A Book Review

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).

As always, I’d love to read your comments, even if you disagree with me.  They will all be published as long as they are respectful.  If you like the review, please share it.

Break Up Your Unplowed Ground

In my studies this morning, I came across a verse in Hosea that slapped me across the face.  It came out of chapter 10.  If you are not familiar with Hosea, here is a quick recap.  Hosea was a prophet to the 10 northern tribes of Israel.  Since the break away from the lower 2 tribes, the people had been on a collision course with God.  Prophet after prophet had been sent to warn the people, but they ignored them (or worse).  One of the things that these tribes did from the beginning was construct two golden calves to be in their temple.  Hosea uses cows throughout this book to represent Israel.

In chapter 10 Hosea told Israel that they were like cows working the threshing floor.  That means nothing to us today, but back then it meant that they had it pretty good.  Life was easy.  Cows that work the threshing floor just walked around crushing the grain as they did so.  If they got hungry, they’d just bend down their head and have a little snack eating the same grain they were treading.  Not to bad for a cow!  But Hosea then told them that God was about to put a yoke on their neck and take them out to the fields to do some plowing.  Not fun!

This is where verse 12 comes in.  It’s a command: “Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground.  It’s time to seek the LORD until He comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain,” (HCSB).  There is so much to unpack in that one verse, and as I do, hopefully you see why it resonated so much with me.

  1. Sow righteousness for yourselves.  Planting is very hard.  If you’ve ever been a gardener you know this.  It may be enjoyable for the experienced one, but for those who have never done it before, it’s hard work.  Remember that these cows were threshing cows not plowing cows.  This was new to them.  They now had hard, wooden, cutting yokes around their necks, forced to do what they were not used to doing, with no food to eat!  The owners of the cows would have to use extra force and strength to get them to move and cut through the ground in straight lines.  Sowing righteousness is just as hard.  It doesn’t come naturally to people.  Doing the right thing (unless you’re an experienced one) is hard work!  It is much easier to simply be lazy and walk around threshing than it is to put on a harness and go out plowing.  Most of us choose to thresh than plow.  God called on the people of Israel (and us too) to sow righteousness.  Do the hard thing.  As Nike says: “Just Do It!”  Get up every morning with the righteous hand on the righteous plow and just sow righteousness.
  2. And reap faithful love.  This isn’t an earning of salvation, but it is a promise of mercy.  Let me explain it this way: God is the Father of all who believe.  And as a good Father, He will discipline His children who get out of line.  He will not discipline when there is nothing to discipline. Israel had been straying from God for hundreds of years (Hosea mentioned since Gibeah–referring to Judges 19-21–some 500 years before).  Because of this, Assyria would be coming and destroying the 10 northern tribes.  This would not have happened if Israel had sown righteousness instead of wickedness.  The same goes for us.  That doesn’t meant that every bad thing that happens to us is because of sin.  But much of the calamity in our lives is due to our rebellious hearts that sin.  Remember, “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked.  For whatever a man sows he will also reap,” (Galatians 6:7, HCSB).
  3. Break up your unplowed ground.  Unplowed ground is hard.  If you’ve every started a garden on unplowed ground, it isn’t fun.  A couple of years ago I had to take our back yard and plow it for the first time.  I was using a high-powered tiller to do the job.  It was bouncing everywhere.  It took hours (hours!) to till a small portion of land.  The hardened heart must be broken up.  Often there is a hardness of heart toward God and toward others.  The two great commands are to love God and love others, and often the heart is cold toward both.

    Get up every morning with the righteous hand on the righteous plow and just sow righteousness.

    Hosea tells us that we must break up the unplowed ground.  Are you bitter toward someone?  Then break up that unplowed ground by being a blessing to that person.  Is your heart in it?  No.  It’s cold and hard.  You’ll feel like I did breaking up the ground in my back yard.  I came away with my back aching and my arms exhausted.  All I wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed.  But it had to be done.  Angry with God?  We naturally will thresh than plow. We walk around avoiding the hard work.  But we are called to break up the unplowed ground.  We don’t want to do the hard work of prayer and getting into God’s Word, but that is how we are able to sow righteousness.  What is your unplowed ground? How is your heart hardened?

  4. It is time to seek the LORD.  You can’t do this on your own.  There’s no strength in you to get this done.  You can sow, but God determines if and when the crop grows.  The Bible is filled with God’s promises to hear us if we call.  “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29:13, HCSB).  “Call on Me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me,” (Psalm 50:15, HCSB).  And many more.  We must continuously and consistently seek the LORD.  We must follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “Never, ever ever ever ever, give up.”
  5. Until He sends righteousness on you like the rain.  That’s our goal, is it not?  We want the righteousness.  We want righteousness like farmers want rain.  Our lives are at stake!  We must seek God, petition Him, beg Him to accomplish in our hearts what we are doing with our hands.  This may sound a bit strange coming from me as I often say as with Paul, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose,” (Philippians 2:12b-13, HCSB).  I have often explained that we are to do outwardly what God is doing inwardly.  But now I’m saying that we should pray that God would do inwardly what we are doing outwardly, namely righteousness.  Why the contradiction?  It’s not really.  It’s a paradox.  God has declared the believer to be righteous, and the Spirit of holiness is working within the believer to bring him or her into holiness.  There are times though that the believer does not feel like being holy (or righteous).  To do right is hard work and we don’t want to put forth the effort.  Yet, this is what we are called to do.  We are called to sow righteousness and to break up unplowed ground–even when we don’t want to.  Am I saying that we just go through the motions?  Yes!  Go through the motions and pray to God to bring the desire.
    There are days where we don’t want to study God’s Word.  We get nothing out of it.  It seems boring and it has no benefit.  We’re doing it out of habit.  Keep doing it! But pray fervently and consistently that God would warm the heart and that God would provide inwardly the love for His Word and the enjoyment of studying.  Pray, pray, pray until He provides it like rain!  If you don’t want to bless those who curse you and say evil things against you, do it anyway.  You’re not acting the part of a hypocrite; you are being obedient to God.  Pray, pray, pray that God would give you a real heart (more than just action) toward your enemies.

We want righteousness like farmers want rain.  Our lives are at stake!  We must seek God, petition Him, beg Him to accomplish in our hearts what we are doing with our hands.

Obey and pray.  Continue in obedience while you continue to pray.  God will hear your prayer and will answer it in His timing.  Your job (and my job) is to “Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground.  It’s time to seek the LORD until He comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain,” (Hosea 10:12, HCSB).

That being said…