What are the major events in the history of salvation, according to Christianity? If you made a little diagram with stick figures, what would you have to include? The choosing of Abraham, of course. The giving of the law, and the whole Mosaic ministry of God redeeming his people from Egypt and making them his own special people. How about the ministry and rule of David as king in Israel, and the promise that his son would rule forever? And of course the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This is the gospel message, this is what it means to be a Christian. These things are the central events in the history of salvation.
And then you would have to draw a scroll, or a book. Because even though the coming of the book is not the main event, it is nevertheless an event. The fact is that, having done all these things, God also recorded it, inspired the record, and superintended the inspiration of the record so that his people would have a book. So in that sense, the coming of the book is a major event in the history of salvation.
But it’s not the central event, and it’s subordinate. For contrast, consider other religious systems. Take Islam for instance: What is the central event for the Muslim faith? That the eternal word of God has been given to one authorized prophet. “There is one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” What is the founding of Islam as a distinct religion? It’s the coming of the Quran. That is the central event in the history of salvation for that religion.
Certainly we as Christians are a people of the book, but there is one way in which we cannot and should not compete with a religion like Islam in the race to be people of the book. It’s possible, believe it or not, to be too much a religion of a book: Where we have the coming of the Son of God, they have the coming of the book.
As another example, take Mormonism. What’s the central event in Mormon theology? It’s the revelation, on golden tablets, to one authorized prophet. Notice that,as with Islam, you’ve got a founder with a written revelation.
Now in contrast to these very book-centered religions, how does ours look? What does Christianity say about its book? What’s the central event of salvation history? Not the coming of the book, but the coming of the Word incarnate, a different sort of Word, and incarnate rather than in pages.
How did we get our book? We didn’t have one authorized prophet receive the entire book direct from God with no intermediaries. We didn’t find golden tablets in a cave and read them with special glasses. To speak piously about it, by comparison with these other religions on the market, it’s frankly a bit sloppy. We’ve got all these books, and they belong together, but compared to the kind of centralized quality control in these other religions, we don’t look competitive.
Don’t miss this: another important event in the history of salvation, according to Christianity, is the inspiration of Scripture. We do have a revelation, and God has not left us without a witness. Any idea of salvation includes within itself the idea of what we are saved from. If our problem were just ignorance of God, then salvation could be accomplished through the giving of information. Revelation would be salvation. But Christians know that we have a bigger problem than just ignorance or lack of understanding, and God has done more for our salvation than just reveal himself. We absolutely need the book. But we need more: we need what the book is about.
(I said something a lot like these words earlier this week at Calvary Church Santa Ana, as part of a series called Ask Anything.)