August 26, 2023


Russell Moore's Diagnosis of Evangelical America: A review of 'Losing Our Religion.' (Michael Reneau, Aug 26, 2023, The Dispatch)

Moore focuses Losing Our Religion on a handful of wider issues in which he sees American evangelicals largely failing to live up to their own theology: credibility, authority, identity, integrity, and stability. He's at his best when he turns particular shibboleths in on themselves, highlighting how they are not only wrong in themselves but also fail to achieve their desired ends. 

Take Christian nationalism, which Moore defines as "the use of Christian words, symbols, or rituals as a means to the end of shoring up an ethnic or national identity." Those who carry its banner--such as some January 6 insurrectionists--and back a "politically enthusiastic version of Christianity" or a "religiously informed patriotism" may think they are doing their Christian duty by baptizing the law of the land. But Moore argues they're actually imitating the enemy they seek to fight: "Christian nationalism cannot turn back secularism, because it is just another form of it."

Through these critiques, Moore implicitly asks whether Christians believe what they say they believe--that the good news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection that they preach on Sundays is sufficient to change individual hearts--even in what they'd call a wayward culture.

Christian nationalisms and civil religions are a kind of Great Commission in the reverse, in which the nations seek to make disciples of themselves, using the authority of Jesus to baptize their national identity in the name of the blood and of the soil and of the political order. The gospel is not a means to any end, except for the end of union with the crucified and resurrected Christ who transcends, and stands in judgment over, every group, every identity, every nationality, every culture. Christian nationalism might well "work" in the short term in cementing bonds of cultural solidarity according the flesh. But apart from the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins.

Moore later points to Ireland as an example of how cultural Christianity--albeit of a much different sort than what evangelicals would profess--can undermine itself. The once thoroughly Catholic Ireland, particularly on abortion and divorce, has now swung the other way. The blame, Moore argues, doesn't fall on liberal boogeymen. "Did these massive and unpredictably sudden changes happen because of dramatically improved mobilization or messaging tactics by the (to use an American framing) 'cultural Left?'" No, he answers. They happened because of the moral failures of the scandal-plagued Catholic Church itself. "It was because people who once revered the church came to believe that the church did not itself believe what it taught."

Moore peppers the book with personal experiences of how fellow church leaders, largely within the SBC, attacked him for criticizing Trump or the SBC's response to various scandals. Many of those interactions, as Moore relates them, reflect what you expect of leaders who want to maintain their own influence. "This is not how you play the game," Moore says one such leader told him. "You give them the 90 percent of the red meat they expect, and then you can do the 10 percent of side stuff that you want to do, on immigrants or whatever."

Such failures of personal integrity take the brunt of Moore's criticism. He's especially critical of a tendency to forgo the right conduct or peddle lies due to ambition, influence, or plain old convenience. 

...than Evangilicals.

Posted by at August 26, 2023 7:59 AM