The Culture of the Christ-Haunted South

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, begins his latest book, Onward, by telling a story.Onward Russ had a college friend, an atheist, who wasn’t antagonistic towards the Christian faith so much as he found it simply irrelevant. Russ and he had friendly coffee-shop debates about the existence of God, and on a number of occasions Russ had shared his faith with his unbelieving friend. So when his friend, out of the blue, asked Russ to recommend a church for him to attend, Russ thought the friend must have had a Damascus Road-type conversion. His friend quickly corrected Russ:

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t believe any of that stuff,” he said. “But I want to go into politics, and I’m never going to be elected to anything in this state if I’m not a church member. And I’ve looked at the numbers; there are more Southern Baptists around here than anything else, so sign me up.”

I was stunned into momentary silence as he stopped to check out a girl walking past our table. He then took a swig of coffee and continued, “But seriously, nothing freaky; if anybody starts screaming about hell or pulling a snake out of a box, I’m out of there.” (2)

Russ makes his point well. There has been a serious downside to the culture of the Bible-Belt, a milieu he calls “the culture of the Christ-haunted South.” For many persons, claiming to be a Christian became so expedient that it blinded them about the actual claims of Christ.

Russ argues that the collapse of the Bible-Belt provides the Church with a new opportunity. “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” (7). In Onward: Engaging the Gospel without Losing the Culture, Russ Moore makes the case for a clear-eyed optimism. I think he’s right.

Cross-posted at ww.theologyforthechurch.com

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