By Elysia McColley – PhD student in Christian-Muslim Relations at the University of Edinburgh.
The gospel is universal, but the ways that we understand it are usually quite particular to our own cultures and the challenges that we face in our own lives. This lesson was one of the first that I learned when I moved to the Middle East and realized that my own worldview, which was heavily shaped by Western culture, was, in many ways, not enough to understand the culture in which I now lived.
When I studied apologetics in college, I learned arguments like C.S. Lewis’s idea that Jesus is either Lord, a liar, or a lunatic. While that type of argument is valuable and made sense to me and my Western colleagues, it can fall short when communicating in a Muslim context. The cultures and worldviews of many Muslims, including Muslims in the West, are often so vastly different than the one that I grew up in that communicating with them required a complete paradigm shift.
Western Christians tend to think through the lens of guilt and innocence. We like the courtroom-type language that Paul used in the letter to the Romans, which speaks of how we stand guilty before a holy God who, through the atonement of His Son, declares us innocent. After all, many of the most influential theologians in the West – Augustine, Tertullian, Calvin – were lawyers. Even Martin Luther, the founder of the Reformation, was training to become a lawyer before he became a monk. We should not be surprised that these lawyer-theologians would feel comfortable with the courtroom analogy that Paul used when he wrote to the church in Rome.
There is nothing wrong with this perspective; it helped build the foundation of a culture shaped by Judeo-Christian values. But the gospel is so much more than guilt and innocence. Consider that most of the Bible was written in a cultural context of shame and honor, which is the same paradigm through which many Muslims today think. Learning to see the gospel through this lens was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I have had. More than just helping me learn to communicate the gospel better with my Muslim friends, seeing this perspective led to a deeper and richer understanding of what the gospel really is and how it meets the needs and challenges of my own life.
My journey helped shape a new apologetic that explores the reliability of the Bible and its truth claims in a way that is sensitive to Muslims. I hope to assist you in your own journey of learning to think differently so that you can better understand the gospel for yourself and share it with people who may not think the same way that you do. If there are particular questions that you have or topics that you would like for me to address, please let me know and I will do my best to answer.