Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel
This month's book response comes from Jeff Miller who serves as Student Ministry Director of Amplify.
As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.
If you are interested in being assigned a book to review and respond to, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
FROM MORAL MAJORITY TO PROPHETIC MINORITY
Culture is constantly changing. Our western culture today is different than it was 5 years ago. And the culture then is different than the culture 5 years before that. What seemed like a “Christian America” in the past is no longer, if it even ever was. The time of being able to hide in the pews, and for attending church just as the American thing to do on Sunday Mornings is long gone. And whether we like it or not it doesn’t seem like it will ever be that way again. We Christians have found ourselves in a strange place in American history. Where we once enjoyed a moral majority it is increasingly becoming evident that we as a nation are quickly moving beyond “Christian values”.
What should the Church do in these trying times?! Should we retreat and cocoon ourselves from the world around us?! Personally, I look forward to the day when the reality of America as a post-Christian nation is fully realized by all. We as Americans may no longer be a moral majority, but that doesn’t change anything. We forget that Jesus told us that not even the gates of Hell would be able to prevail against his church. We Americans think that no longer being a moral majority means we are losing the opportunity to influence the culture around us.
Russell Moore, in his book Onward, argues that despite no longer being a moral majority (if we ever were) in our country that we have been and still are a prophetic minority. Meaning that the Church should not disengage or act as victims. To be a prophetic minority is to know who we are and where our power comes from.
“But shouldn’t we as Christians fight to protect America as a Christian nation?” I am often baffled when I hear people say that the United States is or was a Christian nation. Where did this idea come from? I think that we need to be careful to clearly define our terms, and know what we mean when we say “Christian Nation”. Does it mean we were founded on Christian values? Or Judeo- Christian Ethics? Or has the majority of United States citizens in the past been Christian? Furthermore, is desiring for America to once again be a “Christian nation” even something that the Church should desire?
A CALL BACK TO THE GOSPEL
I believe that overall message of Onward is a call to the Church to return to a biblical gospel. A gospel that has Christ at its core, and not us. A gospel that says that all of God promises to the nation of Israel find their resolution and fulfillment in the face of Jesus the Messiah. This gospel proclaims that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah Jesus. According to Moore the goal of the Kingdom is...
“...the merger of heaven and earth- when the dwelling place of God transforms creation, and the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.”
By Jesus coming to earth, heaven literally came down.
The “gospel” that the American church seems to have been declaring for quite some time is- we are sinners, and because we are sinners we deserve to spend an eternity away from God in hell after we die. But because of God’s love he decided to make a way for us to go to heaven. So what did God choose to do for us? God sends his son to die in place of us, so that after we die we can escape this earth, and hell, and spend eternity in heaven. This gospel tells us that as we sit and look at all the injustice in the world around us, we can take hope that one day we will leave this earth and enter into heavenly bliss. We don’t have to do anything about injustice on earth because ultimately God is going to do away with this planet anyways. This is a FALSE gospel.
Because of the Kingdom of God that has been inaugurated with Christ coming, our mission as Kingdom people needs to be that of reconciliation.
“The reconciliation of humanity to God and of humanity with one another. This is a matter of both gospel and justice, a matter of both personal redemption and social order.”
What Moore is suggesting is that a biblical gospel is as much personal as it is social. The gospel should reconcile people with one another as much as with God. The gospel should motivate Christ’s followers to care deeply for human flourishing and human suffering. “The gospel does not expose sin in order to condemn but in order to reconcile.” We as Christians are ambassadors of reconciliation which Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians 5.
As ambassadors on behalf of King Jesus we need to do a lot more than just share verbally Gods plan of salvation. We need to be people that are for justice. It is very evident throughout the scriptures that justice is core to who God is. Psalm 97 tells us that righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. And in Psalm 9 “But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.”
This idea of justice is at the core of the cross. Jesus bearing the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). It was at the cross that Jesus became sin on our behalf (2nd Corinthians 5:21). It was at the cross that God, through Jesus, condemned sin and did away with it forever (Romans 8:3, Hebrews 9:26).
Returning to a biblical gospel should transform our mission as Christians. As discussed earlier the church’s mission has often focused on holding a moral majority in America. But a deeper understanding of the gospel goes beyond having a moral majority or hiring Christian politicians for an easy fix. The church is called to have a prophetic voice in the culture around us. Sharing the gospel and fighting for justice goes beyond any political party. Christians should never engage morality without also sharing the good news of the Messiah Jesus. When the church engages in the culture around us and fights for justice or morality we must also extend a gospel invitation (Moore 209).
In the second half of the book, Moore challenges Christians to think through certain morality issues the church historically has struggled with. One particular issue that he brings up that I enjoyed and felt challenged by was the idea of human dignity.
Human dignity is the idea that all life matters. All of humanity, regardless of race, income level, nationality, abilities and disabilities, are created as image-bearers of God, and by nature have worth. Historically the church has limited Human dignity to the issue of abortion. Human dignity includes but goes way beyond the issue of abortion. Moore suggests that the church should reevaluate their “pro-life stance”, and become “whole-life people” (Moore 129). As “whole-life people” the church would be communities that fight for justice of the marginalized: orphans, widows, immigrant communities, the poor, and so on (Moore 129). Thinking biblically about human dignity should “prompt us to a wider view of neighbor-love and human flourishing” (Moore 129). A biblical view of human dignity is rooted in a gospel of Jesus of Nazareth “who shares deity with his Father and who shares humanity with us, and is thus in his own person bringing heaven and earth together” (Moore 137). A biblical view of human dignity says the church should fight for human flourishing and against human suffering in light of the Gospel.
I would highly recommend Russel Moore’s book Onward to anyone who is seeking a fresh perspective on being a Christ follower in America today. In the book, Moore issues a few other challenges to the church: our religious liberty in light of the Kingdom of God, the idea of Family stability and challenging the church to take divorce seriously, and convictional kindness as a weapon in the culture war around us.
May we as the church embrace the strangeness of the gospel, fully trusting that it is Gods power for salvation (Romans 1:16). And may we as the church be ever challenged by the gospel, and allowing it to transform our hearts and minds and enable us to have a prophetic voice to the world around us. Moore closes his book with this profound thought:
“It may be that America is not “post-Christian” at all. It may be that America is instead pre-Christian, a land that though often Christ-haunted has never known the power of the gospel, yet.”