Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel

Keep Christianity Strange.    As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be good news for the church. What's needed now, in shifting times, is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, we need a church that speaks to social and p...

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Title:Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel
Author:Russell D. Moore
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Edition Language:English

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel Reviews

  • Jeanie

    If you are a bible believing Christian, unless you have been living under a rock, the church is now in a shakeup of sorts. Is the church relevant? Part of the problem, church in the west looks more like America than the gospel. What kingdom are we building? In this eye opening and I have to say encouraging word, we need to focus on moving Onward. Russell D. Moore chal

    If you are a bible believing Christian, unless you have been living under a rock, the church is now in a shakeup of sorts. Is the church relevant? Part of the problem, church in the west looks more like America than the gospel. What kingdom are we building? In this eye opening and I have to say encouraging word, we need to focus on moving Onward. Russell D. Moore challenges his readers on what the Kingdom entails, with the breakdown of families and the church losing its influence, have we assumed the gospel? Has the gospel become about a better marriage, better children, or a better life? If it has, we have mistakenly put values over gospel. Kingdom focus is how the gospel grows. Are we concerned about losing our influence with culture? We don’t have to be if we are Kingdom minded.

    Engaging in the culture is living a kingdom mindset. What does this look like? Social issues become mercy and grace issues while we engage in our culture. How do you engage with illegal immigrants? Are we reminded of the gospel or are we reminded of entitlement.

    Every Christian should read this mission kingdom - minded teaching and have our eyes and hearts set on what really matters.

    Quotes that I found encouraging.

    The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself. We must remember that even Israel’s slavery in Egypt was a sign of God’s mercy.

    If we see ourselves as only a minority, we will be tempted to isolation. If we see ourselves only as a kingdom, we will be tempted toward triumphalism. We are, instead a church. We are a minority with a message and a mission.

    Finding ourselves in his inheritance frees us from clamoring and fighting for our own glory or relevance.

    If the gospel is abstracted from the kingdom, then our mission is simply about the initial evangelism of new believers. If we abstract the kingdom from the gospel, though, then the kingdom seems to be about mere morality, and, thus, an easy client from the pretend Messiah of state power. The gospel is a gospel of the kingdom of Christ.

    We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion. The worst thing that can possibly happen to us has already happened; we’re dead. We were crucified at Skull Place, under the wrath of God. And the best thing that could happen to us has already happened; we’re alive.

  • Tony

    For most Christians in America, this book came out at the perfect time. This summer gay marriage was codified across all 50 states, a man made the world believe he was a woman, and businesses left and right have been fined and/or shut down for using their businesses as a witness to their Christian faith.

    For me, however, it was a bad time. I have to admit this book took me much longer than I had anticipated. Over the course of reading this book, I accepted a new job, my wife and I moved in with m

    For most Christians in America, this book came out at the perfect time. This summer gay marriage was codified across all 50 states, a man made the world believe he was a woman, and businesses left and right have been fined and/or shut down for using their businesses as a witness to their Christian faith.

    For me, however, it was a bad time. I have to admit this book took me much longer than I had anticipated. Over the course of reading this book, I accepted a new job, my wife and I moved in with my parents briefly, purchased a home, moved into said home, and had a baby girl about a week ago. My attention was divided.

    Yet even though my reading was done in spurts, it's clear there is something special about this book. It simultaneously confirms the fears of conservative Christians and completely dismisses them as irrelevant. The premise is this: Things are really bad here, but here is not our home. Russell Moore examines the landscape of Christianity in America and confirms that we are more and more exiled than before. Whatever commonalities we had with the majority of the country were based on agreed mores rather than the cross. As those values and attitudes shifted, the cross remained, but with less people paying societal homage to it.

    Moore's solution is to keep Christianity similarly as Austinites keep Austin: Strange. He is often fond of pointing out to people who think it odd we believe that marriage is intended between one man and one woman that we believe much stranger things, such as a man raising from the dead.

    Quite simply, if you are a Christian at all interested about our witness to society (as we all should be), you need to be paying attention to Russell Moore (and Albert Mohler, for that matter). This book encourages Christians to not back down from engaging society with what we believe, but to loosen our grip on culture, as it was never ours to begin with. This is an important book that I recommend to all my friends of the faith.

  • Tim Kimberley

    What did Jesus mean when he said his kingdom come His will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Out the church I help pastor we use the term "kingdom focused" to describe this concept. What does this mean? What does this look like lived out in 21st century America? Russell Moore has written a book well worth the time to read focused on these topics of kingdom. I highly recommend the book. It was handed to me by a fellow elder of our church who read it and then bought 14 copies to hand out to fri

    What did Jesus mean when he said his kingdom come His will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Out the church I help pastor we use the term "kingdom focused" to describe this concept. What does this mean? What does this look like lived out in 21st century America? Russell Moore has written a book well worth the time to read focused on these topics of kingdom. I highly recommend the book. It was handed to me by a fellow elder of our church who read it and then bought 14 copies to hand out to friends. Now that I've finished the book I understand his enthusiasm.

  • Ruth

    A trumpet call to end the hand-wringing and hair clutching in favor of marching forward with Jesus into the future that He has foreordained. Moore has an engaging style and neat turn of phrase, making his book as readable as it is challenging to the soul. "Keep Christianity Strange," indeed. Recommended.

  • Mason

    This book is so relevant for the Church. I am really grateful for Dr.Moore and his wise words and emphasis on Christ while engaging the culture around us.

  • Brian Pate

    If you are tired of hateful facebook posts, biased newscasters, and despicable candidates, then you need to read this book! A refreshing refocus on Christ and his kingdom.

    As I listened to this audiobook, I kept thinking to myself, "That's what I've always thought, but was too afraid to admit it, or didn't know how to put it into words."

    I highly recommend it for every Christian.

  • Brian Whittington

    When I finished this book I let it sit for a few days. I had some initial thoughts and feelings, but I wanted to make sure that I gave myself a few days to simmer on these. Its a heavy subject matter and I did not want to speak off the initial emotions after finishing the book. Now, 2 week removed, I still feel confident in saying that I have not read a book in recent memory that I thought more accurately, logically, and graciously dissects the current evangelical culture while giving us an outl

    When I finished this book I let it sit for a few days. I had some initial thoughts and feelings, but I wanted to make sure that I gave myself a few days to simmer on these. Its a heavy subject matter and I did not want to speak off the initial emotions after finishing the book. Now, 2 week removed, I still feel confident in saying that I have not read a book in recent memory that I thought more accurately, logically, and graciously dissects the current evangelical culture while giving us an outline for engaging our culture. The church has a powerful unique gospel message thats relevant and needed, and we can do that without coming off as a curmudgeon. I think this book timely and is a desperately need message to current evangelicalism. As we engage the culture we need to get back to what is ultimately important. Moore again puts it better than I can:

    "Once Christianity is no longer seen as part and parcel of patriotism, the church must offer more than "What would Jesus do?" moralism and the "I vote values" populism to which we've grown accustomed."

    I hope so, then we will be able to address with the culture the most important question. The question Jesus asked of Peter: "who do you say that I am."

    To read more of my reviews please visit thelakesidecover.com

  • Bob

    I found this a heartening book in many ways that articulated, at least in the words of one denominational leader, the journey the Southern Baptist Convention has been on over the last few decades. Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

    I found this a heartening book in many ways that articulated, at least in the words of one denominational leader, the journey the Southern Baptist Convention has been on over the last few decades. Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a frequent contributor in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Christianity Today and First Things.

    Moore writes about what a church that has had Bible Belt roots and Moral Majority political clout does when these conditions no longer hold. His contention is both that the church needs to reconceive its cultural engagement, and use this opportunity to reaffirm its gospel integrity. He begins by affirming the importance of the life of the kingdom not only in its "not yet" dimensions but rather in the present. The kingdom must be first and he calls us to "be pilgrims again, uneasy in American culture." He contends that the true culture war must be first to embody the life of the kingdom in gospel communities. He argues for mission that preaches both justice and justification, reconciliation both between people, and between people and God and these two must not be pitted against each other. He then focuses on three particular issues he believes need to be emphasized in this effort to bring together gospel and culture: human dignity, religious liberty, and family stability.

    In a chapter on Human Dignity, he begins with a statement of the dignity of black lives, and argues for a Whole Life dignity perspective, within which he advocates compellingly for continued pro-life engagement around issues of abortion and euthanasia. In discussing religious liberty, he freely invokes the Baptist history of separation of church and state, and argues for the liberties of all religious peoples, while acknowledging that in our present context, gospel integrity will be increasingly "strange" and not always supported. I loved his concluding statement in this chapter affirming, "We are Americans best when we are not Americans first."

    The chapter on family stability particularly struck me as one that might surprise some. One the one hand he is uncompromising in naming the sins of fornication and adultery rather than deploying euphemized equivalents and arguing for chastity rather than mere abstinence. On the other hand, he seeks to extend compassion to those wounded by today's libertarian sexual ethics, acknowledges the need for stronger support of the abused, speaks of the connection between poverty and family instability, and argues that living wages are important for these families. He affirms the role of church as family for all, not just for couples with children. At the same time, he has some challenging comments about young couples waiting to marry because of economic considerations, that ends up leading to moral compromise. He'd contend that we are never ready for marriage, economically or otherwise!

    His concluding chapters speak about the vital importance of speaking with both conviction and kindness, and for the fact that the hope for the American church is in the transforming power of the gospel, that leadership is not genetically inherited and the next "Billy Graham" may currently be an alcoholic, or come from another part of the world. God has ways of breaking out of both liberalism and legalism and raising up new generations.

    Moore can turn a phrase and one has the sense that this was material adapted from oral speaking. At the same time, it felt at times that the organization could be tighter. Reading this felt like listening to rambles, albeit very engaging rambles, around a theme.

    It is heartening to me that this book can be published by a Southern Baptist publishing house. It reflects a pilgrimage from a segregated, culture warring church focused on personal rather than social ethics to a church that is beginning to wrestle with what it means to hold justice and justification together. True, some of the material on questions like the environment, gun violence, economic justice and more are still very cautious, and I suspect most Blacks would like to see them go even further on issues of race and confronting the history of racism in this country. Yet the fact that these issues are talked about in the context of the dignity of all life and the gospel of the kingdom by a Southern Baptist leader is an encouraging sign and one that I hope will encourage similar conversations throughout the American church.

    ________________________________

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

  • Eva

    SO GOOD. I wanted to underline pretty much everything. And the creators of the God's Not Dead movies should have read this book before making any films whatsoever. It would have flipped their persecution complex right on its head.

  • Josh Bauder

    The pursuit of cultural stability and the pursuit of personal salvation are distinct endeavors, particularly for people (like Russell Moore and me) who endorse a separation between church and state. And yet, undeniably, the health of the soul and the health of the culture are linked at almost every level. They are both, of course, important ends—probably the two most important ends we can conceive. They share a common past and future: the first society and the last society were and w

    The pursuit of cultural stability and the pursuit of personal salvation are distinct endeavors, particularly for people (like Russell Moore and me) who endorse a separation between church and state. And yet, undeniably, the health of the soul and the health of the culture are linked at almost every level. They are both, of course, important ends—probably the two most important ends we can conceive. They share a common past and future: the first society and the last society were and will be inhabited exclusively by the redeemed and ruled directly by the God of Christianity. They are linked in their effects: personal faith always affects its cultural milieu (even if only to attract hatred and violence), and the characteristics of a culture, such as the categories of its language, its assumed values, its traditions, its institutions, and its political structures, inevitably shape the moral and religious imagination of the citizenry. Indeed, both the evangelist and the cultural critic will offer their domain as the fulfillment of the other’s objectives: a good Christian will insist that there is no true cultural stability outside of a redeemed and sanctified creation; and a good cultural critic will insist that there is no true human religious fulfillment outside of participation in a resplendently virtuous and vibrant culture. Both are right. Christ restores the soul

    the body, the individual

    the community, and in Him we love the Lord our God

    we love our neighbor. Personal salvation bestows citizenship in the New Jerusalem, not eternal isolation. Cultural stability emanates from the worship of Jerusalem’s King, not from the adoration of godless artifacts.

    In the meantime, however, things are not quite so simple. The fullness of Christ’s kingdom is delayed. His rule is indirect, and the world is populated by both those chosen for glory and those destined for destruction. Laws are necessary to restrain wicked individuals, but sometimes there are wicked laws; wars are necessary to restrain wicked nations, but sometimes there are wicked wars. Competing visions of the good divide societies. Ancient sins are celebrated with confetti, ancient virtues are declared hate speech. Churches are subverted, and cultures are subverted, and people elect morons.

    Given all this, it’s no wonder that the relationship of culture, America, and Christianity is complex and muddled. To what extent has Christianity shaped America, and how should American Christians think of their country? Exactly how good were things “back then,” and when was “back then”? How do we balance efforts for cultural renewal, charity, and Christian evangelism? Is there an ontological hierarchy between those three? Is charity, for instance, a subset of evangelism? To what extent can Christians cooperate with non-Christians?

    Moore wants to sort out some of these questions, and his starting point is to destroy any remaining adulation that might be out there for the late Moral Majority. In Moore’s view, the Religious Right, ascendant in the Bible-Belt South of the late twentieth century, has long been willing to compromise its message to achieve short-term political objectives. He chastises the church for inviting into its ranks anyone—business tycoons, casino owners, talk show hosts, televangelists—who helped conservative causes. The result, he claims, has been a theological downgrade that equates America with Old Testament Israel and incorrectly claims a Christian identity for our nation.

    In the wake of the

    sexual revolution since 2000, such a claim is now impossible to make, and Moore recognizes that this is, in one sense, a very good thing. It is now perfectly clear that America is not the Promised Land, and that the balance of public opinion has slid like an obese child to the far left of the teeter-totter. Whatever silent moral majority there was has died off or abandoned its principles. “We are not,” as Moore says, “the chaplains of Mayberry, but the apostles in the wilderness.”

    Moore is absolutely right in this respect: to the extent that churches abandoned the fundamentals of the faith in order to score political victories, to the extent that they confused promises made to Israel with promises made to themselves, to the extent that their leaders used their ministries to promote unbelieving hucksters and manipulators—to that extent, the demise of the Religious Right is a good thing.

    On the other hand, to the extent that the Religious Right represented an electoral bloc of conservative families appalled by the obscenities unleased in the 1960s; to the extent that there was loose cooperation

    of the context of church, between adherents of different forms of Christianity, in financing honorable candidates and challenging the sexual revolution; to the extent that conservatives across the country, Christians and non-Christians, recognized that they had common ground in preserving a stable and just society, grounded, if not on revealed dogma, at least on natural law; to the extent that the efforts of these people were crucial in putting Thomas and Scalia and Alito and Gorsuch on the Supreme Court—to

    extent, I have nothing but praise and honor for them.

    And so should Moore. In other contexts, such as human rights and the common ground between Christians and Muslims, he lauds cooperation, arguing that we can appeal to mercy and compassion grounded in the image of God even when unbelievers deny the existence of that image. “We can work with our neighbors and those who disagree with us,” he writes, “because everyone has a conscience and a sense of what is right and just.” This sounds, to me, like a persuasive ground for cross-denominational political action, so long as Christians are careful not to equate their work for the culture with their eternal home or their gospel mission.

    There’s a lot more that Moore gets right. He’s critical of liberal Christianity, pointing out that the relaxation of sexual ethics in the postmodern church is leading to a completely new religion, no more connected to genuine Christianity than New Age Wicca is to ancient druidic rites. He affirms that Christianity “is not an ideology, like socialism or libertarianism, but a body.” He encourages charitable and gracious interactions with unbelievers: “We should not seek an angry, quarrelsome cultural presence,” he warns, “but neither should we seek to engage the culture with the sort of gospel the culture would want if they were making it up.”

    But there are a few areas where Moore is simply too glib and simplistic. He frequently criticizes what he calls a “gloomy view of culture” that envisions postmodern Western society as “slouching towards Gomorrah”—a reference to the eponymous

    by Reagan SCOTUS nominee Robert H. Bork, which in turn derives its title from Yeats’ poetic phrase “slouching towards Bethlehem” in

    But Moore is not completely fair in representing Bork’s position as fatally gloomy. Indeed, Bork’s writings balance a calm, reasonable evaluation of the state of cultural affairs with advice for cultural restoration. For instance, Bork says:

    , Bork writes:

    Why religion? Because:

    Surely here Bork and Moore are in fundamental agreement. The solution to our ills is not ultimately to be found in a Trumpish demagogue or a Republican sweep of the midterms, but in the restoration of value made possible only by religious sentiment. Where Bork, along with most serious conservatives,

    differ with Moore is in adequately assessing the severity of decline

    . This is not apocalyptic fear-mongering of the blustery-preacher sort, but the kind of level-headed grim-faced judgment of an emergency room physician dealing with the aftermath of an explosion. It’s not inconsolable hand-wringing about the

    —the future is our hope and confidence, at least for those of us who believe Jesus is actually coming back. But knowing that the story is going to end with four kings and queens on the four thrones of Cair Paravel doesn’t change the fact that a White Witch just showed up, and oh crap she has an army. The reassuring claim that our culture can’t

    be more depraved than the biblical Ammonite or Sodomite cultures is its own kind of racism, particularly now that we replicate their

    a millionfold and in HD; and as U.S. abortion totals approach the size of the Stalin purges, we should look back on the history of the world with an attitude of deep wonder that God would save

    alive today.

    Finally, there are two off-putting references in

    to twentieth-century Roman Catholics. (I stress

    to clarify that we’re not talking about Athanasius here. These are modern Catholics, post-Trent, post-Vatican I, post-Vatican II, and, if they are honest, not even remotely believers.) The first of these problematic references is, as it turns out, the headstone quote of the book:

    It’s interesting that the epigraph of a book whose subtitle is “engaging the culture without losing the gospel” would be a quote from someone who—wait for it—lost the gospel. Walker Percy, who rejected his Reformed upbringing early on and died a staunch Catholic, doesn’t mean at all what evangelicals do when he says things like

    ,

    , or

    . It’s a weird way to start. It’s a quote that works only if we reinterpret it away from its intended meaning. Moore could have pulled off the same effect with something more orthodox from Augustine’s

    or

    :

    Less excusable is Moore’s odd inclusion of a modern Roman Catholic in a list of great Christians—and here it’s perfectly clear that he’s describing not the nominal label

    but the body of Christ comprised of believers in the gospel. In a section where he muses dreamily about unlikely future converts to faith, he speculates that among the worldly riffraff of the still-unregenerate there might be hidden the next Saint Augustine, the next Charles Wesley, the next Jonathan Edwards, the next Charles Spurgeon, the next Mother Teresa. Now, it’s perfectly fine for Moore to recognize that gospel-believing Christians and modern Roman Catholics share many things in common, and that much good can be accomplished by cooperating with them in charity, politics, and the defense of morality. This, in fact, was exactly what the Religious Right achieved, though Moore eviscerates it on the grounds that it confused the content of the gospel. Here, ironically, he seems to be making the same error. By extending the boundary of the gospel to include Rome’s avowed Holy Orders, Moore is keeping Christianity strange indeed.

    is significantly longer than it needs to be. It is also repetitive, and it is also repetitive. Still, Moore's central call is clear, timely, and wise. Christian America has too often been an idol in the place of Christ Himself, and the sentimental trappings of Christianity more dear to churchgoers than the blazing Word of life. In some ways, Moore is the perfect spokesman for the restoration of a biblical view of politics and religion, given his gracious but inflexibly principled opposition to both major candidates in the 2016 election. Now that the ruling political regime unapologetically promotes a godless American nationalism, Moore's book is all the more relevant. It's not flawless, but it's worth a read.

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