Dan Strange, Oak Hill’s Academic Vice Principal and Tutor in Culture, Religion and Public Theology has just had a book published with Apollos, the academic imprint of IVP.
Dan, what’s the book called and what’s it about?
The book is called, For Their Rock is Not as Our Rock: An evangelical theology of religions. The ‘theology of religions’ is that part of theology which asks what human religion and religions are from the perspective of the Christian faith. My book is trying to answer that question as an evangelical, so in other words, what does the Bible as a whole say about other religions, their nature, origin, development and purpose? The book isn’t looking specifically at one religion in particular, but rather giving a comprehensive theological framework to interpet all human religiosity.
Why did you write the book?
As I say in the introduction to the book, I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between Christianity and other religions. There is a personal element here given my dad was from Guyana in South America, and my late grandmother was a Hindu.
Then there’s the fact that I studied theology at Bristol University in what was a very religiously pluralistic environment. My PhD there looked at the question of the unevangelised, that is people who never hear the gospel. Since then I’ve done quite a lot of stuff defending the exclusivity of Christ, but I wanted to write something more constructive: we might know what other religions are not, but what exactly are they and where do they fit into world history and more importantly into God’s sovereign plan for the world? Moreover when we know what they are, how might that affect our evangelism and discipleship? I’m not sure evangelicals have been brilliant in giving detailed and comprehensive answers to these questions. This is my attempt.
Finally, this isn’t just a theoretical question for me. I live and teach in London, a very religiously diverse city, and am elder in an ethnically diverse church which is seeking to proclaim Christ in such an environment.
On one of the opening pages you say that the book is ‘in the spirit and on the shoulders of JH Bavinck’. Can you explain?
JH Bavinck (1895-1964) was a brilliant missionary and Reformed missiologist who served in Indonesia for many years and wrote some great stuff in this area, including An Introduction to the Science of Missions, and Church Between Temple and Mosque. In my opinion, he’s fallen out of fashion, if he’s remembered at all. One of my aims in writing my book was to use and build upon his thinking in this area and get people talking about his work again.
The book is fairly chunky, over 380 pages. Can you give a summary of the key idea?
What I wanted to do was take a number of biblical doctrines that I already believe about who God is, who we are as human beings, what’s gone wrong, what’s the solution, etc., and simply apply these to what we call ‘other religions’. My big idea is that the Bible shows that other religions are idolatrous distortions of God’s revelation and so the gospel of Jesus confronts them head on.
However, because idols are always parasitic on the truth, there will always be a connection between the gospel of Jesus Christ and other religions. Hence my one big idea (and that I go on about all the time to my students at Oak Hill), is that the gospel is the ‘subversive fulfilment’ of other religions.
Who is the book for?
Well I hope the book is for anyone interested in the nature of human religion from the Bible’s perspective. I have to put a health warning on it and say that in places it is fairly dense and detailed – it’s a book of academic theology that engages with other academics in this area. However, I think a work at this level is needed at this time. I hope and pray it’s not too forbidding as I would love lots of people to read it.
I do hope that the book will stimulate and maybe even provoke evangelical theologians and missiologists to write more in this area. What I’m saying is, ‘Here is an evangelical theological framework for interpreting other religions. If you agree with it, take it and use it in your particular ministry and engagement with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.’
Dan’s book has received some great commendations:
‘Thoughtful, nuanced, and biblically faithful evaluations on the role of other religions are unfortunately rare. Strange fills an important gap by offering us a bold but humble perspective on other religions, repristinating the thought of JH Bavinck and Hendrik Kraemer for a new day. Strange doesn’t pretend to be neutral but offers an explicitly Reformed critique of other religions. Even those who are not Reformed or entirely convinced will be challenged and provoked and helped by Strange’s contribution. I found Strange’s thesis to be convincing and was struck by the depth and profundity of the notion that the gospel of Jesus Christ functions as a subversive fulfillment of other religions. The book is not merely an academic exercise but is intended to be a platform for missions. Strange’s passion for the glory of God in Jesus Christ shines through his work. This crucially important book should be read by missionaries, professors, pastors, and all those who teach the word of God and who long to see God’s name praised among the nations.’ – Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
‘Dan Strange has written what will become both an important textbook in the theology of religions and one of the most incisive and original contributions to the recent debate. His biblical Reformed tradition is employed to rigorously address complex questions about religious pluralism and his answers are uncompromising, challenging, and deeply Christological. His prose is a delight and this book is accessible to both trained theologians and the novice. Miss it at your peril.’ – Gavin D’Costa, Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Bristol
‘There is no question but that developing a biblical theology of world religions is one of the two or three greatest priorities facing the church today. Globalization means it is no longer simply a subject for foreign missions. Dan Strange has given us here what will surely be the standard for years to come. Deeply learned, theologically solid, well-informed in anthropology, this riveting study will guide the reader into the best ways to evaluate the religions of the world. Standing on the shoulders of Hendrik Kraemer and JH Bavinck, Dr Strange illuminates both the spiritual longings of people in different religions and their need for the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ – William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
‘Daniel Strange is one of the brightest and most articulate contemporary theologians in the Reformational tradition, and in ‘For Their Rock Is Not as Our Rock’ he provides a theology of religions which at once is theologically sound, analytically rigorous, and lucidly written. Highly recommended.’ – Bruce Riley Ashford, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
For Their Rock is Not as Our Rock will be published soon in a US edition by Zondervan.