On Russell Moore and Convictional Kindness in the Public Square

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



Reflections on the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Part 2

On Monday, I published the first half of my reflections on the Houston Convention. This is my second and final post on this topic.

4. The ERLC Transition. One of the most important happenings at the Convention this year was the leadership transition at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Richard Land has led that ministry for a quarter-century. Over those years, Land became a key leader among the so-called Religious Right, taking a clear stand on such matters as the sanctity of human life and the importance of biblical/traditional views on sexuality and marriage. He was also a leading proponent of an “accommodationist” understanding of church-state separation. I would argue that Richard Land was the public face of Southern Baptists, particularly to non-religious people who only know us through the media. Of course, Land retired a few weeks ago and Russ Moore of Southern Seminary became the new president of ERLC.

There is little doubt that Russ Moore and Richard Land have far more in common than they do different. In fact, I would suspect that the left-wing journalists who seem elated at Land’s retirement and Moore’s appointment will become less enamored with Moore once they find out that he, too, is pro-life and affirms biblical sexuality and traditional marriage. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Moore has less of an “edge” than Land. Moore is also a champion of several issues that younger Southern Baptists identify with such as adoption and orphan care and combating human sex trafficking. As an added bonus, Moore is one of the best preachers in the SBC. My students were more excited about hearing Moore’s vision for ERLC than they were anything else at the Annual Meeting besides Danny Akin’s Convention sermon.

5. The Resolutions. Messengers passed several interesting resolutions at the Houston Convention. You can read them all at the SBC website. Many of them have attracted attention, and understandably so. For the purposes of this post, I will only mention two resolutions. First, our resolution related to the Boy Scouts, which has garnered the most attention from the press, strikes a good balance by criticizing the BSA’s new membership policy, but without calling for a universal exodus from the Scouts. Though I’ve been vocal in my opposition to the Boy Scouts’ new policy, I believe it would be premature to urge all Southern Baptist churches to pull back from sponsoring Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops.

Second, the resolution recognizing the 125th anniversary of Woman’s Missionary Union, though unmentioned in the press, is noteworthy. No organization has done more to raise missions awareness among Southern Baptist churches than the WMU. We should be thankful for the WMU and their contribution to our Great Commission efforts over the years. Thank you, ladies, for all that you do.

6. The Calvinism Discussion. There was a tremendous spirit of unity in Houston among Southern Baptists with varying views of the “doctrines of grace.” The Executive Committee hosted well-attended panel discussion with members of the Calvinism Advisory Committee on Monday. By all accounts, the Committee’s published statement has been well-received by almost everyone. The comments made from the Convention platform were uniformly gracious and helpful. (This has not always been the case at previous Conventions.) We should be grateful to EC president Frank Page for his statesmanlike leadership in this discussion and to David Dockery and the rest of the Calvinism Advisory Committee for their willingness to lead by example on this issue.

Perhaps more remarkable, the “chatter” about Calvinism in the Convention hall, the exhibit booths, and in various meetings was generally very encouraging. Virtually everyone seems eager to move forward in a spirit of Great Commission cooperation. The only unfortunate moment was the surreal Baptist 21 interview with Louisiana College president Joe Aguillard. By and large, however, it seems that most engaged Southern Baptists agree with my argument that Calvinism is, and should remain, a tertiary matter in the wider denomination. Join me in praying that this sense of unity and good will becomes more pervasive among all of our state conventions as well.

7. SEBTS Students. For the second year, I taught the Southern Baptist Convention course for Southeastern Seminary. Over thirty SEBTS students enrolled in the course and attended the Convention; for almost all of them, it was their first SBC Annual Meeting. They had the chance to hear from new ERLC president Russ Moore on Tuesday night and meet with IMB vice president Clyde Meador on Wednesday afternoon. Many of the students told me they enjoyed being at the Convention, learning more about our various ministries and emphases, and meeting other Southern Baptists from hither and yon. They are excited to be Southern Baptists. And if they are our future, then I’m even more excited than they are to be a part of the people of God called Southern Baptist.

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (5): Challenges for LifeWay, ERLC, and Guidestone

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (5): Challenges for LifeWay, ERLC, and Guidestone

By Danny Akin and Ryan Hutchinson

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) has challenged LifeWay, GuideStone Financial Resources, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to never forget their service to the local church. Each one of these ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention, whether receiving Cooperative Program (CP) funds or not, all stand in the place as a form of a parachurch ministry to serve the churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Two of the entities, LifeWay and Guidestone, represent that largest financial components of Southern Baptist’s national ministries, and do not receive any CP funds. Total assets for these two organizations combined are approximately $8 billion based on their 2008 financial statements. Therefore, Southern Baptists have made significant commitments to both of these organizations even without the support of CP dollars. While LifeWay & GuideStone represent the largest national ministries, the ERLC represents the smallest financially, but not the smallest as the voice of Southern Baptists to the leaders of our nation.

While Lifeway has many different areas of ministry, the GCRTF focuses on their core efforts of the development of materials for use by the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. The challenges regarding the development of materials do not represent a call to create new avenues of material focus, but the strengthening of what already exists. The challenges focus on materials for Sunday School/Bible Study, growth in personal evangelism, growth in understanding of the Great Commission’s worldwide call, and for Christian schools and homeschoolers. LifeWay has the ability through the materials they develop to greatly impact the biblical and theological knowledge of the people sitting in Southern Baptist churches. One way that LifeWay could enhance these materials is to closely examine the reasons why some Southern Baptists make a conscious decision not to use their materials in these arenas. We all can find testimonials of people that love us, but we can often times learn more from the people that are our detractors.

GuideStone has a unique relationship with Southern Baptists since a vast number of pastors and staff members, both active and retired, have their retirement investments with GuideStone. The GCTRF’s challenge to GuideStone does not focus on better management of funds, the expansion of investment options, or assuredness of competitive insurance programs. Instead the GCRTF challenges GuideStone to engage those receiving retirement benefits to not retire from Great Commission ministry. Too many times after someone’s retirement from a church staff or a denominational post the retiree transitions to “me” or “us” time. It is time to travel, time to see the world, time do the things we always wanted to do but active ministry kept us from accomplishing. It is not that a retired minister shouldn’t be able to do things like travel, but imagine the impact for the Great Commission if the retired minister and his or her mate did not view the event as retirement, but a transition into a new phase of personal ministry. Therefore, the challenge to GuideStone is to utilize their unique access to the retired ministers of the convention to encourage them towards an even stronger personal commitment to the Great Commission both at home and abroad.

The ERLC is challenged to call the people of the convention towards Christlikeness in their interaction with the lost world around us. The challenge also calls for an emphasis on teaching the people in the pew the importance of preserving religious freedom. A belief in and stand for religious freedom is one of the hallmarks of Baptists. Therefore, Baptists should be at the forefront of not just preserving the rights for Southern Baptists to have religious freedom, but for anyone to not experience persecution for or restraint from their personal beliefs regardless of their religion. Through these efforts we can not only support religious freedom, but use the opportunity in standing for others to communicate why salvation through faith in Christ is one’s only hope for the forgiveness of their sins and hope for eternity in Heaven.

The challenges from the GCRTF to LifeWay, GuideStone, and the ERLC are calls for a renewed emphasis on existing efforts. However, it is not just to continue existing efforts, but to serve Southern Baptist by helping them understand the vital role of each and every person in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. These are worthy challenges worth heeding.