Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
In the fall of 2013 I attended the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) to visit with book publishers about my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality. While I spent most of my time with the publishers, I attended a luncheon sponsored by the Colson Center where I got a chance to hear Russell Moore speak. He impressed me enough that I looked up and purchased a copy of his book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.
In his acknowledgments, Moore writes:
“In some sense, I’ve been writing this book all my life, seeking to articulate what I believe about the relationship between the kingdom of God and the cultures of this present age.” (223)
In further highlighting the themes of his book, he writes:
“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 is good news for the church…we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (back cover)
“Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention,” (back flap) which is the largest Protestant denomination in in the United States.
The need to cite these summary statements arises, in part, because Moore writes primarily in narratives, avoiding the usual academic convention of a stating a major premise and outlining how it will be demonstrated. His use of narratives is interesting because it forces opponents to lesson to his entire presentation before jumping in to offer objections.
Moore writes his book in ten chapters that highlight major themes in his thinking:
- “A Bible Belt No More
- From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority
- Human Dignity
- Religious Liberty
- Family Stability
- Convictional Kindness
- A Gospel Counter-Revolution” (ix)
These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion and acknowledgments sections.
God and Country
What makes Moore so interesting to read is that he accepts the premise that we live in a post-Christian society and he proceeds to deconstruct America’s pagan culture laying bare some of its most cherished myths.
The myths of a “Moral Majority” or the existence of a “Bible Belt”, in Moore’s view, were always more about shared values than about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As an Eagle Scout myself, I found Moore’s discussion of his travails in trying to earn the God and Country badge most entertaining. As a Scout teen, he asked:
“Can a Christian be possessed by a demon, or are we protected from that by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?” (11)
This question, of course, set his Methodist pastor advisor to squirming and the pastor eventually admitted that he did not believe in demons, but more to the point the question unmasked the real intent of the Scout badge of instilling just enough Christianity to “fight the Communists and save the republic”, but not enough to have spiritual significance. His leaders wanted to instill the shared values of a kind of civic religion while as a kid Moore just “didn’t want to risk projectile vomiting demonic ooze.” (12) Never mind that an answer to Moore’s question continues to distinguish American denominations.
In part 1 of this review, I give an overview of Moore’s book. In part 2, I will drill down into some of his arguments.
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.
 Jackson Watts, ETS 2013: Inerrancy in Perspective (http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=4261).
Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 1
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.
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