Alister McGrath is one of the most respected, most read, and most published theologians alive today. Among his many accolades are his tenure as a long time professor of theology at Oxford, his three doctorates including one in molecular biophysics, as well as his publication of 50+ books including the most widely used theological overview in print today (in other words, when it comes to theological study, he literally wrote the textbook on it). A former atheist turned believer, he writes with the piercing clarity of a biophysicist and the passion of a minister and disciple. Of all the books he has written, however, the one that has been the most helpful for me is not one of his top selling or top awarded ones, but perhaps one of his least. It is a short little personal reflection of a book titled, The Journey.
In it McGrath offers what he has found to be the most basic frame work of the Christian life. He acknowledges that there are many images that can be used for the Christian life, but the most dominant image that runs through out Scripture is that of a journey. As Christians, we recognize that we are a pilgrim people. We recognize that we are people who are on a journey.
We are people who have started somewhere, but are heading, travelling, running, and sometimes plodding and wandering to somewhere else. We are heading to our new and true destination. He suggests we are not doing this without a map. Instead, the map we have been given is the Exodus. As he says, for the believer the Exodus is not just the story of a great event in the past. Instead, it is our story. He writes,
Each of us has a personal journey to make, from our own Egypt to our promised land. We have left something behind in order to make this journey. We have had to break free from our former lives in order to begin afresh. We were in Egypt. We were delivered from bondage. We are in the wilderness, on our way to the promised land. The story of the Exodus involves us – because it is about us. We can therefore enter into that narrative knowing that it is our story. We belong in it, and it belongs to us. It is all part of the history of our redemption, of which we are part.
So we are on a journey from one place to the next. We are on a journey that begins with creation and moves through exile to redemption and consummation. We are on a journey that involves the wilderness experiences of doubt and failure and fear and suffering. And we are on a journey that involves the oasis experiences of refreshment and rest and fellowship as we look ahead to a feast. We are on a journey that is made possible by the acts of remembering and anticipating and resolving. So we remember what God has done in the past. We anticipate what God will yet do in the future. And we resolve to deepen our commitment and the quality of our faith as we journey through this space in between.
We are on a journey. We have not yet reached our destination, but we are not where we began either. So remembering what lies behind us, we press on after Christ, trusting that he not only lies before us, but is walking alongside us as we go.