Onward by Russell Moore

What Onward is About

Onward by Russell Moore is a call for American evangelicals to engage the culture in a way that is faithful to the Gospel. American culture has changed. It is no longer allied with Christian values. The Bible Belt is collapsing. In Moore’s view, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For too long American culture has embraced Christian values while simultaneously rejecting the Christian Gospel. This has created a cultural Christianity that is a perversion of the true faith, a moralism that exalts Jesus as right or correct, without submitting to him as Lord. “We ought to see the ongoing cultural shake-up in America as a liberation of sorts from a captivity we never even knew we were in. The closeness of American culture with the church caused many sectors of the American church to read the Bible as though the Bible were pointing us to America itself.” (p. 7)

The demise of the Bible Belt and American Christianity is an opportunity too good for the Church to miss. This allows for a sort of purification of the Church in America, a disentanglement from partisan politics and ethnic nationalism. The end of American Christianity ought to open the eyes of Christians in America that our country is not, and really never was, Christian. Rather than clinging to the last vestiges of political influence, we ought to turn our attention to true Gospel influence, which is far bigger than any political party’s platform. In a particularly prescient passage, Moore writes, “If politics drives the gospel, rather than the other way around, we end up with a public witness in which Mormon talk-show hosts and serially-monogamous casino magnates and prosperity-gospel preachers are welcomed into our ranks, regardless of what violence they do the gospel. They are, after all, ‘right on the issues.'” (p.32) In the wake of the election of President Trump, and the strong evangelical support that helped get him into office, this passage cuts to the core of what is wrong with American Christianity.

Keep Christianity Strange Onward by Russell MooreThe thematic thrust of Onward is made clear in a pithy statement, written in bold letters, on the back cover of the book: Keep Christianity Strange. Calling to mind bumper stickers like “Keep Austin Weird,” Moore urges us to recover the peculiarity of the Gospel. When culture faith become entangled, it is always faith that suffers. The Christian faith lost its peculiar power in America precisely because it became normal. As Moore writes, “The church of Jesus Christ is never a majority – in any fallen culture – even if we happen to outnumber everyone else around us. The Scripture speaks of a world system that is at odds with the kingdom, a world to which we are constantly tempted to pattern our own intellects and affections after, until we are interrupted by the ongoing transformation of the kingdom.” (p. 29) The systems of the world are always antichrist; they are always inimical to the Gospel and the transformative work of the Spirit. This was as true in ancient Rome as it is in modern America.

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In 2010, the world watched anxiously as 33 Chilean miners were trapped over 2,000 feet below the surface of the earth. As you can imagine, the men faced overwhelming challenges living that far underground. But one of the most dangerous aspects of their plight was the complete lack of daylight. According to this Newsweek article, “the physical and psychological toll of the darkness” could have dramatic effects well after the miners are rescued. According to this BBC report, many of the miners are struggling to move on. Living in darkness wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body.

Darkness-and-Light-WebFor those of us who watched, the images of the dramatic rescue of the miners will stay with us forever. It is remarkable to see someone delivered out of darkness.

It’s no wonder that, in the Bible and many other religious texts, darkness is used as a metaphor for evil. In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” what he calls earlier the “kingdom of light.”

Just like the prolonged absence of sunlight, spiritual darkness takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Satan, the ruler of the dominion of darkness, seeks to enslave us through temptation and deception. Prolonged exposure to, and participation in, evil makes us less than human. The lies of the devil distort our minds and cause us to commit evil (sin) with our bodies.

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It has often been said, “God accepts you just as you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way.” Why would God want to change us? Because we are not yet like Jesus.

The same is true of the whole world. God loves the world so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins, but he also loves the world too much to leave it just like it is. Just as God is at work in you, making you more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, so he is at work in the world, turning the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

The-Gospel-Grows-WebWhat God is doing in the world, he is also committed to doing in you. What God is doing in you, he is also doing throughout the whole world. This is what it means for the Gospel to grow and bear fruit. You are becoming more like Jesus, and God’s kingdom is coming on earth as it already exists in heaven. The microscopic work of God in individuals mirrors his macroscopic work in the world.

The best way to get on board with what God is doing in the world is to work with him as he forms you into the image of Jesus. The Gospel bears fruit in the world as it bears fruit in your life. The more you and I become, in the power of the Spirit, people who are honest, loving, kind, gracious, self-controlled, and joyful, the more this world will be transformed into the kingdom of God. And this is precisely what is happening all over the world. The same Spirit is at work through the same Gospel in the lives of people in every nation, transforming people into the image of Jesus and communities into pockets of God’s kingdom.

The Gospel grows. Are you growing with it?

Since our son Ezekiel passed away two and a half months ago, Breena and I have been often asked: How are you doing? The truth is, we’re doing well. This fact can be difficult for some to understand. After all, our 4 1/2 year old son died of a terrible disease that slowly destroyed his brain and his body for more than two years. How could we possibly be doing well after experiencing something like that?

IMG_0158The only answer we have to that question is that we’ve found a hope that transcends death. We’re doing well because we have hope that there is something, or someone, who is greater than death. This hope, which has buried itself deep within our hearts over the past two years, is rooted in Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. We believe that Jesus conquered death once and for all; not that he has yet eradicated it and our bodies will never die, but that he has risen again from the dead, thereby destroying the power of death. If Jesus rose again, then death isn’t final, at least not for those who follow Jesus.

Nothing else on earth offers this kind of hope. No other religion or ideology offers the kind of hope that Christianity does through the resurrection of Jesus. The cross and resurrection, the “true message of the Gospel,” gives humanity a hope that no other way of life can – a hope that strips death of its power to make us afraid and replaces it with a vision of an unimaginably glorious and good life beyond death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,

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I didn’t prepare what I was going to say ahead of time, which is unusual for me. All I knew was that I wanted to read from Revelation 21. My hope is that these words honored both Jesus and Zeke.

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