Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: Russell Moore, Onward

A short review of Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (B&H Publishing, 2015), for NetGalley:

Having only recently learned of Russell Moore’s work, when I began wading through the post-Obergefell debate over questions of culture war and “exile” that the North American church faces today, I was excited to read his new book. Onward is, for the most part, a pleasant surprise: though I don’t consider myself a “liberal” Christian, I don’t often find myself agreeing with Southern Baptists, but I often agreed with what Moore says here. From his opening indictments of American civic religion (noting an atheist friend’s entrance into politics: “Finding Jesus was his way of asking America into his heart, as his personal lord and savior”) to the poke he takes at Joel Osteen (describing the Gospels’ rich young ruler wanting “a religion that would promise him his best life now”!) and his comparison of “pop-dispensationalist” depictions of the Rapture with American culture’s perception of the post-Christendom church, Moore’s critique of Christian culture is enjoyably wry and incisive. As Moore has blogged against the misuse of the “exile” trope as an excuse for nostalgia and despair, it’s good to see him expand that argument here. The church, he reminds us, “is never a majority—in any fallen culture—even if we happen to outnumber everyone else around us.” And elsewhere: “If the church believes the United States is a sort of new Israel, then we become frantic when we see ourselves ‘losing America.’ We then start to speak in gloomy terms of America as, at best, Babylon, a place of hopeless exile, or, at worst, Gomorrah, slouching toward the judgment of God. This leads to a siege mentality…”

Moore does make a few missteps. For example, yes, it’s important to see that the “world system around us, the cultural matrix we inhabit, is alien to the kingdom of God”; but it’s also vital, in learning to live into our new (or perhaps reclaimed) calling “to an engaged alienation,” that we remember that we are not in charge of our own alienation. God, through his gospel and his calling, is the One who alienates us—and the One who has the right to alienate himself, to absent himself, from us if he so chooses, if his seeming absence will help us to grow. So I agree, once more, with Moore when he says, “The church is not to be walled up from the broader culture but to speak to it (1 Pet. 2:12), but that can only happen if, as sojourners and exiles, we have something distinctive to say (1 Pet. 2:11).” I only want to make certain, in recommending this book, that we remember that it is not our prerogative to call ourselves into exile: God is the only One who may call or send us there. I think Moore knows this, but it should be a clearer point in this ongoing discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment