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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kingdom of Jesus

In recent years, millions of people have been violently displaced from their homes and forced to live as refugees in foreign lands. These poor souls have endured catastrophic suffering and loss, and they have little or no hope of returning to a normal life in their homeland. All that they had is lost or destroyed. Many of them are victims of tyrants and warmongers bent on controlling land and resources to enhance their own empires and kingdoms.

kingdom of JesusDarkness is a tyrant that has made refugees of us all. Our native land is Eden, where our first ancestors experienced perfect communion with God. This is the life for which we were created, but that we have since lost due to the sway of sin in our hearts and the power of the dark forces of evil which wage constant war against both God and us. We are homeless and wandering, living in the ambivalence of being both victims of the dark tyrant and complicit in our own expulsion from Eden.

But God has seen our plight, and he has acted on our behalf. Colossians 1:13 says that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” The dark tyrant has been overthrown, and now we may enter a new kingdom – the kingdom of Jesus. In Christ we are granted far more than refugee status; we are made heirs of his kingdom! Jesus has not given us simple food and shelter; he has given us a crown and a throne. Imagine a refugee, broken and desperate, taken from a camp and made a member of Congress. This is the audacity of King Jesus, that he would take sinners like us, made refugees of Eden by the joint effort of the dark tyrant and our own weak hearts, and make us kings and queens of his kingdom through the means of his own death and resurrection, whereby we are redeemed from the dominion of darkness and all of our sins are forgiven!

The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard BauckhamThere are many different interpretive models for the book of Revelation. Some approach it as though it were a code to be deciphered, matching ancient images with present figures in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the last days. Others see it as a uniquely Christian history with little or nothing to say to believers today. As we seek to understand this fascinating and oftentimes befuddling book, perhaps we should interpret it in basically the same way we interpret every other book of the Bible. That is to say, maybe the key to unlocking Revelation’s secrets is to simply ask, “What did this mean to the people to whom it was originally written?”

In his book The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Richard Bauckham takes this basic exegetical approach, and manages to make sense of, and draw compelling meaning from, John’s Apocalypse. Bauckham starts where most Christian exegetes start with any other biblical book by asking, “What sort of book is this?” The answer, he discerns, is that “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.” (2)

John’s work is a prophetic apocalypse in that it communicates a disclosure of a transcendent perspective on this world. It is prophetic in the way it addresses a concrete historical situation – that of Christians in the Roman province of Asia towards the end of the first century AD – and brings to its readers a prophetic word of God, enabling them to discern the divine purpose in their situation and respond to their situation in a way appropriate to this purpose.
In other words, the book of Revelation is John’s attempt to speak into the lives of real Christians in a real place by giving them a heavenly perspective on their temporal challenges. “Life looks overwhelming from your perspective,” he says, in essence, “but I want to show you your life and your circumstances from God’s perspective.” Revelation is, at heart, a pastoral work. It is a call to abandon the idols of the Roman Empire and the futility of its warmongering ways, and to instead worship the true God and lay hold of the victory of the “lamb who was slain.”

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A photographer, who is a Christian, reached out for help. “I have several gay friends, and they keep telling me, ‘When I get engaged/married, I’m definitely having you shoot the photos.’ While I’m honored by their compliments and love them dearly, I’m conflicted about whether or not I can, as a Christian, participate in their weddings as the photographer.” When her friends ask her to shoot their wedding, what should she do?


What did it mean for Jesus to eat with sinners?
A Christian college student at a state university wants to join a fraternity, but they have a reputation as a party house. He thinks he can be a witness for Christ in the house, but there is a lot of drinking and drug-use that goes on there. When they ask him to join the house, what should he do?

These are complicated questions that require serious reflection. One of the most common responses I’ve seen to these types of questions goes like this: “Jesus ate with sinners, so you should [shoot the wedding/join the frat/go to the party].” But is it really as simple as that? What, after all, did it mean for Jesus to eat with sinners? And why was it such a big deal?

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