There is little doubt that the American cultural landscape is rapidly changing, leaving many committed Christians jaded or discouraged about their country and their place within it. In order to address these matters, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has recently published Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.
In the book’s first half, Moore lays out the theological foundation for his view of Christian political and cultural engagement, discussing the biblical portrayals of the kingdom of God and the Church’s mission. In laying out this foundation, Moore is responding to the cultural changes sweeping America, which have alarmed many evangelicals. In particular, many reminisce about how, not long ago, Americans were generally less hostile toward Christians and their views on certain issues (especially homosexuality and abortion), even if the American majority was not Christian. These evangelicals are disturbed that their beliefs and life practices are no longer considered normal in America. In response, Moore emphasizes that Christianity, from its inception, was never intended to be culturally “normal.” To the contrary, Christianity’s greatest appeal lies in its “strangeness,” that is, in the facets of its worldview that non-believers find most counter-intuitive and difficult to embrace. Thus, Moore considers the cultural shifts, and the increased hostility toward Christianity often associated with them, to be beneficial for the Church’s mission. As Christian beliefs and ethics appear more and more strange, the distinctiveness of the Gospel and its implications for all of life come into greater focus.
The book’s second half brings the theological understanding established in earlier chapters to bear on specific cultural issues, such as human dignity, religious liberty and the family. It also includes a call for Christians not to abandon kindness and charity in their efforts in the political and cultural spheres; love and authenticity must define Christians in their attempts to persuade others of the truthfulness of their message. Moore concludes his book by reminding Christians that the Church’s future witness necessitates, above all, proclaiming the Gospel, for it is through the Gospel that God will raise up leaders to spearhead the Church’s witness in the changing cultural climate.
A wide array of readers should find Moore’s book to be appealing. On the one hand, most lay people, informed of major political and cultural trends, should find the book readable. On the other hand, the book exhibits theological richness and wisdom, which should appeal to those in Christian academic circles. In an effort to make his case clear, Moore draws upon a number of personal anecdotes and examples from popular culture, resulting in a writing style that captures the reader’s interest. He writes in a convictional, pastoral, tone that is undergirded by sound scriptural reasoning. The end result is a book that moves its readers to embrace, and not be ashamed of, their perceived strangeness in the midst of the current American political and cultural landscape. Onward challenges Christians to stand with moral and theological courage, grounded in a firm commitment to Christ and the Gospel, in an age that is becoming increasingly hostile and oppositional to their worldview and mission. I strongly recommend this book to all committed Christ-followers, who are concerned for their nation and the role the Church will play within it in future generations.