I got a letter in the mail today, from a "Christian organization." They were offering me a CD of a new talk that their founder had delivered. The subject was emblazoned on the envelope- "Addressing Today's Moral Slide."
I tossed it directly in the trash, annoyed by yet another America-is-riding-towards-hell-in-a-hybrid-car screed. Truth be told, I was annoyed because I've owned that mindset for myself.
As an American Christian, I see two main scripts when it comes to addressing my world. One: "Depravity surrounds us! We've lost the youth. The people in power are trying to get rid of God! We've got to take our country back!"
And the other: "Just don't look Out There. Just carry on as a nice Christian, and don't let culture wars and politics distract you from shining your tiny light."
While one book cannot be a cure-all for an unhealthy worldview, Russell Moore's "Onward" can be a strong first dose of medicinal tonic.
And trust me, this is bracing stuff.
The subtitle gives you a decent hint- "Engaging the culture without losing the Gospel"- but I think it could have been phrased even better than that. I'd say something like "Engaging the culture because of the Gospel."
See, Dr. Moore's book isn't a "Hang onto Jesus while you navigate the alligator-infested waters of modern America" book. It's a "Your Lord is alive forevermore, and your life is hidden in Him. You'e also a citizen in a particular country, American, so the Gospel must work through you in your place and time. As walk in Christ's way, how can you understand your world in order to speak His word into it?"
The more I read, the more I found myself feeling like I'd been turned right-side up after a period of being hung up-side down.
There's a lot of voices out there crying "Christian persecution in America!" and some of them are very well-informed individuals making important points. There *are* changes in the way our nation, collectively, relates to religion.
Remember the Bible Belt- made up of Southern communities where it was assumed that every citizen was a Christian, where Church attendance was a foregone conclusion, and where personal Biblical literacy remained a strong possibility, that place some see as the last bastion of American Christianity? It's probably on it's way to collapsing.
Dr. Moore makes this observation within his first few pages.
That was his introduction to the faith- a Southern Baptist community where the local culture revolved around the church and the citizens respected Christian teaching. He loves the church he came from. But he loves the Christ who founded the Church even more.
So instead of finding somebody to blame, or talking more about how we've taken-God-out-of-schools and provided such poor Hollywood role models, or seeing this as a reversal of God's plans, Dr. Moore believes there are good reasons why we could welcome the changes.
Think about this, for a minute.
What if the Gospel was (again) considered strange when it hit the average American's ears?
What if its strangeness required a response?
Might this actually lead to more born-again, converted Christians?
What if we Christians have been misusing America (and misidentifying ourselves) for quite a while?
By this I mean, what if we've been using the basically good American people that surround us and the morality-based laws that govern us to reassure ourselves that we're doing all right, as a Church and as a country?
What if we've been counting on "traditional American family values" to give us safe streets and stable families?
(And now, we're getting the uncomfortable feeling that American values ain't what they used to be.)
What if we've tried with law and rule to get results that only the Gospel can give? (And now, it seems that same power of law could be used to pinch our Christian style.)
What if we've drawn false comfort from the way people still rally around the "God and Country" narrative? (And all along, it was never meant to be about God and country. Our message was "Christ is risen!")
Yes. America is a great country, with a fine and honorable history. I am grateful to live here, and we should be both proud and humbled by the stories that our national history contains.
My Christianity is neither "under attack" here, nor do I despair of my country's future. Instead, I want to live well in the life of Christ, with my feet planted on American soil.
So, what are we to do with all of these thoughts?
Step one: Read this book.
Just kidding. No, I'm actually not. "Onward" would be a fine place to begin, to point you back to the Gospel, to help you gaze at that Life-giving mystery, and then to think well about the world the Gospel came to.
Dr. Moore has so much to say, and I can't do it justice by listing his topics, but I have to give you a general idea.
What is the Kingdom? What is our Mission? What is the Church within the culture? What are the roles and limits of the State and what is the reach and limits of the Church?
What about human dignity, family stability, and religious liberty?
What is convictional kindness, and what does it mean for our witness?
This isn't a book of dogmatic pronouncements- "Engage this much and not that much, protest this thing and vote for this man."
Rather, over and over, Dr. Moore uses his words to show us the Gospel, grounding his observations about the visible world (America, politics, evangelism, liberty, marriage, justice) in the truth we have about the invisible Reality.
I'll have to read this book again, slowly, more than once to really grasp the arguments here. For this time, let my best review be this: I want to read this book again. There was challenge and conviction and Gospel clarification all over the pages.
I thank B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of "Onward." I wasn't obligated to provide a book review, but I wanted to. And here it is.