Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 2

Russell Moore, OnwardRussell 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.

Human Dignity

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.

Family Stability

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.

Assessment

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.

Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 2

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Between Sundays

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the LORD your God is giving you.
(Exod 20:12)

Between Sundays

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After I confessed my faith in Christ and joined the church in 1967, I participated more actively in church youth programs, sang in the youth choir, and pledged money to the church, as was expected of young Christian men. My first attempts at evangelism and living out my faith could be described as spotty at best.

I knew a fellow by the name of Jimmy, who might today be referred to as having special needs. Jimmy only had a few friends and, when he heard that I was learning to play piano, he expressed interest in learning to play and I volunteered to teach him one day after school. Thinking that Christians should be really nice to people, helping him learn piano seemed like the right thing to do.

When Jimmy came over after school, my mother welcomed him in but she awkwardly asked: “Is Jimmy one of your friends?” Jimmy and I went straight to the piano where I taught him a few notes and how to play a C major scale. We spent about half an hour before he left and went home. Thinking about my mother’s question, I never invited him back.

By contrast, my mother really liked David, who lived two doors down from us. David was tall and thin and quiet and always at home. His father was a popular local pastor, who was a ham radio operator, and his mother, who was as sweet as the snacks that she offered up. David and I traded baseball cards, marbles, and stamps, but he never seemed interested in playing games with the other kids in the neighborhood and expressed little interest in chess. So, I was “nice” to David, but we were not close.

It was never exactly clear what it meant to live out Christine values at home, other than “honor your father and mother” (Exod 20:12). Because I grew the oldest among my siblings and was already more comfortable with adults, this commandment came easy, but I associated this commandment with obeying my parents, not with their later care. Sometimes in the evening I sat with my father in his study as he worked and read or did my homework. Other times I helped him with yard work, like cutting the grass, or washing the car. I also helped the neighbors with gardening or shoveling their snow, which I continued to do even in high school. When I left for college, my father traded in the old push mower for a gasoline model.

Until I was about 8 years old, my sister, Diane, was my closest friend. Growing up, we moved around a bit because my father was in still in graduate school. Diane and I played hide and seek. Diane and I learned to eat ice cream from cones. Diane and I celebrated birthdays—I will never forget Diane’s expression on viewing a pink rabbit cake that my mother baked when she was about two. When we got older, we sometimes watched television or played board games together at home and attended youth events and choir together at church. Although we were never chatty, Diane was my first friend.

Diane preferred doing girl things, like playing with dolls, while I did boy things, like collecting coins, stamps, and bugs, and building forts in the woods. Diane played more typically with Karen, while John, being still a tot when I was young, played mostly with Karen. This pattern continued uninterrupted over many years.

 

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 3

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 3

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divided their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section. Part two of this review, focused on this second section. In part three of this review, I will address this third section.

The Church and Our Future.

In section three, Kinnaman and Lyons remind us that atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated only account for about a quarter of the U.S. population (222), which means:

“the vast majority of Americans are informed by faith in some way and Christianity is far and away the dominant player on the U.S. religious scene.” (221)

Statistical Realities

Don’t take comfort in this summary. Kinnaman and Lyons see underlying challenges behind these statistics.

Legacy Christians Declining

First, the number of Christians is declining, especially among “legacy” or cultural Christians. The good news is that the number of practicing Christians seems reasonably stable (45% of boomers, 42% of Gen-Xers, and 36% of Millennials; 224). Kinnaman and Lyons treat this subject gingerly, but the numbers suggest that “Christianity lite” is not a good strategy for long-term church vitality or growth.

Problem of Biblical Illiteracy

Second, biblical literacy has declined making it harder for people to apply the Christian message to their lives. Remove the foundation; watch the building crumble (226). Kinnaman and Lyons observe:

“secularism shouldn’t be our greatest concern. In other words, secularism’s advance is downstream from anemic Bible engagement and thin theological thinking.” (227)

The storyline here seems to be simple—give people thin soup and they start checking out other restaurants. People want an adult faith to believe in and provide a lens for interpreting a crazy world.

Narcissism

Third, we have become increasingly individualistic, to the point of narcissism. Kinnaman and Lyons report:

  • “Eight-four percent of U.S. adults and 66 percent of practicing Christians agree that the highest goal for life is to enjoy it much as possible.”
  • “Ninety-one percent of adults and 76 percent of practicing Christians believe that the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.” (228)

These trends suggest that a large portion of U.S. Christians have bought into “New Age” dogma, which reveals a pervasion influence of pagan ideas. That is, the substitution of self for God in our worship, a consequence as old as original sin.

Three Lessons from Daniel

Rather than go away cynical, Kinnaman and Lyons offer three familiar lessons for good faith drawn from the book of Daniel: love well, maintain an orthodox faith, and act consistent your beliefs (256-260).  Daniel took a chance to interpret the king’s dreams, arguing to save the lives of those who did not (257). Daniel cites scripture in advising his peers to:

“… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer 29:7 ESV)

Daniel applies the advice of Jeremiah in continuing his government service, in spite of the pagan nature of that government. We, as Christians, face this very same problem today living and working in a secular society, the new Babylon.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore why Christian faith is considered irrelevant and extreme. They employ empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

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