By Evan Johnson
When I was in college, I took a class on The 1001 Arabian Nights. Coincidentally, it was being taught by the university's Arabic professor from Libya. Since she was the Arabic teacher, the majority of the class had a sufficient background in the Arabic language and its culture--except for me (I eventually learned that "nam" meant "do you understand" and "la" meant "no"). Fortunately for my sake, the class was taught in English. However, there was a cultural point of tension between me and my Shi'a Muslim professor when I was writing one of my papers. I did not want to assume that the culture of the Muslims depicted in The 1001 Arabian Nights was an adequate depiction of Islamic religion. She responded in red ink, instructing me to use the culture depicted in the stories as an accurate image of Islamic religion. As an American Christian, this was a new thing for me. There are thousands of sermons all across America each week preaching about the conflict between Christianity and American culture. However, for a Shi'a Muslim like herself, religion is culture, and culture is religion. She also had a hard time understanding that not all Americans were Christians. It was her understanding that since Western culture had its roots in Christianity, this meant that anyone who took part in the culture was in fact Christian.
Around this time, Christianity Today had posted an article refuting the argument that Christianity in America was dying. Instead, they stated that nominal Christians (Christians in "name only") were simply dropping the label. The amount of evangelicals in America had not changed. The amount of people claiming to be evangelicals in America had. Again, I am not saying that every Shi'a Muslim has this mindset about Western culture and Christianity. However, there is a misunderstanding of the Gospel in America, and I have to believe it's not the culture that is ti blame as much as it is the Church. What we have communicated as the Gospel has either been added to or water down to better fit into our daily routines. Our hearts naturally gravitate towards religion instead of grace. Everything we do is based around to-do lists, success, and resumés. Why should the very thing around which we center our whole purpose and existence be any different?
This is exactly what makes the love of Christ taste so good. It's a powerful head-scratcher, but it's true nonetheless. Grace and mercy, by definition, are undeserved. We can do nothing to get them. If we do, they are no longer grace and mercy. Grace is given by God and only by God, and mercy is given by God and only by God. If they are earned by our good deeds, then they can be taken away by our bad deeds. Grace and mercy would therefore become driven completely by conditional love, and we know this not to be true.
Dwell on the unconditional love of God.
Dwell on the grace and mercy of Christ.
Dwell on the Holy Spirit that has been freely given to you.
Let us cultivate a culture of perfect love that casts out fear.
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