Making Faith Magnetic by Daniel Strange
Highlights five hidden themes our culture can’t stop talking about - and how to connect them to Christ
Making Faith Magnetic: five hidden themes our culture can’t stop talking about
By Daniel Strange
The Good Book Company
Reviewed by Terry Young
Dan’s thing is modern culture and how Christians can get more involved in it. In Plugged in he manages to turn the homework of several of his students into a fun way of learning from films and books that everyone is reading or watching, and to share the gospel by making better cultural connections. Full disclosure: I know and like Dan and I really like what he is trying to do.
While he does not shy away from the dangers of assimilating prevailing culture, he believes that Christians can be more robust with the world around, and he clearly enjoys his own tours of engagement. To help us out, he describes five ways in which people are pulled. This framework was developed by a missiologist, JH Bavinck, some 70 years ago and the five ‘magnetic points’ draw us toward:
Totality and a connection to a greater whole.
Norm and an accepted way to live.
Deliverance and a route out of our problems.
Destiny and insight into what controls our lives.
Higher Power and a connection beyond our everyday experiences.
My only encounter with Bavinck has been through Dan and I like books like this that highlight the contribution of Christians from the past and sharpen their spotlight on the present. I like frameworks – developing them, absorbing other people’s, critiquing them, and so the idea of five deep pulls upon our soul makes sense. Tara Burton’s take on secular faiths (my review: Strange Rites by Tara Isabella Burton) suggests there might be four things that attract people to a religion, even when then shy away from God. Personally, I think we can come up with an even more compact framework of deep hungers that connect to faith, hope and love, but that isn’t the point. Dan is clearly onto something, even if there is a lack of agreement on the exact dimensions of that something.
Plugged In with its 4 Es (Enter, Explore, Expose, Evangelise) is an easier framework to grasp. The set of four short case studies at the back – from adult colouring books to Japanese smart toilets – which came out of work his students had done while studying the course, make it easier to turn the ideas into practice. The narrative element is strong in Making Faith Magnetic, but it would be nice to have a couple of fully worked through examples.
I hope this provides an understanding of what Dan is up to: he takes some academic ideas, perhaps dusting down their historical origin, presents them to us today as a way of understanding the perplexing world we inhabit, and then finds a few crisp headings that help the learning to lodge in our minds.
The narrative element is always strong in Dan’s writing, as it is here – whether he is taking a lone walk as his allotted exercise under lockdown or steering us around the internet. The funniest piece is a sustained rant about VAR that was tweeted during one of West Ham’s home games, a match Dan attended. While he was fuming over a VAR-related delay, a fan elsewhere in the crowd was expounding on legitimacy and the complexity of sporting rules, by way of Higher Criticism – and it spills over several joyous pages!
It’s possible that Dan got one of his kids to slip her a fiver or that he had a bet with one of his students; maybe he is just very lucky in the way modern culture and thoughtful engagement just happen to keep clashing whenever he is around. I suspect that the truth behind his rich store of relevant anecdotes is that they are there for all of us, if only we were looking for them. Society isn’t that hard to understand or to reach out to if we are really interested in doing so.
Towards the end, Dan flips the metaphor. He starts out navigationally, using magnetic as in Magnetic North – a set of guiding stars that we all long to follow – and then changes his lodestar to a lodestone. Magnetism isn’t just about orienting ourselves in a desert, a magnet turns iron filings into mini-magnets. If we can allow God to magnetise us, we can attract others, and they, too, can become magnetics for others.
In a way, it takes the pressure off. So often the thought of evangelism fills us with angst – the awkward rejections of invitations to the men’s breakfast or sitting uneasily next to someone while a preacher piles it on. This is a chance to remember that God can work through us, often just by our being what we are and allowing God’s attractiveness to flow through the few connections we naturally make with those around us. It’s not about giving up: it’s about swotting up and then being ready to enjoy the experience.
It's an easy read. It has fun stories. Unless you’re running Bible studies every night of the week for unchurched geeks, bright young things or listless retirees, it’s worth a couple of hours of your time.
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia