Archives For Russell Moore

Martin Luther King

Last week our country paused to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. As we do so, we may ask ourselves: Why, especially in a time of so much racial tension, injustice, and strife, did Dr. King’s message resonate with so many?

King was, of course, a gifted orator, and his calls for justice and equity were often poetic and deeply historic. But I think a great deal of the power behind King’s message came from the way that he was pressing a claim onto consciences.

He drew frequent contrasts between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King, against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” pointed out “an appalling condition” that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

This is the kind of prophetic, sin-and-judgment language that we see in the Old Testament. We often hear caricatures of evangelical “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. But most evangelical churches breezily converse about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. In fact, most…

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christmastree

Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear.

This happened once as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small, quiet store, so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. To be honest, the more he talked, the more I understood his point. This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.

This guy started by lampooning one pop singer’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling in agreement on how awful it is. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because…

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I’ll never forget seeing a woman pull measuring tape out of her purse as she talked about the skull of her child.

This woman, standing in an airport in Russia with my wife and me, was, like us, an American. She, like us, was in the former Soviet Union to pursue adoption. She had heard, she said, “horror stories” about fetal alcohol syndrome and various other nightmares. The measuring tape was for gauging the size of the craniums of her potential children, to make sure there was “nothing wrong” with them.

This woman spoke with hushed tones as she mentioned her last visit to an orphanage. She rejected the referral because the child had “something wrong with her” because she had a “blank stare” in her eyes. “You know?” the woman prodded. “Like, you know, the lights are on, but maybe nobody’s home?” I ventured that maybe the little girl had a “blank stare” because she had been staring at a blank wall for 12 hours a day. The woman assured me that I just didn’t know how bad it could be,…

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The most important aspect of our mission, as it relates to human dignity, isn’t our social action or our responsibilities as citizens or as culture-makers. The most important aspect of our mission for human dignity is the Gospel itself.

When we recognize that human dignity is contested by spiritual warfare, we understand that politics is indeed downstream from culture, and that culture is downstream from conscience, and that conscience is downstream from the Kingdom of God. We cannot combat a culture of death merely with appeals to abstract human dignity based on natural law (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In every assault on human life, there’s not only a life left for dead but also a conscience left for hell. The Gospel addresses both.

On the abortion question, for instance, the sheer numbers of children aborted each year ought to prompt us to realize that perhaps as many as one out of every three women in our congregations has aborted. With her is typically a man who approved of or paid for or pressured her to this act. Many women sit silently, in the fear that God can forgive any sin but…

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church

The devil is a preacher. From the third chapter of the Bible onward, he is opening up God’s word to people, seeking to interpret it, to apply it, to offer an invitation.

So the old Serpent of Eden comes to the primeval woman not with a Black Mass and occult symbols, but with the Word she’d received from her God—with the snake’s peculiar spin on it. Throughout the Old Testament, he preaches peace—just like the angels of Bethlehem do—except he does so when there is no peace. He points God’s people to the particulars of worship commanded by God—sacrifices and offerings and feast-days—just without the preeminent mandates of love, justice, and mercy. Satan even preaches to God—about the proper motives needed for godly discipleship on the part of God’s servants.

In the New Testament, the satanic deception leads the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to pore endlessly over biblical texts, just missing the point of Christ Jesus therein. They come to conclusions that have partially biblical foundations—the devil’s messages are always expository—they just intentionally avoid Jesus.

So, the scoffers feel quite comfortable…

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Over the past few years, I’ve heard from several pastors and Christian leaders a genuine fear that the rising generation of evangelicals will compromise the faith when it comes to public engagement. But I actually don’t think this will happen, for one reason: The Gospel.

In the rising wave of evangelicals, one hears the constant refrain of “Gospel focus” and “Gospel centrality.” Some might dismiss this as just more evangelical faddishness and sloganeering, and perhaps some of it is. But I think the focus on the Gospel is tied up with the collapse of the Bible Belt. As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. There is, for those who came and will come of age in recent years, no social utility to embracing them. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. These Christians have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.

Those who were nominally Christian are suddenly vanished from the pews. Those who wanted an almost-Gospel will find that they don’t need it to…

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bible

Not long ago I got an email from a Christian man who asked me, “What can I do to become knowledgable in Christian ethics?” Obviously, I think that’s a good question. Ethics is not, after all, something that only academic types or pastors have to think about. Every Christian has a mandate to be able to articulate the truth of the gospel and to apply it in every season of life.

Here are the three most important things you can do to develop a solid Christian ethic:

1) Know the Bible.

Knowing the Bible goes beyond being able to recite individual verses. There are a lot of Christians who know specific proof texts, but they don’t know how to understand the whole fabric of the Scriptures. They’re unable to inhabit the world of the Bible and see how it applies to ethical and moral issues in their life, especially those that feel new and difficult.

We live in a time when, because of everything from technology to cultural change, there are all sorts of ethical issues that we haven’t had to think about before. But…

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The past week reeks of blood. We saw the cellphone videos of black men killed by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. We saw a terrorist ambush on police in Dallas, killing at least 5 officers and injuring 7. The country reels beneath all this violence. So how should a pastor speak to this on Sunday? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Pray specifically for the families of those killed, by name.

One of the most chilling aspects of the violence we see around us is the attempt at invisibility, as though those who are killed lived lives that didn’t matter. This is not new. After Cain killed Abel, he chafed at even the reminder of his existence (Gen. 4). Read aloud as you pray the names that we have:

Pray not only for their families to be comforted, but also for justice to be served, that others – whether police officers protecting a rally or African-American young men in any given city in America – would no longer be unjustly killed.

2) Lead your congregation in a time of lament.

Too often our worship is discordant from both the example of the Bible and the lived experience…

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One of the reasons I say that it is good for American Christianity to no longer think of itself as a “moral majority” is that such a mentality obscures the strangeness of the Gospel. When a vision of Christian political engagement hinges on building a politically viable network of ideologically united voters, Christ and him crucified will tend to be a stumbling block, not a rallying point.

Some sectors of religious activism chafe when we say that Christianity has always been and will always be a minority viewpoint in Western culture. Minorities do not exert influence, they will contend, on the culture or the systems around it. The temptation is to pretend to be a majority, even if one is not.

But this is a profoundly Darwinian way of viewing the world, like a frightened animal puffing out its chest in order to seem larger and fiercer, in the hopes of scaring off predators. Such is not the way of Christ.  The church of Jesus Christ is never a majority, in any fallen culture, even if we happen to outnumber…

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I often hear from some Christians who argue that we should disengage from social or political issues. Particularly around election season, these Christians will reason that we shouldn’t be speaking to political or cultural topics, since the New Testament seems not to.

These Christians have a point. Unlike the prophets toward both Israel and the surrounding nations, Jesus and the apostles seem relatively unperturbed by the moral climate of the Roman Empire. The New Testament church wasn’t mobilizing for political change on matters like slavery or gladiator-fighting or empire-building wars.

But this is to be expected. The New Testament was written almost exclusively to a group of believers who lacked any social or political power, and who thus bore no accountability for decisions made in the cultural and political spheres. But even though Rome was no democracy and the apostles had no say in what the Emperor decided, we can see the New Testament pointing us to callings informed by the Gospel, even in what we might consider “politics.”

John the Baptist called the crowds to repentance. A drunk coming to be baptized would have been told to repent of intoxication. An adulterer would have been…

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Kindness

Years ago, when I was serving as a preaching pastor in a church, I was approached by an eleven year-old in our congregation who wanted to introduce me to his friend, Jared. Jared was on his soccer team, and had never been to church before. After a few minutes of talking, Jared told me that he needed prayer, that his Dad had left, and he didn’t know what his family was going to do. He wondered if I might pray that God would “put my Mom and Dad back together.” I prayed with him, and he turned to go back to his seat. He was wearing a shirt celebrating the inauguration of a President who was unpopular with most of the people in my mostly white, blue-collar congregation. As I watched this young man walk down his first-ever church aisle, to hear the gospel perhaps for the first time, a middle-aged man walked past him and huffed, “We need to get you a better shirt.”

I was incredulous. I wanted to yell, “He’s lost. He’s wounded. He’s hurting. He doesn’t know Christ, and you’re worried about this shirt!” My church member was lacking…

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How do we engage the culture with convictional kindness? How do we remain compassionate and loving, even in the face of intense opposition and hostility? If we’re going to be obedient in this, we must have confidence.

As I wrote this, I was simultaneously watching a number of discouraging fissures within churches and ministries. Some of them involved leaders falling. Some involved petty disputes between Christians that resemble Hollywood actors in grudge-matches over whose dressing room is bigger. I told a friend that this made me all the more in awe of the ministry of Paul. After all, we have two thousand years of history behind us. He was battling external threats of arrest, and internal wrestling in the churches with heresy and immorality. And all he had to go on was a career wrecked by a light and a voice.

Paul said that the false teachers were the equivalent of Jannes and Jambres, the Egyptian magicians who mimicked Moses’ and Aaron’s signs from God with their own occultist power (Exod. 7:11-12). God’s servants authenticated their sending from God by transforming a staff into a writhing, living serpent. But Pharaoh’s court magicians turned back their…

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