The first essay I assigned for my college freshmen composition class was the five-paragraph essay, but I would always clarify, “As you grow as writers, you will want to stop using this blueprint.” The five-paragraph essay has all the components necessary to write an essay (thesis, facts, personal opinions, etc.), but it is a standard from which to experiment and creatively grow. Mature writers will take those same elements and produce something original and breathtaking.
I taught night classes, so I had a variety of students. However, I could somewhat organize them into groups. This grouping helped me to better serve my students’ needs. First, I had my recent high school graduates. Some of these young students had the five-paragraph essay memorized. The others had heard of it, but they didn’t understand all the elements and the purpose of it.
Next, I had returning students who hadn’t touched a school book in years. If they had learned the basics of writing an essay, they didn’t remember and had developed a fear of writing. Last, I had English as a Second Language (ESL) students. These students had acquired academic ideologies that were completely foreign to the western culture’s style of expressing thought. Fundamental difficulties with language usage were hindrances for them, not to mention weaving words together to convey ideas. Within all these groups, I had students who wanted to grow as writers and students who just wanted to pass and get as far away from writing as possible.
I say all this because I’ve been learning a lot about grace lately. I’m discovering that there is a five-paragraph Christianity (cultural Christianity) that is the basic standard of living out faith today. Five-paragraph Christianity definitely serves its purpose: it provides a blueprint with the basic elements of faith. The thesis of Christianity is that God is the Creator, Jesus is the Savior and the Holy Spirit is the Counselor, and we are called to love the Trinity and love others. The facts to support the thesis are found in the Bible. And the personal opinions come from the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives. But, I have discovered that I have limited myself and others based upon a standard form of living our faith, and I have left no room for personal creativity and God’s grace.
There are Christians who have grown up in Christian homes, knee-deep in Christian lifestyle. They know how to live by standard Christian expectations because they have seen it played-out all of their lives. Some of them embrace the standard, finding security in the familiar; others, however, never understood the purpose of it and haven’t found it fulfilling.
Moreover, there are Christians who have strayed from living out their faith. They haven’t committed to any Christian disciplines (attending church, praying, reading the Bible, etc.) for many years, and they are scared about fitting in and/or learning to live by faith again. Finally, there are new Christians who know nothing about cultural Christianity. Praying is like talking to one’s self, reading the Bible is like struggling through a boring history book and attending church is like going to the circus. Everything is strange and bewildering!
As a mentor, I would explain to all of them the importance of the Christian disciplines and try to illuminate the main thesis of Christianity. But, I would also emphasize that Holy Spirit wants to mature us beyond the standard. I would point out that every influential leader in the Bible and church history was unique and part of a cutting-edge, Holy Spirit inspired movement. Christians who stand out grow beyond the norm of the day, so they can reach the changing people of tomorrow with the Gospel. I would tell them to cling closely to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and to use their God-given creativity to fulfill the amazing purposes that He has designed for them. Most importantly, I would urge them to put their hope and security in God and not people!
Many Christians (I included) have submitted to five-paragraph Christianity, and have not let themselves or others grow beyond the cultural standard. Because of fear or pride, we will not lean on God’s grace and start creatively using the fundamental elements of Christianity to compose a beautiful, original essay that expresses the glory of God. The Body of Christ is made up of members, and we all have people that we directly impact. I for one want to encourage everyone in my sphere of influence to grow beyond the typical structure of cultural Christianity and live a life worth reading. Nevertheless, I want to be cognizant of the diversity of God’s people and allow others the freedom to write their essays how they please.
I want to give grace to the Christian who is struggling with letting go of her comfort zone.
I want to give grace to the Christian who is still trying to come to terms with her faith.
I want to give grace to the Christian who has forsaken God but wants to recover her spiritual footing.
I want to give grace to the new Christian who finds everything about faith strange and confusing.
I will enlighten people to five-paragraph Christianity when they are just beginning or feeling lost, but I want to encourage Christians who are ready for growth to stretch beyond the norm into the unique direction God is calling them to. Whether they want to stick with the norm or take a step of faith into God’s unknown is fine by me. I will love them either way. I will not judge nor will I compare; I choose to love and encourage.
There is so much freedom in allowing others to choose their own way. This freedom gives us more energy, creativity and grace to write our own essays for God. Let us by grace compose, side by side, our individual life stories so that the world can see the array of God’s divine beauty poured out onto those who love Him. “As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain” (2 Corinthians 6.1 NIV).