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Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible's Central Story (Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective) Paperback – June 2, 2008
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"In reading this book I have gained an even deeper understanding of an appreciation for the biblical perspectives of salvation. It is as if blinders have been removed from around my eyes, and now I can see what God has done through Jesus Christ for me in lights of what He is doing in all of creation. I heartily recommend this book." (Jason Button, TheoSource.com, August 28, 2008)
"Good grief, this is a good book." (Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed blog)
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Christopher Wright's book SBTOG does a wonderful job of explaining this story - what the purpose is, who the characters are, and why it's meaningful to us today. There are a handful of other similar books out there (The Drama of Scripture, Far As the Curse is Found) that are also good. SBTOG takes a more thematic approach to the story, whereas TDOS and FASTCIF walk step by step through the events of the story. All of these books are good, though I would rank them, from highest to lowest, as SBTOG, TDOS, and then FASTCIF.
SBTOG is more of an entry-level overview of the Bible story, and it would make an excellent read for someone who wants a better idea of how the Bible as a whole has meaning and should impact our lives. Nevertheless, it can also serve as a reminder to even the seasoned theologians, who spend a lot of time on the little details, that there is an overarching story and plan of God's within which we play our part. I highly recommend this book.
Here's a wonderful summary of book's main point, from the book itself:
"Salvation in the Bible, because it is embodied in these historical covenants, is not merely a set of doctrines to be learned. Salvation is not just a subjective personal experience to be enjoyed by myself. Salvation is not some mythical future state of paradise that I long to arrive at by whatever religious methods I think will achieve it. Salvation is fundamentally a story - The Story. Salvation is constituted within the all-encompassing biblical meta-narrative that forms the biblical worldview.... The gospel is not somebody's theory. It is not somebody's good idea. The gospel is the good news about what the biblical God has done, is doing, and will finally do, within the history of the world." (pg 96)
I've been staring at my computer screen for about 10 minutes, wondering how to start this book review. So I'll just jump to my conclusion- I loved it. Christopher Wright is quickly emerging as one of my favorite authors, combining a biblical scholar's precision, a theologian's broad scope and a missiologist's heart, not to mention an uncanny ability to say much in little space (the book is under 200 pages).
The book, as you can surmise from the title, is about salvation- Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible's Central Story. The "control text" (as he calls it) is Revelation 7:10:
"Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
He unpacks this little song, sung by the innumerable multitude from "every nation, tribe, people and language," phrase by phrase, sometimes dealing with something as small as a word ("our"), to unpack "what the Bible means when it uses such phrases" (p16). That may seem painstakingly slow, but what the reader is treated to is a whirlwind trip through the Bible. This is not a classic, systematic theology-style treatment of soteriology. Wright is much more concerned to unpack the story of salvation, from Eden through Abraham to Jesus all the way to Revelation.
Because of this, the reader learns more about the Bible than a few quick tips on "how to get saved." Wright covers the variety of ways God saves (sin, danger, sickness, enemies, etc). He emphasizes the uniqueness of God's identity as Savior (especially in Isaiah, if you're studying Isaiah you should get this book), as well as the implications for understanding Christ as Savior. The way he weaves the biblical covenants into the story line of the Bible was perhaps my favorite part of the book. In most sections, he demonstrates from both OT and NT texts what he is emphasizing, showing the reader that there is far more continuity between the testaments regarding salvation than many think.
Wright does, of course, deal with some heavy theological issues. How do other religions fit into the picture (though I should point out that he's quick to affirm that Christianity itself does not save someone)? What about the destiny of the unevangelized? What is the relationship between Jew and Gentile, Israel and the nations, in the New Covenant? Many readers will not agree with everything he states, but nonetheless he treats positions fairly and argues his case well.
It's not that I learned something new in this book. Wright's conclusions and arguments are hardly novel. Most evangelical readers can affirm the theological points he is making without reading the book, save for maybe one or two. But it's the way Wright goes about writing about salvation. Having such a fully-orbed treatment of the subject, written in an engaging- one could even say "worshipful"- tone was refreshing to my soul.
That isn't to say I agreed with everything in the book. No doubt in effort to keep the book short, Wright sometimes makes assertions without support (I, of course, notice these things on points of disagreement between him and me). He is an Anglican (paedobaptist), so when he draws a strong connection between Old Covenant circumcision and New Covenant baptism, I (the credobaptist) automatically have my defenses up. I'm also uncomfortable saying that salvation is "mediated" through the Scriptures and the sacraments. I wonder why he chooses that word, since it hardly clarifies what he was trying to say.
I did have one disappointment regarding the holistic nature of salvation and eschatology. Early in the book, and scattered throughout in smaller chunks, Wright notes that the Bible talks about salvation in a number of ways: salvation from enemies, poverty and so on. He notes the danger is separating "theological" or "spiritual" salvation too far from "physical" salvation. But, he argues, rightly in my mind, that salvation from sin and its consequences is given highest priority in the Bible.
And while he does speak about the eschatological (future) nature of salvation, I kept wishing he would bring these points, the holistic and eschatological, together more definitely. The clear implication of what he says throughout the book, in my opinion, is that in the new creation- the New Heavens and the New Earth- salvation in all its facets, spiritual and physical (if we can use these terms) are brought together. Physical salvation (salvation from sickness, enemies and so on) which has been experienced by various portions of God's people at various points in history, will be experienced fully (Rev 21:4, for example). But the key to experiencing that eschatological salvation is to experience salvation from sin in this age. Throughout the book I felt like Wright (though perhaps he wouldn't agree with this) was leading the reader to this point, only to dance around it and never fully state it. I felt like he was a football team, marching down the field with ease, only needing to punch the ball across the goal line for the winning touchdown, only to settle for a field goal (sorry, football season is right around the corner and I'm getting antsy).
But you know what? I don't care. I liked this book too much to worry about it for too long.
I have not had a book capture my attention like this one in quite some time. I took, no exaggeration, 33 pages of typed notes on this book! 33 pages! (Now you'll understand why I'm having trouble keeping this review short). There was so much to soak in, I didn't want to miss anything. Even my detractions demonstrate how engaging Wright's book is, as I found myself thinking alongside him with my Bible open and pen in hand. And I'm not ashamed to admit that my heart literally raced at points as I was so drawn into God's plan of salvation and His identity as Savior. A theology book that brings you to worship- now that's a great book!
So go out and get Salvation Belongs to Our God. Read it critically (in the good sense). Read it carefully. Read it reverently. Because the God who saves is not merely a point on your statement of faith. He is the God before whom we will stand and sing, "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."