Is it possible to be objective about the truthfulness of the copious amounts of religions surrounding us in the world today? Doesn’t the poem about the blind men and the elephant teach us that everyone is right because no one knows what the elephant truly is? Can Christians rightly claim that not only does the elephant speak, but that we truly know the Elephant?
Daniel Strange, Academic Vice Principal and Lecturer in Culture, Religion, and Public Theology at Oak Hill College, London, has written a hefty theology of religions for the Christian church. Strange says that “this is a book for evangelical Christians, written by an evangelical Christian,” (33) and especially for Reformed Christians (written, you guessed it, by a Reformed Christian).
“In your light do we see light” (Ps 36.9).
Strange summarizes the theology of religions he seeks to defend:
From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ (42).
As dense as this statement is, the rest of the book doesn’t get much easier. At 338 pages, Strange’s book is large, dense, and it will require time. I went through the book pretty quickly, reading more than half of it on my Denmark bike trip. But a quick read isn’t recommended (unless reading the above summary was a breeze for you). Strange’s theology of religions is to be read slowly, taking the time to understand the big concepts he writes about.
After Strange introduces the heavy task that lies before us, chapter 2 presents the homo adorans (“the worshipping man”) to us. Made in the image of God, mankind is made to worship, but after the fall mankind follows a “false faith.” Mankind thinks they are independent from God, but instead they “are just as dependent as they ever were, but will not accept it” (93). Chapter 3 covers “remnental revelation” and gives an explanation for the commonalities between religious traditions. This leads into chapter 4, how religions and the religious Other developed after the Tower of Babel. Chapters 5-6 survey idolatry in the Old and New Testament. Chapter 7 shows how the Gospel of christ both subverts other religions and and fulfills them. Other religions merely piggyback on the worldview of the Bible, riding the wave that is truth. Chapter 8 gives implications for missions and in chapter 9 Strange presents a pastoral perspective which wraps up the book. In Judges 3.1-4 God allows idol-worshipping Canaanites to remain in the land to test Israel’s faithfulness. Might other religions also be a test to the church’s faithfulness?
Strange uses many excellent sources in his book (Van Til, J. H. Bavinck, Leihart, Block, Frame, and I was happy to see Strange used Mike Heiser’s work in his study too) in the form of block quotes. In fact, one of Strange’s main purposes has been to “spotlight . . . those forgotten figures such as J. H. Bavinck” (335). Unfortunately the excessive use of these block quotes hinders the book. Most of the book is not an easy read. Out of 338 pages, 92 pages do not have block quotes. Or, in other words, roughly 246 have a full or partial block quote.
Though many were dense, all of the quotes were good, however the quotes often broke up Strange’s argument and made it difficult to follow. More often than not it was tiring to read the quotes, and I often read Strange’s concluding thoughts to understand the main idea. That is, when I could find Strange’s concluding thoughts. My biggest complaints with this book are the length and the density of Strange’s writing style. I would often find myself neck deep in text wondering how I got here, what I’d just read, and what it meant. Strange wanted to be thorough, but this can be done without explaining everything you’ve done, are doing, and will do.
On the upside this book is written from a Reformed perspective, and many of the quotes and ideas are from Reformed apologetic and systematic thinkers. I look forward to a future book on the practical use of this work for missions which will hopefully give more examples of how non-Christian religions are “subversively fulfilled” by the Christian gospel. This book needs time if you’re going to work through it. It’s dense and it’s tough, but it deserves the time and you’ll be a better thinker for reading it. You will have a better understanding of the other religions around you and a way to grow in your understanding of them as being parasites on the Christian gospel.
- Author: Daniel Strange
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan (February 3, 2015)
(Special thanks to Zondervan for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).