by Tom Strode
NASHVILLE (BP) — Sanity and Christianity should mark the church’s cultural engagement, Russell Moore says. So he wrote a book to help followers of Jesus live up to both.
“I noticed that fellow Christians often struggled with how to understand and communicate Gospel truth in contentious cultural contexts,” Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in an email interview with Baptist Press. “Political and social issues can often make Christians crazy. Every Christian has a responsibility to articulate how the Gospel informs every aspect of life, including politics and culture. Therefore we need to know how to stay sane and how to stay Christian while doing so.”
The result of his effort to address this need in the church is “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.” The book, released Aug. 1, has been described by Collin Hansen, editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, as one evangelical Christians need “for such a time.”
The book, published by B&H Publishing Group, expands some of the themes Moore has articulated since he became president of the ERLC in June 2013, such as:
— Nominal Christianity is dying in the United States, and that is good for the church.
— Evangelical Christians should embrace the strangeness of Christianity.
— Christians should recognize they are a prophetic minority and speak with “convictional kindness.”
In a piece on Moore and the book in The Atlantic magazine, managing editor Emma Green wrote, “The assumption that evangelicals own American culture and politics has ended. This is good for minority groups, for other Christians, and for those who are still searching. But the radicalness of Moore, who by right of inheritance should be America’s Culture Warrior in Chief, is that he thinks it’s good for evangelicals too.”
Hansen wrote in a review of Onward, “Moore is neither concerned with propping up the Bible Belt nor invested in advancing a partisan political agenda that will save America.
“The best sections of Onward,” Hansen said, “illustrate how the kingdom of God upends the world’s values, which have shaped the church’s practices and priorities.”
In the book, Moore addresses the “moral majoritarian impulse” of American Christians in recent decades — an impulse that he sees as a hindrance in both theology and policy.
“The worst effect of [this impulse] was simply that truths that should have been boldly articulated simply went assumed, until they obviously couldn’t be assumed anymore,” he told BP. “That led to a generic, mushy civil religion where anyone who participated in Christian culture — and by ‘Christian culture’ I mean anyone who wasn’t openly criticizing it — was identified as a believer.”
The vanishing of such a civil religion “is good news because it allows more clarity about how countercultural the Gospel really is, and its strangeness is all the more visible,” Moore said.
A Gospel lens is indispensable for Christians to engage culture correctly, he said in the interview, adding an “almost Gospel” won’t suffice in “a more openly secular public square.”
“If we try to rebuild the civic religion of the past, we’ll miss the chance to articulate the strangeness and freakishness of the truth,” Moore told BP. “And if we bend to accommodate the culture, we won’t be able to receive the refugees who will be searching after the Sexual Revolution and hyper individualism disappoint them.”
In his book, Moore says the formation of the church’s culture is critical to the church’s witness to the culture.
The “first step to a kingdom-focused cultural engagement is the recovery of a church that practices church discipline,” he writes.
“We are to hold accountable those on the inside, and speak to those on the outside with persuasion and mission.
“We tend to do the exact reverse,” Moore says. “We rail against the culture outside, and speak in muted and ambiguous terms about what is common among us. We lambaste political and culture heresies on the outside, but sit silently in the face of doctrinal heresies on the inside.”
When Christians speak to the outside culture, their “convictional kindness” — marked by faithfulness to the Gospel with a gracious tone — is actually an “act of warfare,” Moore writes in the book.
Seeing kindness, rather than rage, as strength in cultural engagement will be challenging for Christians, he said, “precisely because being conformed to the world instead of Christ is always challenging.”
“The world defines strength much differently than Jesus does,” Moore told BP. “Convictional kindness comes from quiet confidence, confidence rooted in the Gospel and not in Gallup. Only when we are convinced that the gates of hell will never overcome the church can we lay down the panic and the outrage long enough to love people — especially those we’d consider our ‘enemies’ — in Jesus’ name.”
Moore’s book is available at Lifeway Christian Stores, among other booksellers, and Amazon.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com).
Baptist Press (BP) is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention and provides news to the 42 state Baptist papers. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.