Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore won Christianity Today’s 2015 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year—for good reason.
In Onward, Moore sets out a clear, compelling, and motivational rally cry for evangelicals to not lose focus of our identity or our task as the culture becomes increasingly hostile to the historic Christian faith.
This book is a must read for all Christians, especially those engaging our culture with the gospel or overly anxious about the direction the country is headed. Russell Moore is also just a stinkin’ good writer, as you will see in the quotes below that provide a basic summary of the book. If you’d rather listen, I’ve provided a two-minute and a forty-minute video of Moore sharing his message.
The Best Quotes from Onward by Russell Moore
Christianity in its historic, apostolic form is increasingly seen as socially awkward at best, as subversive at worst.
Our understanding of human sexuality, and behind that of human meaning, is at the heart right now of virtually all of the ongoing “culture war” skirmishes, over the sanctity of human life, over the purpose of marriage and family, over religious liberty and freedom of conscience. Many of the political divisions we have come down to this: competing visions of sexuality as they relate to morality and the common good.
The Christian message isn’t burdened down by the miraculous. It’s inextricably linked to it.
We cannot build Christian churches on a sub- Christian gospel. People who don’t want Christianity don’t want almost- Christianity.
The loss of the Bible Belt may be bad news for America. But it can be good news for the church.
The problem was that, from the very beginning, Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel.
God was always welcome in American culture. He was, after all, the Deity whose job it was to bless America. The God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ, however, was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to “Amen” in a prayer at the Rotary Club.
The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself.
If our principal means of differentiation is politics or culture, then we have every reason to see those around us as our enemies, and to see ourselves as somehow morally superior. But if what differentiates us is blood poured out for our sins, then we see ourselves for what we are: hell- deserving sinners in the hands of a merciful God.
A Christianity that is without friction in the culture is a Christianity that dies.
The church now has the opportunity to bear witness in a culture that often does not even pretend to share our “values.” That is not a tragedy since we were never given a mission to promote “values” in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgment, of Christ and his kingdom.
Our end goal is not a Christian America, either of the made- up past or the hoped- for future. Our end goal is the kingdom of Christ, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.
If [the church] adapting to the culture were the key to ecclesial success, then where are the Presbyterian Church (USA) church- planting movements, the Unitarian megachurches?
A church that assumes the gospel is a church that soon loses the gospel. The church now must articulate, at every phase, the reason for our existence, because it is no longer an obvious part of the cultural ecosystem. That
It would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ.
If we see ourselves as only a minority, we will be tempted to isolation. If we see ourselves only as a kingdom, we will be tempted toward triumphalism. We are, instead, a church. We are a minority with a message and a mission.
The problem with carnal anger and outrage is that it’s one of the easiest sins to commit while convincing oneself that one is being faithful. The adulterer is often able to rationalize his adultery, and put it out of his mind, but he rarely sees the adultery itself as part of his holy mission. But how many angry, divisive, perpetually outraged Christians are convinced that they are reincarnated Old Testament prophets, calling down fire from heaven? Now, to be sure, there’s a time to call down fire from heaven. But you had better make sure that God has called you to direct that fire to fall. If not, then you’re acting like a prophet all right, but not a prophet of God.
We must learn to be strange enough to have a prophetic voice, but connected enough to prophesy to those who need to hear. We need to be those who know both how to warn and to welcome, to weep and to dream.
The kingdoms of the moment, whatever they are, seem more important than the kingdom of Christ, without our ever even realizing it. That’s why our blood pressure is more likely to rise when we hear someone disagree with us about our political party or our sports team or an item in the news than when we hear faulty teaching from a Christian pulpit.
The church is the embassy of the coming kingdom, not the fullness of that kingdom. Our mission is defined in terms of a gospel appeal to reconciliation, now, not the subjugation of our foes.
We lose sight both of the fact that all of human history— from Eden onward— is a war zone, and that God’s kingdom triumph is proven not by our electoral success or our cultural influence— as important as that is in being obediently “salt” and “light” in our culture. Our triumph is proven in the resurrection of the world’s rightful ruler.
We are stranger and exiles in the present time, that’s true. But we are not losers. There will be wars and rumors of wars, literal and cultural, but Jesus is on the move. We fight, but we fight from triumph, not from defeat.
But the temptation to apply 2 Chronicles to the nation rather than to the church persists, for the same reasons that some insist on applying Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse”) to foreign policy rather than to where the Bible applies it: to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:7–14).
The church is not to be walled up from the broader culture but to speak to it (1 Pet. 2:12), but that can only happen if, as sojourners and exiles, we have something distinctive to say (1 Pet. 2:11).
The kingdom came to us not from a boardroom or a literary guild, but from a feeding trough and an execution stake. The church is not built on the rock foundation of geniuses and influencers but of apostles and prophets.
God’s election in Scripture is meant to make people more, not less, secure in God’s faithfulness.
A church that loses its distinctiveness is a church that has nothing distinctive with which to engage the culture.
Let’s not aspire to be a moral majority but a gospel community, one that doesn’t exist for itself but for the larger mission of reaching the whole world with the whole gospel. That sort of kingdom- first cultural engagement drives us not inward, but onward.
The question though, at face value, is crucial. The future of Christian social witness cannot assume the gospel, but must articulate it explicitly and coherently, not simply as the tagline at the end of our activism but as the ground and underpinning of it.
A Christianity that doesn’t prophetically speak for human dignity is a Christianity that has lost anything distinctive to say.
A feminist leader once said that most people are pro- life with three exceptions: rape, incest, and “my situation.” I fear she is all too right.
But the separation of church and state wasn’t invented by secularist progressives, but by orthodox believers who didn’t want the state empowered to dictate, or to suppress, doctrine and practice. A government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion. It’s a good old phrase that we ought to reclaim.
The gospel is big enough to fight for itself. And the gospel fights not with the invincible sword of Caesar but with the invisible sword of the Spirit.
The concept of Christianity as a cultural majority often has done violence to a Christian understanding of the relationship between church and state, between the kingdom and the world.
It is better for our future generations to be willing to go to jail— for the right reasons— than to exchange the gospel of the kingdom for a mess of Esau’s pottage. Sometimes jails filled with hymn- singing, letter- writing, gospel- preaching Christians can do extraordinary things.
A church can only stand for religious liberty if it knows that the Judgment Seat of Christ is more ultimate than the state.
A state that can pave over the conscience— anyone’s conscience— without a compelling interest in doing so, is a state that is unfettered to do virtually anything.
We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.
Human civilizations have died out in world history for various reasons— famine, warfare, environmental calamity— but no human civilization has ever died out because the people forgot to have sex.
The family, patterned after the kingdom, is a matter of gospel priority. Salvation is not some sort of escape from the creation but instead restores the created order, directing it toward its goal.
Many have already demonstrated the falseness of the claim that evangelical Christian divorce rates are higher than the outside culture, but it is true that regions of the country with high numbers of self- identified born- again Christians tend to have higher divorce rates, that the divorce dockets are fullest in those parts of the country most saturated with the Bible. On a closer look, what these studies show is not that the gospel propels a divorce culture but that an almost- gospel does.
A speech on family values is more likely to get applause at a “God and country” rally than a speech on church membership. But only transformed church communities, as outposts of the kingdom of Christ, can provide the alternative vision of the family we so desperately need.
The gospel flourished in places known for temple prostitutes and gladiator fights, and it still stands.
We don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power protests. We don’t win arguments by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender. Frankly, if we had that sort of cultural cache, corporations would already have market- tested it, and found ways to curry favor with us while keeping their immoral practices subterranean.
The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Tim. 2:26).
Fallen humanity responds to the light of Christ not just with cognitive rejection but with moral revulsion (John 3:19–20).
A gloomy view of culture leads to meanness. If we believe we are on the losing side of history, we slide into the rage of those who know their time is short. We have no reason to be fearful or sullen or mean. We’re not the losers of history. We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion. The worst thing that can possibly happen to us has already happened: we’re dead. We were crucified at Skull Place, under the wrath of God. And the best thing that could happen to us has already happened; we’re alive, in Christ, and our future is seated at the right hand of God, and he’s feeling just fine. Jesus is marching onward, with us or without us, and if the gates of hell cannot hold him back, why on earth would he be panicked by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? Times may grow dark indeed, but times have always been dark, since the insurrection of Eden. Nonetheless, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, the darkness will not, the darkness cannot overcome it. The arc of history is long, but it bends toward Jesus.
The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. That’s a sentence I remind myself of almost every day, every time I feel myself growing discouraged about the future.
The new birth doesn’t just transform lives, creating repentance and faith; it also provides new leadership to the church, and fulfills Jesus’ promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time (Eph. 4:8–16).
Russell Moore’s latest accomplishment: Being called a “terrible representative of Evangelicals” and “a nasty guy with no heart!” by Donald Trump. Moore’s response:
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) May 10, 2016