In 1984 a young woman, expecting her first child, couldn’t find information on what a normal pregnancy looked and felt like, so she began to write her own handbook on pregnancy--while she was pregnant. Just hours before delivering her daughter, Emma, she sent off the book proposal for What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Nearly thirty years (and seventeen million books) later it's the standard for what is normal during pregnancy. Publisher’s weekly reports that 97% of women who buy a book on pregnancy buy this book.
But what it things had turned out differently? But what if this book had become a history book instead: as in, “how did pregnant women act thirty years ago?” What if we turned to the book not for information about how to order our lives while expecting, but only to study what people did back then? Four editions, seventeen million copies, thirteen spin-off books, and one romantic comedy movie, all dealing with how people used to treat pregnancy? That would be crazy, right? Expectant parents buy this book because they are entering new territory, and they want to know, well, what to expect. They want to know what is normal, and they want to be normal.
This week’s mediation asks the same question about the New Testament. Do we read this book as history, or are we looking for what to expect in our new life in Christ?
This is the choice facing every student of Jesus: we all must decide whether we will read the New Testament as a history book or a description normative life in Christ. The events reported in the New Testament, the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the life of the newly-formed church happened a long time ago. The record of those events has been preserved for us today--some people might add, “miraculously preserved.” Many Christians are willing to argue (even die) over whether the we can trust the accounts we have received from those early days.
After we settle the question of whether this book is trustworthy, we must also settle the question of the kind of life we will live today. Our answer determines the possibilities of our walk with Jesus. If the book is merely history then the sacrificial love birthed in his followers is not required of us today. If the book only reports the facts of healings, exorcisms, and resurrections accomplished by Jesus and his followers, then we need not measure our life by their example. If the book is rooted in the past, our only responsibility is to believe--and applaud.
But if the New Testament is our “What to Expect . . .” then we have a long way to go.