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.
Let's visualize something for a moment. Imagine you are in the middle of your everyday routine. You're at work or school doing what you do every day. Perhaps you aren't fully engaged in what you are doing, bored with the monotony. Or perhaps you are excited about and love what you do. Then a man with a gun barges into the room and orders everyone to the ground. In a moment of sheer terror you fall to the ground as ordered. You begin to cry, afraid of what is about to happen. You think about your family and friends and worry. Then you see a shoe standing next to you and hear the man tell you to get up.
Shaking, you stand up - still crying and trying not to look at the man but unable to overlook the fact that he is pointing a gun at your face. He asks you, "are you a Christian?" Now pause. Sit in that moment for a few minutes and take it all in. Who is watching you? What are you feeling? Most importantly, what would you do? How will you respond?
It appears that this is the decision that several people faced at Umpqua Community College in Oregon yesterday. Reportedly, those who said no or did not respond were shot in the leg. Those who responded "yes" were told they were about to meet their God, and then were shot in the head.
The more fundamental question is, "what do you believe?" How much do you believe it? Will you put your beliefs into action? If so, that's called faith. The motto of this blog is "There is comfort where faith and loss merge." With a gun pointed at your head, you've lost everything. You have no control over the situation. You have no control over your emotions. You've lost everything but your life. Everything else has been taken away at least temporarily in a moment of terror and fear. And in that moment there can be great comfort. Belief alone won't do it if you won't put it into action and turn your belief into faith. There is comfort where faith and loss merge.
How could there be any comfort in that moment? Scripture says this:
Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mocking and scourging, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
These things happened by faith. They put their beliefs in action. That faith has the ability to do many things; just read the rest of Hebrews 11 to see what great things happened when heroes of the faith acted on their beliefs, turning them into faith. Most importantly, we gain divine approval on account of our faith, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6, 39).
My tribute to those who may have died as a result of their faith is simply this: the world was not worthy of you. For those of us who remain, you have inspired us and we are proud of you. Relish in His perfect glory now and for all eternity!
For those of us who remain, what should we do? How should we respond? Keep reading Hebrews.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
These men and women who perished because of their faith are our great cloud of witnesses. The Greek word translated as witnesses here is martyron from which we get our word martyr. These witnesses surround us, not only in Oregon but in Syria, North Korea, China, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, and in many other places where Christians are raped, beaten, tortured, beheaded, crucified, and/or burned alive because of their faith.
Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, we must lay aside every encumbrance. In other words, what is stopping you from saying "yes" to the gunman? Whatever it is, lay it aside. We must lay aside every sin. In other words, what are you doing, thinking, or believing that is contrary to the Word of God? Whatever it is, lay it aside. We must run the race set before us. What is that race? It is the Christian life! Read the Word. Praise the Lord. Share the gospel. Serve one another. Love one another. Fulfill your mission. It won't always be easy, so run the race with endurance. Fix your eyes on the prize - Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of the faith which pleases God and gains His approval. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. For the joy set before you, live and - if necessary - die for Him.
What would you do if the gunman asked you?
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.