If you have ever seen “The Gods must be Crazy”, you’ll remember the whole amusing story involves a glass coke bottle that is thrown from a plane and is found by some native Africans. Not knowing what its real use is – they invent a variety of new uses for it. The smooth surface is excellent for stretching skins over. It’s harder than most things they know of and so it’s also a great hammer. They find many uses for it.
Yet, they never really understood why it was what it was. And they didn’t understand what it was by investigating its material, geometry, or potential uses. They missed the intended purpose of the bottle (quite understandably), and all their explanations of what it was and what it did fell short because they didn’t understand the bigger picture.
Before I explain, let me give another analogy. Imagine you have no knowledge of motor vehicles – you might be in the early 10th century. Though it would not be possible, imagine you were out for a walk one day and stumbled upon a car. But it’s not really a car – because all the hundreds of components that make up the car are all strewn randomly over the ground. No doubt you would be amazed at the gleaming mag wheels. Perhaps quite in awe of the precision-machined pistons and engine block – but these would all be separate. Everything down to the nuts and bolts would be disjoint.
“What is it?” you would think. And of course, you wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t even know that if you connect the battery to the head-lamp you could make light. You may find the fuel burns well to cook your food – but you’d have no idea that it could propel you at 200 km/h. Perhaps, like the Africans in Gods Must be Crazy, you’d think it was some mystical gift from God – something to be feared, revered and treasured. You’d put it to some use – in the simple ways you imagine – but you would never understand how to use it as a car. You’d miss the point because you don’t know the bigger picture.
I think you know where I am going with this. This describes at least a little, I think, of how Christians treat the Bible today. They speak of the ‘mysteries of the Gospel’, because they don’t see the bigger picture that is painted by the words, which would make sense of all the ‘mystery’. They treasure each little verse, believing it has its own special purpose – that it stands alone and separate from the other verses.
This type of thinking, of course, is very much a Western mindset. I think the mindset of people around the time of Christ was quite different, and is far more like Eastern Orthodox thinking than reformed evangelical. In the Eastern mindset, it makes little sense to break up Christianity into separately-boxed doctrines and then define and summarise each one – for each doctrine only has meaning in relation to the whole. Just like the steering wheel of a car has little meaning without a car on the end of it, so it is with individual teachings of Christianity without understanding the bigger picture.
It is for this reason, I feel, that Christianity these days seems ‘religious’. Without the context of how all the doctrines fit together, the emphasis is shifted from the purpose of the whole to accurately describing the parts. We must believe this certain ‘fact’ and this certain ‘truth’ and the understand of the bigger picture does not even enter consideration – perhaps people think so long as you have and can accurately describe all the parts of a car that you have a car. Not so.
So, what is this bigger picture of what it means to be a Christian I keep referring to? Well, over the next few posts, I hope to try and convey what I see as the bigger picture. It’s probably going to be quite different what you’ve often heard, so be warned. I’ll break it up into various topics, such as faith, sin, salvation, Jesus, the Kingdom of God, ‘justification’, forgiveness, perhaps the atonement again, and no doubt a few more. With each one, I’ll give a one or two sentence statement that summarises how it affects us, or what we should do in light of it.