Yesterday, I referred to the fiftieth anniversary edition of John R. Stott's classic book, Basic Christianity. Today I return to this incredibly useful book to comment on Stott's opening chapter where he lays our what he calls: "The Right Approach."
Stott says that the first four words of the Bible are more than an introduction to the creation story or the book of Genesis. "They supply the key which opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole" (11). What these four words tell us, all interpretive issues regarding Genesis aside, is that the religion of the Bible is the religion in which God takes the initiative. Again, Stott has the ability to cut away so much that is less than central to the faith to get at what really, truly matters. Here is how he puts it:
You can never take God by surprise. You can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there 'in the beginning.' Before man existed, God acted. Before man stirs himself to seek God, God has sought man. In the Bible we do not see man groping after God; we see God reaching after man (11).
Read that again. In a few words Stott has summarized more important biblical theology in this paragraph than most writers do in a hundred pages. He says that most people visualize a God who sits comfortably on a distant throne, aloof and indifferent. But this image is totally false. While man is lost in darkness and sin God rises from his throne and lays aside his glory and stoops to seek and to find lost men and women. "This sovereign, anticipating activity of God is seen in many ways" (11).
God is the person who takes the initiative. He created. He spoke. He acted. He redeemed. And he has spoken and acted in Jesus Christ alone. He has actually done something thus Christianity is not about a collection of religious teachings or a system of practices. It includes these but it is primarily about "the good news of God" revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stott concludes, "It is not primarily an invitation to man to do anything; it is supremely a declaration of what God has done in Christ for human beings like ourselves" (12).
I so wish I could get most Christians to understand this simple point. Christianity is not about our work, our faith, our practices, etc. It is about God taking the initiative in his grace to rescue us in his Son, Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ!