“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…”
(2 Cor 6:3)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In the late fourth century, Celtic pirates kidnapped a sixteen year old boy named Patrick and sold him into slavery in the Irish wilderness where he worked for six years herding cattle. Forced to depend on God, Patrick learned to the Celtic language and to love and pray for the Celtic people. In response to a dream, he escaped his master and returned to England where he studied to become a priest. He was later commissioned as bishop and returned to Ireland as an evangelist.
Patrick and his colleagues planted so many churches in Ireland that they later turned their attention to the continent of Europe and began revitalizing the church on the continent (Hunter 2000, 13-25). When people say that Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, it is not a clever tale but a biblical allusion:
The LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen 3:14-15)
Christ himself was the offspring of the woman that Patrick introduced the Irish to. Patrick’s walk with the Lord, like that of Joseph (Gen 39), began with a life of hardship, but it also yielded a rich harvest.
The hardship of the Irish has a long history. In 1976 in graduate school at Cornell University, I had an Irish officemate whose wife was famous for her ability to play the harp. I loved to hear her play and would travel with him to see her perform whenever I could. When my officemate learned that my mother’s maiden name was Deacon, he informed me that we were not really Irish, but Scots, who the English resettled in Northern Ireland and who, together with the Irish, were encouraged in the second half of the nineteenth century to immigrate to the New World under difficult circumstances.
The Deacon Family
The oldest Deacon that I ever knew was Richard Henry Deacon, my grandfather. Grandpa Deacon, as we called him, was born in 1895 and as a young man helped settle the Canadian west. Later on he was sent to Europe in the first World War, but thankfully arrived too late to be sent into combat. He later returned to Guelph, Ontario where he managed the boiler at the University of Guelph. In spite of his lack of education, he rescued textbooks from the boiler fires which he read on his own. He particularly enjoyed reading a good “murder book”, as he used to call them.
Grandpa Deacon was a live wire and a constant joker. He once told the story of visiting a graveyard only to find two men buried in the same grave—“the tombstone read: here lies a lawyer and an honest man.” He used to drink and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until his doctor told him that his emphysema would kill him if he didn’t give it up. That day he quit smoking and he never smoked again. Still, the rest of his life he wheezed constantly and walked with a limp, having fallen off a ladder out repairing a roof.
Working with Tools and Making Them
Grandpa was always handy and he always came to visit and help us when Dad had a big home-improvement project, like finishing off a basement. Grandpa was also extremely pragmatic and he used to tell me that “if you don’t have a tool; make one”. When I was in grade school, for example, he built me a working cross-bow using only the scraps of wood and metal that we had lying around the house. At that point in my life, I did not appreciate how uniquely talented he was, but later in my career as a financial engineer when I was given undoable projects, having only “scraps” to work with, I followed his example and built my own tools. Like Grandpa, I learned to work with the tools at hand.
Living in Poverty
Grandpa was also fun to visit because he shared my youthful passion for fishing. When I visited, he early on took me fishing and later on took me to visit in-laws who lived on the farm, knowing my fascination with farming. On one such visit, I remember walking in on a family sitting down to lunch which featured soup bones—potatoes and turnips were also in ample supply, but the bones stood out to my youthful eyes.
The Deacons ate better than farm folks, in part, because grandpa had a regular paying job; he was an expert fisherman and hunter with a freezer full of his trappings; and he was an avid gardener who planted a large garden out back complete with fruit and nut trees. It also did not hurt having the corner store was just down the hill from the house at 123 Granger Street. Still, the threat of poverty was never far off, something I never forgot.
Grandpa died in 1980 following complications due to a prostate operation. At his funeral, when they lowered Richard Henry into the grave, was the only time I ever saw my mom cry. Later that day my aunt, Judy, took me aside and gave me Grandpa’s gold regimental ring, which Maryam wears to this day.
My grandmother, Marietta Salter Deacon, was a social butterfly and a devout Baptist who led my mother to get involved with mission work at a young age. When Marietta died from stomach cancer in 1941 and was buried in Wingham, my mother was left to take care of her younger siblings even while she was herself just a teenager. My own “mission work” with Hispanic day workers is a tribute, in part, to Marietta.
A Bit of Perspective
Having a bit of Irish in me once meant little more than green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day. However, the more I learned about Saint Patrick, who some credit with saving the Christian faith from fourth century decadence, the more I realized that I inherited more than just a full head of hair from the Deacon family.
Freeman, Philip. 2004. Saint Patrick of Ireland: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hunter III, George G. 2000. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity can Reach the West…Again. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Marx, Karl. 1887. Capital A Critique of Political Economy: Volume I Book One: The Process of Production of Capital. Edited by Frederick Engels;Translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Cited: 11 November 2016. Online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1.
 Details of the Irish story are treated at length in Marx’s Capital, Vol 1.
 Richard Henry Deacon (August 18, 1895–February 1, 1980). Richard was the son of Richard Deacon (July 4, 1845; Lanark County, Ontario) and Jane Chamney (1858-). Richard was also the grandson of Richard Deacon (Feb 1802- June 8, 1886; Kilkenny, Ireland; Church of England) and Sarah Jane Wellwood (September 1805-June 24,1890; Kilkenny, Irelandl; Church of England). Jane Chamney was the daughter of Richard Chamney (1826-1904; Wicklow County, Ireland) and Euphemia
 Formerly, Ontario Agricultural College. Framed certificates state that Granpa Deacon was a Certified Stationary Engineer, Second Class dated 1943 and again in 1962 (framed one under the other). Apparently a Stationary Engineer holding this certificate was qualified to: (a) act as chief operating engineer in (i) a high pressure stationary steam-plant not exceeding 600 registered horse-power (ii) a low pressure stationary steam-plant, compressor or refrigeration plant of unlimited registered horse-power, (iii) any portable compressor plant, or (b) act as the shift engineer in any plant of unlimited registered horse-power.
 Grandpa was buried in a family plot in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Guelph.
 Marietta Jean Salter Deacon (August 1905–January 7, 1947). Marietta was the daughter of Frances Jean Eastwood Cooper and William George Salter.
We live at a time when discussions of faith focus on our emotions and relational response to God in Jesus Christ. A subtext in these discussion is what will God do for me, not as a member of a family, but as an individual? While emotions and our relationship with Jesus are clearly important, how can we trust someone intimately who we know little or nothing about?
The Therapeutic Gospel
The therapeutic gospel fosters this attitude by focusing heavily on God’s love and seeing the role of the pastor through the lens of a counselor. In this context, Sunday morning worship becomes a group therapy session helping parishioners to purge anxiety through upbeat, uptempo music and an uplifting and witty sermons (all within a one hour timeframe of course) that provide nice to know religious information devoid of prescriptive advice. The triumph of the therapeutic gospel has come at the expense of traditional moral teaching.
If you do not believe me, consider some recent observations by one pastor about the difference between churched and unchurched young people in his youth group. The churched kids knew “how to get drunk, have sex and smoke marijuana without their parents ever knowing about it.” Meanwhile, the unchurched kids were “mostly fatherless boys and girls, some of whom [were] gang members, all of them completely unfamiliar with the culture of the church.” and did not even try to hide their sinful activities. (Moore 2015, 70-71) These observations suggest that in the absence of moral guidance, we all gravitate towards hypocrisy.
The love promoted in the therapeutic gospel is motherly love (or grandfatherly love), not fatherly love. Mothers love their children unconditionally while a father’s love is conditioned on the need to learn discipline and prepare them for adulthood. Both types of love are needed, but motherly love in the absence of fatherly love does not prepare a child for the hard realities of adulthood. Adulthood provides independence, but only in the context of discipline and limitations. If you have never been denied anything growing up, how are you to learn to live within a budget or to deal with disappointment? Written large, the same problem faces our nation—how can our politicians ask for sacrifice when people think that their are entitled to free education, health care, and other public services?
Problems with the Therapeutic Gospel
Already in the 1930s, theologians, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1995), warned about the problem of cheap grace—forgiveness without confession. Closer to home, Richard Niebuhr (1937, 193) warned of the development of: “A God without wrath [who] brought men [and women] without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
What we have in the therapeutic gospel is a kinder, gentler Jesus, but without the possibility of salvation because this Jesus did not die for our sins. This is because we don’t believe in sin, which precludes the need for forgiveness. We just need a bit of therapy from a good counselor—all we need is love, to quote John Lennon.
Clearly, the focus on emotions to the exclusion of theology leads us somewhere that we do not want to go.
The Cognitive Theory of Emotions
In his path-breaking work on emotions in the New Testament, Matthew Elliott (2006, 46-47) outlines a cognitive theory of emotions that “reason and emotion are interdependent.” The alternative is to argue that reason and emotion are independent of one another, a key assumption of the therapeutic gospel because emotions are believed to rule our lives. Elliott notes that the God of the Bible only gets angry on rare occasions and his anger (or wrath) is focused on examples of when people have disobeyed the covenant or expressed a hardness of the heart, as in the case of Pharaoh (Exod 4:21).
Significantly, the only example of Jesus being described as angry is in Mark 3:5 after the Pharisees displayed a hardness of the heart with respect to a man with a withered hand. If God himself gets emotional about things that he believes are important, then clearly his emotions and reason are interrelated. By contrast, other gods in the ancient world would get angry spontaneously and did not limit their anger to matters of principle.
Perceptions, Learning, and Decision Making Introduced
If our emotions are to follow from things that we feel are important, then theology (our understanding of God), not emotions, should come first in our faith walk. How we perceive the world, how we learn, and how we make decisions remain more important than our emotional assessment of them.
 When we see Jesus clear the temple, he is shown angry, not described as such.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.
Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional.
Moore, Russell. 2015. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group.
Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Thomas H. Stanton. 1991. A State of Risk: Will Government-Sponsored Enterprises Be the Next Financial Crisis? New York: HarperBusiness.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
There are few books more helpful in understanding the issues behind the current discussion of the future of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae than Thomas Stanton’s book: A State of Risk: Will Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Be the Next Financial Crisis? The book is well researched and Tom writes from the perspective of one actively involved in the Congressional debate over reform and regulation of GSEs. This book is a classic in public administration and it deserves to be updated in view of the more recent history.
Shortly after this book was published in 1991, Congress authorized the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) to supervise Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (The Enterprises). Later during the Great Recession in 2008, Congress merged OFHEO with the 12 Federal Housing Finance Banks to form the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). I joined OFHEO in 2004 and worked on safety and soundness issues pertaining to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae until retiring from federal service at yearend 2010.
Many of the issues that Stanton raised in 1991 continue to be unresolved concerns even as the Enterprises retain technically in conservatorship. The reason is fairly simple. The Enterprises and the Federal Reserve acquired many of the non-performing loans held on the books of private banks during the Great Recession so that the banking system could again be solvent and continue to lend. This action on part of the federal government averted the Great Recession becoming a more protracted depression, but it left the Enterprises defacto agencies of the federal government. The funds necessary to reconstitute the Enterprises as CGE were never allocated because the numbers involved were simply too big.
Organization of Book
The book is organized into these chapters:
1. Introduction: GSEs and Thrift Institutions.
2. The Hidden Costs and Public Benefits of GSEs.
3. How GSEs work.
4. Enterprises in the Marketplace.
5. The Politics of Enterprise Lending.
6. Enterprises as Private Financial Institutions.
7. The Implicit Federal Guarantee as a Source of Risk Exposure.
8. Supervising Enterprise Safety and Soundness.
9. Enterprise Accountability.
Appendices: Law, Cases, and Other Legal Sources on GSEs.
“A GSE is a privately owned, federally chartered financial institution with nationwide scope and specialized lending powers that benefits from an implicit federal guarantee to enhance its ability to borrow money” (17). Stanton clarifies this definition with two insights: (1) “An enterprise raises money the way the federal government does but it lends that money as a private institution…” and (2) “An enterprise is a privately owned and controlled institution with a public purpose” (39). These insights sound simple, but in practice many analysts have trouble understanding the business function of the GSEs.
Stanton Explains the Risk in Government Sponsored Enterprises
Faith is indispensable to how we perceive our world, what we consider good and bad, what we invest time and energy in learning more about, and how we make decisions, as I earlier discussed. In mathematical reasoning, faith provides the assumptions on which we base our analysis. When we take the discussion further to ask, why is it important to believe that God is a personal god—a trinity of three persons—we move beyond abstract assumptions and analysis to experience God’s love. God loves us enough to mentor us every moment of our lives, in good times and bad.
One of the most fundamental defenses of faith cited in the Bible arises in a parable told by Jesus:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matt 7:24-27)
Jesus might easily have addressed a room full of mathematicians because the order and stability of the created universe testifies to God’s existence and sovereignty.
Kurt Gödel, a Czech mathematician, who was born in 1906, educated in Vienna, and taught at Princeton University, is famous for his incompleteness theorem published in 1931. This theorem states that stability in any closed, logical system requires that at least one assumption be taken from outside that system. If creation is a closed, logical system (having only one set of physical laws suggests that it is) and exhibits stability, then it too must contain at least one external assumption. This is why computers cannot program themselves and why depressed people are advised to get out of the house and do something outside their normal routine—the same logic applies to any closed system.
As creator, God, himself, fulfills the assumption of the incompleteness theorem (Smith 2001, 89) not only for us as individuals, but for the universe itself. Most eastern religions fail to grasp the significance of Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) How can there be an alternative path up the mountain to a Holy God who stands outside of time and space because he created them? Obviously, there is no other path up the mountain because as sinful people we are bound by time and space—we cannot approach a holy god. Humans have tried to build towers up to God since the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-6)
God must come down the mountain because we cannot go up it. As Christians, we believe that God came down to us in the person of Jesus Christ, a point reiterated on the Day of Pentecost with the giving of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the human house really is built on a rock.
In recent years, we have heard occasionally about an expression, WWJD, short for what would Jesus do? The Prophet Isaiah said this of the long anticipated Messiah:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6)
Who wouldn’t want a divine counselor? Jesus likewise described the work of the Holy Spirit as that of a counselor:
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)
If God himself, who is omnipresent and omniscient, is our counselor how can we fail?
What is most interesting about God’s willingness to mentor us is not just that we have the world’s most powerful person on our side—actually, an omnipresent, omniscient helicopter-parent would be most unbearable. What is interesting is that God mentored us from the beginning. In Genesis we read:
“Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” (Gen 2:19)
God could have just put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as slave-gardeners, but instead he gave them responsibilities and spent time with them like a loving parent, a theme reiterated in the story of Abraham. God blessed Abraham so that he could be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3).
Like Abraham, God mentors and blesses us so that we can mentor and bless those around us. To those for whom much is given, much is expected. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins makes possible God’s forgiveness, but we are expected to forgive others (Matt 6:14-15). We are to model God’s love.
Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.
 An example can be seen in economics as applied to price theory. The U.S. economy requires one price be set outside the economy (in the world market) to assure stability. In the nineteenth century, that price was gold, and the system was called the gold standard. Every price in the U.S. economy could be expressed in terms of how much gold it was worth, as the dollar functions that way. Economists refer to this principle as the fixed-point theorem.
Firoozeh Dumas. 2003. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. New York: Random House.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
As a graduate student at Michigan State University, I quickly learned several things about Iranian women. They distinguished themselves as the most intelligent and fashionable women on campus. What’s more, they generally could cook and managed money well. When I found one from Ahwaz willing to laugh at my jokes, I knew that I had found the woman of my dreams.
In her memoir, Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas gives us an inside picture of the life of an Iranian immigrant. Dumas writes:
“To him [her father, Kazem], America was a place where anyone, no matter how humble his background, could become an important person. It was a kind and orderly nation full of clean bathrooms, a land where traffic laws were obeyed and where whales jumped through hoops. It was the promised land. For me, it was where I could buy more outfits for Barbie.” (3-4).
Dumas can’t help herself, every sentence in her book includes a twist! In the cited paragraph, she juxtaposes her father’s expression of the American dream (a classic Horatio Alger rages-to-riches story) with a child’s rendering of the dream—a place where a Barbie outfits can be easily and cheaply acquired. Dumas is not your typical FOB (fresh off the boat) Iranian because she clearly knows what an Horatio Alger story is—her twists reveal a highly sophisticated humor palette.
As someone who has vicariously enjoyed the Iranian-American experience, this book had me repeatedly laughing out loud. Dumas writes of her future husband:
“François was of normal weight—although he did outweigh me, which fulfilled one of my two requirements for dating a guy. The other requirement was a total lack of interest in watching sports on television.” (143)
At one point, I met both conditions and on weekends I have repeatedly heard my wife, Maryam, muttering a little breath prayer—“Thank you, Lord, that Stephen does not watch football.”
When it comes to sports, Dumas writes about a new Olympic category:
“If worrying were an Olympic sport, my parent’s faces would have graced the Wheaties box a long time ago.” (155)
I don’t know how many trips to the doctor’s office that implies, but in our house my mother-in-law could easily have qualified for a volume discount.
Firoozeh Dumas’ Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America is a delightful read chronicling her experience growing up in Southern California having immigrated with her family from Iran at the age of seven. While a lighthearted memoir, its inviting picture of Iranian culture comes at a time of continuing political dramas between the U.S. and Iran over issues far removed from daily life, a point quietly underscored in a blurb written by former President Jimmy Carter. Anyone interested in the Iran-American experience will find this memoir fascinating.
 “A humorous and introspective chronicle of a life filled with love—of family, country, and heritage.” Jimmy Carter. The Carter endorsement is particularly poignant because his presidency was forever changed by the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81 and a failed hostage rescue attempt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_hostage_crisis).
In my training as an economist, my philosophy of science professor taught us to distinguish several types of information. Most important among these types were positivistic and normative information. Positivistic information observed information about what is (facts) while normative information focused on what should be (values). One might observe, for example, that a farmer owned one hundred pigs (a statement of fact) while the value of those pigs might depend on whether your religion accepts pork as a reasonable food that people might eat (a value statement). Christians usually eat pork while Jews, Muslims, and vegetarians typically do not.
Facts and Values
The usefulness of this distinction between facts and values arises when people disagree primarily on details, not the broad sweep of things. An old saw goes that we are each entitled to our own opinions (statements of values), but not our own set of facts (statements about what is). In the postmodern era as the consensus on basic values has broken down, the line between facts and values has also become blurred.
Breakdown in the Modern Consensus
A deconstructionist, someone who questions all authorities and focuses on power relationships, might argue that facts depend on whose value system is being imposed. The statement that a farmer owns one hundred pigs might, for example, be a provocative statement in a country where pork consumption is not accepted.
When the Gospel of Matthew writes—“Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them” (Matt 8:30), the implication certainly is that this region is outside Israel (where pork consumption was not accepted) and may also imply that the people in this region are morally corrupt or simply Roman. An Muslim commentator on American grocery marketing today might likewise conclude that the United States is obviously a Christian country because no Muslim or Jew would accept open sale of pork in a grocery store.
The point is not that we cannot observe whether or not pork is being sold. The point is that the interpretative gloss on such an observation quickly leads to a change in the conversation serious enough to make the distinction between value and fact less helpful.
Breakdown in Consensus Influences Professionals
The breakdown in consensus about basic values not only makes conversation about disputable matters more difficult, it also leads to challenges to authority figures, like professional economists. One forgets that professionals are specialists whose experience focuses on making fine distinctions that an ordinary person might not be sensitive to. When large values are in flux, small values get less attention and making such distinction adds less value. Thus, we see that professionals continue to earn high incomes, but the focus of their work has changed and it carries less status in a social context.
The New Testament makes frequent reference to the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. Jews distinguished themselves from Gentiles not only by their religious beliefs, but by their dress, food laws, and other customs. As Christians in the first century began to evangelize outside the Jewish community to Gentiles, these distinctions made it harder to focus Gentiles on God’s character and Jesus’ teaching. The separation of the Christians from the Jews ironically came not over these customs but over the absence of Christian political support for a Jewish rebellion against Rome.
Starting Point for Science
Returning to the observation that now in the postmodern era the consensus on basic beliefs has broken down. What exactly were the beliefs that brought us the modern era and science? Going into the nineteenth century, nearly everyone in Western countries subscribed to belief in one God who created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). This fundamental belief proved important to the growth of science because one creator implies one set of scientific principles that were assumed to apply to all of creation.
If more than one god were believed to exist, then this unity of principles would seem quite arbitrary and one would not spend a lot of time and effort to impose such an idea. Why wouldn’t another set of principles exist in the realm of another god? Consequently, the idea of objective truth is reasonable in the context of the first verse in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut 6:4) It is not surprising that in the early years of the modern era the best scientists were often religious individuals, Jews and Christians, influenced not only by their intellect, but by their faith in one benevolent God who created and loves all of us.
Russell Moore. 2015. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group. (Goto Part 1)
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
In writing about culture, we never leave it and it has changed more rapidly in the past generation than in any previous historical period. For most of human history, people have lived primarily in small, rural communities where everyone knew each other. Boomers were the first generation to grow up primarily in urban areas while many of our parents grew up on a farm or came from a small town. Other than technological changes of recent years, our cultural context is remarkably similar to that of the first century Roman empire.
In part 1 of this review, I give an overview of Moore’s book. In part 2, I will drill down into three of his arguments: the end of cultural Christianity, the attitude about human dignity, and the focus on family stability.
Bible Belt No More
Moore grew up in Biloxi, Alabama and, as a pastor, was well aware of the cultural ways of the Bible Belt. He observes:
“…cultural Christianity is herded out by natural selection. That sort of nominal religion, when bearing the burden of the embarrassment of a controversial Bible, is no more equipped to survive in a secularizing American than a declawed cat released into the wild. Who then is left behind? It will be those defined not by a Christian America but by a Christian gospel.” (24)
Here Moore is taking aim at residents of the Bible Belt, presumably conservative Evangelical Christians, but this natural selection process appears equally to weed out the sons and daughters of mainline denominations, as membership numbers attest.
But Moore’s highlights the moral turpitude of cultural Christians in a story about the two groups of kids in his church’s young group. The first group were the “churched” kids who knew “how to get drunk, have sex and smoke marijuana without their parents ever knowing about it.” (71) The second group were “mostly fatherless boys and girls, some of whom [were] gang members, all of them completely unfamiliar with the culture of the church.” and did not even try to hide their sinful activities. (70)
What attracted the attention of this later group was not the materials produced by the denomination to relate to them—they laughed at them. What attracted their attention was the gospel itself. One kid asked: “So, like, you really believe this dead guy came back to life?” (71) The fact that the gospel resonates better with the unchurched kids than the churched kids led Moore to abandon hope for cultural Christianity and the Bible Belt so closely associated with it.
One the great ironies of the postmodern era is the pervasive campaign against human dignity veiled in language suggesting something quite different. 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. Jesus identified himself with humanity—in all of our weakness and fragility.” (120)
Abortion, for example, has limited the supply of labor in the United States and motivated immigration—teenagers used to do most of the work now done by Hispanic workers. Many immigrants are killed or raped in coming to the United States from Central America to escape economic hardship and abuse by drug gangs. Those persecuted elsewhere have also been given priority in the granting of green cards and citizenship, but Central American immigrants have been legally discriminated against and treated badly day to day in spite of being hardworking and practicing Christians. Such treatment is out of step with our American heritage and is an assault on human dignity.
Moore talks about the “culture of death” today in United States and focuses on the unborn as being the image of God most dramatically abused in America today. Unable to defend themselves, the unborn are disposed of like trash for no other reason than that they are inconvenient. When we separate humanity from nature and body from soul (121), the question of convenience increasingly motivates many assaults on human dignity affecting the weak, the infirm, and the disadvantaged.
Moore’s comments on sexuality are probably his most controversial, but his logic is unmistakably biblical. He writes:
“Throughout the cannon of Scripture, there’s a close tie between family breakdown and spiritual breakdown. That’s why idolatry and immorality are linked repeatedly in the Old Testament. The mystery of the Christ/church pattern itself was revealed, it should be remembered, to a congregation in the shadow of a fertility goddess (Acts 19:21-41)…sexual immorality has profound spiritual consequences (1 Cor 6:17-20)…the body is a temple, set apart to be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.” (170)
Sexual immorality, veiled in the language of liberation and personal freedom, has actually led to a culture where women are denigrated and abused, putting them under the subjugation, not of husbands and fathers, but of strangers and men in power. If abortion on demand is always available, women, not men, assume responsibility for reproduction. Moore sees the postmodern sexual ethic not as something new, but a resurgence of good old fashion paganism.
It is indeed ironic that the #MeToo movement shows the depth of this problem in that the women stepping forward as having been harassed and abused are not the poor and the defenseless, but the celebrities and powerful, who have been the primary beneficiaries of the women’s movement and who already had access to the courts and had the resources to pursue legal action.
Russell Moore’s Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel challenges us to distinguish the gospel of Jesus Christ from different manifestations of Christendom in American culture. Moore advocates engaging the culture, not simply criticizing it, to expose aspects of the culture that present opportunities for Christian witness. His narrative style facilitates this engagement and makes his writing both entertaining and accessible.