The wickedly keen theologian and ethicist Russell D. Moore will arrive on SEBTS’ campus December 3 in order to preach in chapel, speak to the faculty, and serve on a panel for the general public that evening. In preparation for his visit, I’ve had opportunity to re-read his inaugural address and reflect upon the way he is leading the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the SBC in his new role as President of the ERLC.
There are many reasons to admire Moore and follow his leadership: he is a top-shelf theologian, a bona fide Southern Baptist, an excellent preacher, and a visionary leader. As much or more than any of those reasons, however, I am motivated to follow his leadership because of the way he combines gospel conviction and Christian kindness. Regretfully, this sort of convictional kindness has not always been a trademark of conservative evangelical interaction in the public square. I recognize my own failure in this area over the years.
In his inaugural address on September 10th of this year, Moore said, “As we march forward into the days that are before us, the worst thing we can possibly do in changing times is to come with a sour and dour and gloomy pessimism about the culture around us. We cannot stand and speak, ‘You kids get off my lawn.’ The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy.”
The time has come for the church to proclaim the kingdom of God not merely in terms of how the culture falls short of that ideal, but rather in terms of what that ideal actually looks like. Speaking of the ministry of Jesus, Moore continued, “The crowd would have loved to have heard Jesus rail against the culture of the Roman Empire. . . . But instead, what Jesus does is to turn and to show His hearers how they had themselves been conformed to the pattern of the age around them.”
This calls for a transformation of the church so that the church genuinely serves as a preview of Christ’s kingdom. “In order for God to bless us,” Moore said, “we must recognize and know that God is forming first and foremost colonies of the kingdom that are accountable to the word that says, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” So the church must conform to Christ by submitting to his word and in so doing the church serves as a sort of window through which the world can see Christ and imagine his kingdom.
Moore addressed what “success” will look like in upcoming years, when he said, “The way we will see success is in congregations first and foremost, that start to look freakishly strange.” He went on to describe believers who, for example, respect human life even when the broader public does not and who go beyond advocating for social causes in order to embody those causes.
Our churches must go beyond moral engagement in order to facilitate gospel engagement. Moore continued, “We are ministers of reconciliation, which means that we will speak hard words, and we will speak truthful words, and we will address the conscience, even when that costs us everything. But we will never end there. We will always end with the word that our Lord Jesus has given to us, the invitation if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”
In other words, God’s people must engage our society and culture with gospel witness that leads to moral reformation. The order must never be reversed or the church will have lost its message. “We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight . . . for all of those things that have been given to us, guaranteed by our Constitution as Americans. . . . But we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom. And we will stand and speak for that kingdom, recognizing that between now and then there are little congregations raising up little boys and girls to recognize what is permanent, what stands, what remains: a kingdom, a culture, a mission.”
Alongside of Dr. Moore’s comments, and in agreement with them, I wish to affirm that the Christian mission centers on God and the gospel and, as such, is comprehensive and multidirectional. As we worship God instead of idols (upward), we declare to our nation that God alone is worthy of worship. As we proclaim and promote the gospel through the church’s inner life (inward), we provoke our neighbors to jealousy so that they also will embrace the Savior. As we seek to live every aspect of our social and cultural life in accordance with God’s creational design (backward), we give our nation a glimpse of God’s original intentions for his world to be marked by universal peace, order, justice, and delight. As we proclaim and promote the gospel as a sign of his not-yet kingdom (forward), we give the nations a foretaste of the future banquet and a preview of the new heavens and earth.
As God’s people, we are a contrast community whose multi-directional gospel mission should give our nation a preview of Christ’s kingdom (positively) rather than merely declaring to our nation how far short it falls of that kingdom (negatively). Moore’s call for gospel witness and convictional kindness is one which we can and should heed.
Come here Dr. Russell Moore speak in chapel on December 3 at 10 a.m. Or, you may listen live at: http://www.sebts.edu/news-resources/livestream.aspx
The full text of Dr. Moore’s inaugural address can be found at: http://erlc.com/article/a-prophetic-minority-kingdom-culture-and-mission-in-a-new-era