Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has ben embroiled in many a controversy lately. His stance against President Trump during the primaries got him in a lot of hot water with the big wigs in a few SBC churches. I remember watching the proceedings of the SBC in St. Louis (I wish I had been there as I only live about half an hour away) and remember Dr. Moore getting questioned about his protecting of the rights for Muslims to build a mosque. His response was epic!
You know sometimes we have to deal with questions that are really complicated and we have to spend a lot of time thinking them through. And not sure exactly what the final result was going to be. Sometimes we have had really hard decisions to make. This isn’t one of those things. What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody. And brothers and sisters, when you have a government that says, ‘we can decide whether or not a house of worship can be constructed based upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship,’ then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and New York and throughout this country who are not going to be able to build. And the bigger issue, though, is not one of self-interest; the bigger issue is the fact we have been called to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A government that has the power to outlaw people from assembling together and saying what they believe, that does not turn people into Christians. That turns people into pretend-Christians and it sends them straight to hell. The answer to Islam is not government power; the answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.
I had vaguely known of Moore, seeing his book Onward on books shelves but bypassing it. I was familiar with his predecessor Richard Land and was not a huge fan, though not against him either. He existed and I existed and that was about it. After hearing Dr. Moore’s quote, I knew I had to get the book. I started listening to his podcast “Signposts” as well. I have just finished his book and I must say that I am happy with what I have read. Dr. Moore articulates well what I have thought but unable to express. His first chapter, “A Bible Belt No More,” spoke volumes as I grew up in Georgia and met many a “pretend-Christian” in my life. In his introduction, he wrote: “We cannot build Christian churches on a sub-Christian gospel. People who don’t want Christianity don’t want almost-Christianity,” (p. 5).
Throughout this book, Russell Moore has a “no holds barred” writing style. He hits from every angle, and at times one may feel he hit a little below the belt, but all in all he does so in love. He loves humanity but he loves Christ and the church. What he writes (and says) must be taken with that truth in context. I do not believe that this book has any hyperbole. He does not overstate the issues for dramatic effect, but neither does he downplay the issues as if they have no effect.
The view that is expressed on human dignity was especially helpful. “To deny human dignity…is to kick against Christ himself… When we care for the vulnerable–the unborn, the aged, the poor, the diseased, the disabled, the abused, the orphaned–such is not ‘charity.’ These are not ‘the disadvantaged,’ at least not in the long run. These are the sorts of people God delights in exalting as the future rulers of the universe,” (p. 136). From human-trafficking to race relations to abortion to the death penalty, Dr.Moore makes sound and emphatic arguments for how Christians are to respond.
His chapter on religious liberty goes straight to the heart of what he said at the SBC meeting. He hits hard on the idea of the pretend-Christian, making the point that the countries in Europe that had state-churches are now so secular that one is scarce to find a Christian. “A religion that needs state power to enforce obedience to its beliefs is a religion that has lost confidence in the power of its Deity” (p. 145). He went on to hit us Christians on our persecution complex (though I don’t remember those words in the book). “Not everything that offends us should offend us, and not everything that offends us is persecution,” (p. 151). Yes!
Onward is a book that is filled with well-thought arguments and biblical truth. Many who are in the “old guard” will probably not appreciate it, but I would ask them to humbly read it, if not to convince, at least to help them understand where men and women like Russell Moore are coming from. The pendulum swung too far to one side over the last 60-70 years, in reaction to its being swung to the other side. Dr. Moore is presenting a balanced, middle-pendulum approach to living in this secular world. It is not about “keeping America Christian” but being Christ in America. The Christian ought to be about the Kingdom of Christ more than America. “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first,” (p. 160).
His chapter on family was thought-provoking and timely. However, I do not believe that this chapter will be obsolete any time soon. The issues of the family and how it relates to the world and to the church are spot on. “Masculinity and femininity are not aspects of the fallen order to be overcome but are instead part of what God declared from the beginning to be ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31),” (p. 167). Moore rightly points to the roles of parents and children, the church and the need to use words that mean what we mean and not simply words that the culture uses. Chastity more than abstinence. Adultery rather than affair. He confronts the church (and pastors!) on the old way of just joining two people together whether they should be joined together in marriage. “Just because we don’t have two grooms or two brides in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage,” (p. 179).
There is so much more to this book than I can possibly write. Please pick up a copy of Onward as soon as you can. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. With the exception of a few typographical errors, it is well-written and articulated. This is probably in my top 10 favorite books of all time (outside of the Bible).
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