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.
On October 8, 2015, the Arkansas Supreme Court delivered an opinion reversing the conviction and dismissing all charges against a woman who on multiple occasions throughout her pregnancy subjected her child to codeine, amphetamine, and/or methamphetamine. Unfortunately, this was the only decision the Court could come to. Arkansas law makes it a crime "for any person to administer or cause to be ingested, inhaled, or otherwise introduced into the human body of another person a controlled substance" unless prescribed by a physician for a legitimate medical purpose (Ark. Code Ann. 5-13-210). The decisive factor in this case is that under Arkansas law, the definition of person includes unborn children only in terms of a homicide (Ark. Code Ann. 5-1-102(13)(B)(i)(a)). Tempting as it may be to call this case one regarding the rights of the unborn, that is too easy. This case is a case regarding the rights of the born.
The case is State of Arkansas v. Arms, 2015 Ark. 364 (2015). The Court found that the evidence only suggested that the Defendant could have delivered a drug to her child by "otherwise introduc[ing] it" since there was no evidence that the child ingested or inhaled it. It also found no evidence that the Defendant otherwise introduced drugs to her child after the baby was born. While there was a narrow window of time between birth and the severing of the umbilical cord in which the Defendant could have still been transferring drugs to her now born child, there was no evidence to support that speculation. On these grounds alone, the Court had no choice but to reverse the conviction and dismiss the charges.
However, as courts sometimes do (in spite of their own policy against making decisions on appeal that litigants have not raised), the Arkansas Supreme Court went too far and provided additional rationale for its decision beyond the scope of the appeal - an issue soundly addressed in Justice Wood's concurring opinion. The majority opinion ruled that even if the law were changed to include the unborn, who will inevitably suffer harm after birth as a result of the Defendant's drug use before birth, the law that criminalizes introducing drugs into the body of another "cannot be construed to include such a passive process" as the biochemical exchange between a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
That is an incredibly dangerous piece of legal reasoning with far reaching moral implications. The idea is that causing someone to ingest or inhale is an active process that the statute specifically calls out, so the general phrase "otherwise introduce" must also be an active process. At what point does ingesting, inhaling, or as in this case injecting anything become a passive process? The point at which the ingested chemicals biologically pass from mother to child by a natural process? Surely we know by now that much of what the mother actively ingests, inhales, or injects will naturally pass to the unborn child, or are we arguing that this mother's right to actively break the law trumps this child's right to be born without a drug addiction? Fortunately, the majority opinion does put a face on this victimized baby, who "did not cry, even after being stimulated. He was flaccid and limp and had a facial droop on one side of his face...suffering withdrawal from methamphetamine use."
The state of the law as a result of this case is absurd. This is not a matter of the rights of the unborn; it is a matter of the rights of the born. Not only can we actively kill the unborn, we can actively harm them in utero such that they suffer after birth. In other words, we value life so little that not only can we arbitrarily terminate it before birth, we can addict it to dangerous and deleterious chemicals before birth that it will suffer through after birth.
This blog is about faith meeting law. Faith is belief in action (see Hebrews 11), so two questions remain: what do we believe? and what should we do? Proverbs 31:8-9 say, "open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." In his rebuke against unjust judgments, Asaph said in Psalm 82:3-4 that his readers should "give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." In His plea for Israel to repent after having said "I've had enough," God said through Isaiah in Isaiah 1:17, "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. Infants certainly fall within the scope of these verses. The facts are simple - defenseless, destitute, oppressed, poor, needy, afflicted, weak infants can be born addicted to a controlled substance and the State, which speaks first and foremost by the laws it passes and enforces, says that this state of affairs is okay. Yet these infants who cannot speak cannot possibly be said to desire their addictions. We must be their voice, but how?
Chief Justice Brill noted in his concurring opinion that the Arkansas General Assembly considered this issue in House Bill 1376 of 2015. The obvious course of action is to revisit that piece of legislation as soon as possible. Furthermore, we need to be very cautious of legislation regarding the legalization of recreational drug use. Even if those drugs do not readily pass from mother to unborn child, the potential for the gateway effect to force more people into harder drug use while pregnant only raises the specter of more children like this to be born with chemical dependencies. Ask your representatives and senators to protect the born.
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.