In his newest book Onward, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, believes we should embrace the change that is coming to America. He doesn’t mean that we should accept it, but we should see it for what it is: it reveals to us how strange the gospel sounds to the non-traditional ears and causes us to focus on the resurrected and returning Christ rather than believing in the strength of our own quasi-Christian culture.
Chapter One; the Bible Belt of America has been unloosed. And that’s not a bad thing. Rather than trust in our cultural Judeo-Christian values where all are “good people,” we’ll trust in the Gospel that saves.
In Chapter Two Moore explains that Christians are no longer a moral majority. We are a prophetic minority. We are not only a minority tempted to hide in isolation, but we are not a triumphal majority laying down the law on how people should live exactly as we say. But as the church, we have a message that saves lives (35). Chapter Three helps us remember that our hope in the future kingdom is not found in our country, but it is found in the eternal kingdom of God.
Chapter Four confronts us with culture, how to live in it, and how to change it. We “love” Mark 10.45 but we don’t really want to live by it. All Christians will rule and reign with God and Christ in the new creation. Even the awkward, the disabled, the fat, and the ugly. What if we presented them to the world as those “who bear a mantle of spiritual maturity?” (84).
Chapter Five gives us our mission. We expose sin not in order to mock others, but to reconcile them to Christ and each other. Chapter Six brings up human dignity. Pro-life means more than keeping unborn babies alive. It means lifting up all those the world think of as worthless, from foreigners, to the elderly; the disabled to the immigrant. And even our spouses.
With religious liberty in Chapter Seven, the state currently gives the church some measure of religious freedom, but the state does not bear the keys to the kingdom. The world is hurdling toward a servant-led kingdom, one led by Jesus Christ. Moore argues that we should let all religions have their liberty, because “[o]ne cannot coerce faith into being, or out of being, regardless of whether one is a theocratic ayatollah or a secularist parliament” (145).
Chapter Eight argues for facility stability that is seen only in the Bible, and only because it is a picture of Jesus and his bride, the Father with his Son and children. Chapter Nine gives us our marching orders: “Convictional Kindness.” Kindness is a spiritual weapon. We know we are on the winning side. So why be anything but kind and loving to our enemies?
Chapter Ten reminds us that Christianity still has a future in this country. “The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star right now. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was” (215).
The Spoiled Milk
Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I asked for it. I have a few minor quibbles though.
Usually Moore’s parallels work really well. When talking about the difficulties progressive liberals have with swallowing the Bible miracles, Moore reminds us that even the Messiah’s earthly father had the same trouble.
“First-century peoples, and their forebears in ancient Israel, might not have known how the planets orbit, but they knew how children were conceived. That’s why Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy was not ‘Well, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’ He assumed she had cheated on him, and this assumption was entirely reasonable because he knew how women get pregnant” (4-5).
Other times, I found his manner of speaking hard to follow. In chapter two, where Christians are no longer the moral majority, but can now be the prophetic minority, Moore says,
I can also understand the reluctance of some with the word prophetic when they see how it has been sometimes used by the Religious Left in this country. For some, the endless position papers on every issue from economic boycotts of Israel to minimum fuel efficiency standards are labeled “prophetic.” Sometimes they are, in the sense that they are rooted in the biblical witness and are courageous in speaking the truth to power. But, more often than not, prophetic is simply another word for a bureaucratic action that is unpopular with the people in the pews who pay the bills for such advocacy. For some, on the Left and on the Right, prophetic is just another way to say “consistent with every aspect of my political agenda, whatever it is” (37-38).
If you understood this phrase, then you’ll be fine. I’m not someone who’s yet spent the time investing himself in the political arena, so I have trouble wrapping my head around metaphors like these. However, metaphors like this second example occur in the first two or three chapters. After that Moore moves away from some of the political language, and the book became easier to read.
Remembering Where We Came From
“There’s little surprise then that the Jerusalem Council, while not placing the burden of the Mosaic ceremonial law on the new Gentile believers, did decree that the new believers must flee sexual immorality (Acts 15:20). In a world of concubines and temple prostitutes, a Christian sexual ethic was just as freakish and countercultural in the first- century Roman Empire as it is today, if not more so” (170).
People will now hear how Christians believe in this dead guy who walked on water and rose from the grave. Christianity will no longer be popular. It will be strange just as it was in the first century AD. And people were saved then too. People will be saved now. We shouldn’t put our identity in being a “good, American Christian,” but in the resurrected Christ. It’s not enough to chime in with your neighborhood choir and sing “God bless America” together. You have to show it.
Buy this book on Amazon or at B&H Publishing
[Special thanks to Chris at B&H Academic for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]