Onward, by Russell Moore, is a refreshing analysis at the state of Christianity in America in light of the moral revolution, and a clear and convincing ecclesiology and ethic that the church should adopt. His argument is premised on the notion that the "Bible Belt" is fraying - that Christians are no longer (if we were ever) a "moral majority." He notes that the movement by that name was not a religious movement, but a political one that included people who desired a return to Judeo-Christian American values, but did not necessarily profess Christ or seek to advance His kingdom. His assessment serves as an indictment against a church improperly focused on utilizing state power to make Christian behavior and thought normative when the Bible depicts the gospel as abnormal by the standards of the world. Here are 7 reasons to read this book:
1. To align social, cultural, and political engagement with a proper balance between American citizenship and the Kingdom of God.
In setting forth several pillars of Christian ethic, Dr. Moore superbly ties them back to the Kingdom of God and the need to acknowledge that while the Kingdom is here in colonies and embassies which we call the church, it is not yet here in full. While we should stand against injustice and defend the "least of these," we cannot expect that the law will institute the Kingdom in full. Only Jesus can do that when He returns, so by expecting governments to do it invests them with authority that does not belong to them. Until His return, the church has the keys to the Kingdom, not the state. We cannot admit just anyone to the Kingdom. Scripture has set forth those requirements, and we must be consistent in how we admit people to our churches. As Dr. Moore points out, our vote for who we receive as members of our churches is as or more important than our vote for who should be President.
2. To rediscover the strangeness of the Gospel.
The church no longer exists in a culture that understands it. For many years, church membership was normative. Now, that is not the case, which presents an amazing opportunity. People should not be drawn to the church because of our sameness with the world, but because of our strangeness to the world. We believe in a dead Man coming to life after having born the wrath of God for the sins of all who would believe in and call on Him. That's strange! We also live in a manner consistent with our calling as children of God, which to the world is equally as strange. If we see that the church is supposed to be different, we can begin to cling to what makes us distinct - the gospel.
3. To put the impetus against abortion and other issues on human dignity.
The pro-life movement is another example of political alliances that do not necessarily exclude people outside the faith. The reason the church should stand against abortion isn't because it's the position of the Republican party, but because we are made in the image of God. Every time an abortionist legally kills another child, the image of God is defaced. That said, we must carry the underlying principle into other arenas as well, such as in how we treat immigrants, racial equality, and so forth.
4. To better articulate the need for and parameters of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
As we become more and more strange to the culture, attacks on religious liberty will grow more frequent and intense. We must strongly defend religious liberty for all people, not just those who believe what we believe. The ability of the state to prohibit one Hindu from practicing his faith is the ability to prevent all Christians from practicing theirs. As such, we must be able to refuse to do those things which Scripture clearly teaches against. We must stop using Scripture to justify the platform of either political party when Scripture leaves the issue open to conscience and pragmatics. Dr. Moore's focus on religious liberty across all areas of the ethical pillars he discussed is superb.
5. To develop a more holistic theology of the family in a culture that is constantly redefining it.
It is clear that culture is trying to redefine family. Dr. Moore provides a holistic theology of the family as part of the mystery of the Kingdom of God that the church must adhere to. While this includes a stand against same-sex marriage, it also includes a stand against adultery and domestic abuse, as well as an active participation in adoption, foster care, and the like.
6. To evaluate the effectiveness of how we engage our culture.
Too often, we mimic the world in how we engage, including the temper tantrums that we think only demonstrate our passion for an issue. Dr. Moore demonstrates from Scripture that our engagement is to be kind and gentle. This is not a matter of weakness, but a matter of strength. We will not persuade others to Christ by yelling at them or degrading them because of their beliefs right now. Instead of talking about them, we need to talk to them. We cannot be merely civil - we must be kind.
7. To grow.
I have grown as a result of reading this book. I left convicted that often times my response to the corporate, cultural sin that we see today has been angry. Instead of loving others and being kind, I've often begun to despise them because of their beliefs. This is not appropriate. I have been refreshed by reading a theologically and biblically solid argument in favor of consistent, biblical, missional, Christian behavior and cultural engagement. I think you will grow too.
A Word of Caution
I can only give the book four out of five stars because Dr. Moore limited his audience somewhat by presenting very complex arguments utilizing a very advanced vocabulary. I have degrees in both theology and law, but I still had to look up some words. I also found myself having to go back and re-read several pages or even an entire chapter in order to feel comfortable that I comprehended the argument. As such, this is far from light reading. If you're up for the challenge, go read this book!
Dr. Russell Moore is the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Arkansas judiciary is busy this month. This week, a circuit judge in Little Rock ruled that the Arkansas Voter ID law unconstitutionally places burdens on voting. Next week, a circuit judge in Little Rock will decide whether the voter initiative which constitutionally defined marriage as between one man and one woman is Federally unconstitutional. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel promises to appeal the Voter ID ruling quickly. Either way the same-sex marriage ban goes, it will be appealed.
I'll start with the less controversial of these highly controversial issues - the Voter ID law, known as Act 595. Should Christians care whether you have to show ID to vote? There isn't much Scripture that speaks to the issue. There is the requirement to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, which would include driver's licenses that technically belong to the State of Arkansas. Then there is the requirement to obey the civil authorities as put in place by God, in modern context by His sovereign administration of the electorate. But Scripture says little about whether Christians should support Act 595, so we are required to look at the ramifications of the law.
Judge Fox, who struck down the law, noted that the purpose of the law is to eliminate voter fraud - deceptive practices which ostensibly skew the accuracy of the people's will. Certainly Christians should support any legislation that seeks to curtail conduct that would displease God. Opponents of the law say it places an undue restriction on the right to vote that would eliminate legitimate voters from participating. However, the types of identification that Act 595 accepts are broad: driver's license, photo ID, concealed handgun license, passport, employee badge, military ID, student ID, public assistance ID, or a voter ID. Absentee voters can cast a ballot by simply enclosing a utility bill, bank statement, pay check, or other official document that has the voter's address on it. The number of people who would be unable to produce one of these types of documents is immeasurably low. Thus at first glance it would appear Christians should support the law.
However, taking any position could dismiss the role of God's sovereignty in elections. Assuming that the number of legitimate voters unable to cast a ballot because of the law is large enough to determine the outcome of an election (which is highly unlikely), insisting on voter identification at the polls precludes God from precluding legitimate voters to put His candidate in office. Likewise, assuming that the number of fraudulent votes cast without the law is large enough to determine the outcome of an election (which is also highly unlikely), holding the contrary position against the law precludes God from allowing fraudulent voters to put His candidate in office while remaining dissatisfied with the means of getting there.
I can see the objections to God using fraudulent voters to put His man in office. But did God want Saul in office in the Old Testament? No and yes. No, God desired that the people would look to Him as King instead of a human King, but yes, God wanted Saul to fill the job if it had to be done. Why? Because Saul would show them what kind of poor substitute a human king would be. Did God want Jeroboam to be the King of the northern tribes of Israel? Again, no and yes. No, God wanted a united Israel and certainly did not desire a civil war among His chosen people, but yes, God wanted Jeroboam to fulfill the job if it had to be done. The point is that God uses even what we see clearly as bad for good purposes. He did so with Joseph, and Joseph told his treacherous brothers "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Gen. 50:20). So ultimately, I think Christians should support the voter ID law because it purports to dissuade unrighteous conduct, but in all elections trust God's sovereign decision because "there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." (Rom. 13:1)
There can be no question that Christians should care about the same sex marriage ruling, but to be true to Scripture we must start preaching at other issues. Within the evangelical church, homosexuality is a growing problem, but not a big one because among conservative evangelicals there are very few who consider themselves homosexual. A 2009 Barna poll shows that there are substantial spiritual differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals, which supports the notion that homogeneous heterosexual evangelical churches are not frequented by practicing homosexuals. Preaching against homosexuality, while consistent with logical interpretations of Scripture, is the proverbial preaching to the choir to a certain degree, but it must continue none the less. A 2013 Greenberg Quilan Rosner Research survey indicated that over 60% of people under 30 support the homosexual worldview. Why are more young people abandoning the clear teaching of Scripture?
Young people want authenticity and the church spends a great deal of time preaching against homosexuality while saying much less about premarital sex, idolatry, adultery, thievery, coveting, drunkenness, reviling and swindling. Why does the church spend so much time preaching against homosexuality? I suspect because out of that list (which comes from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 as those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God) it is the one thing most unlike evangelical Christians. The logical inverse stings - evangelical Christians tend to identify more with adulterers and so we don't see it as bad as homosexuality. Don't believe me? Why is the divorce rate inside the church equal to that outside the church? Why is the modern church filled with people more interested in getting to the top of the corporate ladder than serving the poor and advancing the gospel? In many of the respects listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the church looks little different than the world, and to preach against them is to judge and condemn the church. So we avoid it and stick to what we know is wrong and is most unlike us - homosexuality. You can preach against homosexuality in the evangelical church without ruffling too many feathers; preach against covetousness and materialism and you'll injure some toes. Young people despise this as hypocrisy.
Ultimately, Christians must maintain that homosexuality is wrong. Scripture clearly identifies the conduct as sinful, and those who follow Christ can neither practice nor endorse sinful conduct. Anatomically, homosexuality does not make sense. The male reproductive system was suited specifically for the female reproductive system. Using certain other orifices for sexual gratification can cause major problems and is completely ineffective for the propagation of the human race. But we as the church must take a hard look at ourselves and be ready to stand among the judged when we find ourselves more like the world that we care to admit.
Regarding same-sex marriage, the proverbial writing is on the wall. Unless trends change quickly, it is likely that same-sex marriages will become legal nationwide. While we should strive to teach the truth of Scripture regarding this issue, we must be prepared to trust God's sovereign decision to allow our nation to descend into this particular sin just as he allowed it to descend into the sin of adultery when it was "legalized" (although it is still criminal in 21 states and the US Military). God ultimately has a plan and "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God" (Rom. 8:28) - even this. For the evangelical Christian, the church - not the government - has always defined marriage. And insofar as any word is truly defined, God will eventually be the only arbiter of what is and is not marriage.
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.