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Moore: Christ crucified better than civil religion

EDITOR’S NOTE: See additional story below on Russell Moore’s Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — God’s call to repentance in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a summons to follow Christ, not an affirmation of vague, patriotic moralism, ethicist Russell Moore said in a March 19 chapel message at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“God and country is much, much easier than Christ and Him crucified,” said Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This text does not point us to a bloodless civil religion. This text points us to the cross.”

Moore called 2 Chronicles 7:14 the “John 3:16 of the American civil religion,” noting, “We can be Americans best if we are not Americans first.” The verse says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

This verse reminded the Israelites following their exile that they were still God’s chosen people, Moore said, noting that Christians today cannot impact culture unless they too understand their identity as God’s people. Moore lamented the use of 2 Chronicles 7:14 by some to advocate a national return to morality apart from commitment to Christ.

“This is not just a series of generic principles,” Moore said. “God’s relationship with the people of Israel is in order … to bring from them the Christ who is the God over all.”

God’s presence at Solomon’s dedication of the Temple followed the offering of animal sacrifices, Moore said, a reality that foreshadowed God’s presence under the new covenant with those who embrace Christ’s sacrifice on the cross by faith.

“Even more so than in this Temple constructed by Solomon’s hands, God’s presence is with His people through union with Jesus Christ,” Moore said.

The cross defines the promises of God, Moore said. Yet many people preach 2 Chronicles 7:14 like an “American prosperity gospel.” They treat the promises of God as guarantees of a moral population or a stable economy if Americans humble themselves before God.

But Moore said the prosperity gospel “works no better for nations than it does for individuals.” Only Jesus lived in a way that earned God’s blessings, and He took on Himself all the curses earned by His people.

The curses and promises of 2 Chronicles 7 were fulfilled in Christ, Moore said. Christians know God’s acceptance not through animal sacrifices that temporarily cover sin, but through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The healing of the land comes because Jesus rose from the dead and will create a new heaven and a new earth.

Believing the promises of God frees people from fear, Moore said. The worst thing that can happen to someone is not losing his job, friends, freedom or life, Moore said, but to be cursed and cut off from God. Believers have already been cursed and cut off from God in Christ through His death on the cross.

“And the best thing that can happen to you,” said Moore, “is being raised from the dead to newness of life in fellowship with the living God, and being assigned by Him a mission as heirs with God and joint heirs with Christ. That has already happened to you too.”

Because of the true Gospel and their identity in Christ, Moore urged Christians not to fear the persecution that is coming.

“Let’s crucify our civil religions and our discount-rate prosperity gospels and hear behind all of them the gentle lowing of golden calves, and let’s instead define ourselves not by the generic god of American values — we do not serve that god. We serve the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, God and Father of Jesus Christ. And the promises that He has made will outlast Mount Rushmore,” Moore said.

Moore delivered the chapel message while on Southern Seminary’s campus to deliver the Gheens Lectures on the topic “Onward Christian Strangers: The Gospel and the Public Square in Changing Times.”

Audio and video of Moore’s chapel message are available online at www.sbts.edu/resources.


Minority status ‘good
news’ for evangelicals
By Andrew J.W. Smith

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Christians should be glad the Gospel now distinguishes them from American culture, Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said March 18-19 during the Gheens Lectures at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Increasingly, the most basic affirmations of Christianity are themselves seeming strange and odd in American culture,” Moore said. “This is actually good news for the advance of the Kingdom, the future of the Gospel and for your ministries in 21st century America.”

Moore, formerly dean of Southern’s School of Theology, delivered a series of three lectures titled “Onward Christian Strangers: The Gospel and the Public Square in Changing Times,” focusing on issues related to Christianity and culture. In each lecture, Moore referenced Luke 4, a narrative about Jesus’ first miracles and His teaching on the Kingdom of God.

In his first lecture, Moore noted the shift in American culture away from a moral majority. In the past, a moral majority mindset contributed to some equating Christianity primarily with “moral values,” he said.

Much of Christianity is driven by nostalgia, but Christians should instead be driven by a yearning for the coming Kingdom, Moore said. An awareness of the Kingdom helps the church distinguish between God’s created design and what is fallen, allowing believers to engage culture effectively, he said.

“The Kingdom of God informs our consciences and our priorities,” Moore said. “We work for the common good as people who are shaped and formed by our understanding of the Kingdom.”

The moral majority model of political engagement is a misunderstanding of religious liberty, Moore said. Christian engagement that is not theologically rigorous is merely political.

“If you’re fencing the table around your political agenda but you’re not fencing the table around the Gospel, then the political agenda is your Gospel,” Moore said.

In his second lecture, Moore said Christians need a more robust vision of the church’s “ambassadorial function” of representing the Gospel to the outside world.

“We tend to think of church in cognitive, cerebral terms … or simply in pietistic devotional terms,” Moore said. “But we don’t think about the church the way the New Testament does, as an embassy. The church is … a sign to the principalities and powers.”

Christians often speak harshly about cultural sins outside the church while ignoring issues within the church, Moore said. But faithful biblical teaching will both speak prophetically to culture and rebuke the sins of believers.

Churches should recognize that their ordinances and gifts signify the victory of their triumphant King, Moore said. The church’s leaders represent the administration of Christ’s coming Kingdom — leading through serving. The church’s increasing distinction from cultural values gives it the opportunity to simultaneously be set apart and engage, Moore said.

“It’s not that the church is simply a counter culture,” he said. “The church is an alternative outpost, but it is an outward-directed outpost.”

In the third lecture, Moore said the church’s most significant challenge is engaging the culture while remaining faithful to its mission.

Moore outlined two broad approaches to the “culture war”: addressing systems and structures of oppression and addressing the problem of individual guilt before God. He said most cultural ills — like abortion and pornography — are problems on both the societal and personal levels.

Christians should build their cultural engagement upon the Gospel message, but that does not mean focusing only on evangelism and discipleship. Through the Gospel, the church is aware of the fundamental problem with all humanity — sin and separation from God — and can address the societal problems created by sin.

“Personal regeneration is itself a reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person,” Moore said. “If personal regeneration and atonement are understood … you are going to have a different understanding of people, of what it means that God sent His church into the world for people.”

Some Christians, Moore said, argue that any activism is a diversion from the church’s mission, so the church ought to resist political involvement. But in a democratic republic the people wield political power, so for Christians to abdicate their responsibility is to give the power of the sword to those who would use it unjustly, he said.

Moore urged believers to resist an “us versus them” view of political engagement.

“If our primary calling is as a missionary people, we have to consistently remind ourselves that the people who disagree with us are not our enemies,” Moore said.

Audio and video of the Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary are available online at www.sbts.edu/resources.