Minority status ‘good news’ for evangelicals, says ERLC’s Moore
Christians should celebrate their new relationship with American culture, knowing that the gospel will no longer conform them to culture but distinguish them from it, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, during the Gheens Lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 18-19.
“Increasingly, the most basic affirmations of Christianity are themselves seeming strange and odd in American culture,” Moore said. “This is actually good news for the advance of the kingdom, the future of the gospel, and for your ministries in 21st century America.”
Moore, formerly dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary, delivered a series of three lectures titled “Onward Christian Strangers: The Gospel and the Public Square in Changing Times," focusing on particular issues relating to Christianity and culture. In each lecture, Moore referenced Luke 4, a narrative about Jesus’ opening teachings and miracles about the kingdom of God.
In the past, a moral majority mindset contributed to some equating Christianity primarily with “moral values,” he said in his first lecture.
Much of Christianity is driven by nostalgia, but Christians should instead be driven by a yearning for the coming kingdom, Moore said. An awareness of the kingdom gives believers a vision for what “normal” is, helping the church distinguish between God’s created design from what is fallen. Only this allows believers to engage culture effectively, he said.
“The Kingdom of God informs our consciences and our priorities,” Moore said. “We work for the common good as people who are shaped and formed by our understanding of the kingdom.”
Moore argued that the moral majority model of political engagement is a misunderstanding of religious liberty. A Christian engagement that is not theologically rigorous is merely political, Moore said.
“If you’re fencing the table around your political agenda but you’re not fencing the table around the gospel, then the political agenda is your gospel,” he said.
In his second lecture, Moore argued that Christians need a fuller view of the church’s “ambassadorial function,” as it proclaims what the gospel looks like to the outside world.
“We tend to think of church in cognitive, cerebral terms ... or simply in pietistic devotional terms,” Moore said. “But we don’t think about the church the way the New Testament does, as an embassy. The church is … a sign to the principalities and powers.”
While churches often speak harshly about cultural issues outside the church but not about the issues within the church, he said believers should recognize that faithful biblical teaching will not always be comfortable for their congregations.
As a solution, churches should recognize that they represent an eschatological reality. According to Moore, the church’s ordinances and gifts signify the victory of its triumphant King Jesus, and its leaders represent the administration of his coming kingdom — leading through serving. The church’s increasing distance from the cultural Zeitgeist gives it the opportunity to simultaneously maintain distinctiveness and engagement, Moore said.
“It’s not that the church is simply a counter culture,” he said. “The church is an alternative outpost, but it is an outward-directed outpost.”
In the third session, Moore observed that the church’s most significant contemporary challenge is engaging the culture while also being faithful to its mission. The church has offered two broad approaches to the “culture war”: addressing systems and structures of oppression or addressing the problem of individual guilt before God.
The truth is, Moore said, most issues, like abortion and pornography, are problems on both the societal and personal levels. Christians should build their cultural engagement upon the gospel message, but that does not mean they only focus on evangelism and discipleship. Rather, through the gospel the church is aware of the fundamental problem with all humanity — sin and separation from God — and from there can address the societal problems created by sin.
“Personal regeneration is itself a reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person,” he said. “If personal regeneration and atonement are understood … you are going to have a different understanding of people, of what it means that God sent his church into the world for people.”
Many Christians, according to Moore, argue that any activism is a diversion from the church’s mission, so the church ought to resist political involvement. However, Moore said, in a democratic republic the people wield political power, so for Christians to abdicate their responsibility is to give the power of the sword to those who would use it unjustly.
Moore also urged believers to resist an “us versus them” view of political engagement. Believers should not divide themselves into any kind of tribalism, since they are part of a church “on mission” and should not treat other humans made in the image of God so poorly.
“If our primary calling is as a missionary people, we have to consistently remind ourselves that the people who disagree with us are not our enemies,” Moore said.
Audio and video of the Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary are available online at www.sbts.edu/resources.