Russell Moore has a Point but…

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

This past Sunday, Russell Moore, who is Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, (read it here:, blogged on last weekend’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial led by libertarian radio and television personality Glenn Beck.

Dr. Moore was obviously deeply offended by the event and his post is worth quoting at length.  Moore writes,

It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined “revival” and “turning America back to God” that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

Leaders will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems: captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. That’s why so many of our Christian superstars smile at crowds of thousands, reassuring them that they don’t like to talk about sin. That’s why other Christian celebrities are seen to be courageous for fighting their culture wars, while they carefully leave out the sins most likely to be endemic to the people paying the bills in their movements.

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

Yet, contrary to the statements by a few bloggers and commentators, Moore does not call for a retreat from the public square.  He goes on to write:

The answer to this scandal isn’t a retreat, as some would have it, to an allegedly apolitical isolation. Such attempts lead us right back here, in spades, to a hyper-political wasteland. If the churches are not forming consciences, consciences will be formed by the status quo, including whatever demagogues can yell the loudest or cry the hardest. The answer isn’t a narrowing sectarianism, retreating further and further into our enclaves. The answer includes local churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and disciple their congregations to know the difference between the kingdom of God and the latest political whim.

Let’s say that Dr. Moore is right, and I believe he has a point, but I believe his post begs the question as to who is really to blame for the church’s failure to train God’s people to be more theologically astute when faced with public policy issues?

I suppose one could blame the ministers.  Many are afraid to address “political” issues and many more are simply uninterested in doing the work it takes to become well versed in complicated areas such as economics, foreign policy, etc.

However, I would like to pose the question to Dr. Moore, what are seminary professors doing to encourage ministers to enable congregations to view public policy issues through theological lenses?

It is easy to knock Glenn Beck as a buffoon and make snarky remarks about Fox News but what about positive directions for pastors and lay leaders?

I have long-held that seminaries do little to help truly train pastors for the day-to-day rigors of ministry but they do little or nothing to equip pastors to engage our culture thoughtfully and practically.

Instead of yet another theologian telling us how shallow Fox News is or what a clown Rush Limbaugh is, how about a prolonged thoughtful discussion of all of the various political issues that confront followers of Christ in this country?

Even better, how about courses in seminary on culture and public policy and not ones filled with nothing but vague, amorphous doctrinal discussion that never touch ground but a seminar (or seminars) that deal with all of the hot button issues from Constitutional interpretation to taxes and spending with rigorous engagement with thinkers like Thomas Sowell, Robert Bork, etc. 

If the seminaries won’t step up and provide the training then perhaps it is time for a new ministry to emerge and do it for them.  As a former music video director, Congressional aide, attorney and current minister, I have often pondered doing it myself.

I am thrilled that Wayne Grudem is publishing a book on the subject in September and that young leaders like Jeremy Dyse, the head of the West Virginia Family Policy Council (, has the foresight to create events for pastors featuring Dr. Grudem (as well as Greg Gilbert and Alliance Defense Fund Attorney Erik Stanley) to begin this discussion.

If we don’t train pastors to deal with the issues and encourage them to preach on them then it is naive to expect anything but a vacuum. 

Something has to change.

UPDATE: It is worth your time to consider one of the participants response to the criticisim of evangelicals participation in the Glenn Beck Rally–

  1. Jeremy Dys says:

    Great post, Matt!! For the record, Dr. Moore was invited in May to our conference (Politics According to the Bible –, but had other obligations. Upon reading Dr. Moore’s insightful post, I emailed him and all but begged him to consider attending and presenting – his objections, after all, were what motivated us to have the conference in the first place! No response as of yet.

    For the rest, there is still time to register for the conference – when you do, you get Grudem’s book, Gilbert’s book, and two books by Alan Sears FREE! See you there.

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