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

Muslims Are People Too

By: Dr. Ant Greenham

Before the US reached its still-to-be-ratified deal with Iran on its nuclear program, before Muhammad Yusuf Abdulaziz killed five unarmed military personnel in Chattanooga, and before Franklin Graham urged a moratorium on Muslim immigration to America, I paid a brief visit to a Shi’ite mosque in north Raleigh. I would do it again in an instant, and indeed, hope to build on a relationship I began that Friday evening in Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting) in mid-July 2015.

I went because I want to introduce Southeastern students to Shi’ite Islam, in addition to the mainstream Sunni variety, the next time I lead the World Religions Practicum. However, you need a contact before coming with a group. Well, I knew where they were, and wrote them a letter at the beginning of the year. The USPS returned it as undeliverable. So I would have to show up when someone was there, having failed the first time, during the winter. And I knew there would be folks there on a Ramadan Friday evening.

I took my wife, Eva, along, and she had a plate of cookies with her, just in case we were invited to an iftar, the communal meal Muslims share when they break the fast after sundown. The parking lot was full of cars this time, unlike the situation earlier in the year, so that was promising. However, we saw only men milling around, which made Eva uncomfortable. I parked some distance from the entrance and left her in the car (with the cookies). Right outside, I addressed an older man with an As-salamu alaykum (peace be upon you, in Arabic) and asked (in English) if I could see the imam. He took me inside and I began removing my shoes. A guy called Akbar greeted me and I told him about the practicum I lead every year, explaining that I lacked any contact with Shi’ites in the Raleigh area, and that was a pity. He offered me some water, which I declined, since the sun was still up and they hadn’t broken the fast yet, and I didn’t want to drink in front of them after a long, thirsty day. Anyway, he went and got Ahmad, who turned out to be the imam.

Ahmad suggested we talk outside, where it was quieter, and I put my shoes back on and accompanied him out the door. Like the older man I addressed earlier (and Akbar), he was clearly suspicious of me. So I explained how the practicum worked (essentially I ask practitioners of various religions if they would kindly address a group of students on what they believe, at their place of worship, so we can hear from them in their own words). I also took a calculated guess and asked him if he was from Iran (since a significant number of Shi’ites are Iranian). He sure was, and I told him about a fascinating five weeks I spent there in 1999.

The conversation was much more relaxed after that. He told me how the mosque started, almost accidentally, years ago (when he simply taught a few kids about their heritage, after hours) and how significant numbers of people had joined them in more recent days, most from Afghanistan. Anyway, it became clear this would not be the time to join them for an iftar (so Eva and I would eat the cookies ourselves). I thanked him for talking to me and we made sure we both had each other’s contact information, since we certainly planned to see each other again. As he went back inside, I wished him Khoda Hafez (a pre-Islamic Farsi expression meaning God keep you), and he responded enthusiastically, using the same words.

So, what’s my point? Very simply, there are Muslims who need Jesus right on our doorstep. We need to reach out to them. Things might be a little awkward at first, but despite their attachment to a belief system we strongly reject, our common humanity and a little respect and sensitivity can get the ball rolling. I know most readers will lack my Middle Eastern experience. Never mind. Approaching a Muslim with a smile, asking how long they’ve been here and how they’re settling in, would be a good way to start.

To close, I would like to echo Lauren’s words. She took my practicum class this year and is currently on mission in California. She had a great chat with some Sikhs in a restaurant recently, and specifically thanked me for helping her see folks like that as people, not as exotic foreigners. Well, guess what? Muslims are people too.

Dr. Ant Greenham is Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In Case You Missed It

1) Thomas S. Kidd discusses professors and the new public square. In his post Kidd writes:

E-mail, Twitter, blogging, and podcasts have dramatically lowered the structural barriers between professors and a potential reading public. But these are only possibilities unless academics avail themselves of them, and it remains to be seen whether they will…Academics who want to reach a broader audience will have to get used to the idea that they need to reach out to their prospective readers.

2) In this post, Joe McKeever reflects on his single biggest regret from 53 years of ministry: Making time for his family.

The minister who learns to say ‘no’ in order to protect his time with the family will occasionally anger a self-centered, demanding church member. But it’s a small price to pay, and in the long run, works out best both for the family and the immature member. Only a strong pastor can do this. I sure wish I’d been one.

3) Keelan Cook reflects on Muslim immigration in this post.

The least reached peoples are now in arms reach. And for the first time in our history, every, single member of your church can impact the nations in this way. Believers who never could go overseas no longer have to in order to share Christ with a Muslim, or a Hindu or Buddhist for that matter. We now share space. We share a marketplace. This is not bad news, if your heart is to share the good news of Christ.

4) Ed Stetzer discusses discipleship of new believers and how to focus on spiritual growth and transformation in this post.

More often than not people respond to Christ because they are in a life crisis, not just because they wake up feeling the need to be closer to Christ…every church needs a pathway which will provide direction for their discipleship plan, and also show how they grow together as a church.

5) Cameron Stanley, a member of a team of SEBTS students serving this summer in San Diego provides his take on the limitless boundaries of God’s love from a quick trip across the border.

One of the main lessons I was able to learn from that day was that God’s love transcends all boundaries. Regardless of the language barrier, the actual land boundary, or any other self-construed boundary pretense, we were able to share Christ, only by His grace. If we live life on mission with the idea that God’s love transcends all boundaries, pursing Him in all that we do, there is nothing that He can’t use us for.