Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel

A queer thing is happening in the church today. Pulpits are being jettisoned for megaphones, tolerance is being mistaken for hate speech, and those called to gospel ministry are abandoning their stations for something more, shall I say, comfortable? There is, however, a shaking going on. A separation of those who adhere to biblical principles and those who have confessed, but not lived the faith revealed to us in the Scriptures.

onward-cvr3dRussell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, seeks to reverse this trend in his newest volume, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. In true Moore form he engages some of the most divisive issues circling our conversations today. He engages, mainly, the topics of sexual ethics and what I will call Christian humanism. From the outset he notices the problem coming from inside the walls of the church, “People who don’t want Christianity, don’t want almost-Christianity.” In that one statement already, Moore has made a distinction between those who are in Christ and those who want to role-play like they are for sake of a fire-insurance Christianity.

Moore does not speak in this volume from a Landmarkist position. He isn’t so naive to say that only Baptist churches are true churches or that America is the last great Christian nation. He doesn’t claim to want to, “make America great again” he does, however, give us the truth that “Our end goal is not a Christian America. either of the made-up past or the hoped-for-future. Our end goal is the kingdom of Christ, made up every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.”

As is the custom with those in the reforming SBC, three topics stuck out in my mind as I read this volume. Being on mission, engaging the culture, and being focused on the Eschaton. On these three points this volume finds its foundation. We as Christians are to be set on a time when we will be gathered before the throne of God. We are to engage in such a way that is genuinely human yet seasoned with the Gospel. Permeated with the Word of God on our lips and in our actions.

I don’t agree with Moore on every point in this volume. Sure it’s good to try and create initiatives with those who are “across the fence” from us but in my mind I’m wondering how the church can engage as the church, in church ordained initiatives with outsiders? Would I build a deck with a friend of mine who is gay? Absolutely! He certainly has a skill with woodworking and construction, something I do not have. Would I create an initiative to fight abortion in my state and on-board him as a council member? Probably not. I may be wrong but I just see going as far as Moore seems to indicate. Again I could be wrong on this topic and am surely up for correction.

As a whole this volume is really engaging. Some portions are technical and hard to read and it seems that Moore takes more than one breath to make certain points. It does get long-winded in the opening chapters and some things are stated in more than one way, though with the same end result. I felt like at a few junctions I wanted to say, “I get your point!”. My personal preferences certainly do not detract from the purpose of Onward and the point that is being made. We as Christians are living in a time where our social engagement needs to matched by a passionate zeal for the gospel.

The two must never be separated. We must engage the culture with the revelation set down before us in the scriptures and must not shy away form telling the world what the bible says. Our call to save life, to challenge the worlds view of marriage and sexual ethics is a call to be faithful to the gospel. On that point, I couldn’t agree with Moore and those in his camp. A great read, a challenging imperative, and a message we need to hear more often is what this book is all about.

Russell D. Moore. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015. 240 pp. $24.99.

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