ONWARD:Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel

By Russell Moore        Genre: Christian Living and Culture; Non-fiction
Reviewed by Meg           4.5/5 stars

onwardWhoever you are, and wherever you fall in the vast, web-like grid of American politics, you have most likely felt the pull of “us” vs. “them” at some point in the last year – maybe always. More often than not, the culture and political issues that seem to pit neighbor-against-neighbor usually float around the same themes – “family values vs. progressive secularism,” “right-to-life vs. choice” etc. I have personally struggled along with many of our readers to find what my role is as a follower of Jesus – in holding to the doctrines of my faith while engaging with those around me – my “neighbors.” I don’t want to live in fear, but so much of what I’ve experienced this election season has constantly swirled my brain in buckets of anxiety. Is all that I hold dear going to evaporate? Am I living in “the end times”?

Thankfully, what I’ve read in Russell Moore’s latest work, ONWARD, has re-affirmed my excitement of the future and helped inspire greater mission in my heart for reaching my neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus. Whether or not you claim an evangelical faith in Jesus, this book would be well worth your time. I gave it 4.5 stars simply because I think that a few of the chapters started to drag a little bit (reiterating similar ideas); but overall I believe that Christians will find a new excitement in their mission here; and those not claiming any faith might be able to see what it is that we are so excited about. I view all of my readers as my neighbors, and would love to share this vision with you. For simplicity, here is a list of the chapters with a favorite quote or two from each one that should give you an idea of the book’s content:

INTRODUCTION – “We ought to approach the future without the clenching of our fists or the wringing of our hands. We ought to see the ongoing cultural shake-up in America as a liberation of sorts from a captivity we never even knew we were in. …The Bible belt is teetering toward collapse, and I say let it fall.” (3,7)

A BIBLE BELT NO MORE – “The Christian religion isn’t an ideology, like socialism or libertarianism, tracked by self-identification. The Christian religion is a Body. … Accordingly, we will engage the culture less like the chaplains of some idyllic Mayberry and more like the apostles in the book of Acts.” (21,26-27)

FROM MORAL MAJORITY TO PROPHETIC MINORITY – “To say that we are a minority is not to talk, as pollsters or economists would, in terms of numbers. It is to speak in terms of a mind-set, how we view ourselves. … If we don’t see that we are walking a narrow and counterintuitive road, we will have nothing distinctive to say because we will have forgotten who we are.” (29-30)

KINGDOM – “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 first step to a renewed vision of our mission is to see the kingdom of God, in its future glory and in its present reality.” (48)

onward-quote-2CULTURE – “A renewal of cultural witness starts where it started in Nazareth: with a reconsideration of who we are.” (73)

MISSION – “A church that doesn’t form consciences for such a calling will only ensure that those consciences are shaped by something other than the Gospel. … Let’s feed the poor, house the homeless, shelter the widow, adopt the orphan, advocate for the unborn, and steward the environment. But, as we do, let’s, most importantly, preach peace and justice, for individuals and for the whole world, found in the bloody cross and empty tomb of Jesus.” (108, 111)

HUMAN DIGNITY – “If we are to be pro-life people, we must first cast aside our idols. … We must repent of the way that we, sometimes without evening knowing it, have prized the powerful over the powerless.” (124)

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY – “We ought to remember what a shifting culture might force us to remember, what we never should have forgotten in the first place: that national identity is important but transitory. … We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.” (160)

FAMILY STABILITY – “The renewal of our churches for the sake of the family would mean that we would avoid the idolatry of the family.” (180)

CONVICTIONAL KINDNESS – “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.” (194)

onward-quoteA GOSPEL COUNTER-REVOLUTION – “Many assume that somehow by disengaging, they will be better able to carry out the mission of the church, without recognizing that they have already surrendered part of their mission, and that total cultural disengagement doesn’t end culture wars but rather provokes them.” (209)

CONCLUSION – “We live in a world  where too many children are disposed of as medical waste, and where too many languish in orphanages and in group homes. We live in a world where too many persons are trafficked and molested, too many are ravaged by divorce and poverty, too many are placed in shallow graves as a result of famine or disease or genocide. … We ought to stand then with conviction and contend, as the prophets and apostles did before us, against injustice. But we must do so with voices shaped by the gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that winning arguments is not enough if one is in a cosmic struggle with unseen principalities and powers in the air around us. Let’s work instead for something new, and for something old: the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, gathered in churches of transformed people, reconciled to one another, on mission with one another, holding together the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ.  … We may not always see where we are going, but we know the Way. Onward.” (221-22)

Purchase ONWARD by Russell Moore.


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