity in their diverse relational life as found in the biblical passages, rather than rely on categories of religions to develop meaningful theological and missiological concepts and engagements with relational life. It is then recommended that theologians and missiologists intentionally build relationships with people who live relationally in ways that are different from their own. As they do this they should intentionally turn to the Bible as the final arbitrating authority on ways of living, rather than categories of religions, in order to guide them in their relationships as well as their theological and missiological output.

Subject Area

Religion; Missions; Conduct of life; Bible. Genesis 1-3--Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Bible. John 1:1-18--Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Bible. Revelation 20-22--Criticism, interpretation, etc.