There is a debate going on among those who minister to Muslims: How far do you go to make the message of Jesus accessible to the Islamic culture? I am not going to go into detail, but would encourage you to read this article from Christianity Today on the conflict. Basically the issue comes down to this: there is Biblical language used of Jesus (specifically “Son of God”) that is “offensive” to many Muslims. So some translations of Scripture have changed that language to something that is more neutral. The result is that there are many Muslims willing to read the Bible and study the life of Jesus with the new translations. But in making the change, have the translators compromised the identity of Jesus and the nature of his relationship with the Father? I’ve not studied or thought about the issue deeply enough to take a side on this issue.
But it does cause me to wonder if, in the US, we have ever become so eager to share the Gospel in a culturally relevant way that we have misrepresented it? Have we, in a noble desire to remove any obstacle, not presented clearly who Jesus is and the implications of following him?
I have served on a university campus right on the buckle of the Bible Belt for almost 29 years. The vast majority of the students on this campus have attended church growing up. They have been involved in FCA or Young Life. They have been exposed to Jesus and most have made some type of statement of faith in him. In other words, they are like their parents and their grandparents.
But I don’t see much transformation among Christians in the US. I see culturally comfortable Americans with a religious habit. Their faith leads them to see Jesus as their friend or their healer or their counselor or their “ace in the hole” when things go wrong. But they don’t see Jesus as their Lord who has something to say about their career and their relationships ands their marriage and how they use their money and time. We have preached a Jesus that is palatable to a self-centered American culture that often doesn’t accurately depict his real identity or the implications of following him.
Currently, our staff is reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Though his words are familiar to many, they are worth repeating:
“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…. Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
May we, in our desire to make sure that the truth about Jesus is understandable to the world and culture around us, never fail to present the full and complete picture of who he is and what the implications of Biblical faith and grace really are.