Monday, July 11, 2016

Onward, by Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, will probably surprise some Southern Baptist readers of his book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.  Sure, he's theologically conservative. But many of the positions he takes on social and political issues will endear him to the evangelical left and many democrats.

That last sentence is a terrible oversimplification.  I think one of the messages of Onward is that we cannot reduce everything to left and right, red or blue, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat.  In fact, he warns that "when the 'Christian' position on everything just happens to line up, exactly, with the favored candidate or political party, how can we not expect cynicism from those who naturally start to suspect that 'God' simply means 'our team.'  When everything is prophetic, nothing is."

Christians ought to be a prophetic voice.  Noting that Christianity doesn't set the moral tone for the nation to the extent that it used to, Moore actually celebrates this.  As cultural outsiders, "our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens."  The goal is not to be relevant, but to revel in our difference and speak truth in the world.

The biggest Christian distinction--if I'm not overstating Moore's perspective--is the Christian embrace of the value of every human life as the imago dei.  I was reminded of Ron Sider's book in the 1980s, Completely Pro-Life.  Now Moore and Sider may have their differences, but I think Moore would embrace that phrase.  Moore writes, "Abortion, torture, euthanasia, unjust war, racial injustice, the harassment of immigrants, these things aren't simply 'mean' (although they are that too).  They are part of an ongoing guerilla insurgency against the image of God himself, as summed up in Jesus of Nazareth."

No matter who you are, you'll probably find some point of disagreement with Moore.  But he will challenge your thinking as a Christian in public life in a good way, reminding us not simply to follow a party platform, but to embrace the saving, transforming grace of Jesus, and to embody an enduring belief that every person is made in the image of God.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book you have started but never finished

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