Christianity, Culture and Russell Moore

Posted on September 10, 2013 by

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I had the privilege of attending the inauguration in Washington, DC of Russell D. Moore as the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The service (and it was a worship service more than merely an inauguration) at the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  Speakers included a former congressman, Robert George of Princeton University, Richard Land, the outgoing president of the ERLC and Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Guests included pretty much a who’s who of Southern Baptists.  As an aside, other than Robert George, southern accents abounded, not surprising, given the center of theologically conservative Baptist strength.  I was, as usual, particularly impressed with Al Mohler’s charge to Dr. Moore.  It seems clear that Mohler has become the most intellectually astute and articulate Baptist since Carl F. H. Henry.  But I would add that I found Russell Moore’s speech just as satisfying and honoring to God.  Moore may well be the next Al Mohler, if he is not already, just less well-known.  

But my point here is to say just a bit about Moore’s orientation to the issue of Christianity and culture.  Among younger Christians this has become again an important issue.  I wrote in May 20 blog about a new debate within the reformed community, that of “The Two Kingdoms” theory.  I said than that it appears to boil down to the idea that Christian revelation and the church have very little if anything to say to culture, including politics, since our first goal is to proclaim the Gospel and build up the church.  In addition even within the church there are aspects that are not governed by special revelation, but only by prudence and preference (within very broad limits).  So the theory starts from Luther’s Two Kingdoms theory but goes beyond it.  In H. Richard Niebuhr’s terms it represents “Christ Against Culture” of “Christ and Culture in Paradox.”

The standard reformed approach in contrast has been “Christ the Transformer of Culture,” the transformational model of Christian engagement in culture, including politics.  Where does Russell Moore fit into all this?  Being the head of the ERLC he is necessarily involved cultural and political affairs.  But being Baptist, his tradition does not have a long tradition of cultural engagement in the same way as the reformed community.  But I found Moore’s formulation to be an inviting and articulate possible “third way.”  Having already read his acclaimed book The Kingdom of Christ, what he said at his inauguration was not new, but it nevertheless needed to be said.  The upshot, and in deference to Carl Henry’s work in this area, is that for Christians it is not an either/or, but a both/and situation.  We do know the Kingdom has arrived in Christ, but the Kingdom is still “net yet.”  So Christians are to be salt and light in the world.  But salt and light need not be confined simply to proclaiming the gospel, as crucial as that calling is for all of us.  It is not a withdrawal of the church into itself.  We are also called, as God enables and extends specific calls in vocational terms, to engage with our world at the intellectual level, and to be used to effect whatever level of transformation God chooses to bring about.  We do this with the authority of the Word of God, as we responsibly interpret and apply it wherever we can in life and thought.  We do this at the same time we proclaim the Gospel.  We proclaim freedom to those in bondage, but bondage may be both spiritual and intellectual.  

I see Russell Moore as combining the best of the Baptist tradition with the best of the reformed ideas emanating from Abraham Kuyper down through Francis Schaeffer.  May the ERLC continue to be a beacon of Christian leaven both in the nation’s capitol and beyond, to the glory of God.  And may He grant Russell Moore grace and perseverance to pursue doggedly and graciously his calling with that organization.

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