Daniel Strange has spent years helping Christians connect their faith to an increasingly secularized culture, first from his teaching post at London’s Oak Hill College and currently as director of Crosslands Forum, a new center for cultural engagement and missions. In his latest book, Making Faith Magnetic: Five Hidden Themes Our Culture Can’t Stop Talking About … And How to Connect Them to Christ, Strange discusses five “itches” everyone is looking to scratch—five needs we all share and that only Christ can fulfill. Evangelist Glen Scrivener spoke with Strange about how this framework can aid our outreach to nonbelievers.
When we think of evangelism, we usually think of people who need to begin a relationship with God. In your book, though, you say everyone is in a relationship with God already. What do you mean?
Often in evangelism, we worry, “How can I make any kind of connection?” We need to realize what the Bible says about people. All people are in a covenantal relationship with God. It’s not always a good one, but they are in a relationship with the God who created them.
I’m not naive. I recognize there are levels of hardness of heart. I don’t deny that at all. And that hardness can be culturally specific and bring with it certain challenges depending on the culture. But we need to remember there are universal truths the Bible declares about human beings. For instance, the Bible says they are “without excuse” regarding their capacity to know God (Rom. 1:20). It says this because they—humanity—are all in a relationship with him. I mean they know him, and yet they don’t know him—it’s a paradox. But it’s also a point of connection we can use.
You mentioned the phrase “without excuse” from Romans 1. How should this chapter shape our thinking about outreach?
Humanity is playing a cosmic game of hide-and-seek. And we think that God is hiding while we’ve honestly been looking for him. But according to Romans 1, we’re the ones who are hiding, and God is jumping up and down and Christ is saying, “Here I am.” It can’t be clearer.
And that means that in evangelism, there is always an unmasking that has to happen—not God’s unmasking but ours, because we are the ones hiding. We “suppress the truth,” as Romans 1 puts it (v. 18). And Paul says, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
I appreciate the point made by missiologist and theologian J. H. Bavinck, Herman Bavinck’s nephew: Even though we suppress the truth, we have both a sense of dependence and a sense of accountability. In Bavinck’s thinking, those realities—dependence and accountability—are inescapable. We all experience them, even as we suppress them. And so Bavinck takes those two realities and derives from them five points, five implications of what it means to be made in the image of God.
You describe these five realities as “magnetic points.” In other words, they are inescapable aspects of living in God’s world and they are—or they ought to be—attracting us to Christ. What are the five magnetic points?
The first one is called totality. It’s the idea that we want to be connected to something or someone. On the one hand, we think of ourselves as insignificant, just a speck in the universe. But then we connect with something or someone—it could be a particular cause or my national identity or an LGBT rally or a comic convention. And when we get that sense of connection, we suddenly realize we’re significant. So we’re all asking, how do we find this connection?
Secondly, there’s the norm. Is there a right way to live? We all have standards and rules, even though they might not be Christian rules. In other words, there’s a norm we’re measuring ourselves against. We see this, for instance, in the dynamics of contemporary “cancel culture”—whatever we might think of the norms being enforced, they are certainly being enforced. Another example I give in the book is goth culture, where everyone has to be different in the same way. A student recently told me that apparently, if you’re an experienced goth, you can wear baby pink, but if you’re new to the goth world and you wear baby pink, you’ll be seen as an outsider. So we’ve all got these norms.
The third magnetic point is deliverance. Meaning, is there a way out? We all think there’s something wrong with the world, but the reason we think it’s wrong and the form of deliverance we hope for are completely different. And in an ultimate sense, we still ask whether we can be delivered from death itself.
The fourth point is destiny—this interplay we experience between feeling like we are puppets and feeling like we have freedom. J. H. Bavinck has this great line that says, essentially, “We both lead and undergo our lives.” Am I in charge, or am I simply the result of my DNA, my educational system, my ethnicity? People who’ve got no time for God will often talk quite superstitiously about how things are meant to be for them—their destiny.
Then the final magnetic point is kind of a supermagnetic point: transcendence. Which means: Is there a way beyond? Who is the one who connects all these magnetic points? Who’s the one who gives us the norm? Who’s the one who gives deliverance? And who’s the one who’s ultimately in control? In the book, I talk about secularized religious experiences. They make us ask questions like: Are John Lennon’s “Imagine” lyrics right? That “there’s no heaven,” and “above us, only sky”? Or is there something else?
Now the exact nature of these magnetic points will differ in different cultures, and we need to understand that. But I’m arguing that these are universal questions, and each of them are answered in Christ.
Which brings us to the second part of the book. How does Jesus answer the five points?
This is very important. We must get to talking about Jesus. He is the way to connect: the Vine himself. He is the way to live: the Way himself. He is the way out: the Resurrection and the Life. He is the one in perfect control: the Good Shepherd. And he is the way beyond: the Light of the World—the great I Am. No wonder Jesus can say, “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He is the “Marvellous Magnet,” as Charles Spurgeon called him, and the magnetic points all lead to him.
What are some of your hopes for the book?
Christians seeking to share their faith want to know: How do we get traction? In our conversations with others, how do we connect? Actually, the Bible gives us a doctrine of humanity that tells us there will always be a point of contact in any kind of culture. There are universal “itches” to scratch.
We need to think deeply about what they are—for our own sake as much as theirs. And then we can ask: How does Christ relate to these? As for the results? At the end of the day, it’s only the Lord who can make a dead heart alive, but I hope people find this framework helpful as they give a reason for the hope they have.
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