Some time ago I was reading a well-known Christian leader’s blog, and once a week he would put up some funny or interesting video that was largely unrelated to the usual fare of heavy topics such as sin and salvation. In this case it was a video of Eric Clapton performing some mind-blowing guitar solo during a concert.
I enjoyed the video but then scrolled down and started reading some of the comments. Now, in case you don’t know, there are few places in the vast interweb as un-grace-full as the comments sections of Christian blogs. I should have known better, but there I was reading the comments.
One person commented something along the lines of “Why would you put up a video of this unbeliever performing this song that almost certainly glorifies sin? How can watching this video glorify God in any way?” Clearly the commenter was disappointed by what he or she perceived to be a compromise, a slipping of standards; and, I suppose, he might have a point. Many Christians struggle with similar feelings of unease when dealing with a wider culture that is so comfortable with sin; and for those in the more conservative circles of Christianity, that unease extends to Christian groups that are any less conservative than themselves.
The author of the blog actually responded to this person by saying that he posts videos like this because he believes in common grace. (Apparently this sort of interaction happened so often that he eventually just made a post about it). Common grace encompasses all the grace that God showers upon humanity in general; Grace Guy has a page about it right here.
Something about this blogger’s response and demeanor gave me a glimpse of a better way, a more grace-filled, generous stance towards wider culture. Something other than suspicion and negativity couched in the language of commitment to truth. In short, permission to open-heartedly receive and enjoy the grace inherent in the cultural and creative expressions of humanity, even while rejecting those aspects which are sinful.
For me, common grace was a gateway: it opened up entire landscapes of worship, gave me permission to rejoice in, and be grateful for, a whole swath of human expression. In some circles of Christianity, there is a real reticence to celebrate anything that does not expressly state the glorification of God as its purpose. While the intention here may be noble, the result can be a stunted, suspicious spirit. I sometimes think of it as a goblin spirit. A hunched over, sneering, lecherous spirit, stealing the joy out of so much of life, all while supposedly representing the God of grace.
It is a fearsome reality that grace can rattle around in our songs, creeds, and conversations without the actual substance and essence of grace truly seeping down deep into the nooks and crannies of our hearts - our innermost thoughts and affections.
Understanding common grace helped me to bridge the gulf that I often felt between myself and the wider culture of an unbelieving world. As I experienced good gifts that God has given all of us, I discovered a profound and precious unity with the rest of humankind. A common ground from which we could all stand and enjoy a sunset, a hockey game, a Ferrari, a guitar solo, a cheeseburger.
The difference in my case, as with any Christian, is that my enjoyment bubbles up in praise to the God who gives and allows these good things, who gives his creatures gifts of talent and ability that amaze us. These things are meant to result in praise for God, even if unbelievers mistakenly take credit or even twist them into something ugly.
Similarly, a generous stance towards those with different convictions from mine gives me the ability, the permission, to learn from them without being threatened or fearful. One of the great dangers for conservative groups is growing insular (incestuous is too strong a word but does convey the idea).
When I first met grace, she kicked open the door and knocked me to the floor. Grace is no feather-footed, hand-holding, sweet-talking old lady. She has power and comes in power, doing what in my sin and weakness I cannot - breathing life into my dead soul - with the force of a tsunami and the gentleness of a butterfly’s flight all at once. This whole website exists because of it.
At the same time, this thing we call common grace is always at work in the world as well. It is less dramatic perhaps, but more pervasive. I wouldn’t want anyone to go on refusing to give God glory for things that he rightly and ultimately deserves credit for, whether it is Usain Bolt’s incredible speed, the taste of a fine wine, or the international space station.
Those of us who have experienced God’s saving grace have been given the lenses through which we can properly see the divine roots of so much that we encounter and enjoy in our daily lives. And further, our entire stance towards culture and groups with which we disagree can be informed by grace to make us more generous, open-hearted, and winsome.
- Philip Cotnoir