Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Russell Moore and the defense of the Gospel

I happened, quite by accident, to watch Russell Moore on C-Span last week. He had a lengthy interview on religion and politics and gave a solid and congenial defense of the Gospel. Moore is our replacement for Richard Land as head of our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The C-Span video is found here. You watch it and see what you think.

While I understand that Moore is trying to achieve the delicate balance of presenting Southern Baptists, our beliefs and message in a political context that is often hostile to the Biblical values we hold, and while I recognize that he has had some critics who wonder about his commitment to the culture war agenda fought so vigorously, so radio talk-showishly by Land, I am grateful for the way he communicated Christ, grace, and the Gospel in this interview.

After all, what exactly are we after? Is our ultimate goal political salvation and hegemony or the reign of Christ in the hearts of individual Americans?

There is a lot more for Moore to say and a long road ahead dealing with religion and politics in America. He will have thousands of such interviews in the future. He may not hit home runs in each one. He may have to walk back a comment or two. He may have to fine tune his phrasing. but, so far, so good, I'd say.

Is it possible that there comes in a minister's life a defining moment, for good or ill? Probably not, unless you have such an audience or forum that utter failure can never be undone.

I am reminded of a very good, very accomplished Southern Baptist in such a moment. When asked about a Jewish friend being in heaven, in an attempt to be kind and not condemnatory, our SBC colleague opined that he though he and his Jewish friend would be in the same place.

Utter failure, Cannot be undone.

Too bad.

Russell Moore may foul up some political issues that bear upon our Christian beliefs but the one thing he must not do is foul up the Gospel.

I appreciated his defense of the Gospel in this political context. He understands what is of first importance.



Anonymous said...

“... our SBC colleague opined that he though he and his Jewish friend would be in the same place. Utter failure, Cannot be undone. Too bad.”

And many SBC members at the time would have preferred he say, no, as it is, he will not be in heaven, nor my Catholic friends, either, and some in SBC would also prefer he say if he were still alive, nor will those that now find a home in CBF.

Some disagreed with him, but supported the baptist tradition of coming to one's own faith as one perceives he or she is led by the Spirit, and they also supported his place within the community. Some were afraid of such and still are.

As for me, I was proud of him when he made the statement, as were other Christians, within and without SBC.

From a theological perspective a statement like “the reign of Christ in the hearts of individual Americans” is a bit more complex than many conservative Christians presently conceive, and once more discussions center on the meanings of Christ, such will give many a conservative Christian reason to reach across barriers that were once erected by limited understandings. Actually, it’s already happening, but there is a long, long, long way to go.

Kevin Sanders said...

I really appreciate Moore's approach to the ERLC.

Jonathan said...

I've been hearing similar positive comments about Moore about his willingness to share the Gospel. I'm always happy to see SBC names so comfortable with sharing in this way.

But two things are striking about the pro-Moore press that make it sound like there is an active hype machine:

1) His predecessor, Richard Land, was at least comfortable and frequent about getting the Gospel into these conversations. So while it's great that Moore is making a good case, this is nothing new from this position.

2) In the SBC, we've started eating the old instead of just the young...and we're eating the wrong old. I am encouraged that so many younger SBC men (and women) are speaking with voices that are shaping the present and future of modern conservative evangelicalism (not just the SBC). But our interest in discarding certain elderly is not so encouraging. When Land became ERLC president (he was the same age that Moore is now), he was already a scarred veteran of the CR battles. And while it is often mentioned that Land's own actions hastened his exit, Patterson remains a hero (at least to some). Land is a mere piker on the Patterson hubris and awkward action scale.

3) It has become fashionable to disrespect the urgent work of the Schaeffer/Koop/Falwell/Dobson era of conservative evangelical engagement in the public arena that Land represented. Quips about old, white men, pointing to the lack of lasting results, etc... do provide something of a platform for someone like Moore to stand on their shoulders AND insult them at the same time.

4) Talk has a shelf life. The Silent Majority, the Christian Coalition, the Eagle Forum, etc... all had their day of grabbing some attention. And each discovered the gap between talk and action. Yet, to the end, Land was a tireless advocate of action, knowing that he was being evaluated by an incoming generation of SBC leaders who have made careers out of more talk and less action.

Maybe that's secret here. As long as Moore can keep talking and saying the right things, we'll never get around to evaluating what he actually accomplishes.

Here's hoping that we haven't elected a highly educated, well versed, and fresh faced Harold Hill as our man in D.C. We'll know soon enough, I suppose.

Jonathan said...

And that would "4" things, not "2". Can't blame jetlag or the time change on that one. :)

Jonathan said...

Check out Moore's former boss's "The Briefing" for 11/4/2013:


The question that Southern Baptists need to ask is "What is the ERLC's agenda regarding #3 and #4?". If there is not a clear answer, the question that needs to be asked is "Why do we have an ERLC?"

Lee said...

You said, After all, what exactly are we after? Is our ultimate goal political salvation and hegemony or the reign of Christ in the hearts of individual Americans?

Unfortunately, I know a lot of people, including a number of Southern Baptists, and some pastors, who are so steeped in the "culture war" mentality, that they cannot separate political salvation from their understanding of personal salvation and Christian faith, and they believe if you don't hold to their view, and participate in the culture war as they do, you cannot be saved.

I believe there is a direct correlation between the involvement of conservative Christians, among them Southern Baptists, in right wing politics, a.k.a. "the culture wars," and the accelerating decline in baptisms, church membership and attendance. If I were not employed full time, I would do the research that would point out this correlation. The church in America, particularly conservative Evangelicals, have polarized themselves from the majority of the population by their rigid political position, alienating a large percentage of the people who need to hear the gospel message more than a political statement. The resources that have been wasted in this effort, that could have gone to preaching the gospel, are staggering.

Anonymous said...

“ ... political salvation and hegemony or the reign of Christ in the hearts of individual Americans?”

Given my experience with and knowledge of SBC, the former is also emphasized with the latter. If the latter were the expectation without the former among SBC conservatives, there would not have been the SBC battles of the 80s and 90s. For SBC conservatives to claim that the then SBC liberals (when one could find one) and moderates did not wish the “reign of Christ in the hearts [of individuals]” would be a distortion of the truth.

It is sometimes difficult to draw a line between policy and politics, and in the current environment better policy is difficult for political each side fears the other side may gain an advantage for taking a lead in something that it had not made a priority, but is nonetheless held by the public as a priority. Presently it is the Republicans, complete with its conservative Christian base, that are standing in the way of initiatives that they would otherwise affirm and in doing so the party is becoming increasingly irrelevant to a changing American demography. I would hope the ERLC would moderate its voice, not insist on all or nothing solutions, seek a variety of coalitions, thereby eschewing the notion that compromise translates into being unfaithful, and demonstrate that its leadership is capable of the mature, highly developed moral reasoning that is needed for the conceptualization and implementation of policy that will improve the lives of people.

We are an interesting mix of people and each of us has a preferred way of being and doing, but important to note is that the world is not an extension of ourselves, rather it is differentiated, although not evenly in terms of value at any given time. To insist, for whatever reason, that the world is not or should not be differentiated, is a refusal to acknowledge the other and it is to insist that whatever the other is that it become the self that is seeking to impose itself on the other. That is not the way forward. If civilization is to grow up, its leaders must do the same and demonstrate that integration, although difficult to achieve, is more satisfying and effective than assimilation, political or otherwise.