Nashville: B & H, 2015
ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel is a very thought-provoking book and frankly one that is not always easy to understand. It demands careful reading and reflection if we are to truly profit from it. The author, Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is insightful, even prophetic at times.
The book’s subtitle is the key to understanding Moore’s thesis: “Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.” I would actually prefer wording it slightly differently: “Engaging the Culture While Also Proclaiming the Gospel.” This reflects the author’s strong conviction that we evangelicals should not neglect preaching the biblical gospel as we involve ourselves in the social issues of our day. The opposite is also true – we should not simply preach the gospel and be silent on matters of mercy and justice that are clearly taught in the Scriptures, i.e. the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, justice for people of all racial and religious backgrounds, compassion for asylum seekers, care for God’s creation, etc.
The chapter titles of this 222 page book should give you a better idea of its content: A Bible Belt No More, From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority, Kingdom, Culture, Mission, Human Dignity, Religious Liberty, Family Stability, Convictional Kindness, and a Gospel Counter-Revolution.
Moore was born in 1971 in Biloxi, Mississippi, which may partially explain his keen interest in race relations. His introduction to the faith was in a Southern Baptist community where the local culture revolved around the church, and the citizens respected Christian teaching. He recognizes that the Bible belt culture, in fact American society in general, has greatly changed since his childhood. However, instead of finding somebody to blame, or talking about how we’ve taken God-out-of-schools, or provided such poor Hollywood role models, etc., we should welcome, even take advantage of, these changes.
He adds that to the present generation of youth we evangelical Christians may seem foreign, irrelevant, and antiquated, but “Jesus didn’t hide the oddity of the culture of the kingdom, and neither should we.”
Moore concludes ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel with these words:
It’s our turn to march into the future. And we do so not as a moral majority or a righteous remnant but just as crucified saints, with nothing to offer the world but a broken body and spilled blood and unceasing witness. We are strangers and exiles, on our best days, but we are not orphans and wanderers. Our strangeness is only hopeful if it is freakishly clinging to the strange, strange mission of Christ crucified and risen. The pursuit of righteous and justice is of no purpose if it doesn’t flow from seeking the kingdom first. Beside us, there may be flags, and we’ll pledge allegiance where we ought and where we can. But over, always over us, there’s a cross. We may not always see where we are going but we know the Way. … Onward.