Very few exclusivists today are as robust in their claims as is Daniel Strange in his essay on the relation of Christianity to the world religions (in Only One Way? Three Christian Responses on the Uniqueness of Christ in a Religiously Plural World, by Gavin D’Costa, Paul Knitter, Daniel Strange). For the robustness alone this study is important reading for anyone interested in this topic – and the dialogue that follows later in the book shows that a Roman Catholic inclusivist and a Roman Catholic pluralist can engage with a conservative evangelical exclusivist on level ground with reason and respect. This does not mean there aren’t some hard-hitting disagreements.
Strange lays his cards on the table: he is Protestant, Reformed, orthodox and evangelical — and he is sola scriptura (supremely) but adheres to the ecumenical creeds and especially the Reformed theological solas and statements. He’s right in laying his cards on the table like this, and he quotes Reformed theologians everywhere, and this approach reveals what is best called “confessional evangelicalism” which is every bit as tied to tradition as is Catholicism or Orthodoxy. It is, in my view, the future of Reformed evangelicals, what I now call the NeoPuritans.
Would you call this view by Strange the “traditional” view? Are the religions an idolatrous refashioning of revelation? How can one believe in Christ and not be an exclusivist?
His argument: “non-Christian religions are essentially an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation, which are antithetical and yet parasitic on Christian truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ‘subversive fulfilment'” (93). These are strong claims about other religions.
Yet dialogue can occur here because he states his views so clearly; there’s no politicking and softening of edges or blending ideas to have it both ways. His posture won’t lead to compromise or “progress” but it is honest communication.
His emphasis in method is Bible — a theology shaped by the Bible. His theology proper is that YHWH is transcendently unique, which leads to an exposition of “no other.” There is no one like YHWH in who God is, in what God says, and in what God does. This God is jealous of his name, and that means also that Israel and Church is unlike no other.
In light of the fall, all non-Christian religions are “an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation” (109). Idolatry is a false faith and is anchored in the human perversity of suppressing general revelation. All of this leads him to see that there are two options: religions rooted in Christ and religions not rooted in Christ. Those who worship YHWH and those who worship idols. So he finds great discontinuities between religions.
But he sees some continuity due to complexities in human nature, historical complexities in relationship between biblical faith and the religions, and personal complexity. [This element of his study is not spelled out but his exclusivist stance implies he’s not giving in in these complexities.]
The essence of the good news is christology – Jesus is equated with YHWH. Sin is ethically unjustifiable false faith so that not recognizing Christ is idolatry provoking divine wrath, and the essence of Christ’s death therefore is propitiatory. Scripture is necessary in order to comprehend this. General revelation is inadequate for salvation, so there is a bleak pessimism lingering over his presentation — though these elements are not brought to the fore as much here as in his book.
He doesn’t see any hope postmortem (nothing here on Apostles’ Creed though he says he affirms it); he is about the same as proto-word revelation (prior to hearing the gospel) so that he’s less than optimistic about other religions being praeperatio evangelic (preparation for gospel). In other words, Strange almost requires a missionary or a gospeler for anyone to be saved. He doesn’t spell things out, but my reading of him is that most North Koreans — and anyone who has not heard the gospel — are damned because of original sin. He argues no one deserves anything but hell.
Strange is big on seeing the gospel as subversive fulfillment. It subverts those idolatries and fulfills all they want to be.
Mission then is about a desire for the glory of Christ, the gospel transforms everything but he is not encouraging of co-belligerency in the public sector, the kingdom is mostly ecclesial, accommodation is the right word but “possessio” or colonizing all into the imperial reign of Christ, and he prefers elenctics over dialogue (that is, missionary apologetics).