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Our Call to Engaged Alienation

One thing I’ve long admired about Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) is his winsome example of what a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated Christian looks like when they enter the public square. In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, defining our calling to one of engaged alienated.

Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, friends, and citizens.

This means our priority is a theological vision of what it means to be the church in the world, of what it means to be human in the cosmos. We must put priority where Jesus put it, on the kingdom of God. But while we are a citizens Kingdom First people, we are not a Kingdom Only people. Jesus told us to seek both the kingdom of God “and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We pursue justice and mercy and well being for those around us, including the social and political arenas. This means that we will be considered “culture warriors.” Maybe so, but let’s be Christ-shaped culture warriors. Let’s be those who contend for culture, but not those who are at war with the culture. We will see ourselves in a much deeper, much more intractable, much more ancient war not against flesh and blood or even against cultural forces, but against unseen principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

We will recognize the necessity of engagement in social and political action, even as we see the limits of such action, this side of the New but Jerusalem. But we will engage not with the end goal of winning with the end goal of reconciliation. This means that morality and social justice, while good, are not enough. We witness to a gospel that seeks nor only to reconcile people to one another but to God, by doing away with the obstacle to such communion: our sin and our guilt. hat comes not by voter blocs or by policy papers but by a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

Over the past century or so, the “culture wars” could be categorized as disputes over human dignity (the pro-life movement, for example), family stability (the sexual and marriage and child-rearing debates, for example) and religious liberty. The intuitions of American Christians on these fronts have often been right, I believe, even if too often unanchored from a larger gospel vision and from a larger framework of justice. We should learn from the best impulses of such engagement, and use our articulation of our views at these points as part of an even bigger argument. These should point us back to a vision of kingdom, of culture, and of mission, rooted in the gospel and in church, even as we work with those who disagree with us in the many ways toward an approximation of justice in the public arena. As we do this, we shouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be out of step with America. We are marching onward, toward a different kind of reign.

In our present cultural moment, Moore’s presentation is exciting and needs to find a wide hearing.