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.
I apologize for the delay in getting to the next entry in our Theology Memeology series. So other responsibilities feel into my lap. I’ll be working to get some writing done this week. In the meant time, here is this golden nugget:
God’s cosmic purposes are also intensely personal and particular, seen in the way God has chosen to bring about these purposes through covenant promise and fulfillment, mediated through the line of Abraham. After demonstrating God’s creational origin of the whole universe and his salvation of all animal and human life through the Noahic flood, God builds a vision of the end of all things through covenant promises with a chosen people, beginning with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant promised material land, a name of great renown, and a multitude of offspring (Gen 12:1–7; 17:1–14).
Thus, faith itself is defined as forward-looking and eschatological from the beginning—as Abraham offered up the promised son, knowing God could raise him from the dead (Gen 22:1–19; Heb 11:17–19) and as Joseph pleaded with his brothers to carry his bones into the promised land, knowing that his death could not annul God’s covenant purposes for Israel (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; Heb 11:22).
With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite the fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer 31:31–40).
The covenants look forward—past Israel’s then-present disobedience—to the day when the vine of God bears fruit (Ps 80:8–19; Isa 5:1–7; 27:6; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:1–24; 19:10–14; Hos 10:1–2), the harlot of God’s people is a faithful bride washed of all uncleanness (Isa 54:5–6; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:1–63; Hos 2:1–23), the exiled refugees are returned to a secure homeland, and the flock of God is united under one Davidic shepherd who will feed them and divide them from the goats (Jer 3:15–19; 23:1–8; Ezek 34:1–31; Mic 5:2–4; 7:14–17). In this coming future Israel will be what she is called to be, the light of the world, a light that the darkness cannot overcome (Isa 60:1–3). In this future God’s favor on Israel is clear to the nations because he is present with his people. The repeated promise of the covenants is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As Joel prophesies: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27).
With this in view, the covenants picture their fulfillment not just in terms of inheritance blessings but also in terms of a restoration of Eden (Ezek 36:33–36; 37:22–23), the building of a glorious temple (2 Sam 7:13; Ezek 40:1–47:12), the return of a remnant from exile (Isa 11:12–16), and the construction of a holy city of Zion in which Yahweh dwells with his people in splendor (Pss 48:1–14; 74:2; Isa 18:7; Lam 5:17–22; Ezek 48:30–35).3 The covenants will come to their goal when Israel is judged for sin, raised from the dead, and anointed with the Spirit of Yahweh—a public act in the face of the hostile nations (Ezek 20:21, 35–49; 37:11–27). These eschatological covenant promises are then inherently eschatological and messianic—a truth seen in the fact that the patriarchs themselves died and rotted away without seeing the realization of the promises (Heb 11:13–16). – Russell D. Moore, A Theology for the Church
Here are this weeks noteworthy articles and blogs:
- Is the Pro-Life Cause Winning?– Russell Moore
- Bill Maher Led a Promiscuous, Cocaine-Dealing Atheist to Christ– Owen Strachan
- Paul and Justification by Faith: The Real Jewish Evidence– Daniel B. Wallace
- The Church and the Digital Age: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Magazine
In the following quote, Russell Moore ties together (as does the Bible) the ascension of Christ and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant:
Pentecost is tied to the resurrection of Christ because it is the ascended Christ, exalted as the Davidic King, who is given the authority to pour out the Spirit, as exposited in the apostle Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2. [Sinclair] Ferguson suggests, “The coming of the Spirit is, therefore, the enthronement of Christ, just as the resurrection is the evidence of the efficacy of the death of Christ as atonement.”
From here Moore touches upon the relationship of the ascended King to the hope of his Kingdom people the church:
Scripture sees the relationship of believers to heaven as tied to the presence there of their King and Messiah, not as the place of their ultimate abode. This contention bears the scrutiny of New Testament theology, especially the Pauline epistles, in which “heaven” seems to have a present, Christological referent (Eph. 1:3; 1:21; Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 1:5; 3:1-2; 1 Thess. 1:10) and thus is more emblematic of the “already” of the Kingdom than of the “not yet.”
Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ
One of the trickiest, and controversial, topics of New Testament studies is the relationship between the New Covenant church and the Old Covenant people of Yahweh. Are they the same? Are they different? Does the former replace the latter? Here Russell Moore, in The Kingdom of Christ, tackles this hot topic in a way that, to my mind, does justice to the various ways the New Testament speaks of the corporate body of believers united in the Messiah, Jesus:
The “adoption” means that the Gentiles are joint-heirs-with the One who is the true Israel, the “firstborn” of God (Rom. 8:17, 29, KJV). It is not that God has “natural” sons-the Jews-and “adopted” sons-the Gentiles. Rather, both Jews and Gentiles find their identity in being conformed to the image of the Messiah, “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29, ESV)… Thus, the New Testament applies to Jesus language previously applied to the nation-the “firstborn” or the “son of God” (Ex. 4:22-23; Matt. 2:15). The first “Israel” himself, the patriarch Jacob, promises preeminence and rule to a tribe of Israel, Judah (Gen. 49:4, 9-12). The apostle Paul applies this language explicitly to Jesus (Col. 1:18). This emphasis is more than incidental or fragmentary. The identification of Jesus with Israel-as her king, her substitute, and her goal-is everywhere throughout the apostolic understanding of the Old Testament promise. When the apostles speak of “promises” being fulfilled (as in, for example, the sermon in Acts 13), they are not speaking of abstract heavenly comforts. They are speaking specifically of promises made to Abraham and the nation of Israel. The old covenant looked forward to the day when the nations would see the vindication of Israel, through Israel’s resurrection from the dead and anointing with the Spirit (Ezek. 36:33-36). “My dwelling place will be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” Yahweh speaks through the prophet Ezekiel. “Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forever” (Ezek. 37:27-28, ESV). Israel, therefore, did not just long for a “Messiah.” The Israelites longed for a Messiah who would reign over a messianic age, the day when the nations would come to Israel (Isa. 60:1-14), when the ends of the earth would be given as an inheritance to the Son of David (Ps. 2:8-9; 110: 1 -7). They were waiting for the resurrection of Israel, the marking out of Israel by the Spirit, the drawing of the nations to Israel. They were waiting, in short, for the Kingdom of God.
Russell Moore on the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemption:
The kingship of Israel, with its Davidic line, is…presented in terms of a Spirit-anointed king charged with subduing and defeating the enemies of the people of God (1 Sam. 8:19-20). Indeed, the removal of the Israelite kingship from Saul takes place precisely because Saul refuses to destroy utterly the enemies of Yahweh (1 Samuel 15), resulting in the loss of Saul’s monarchy and the anointing of the Spirit of God, both transferred instead to the house of David (1 Sam. 16:1-3, 12-14). Indeed, as soon as David receives the anointing of oil by the prophet Samuel, he is anointed with the Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13), and immediately David as the “anointed one” leads the nation in the defeat of the Philistine attackers (1 Sam. 17:20-58), an activity that Saul recognizes as inherently kingly (1 Sam. 18:6-9). The definition of Jesus’ messianic identity as the “anointed one,” the bearer of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19), is therefore set within this context of the anointed warrior-king.
This means that, contra dispensationalist traditionalism, there is no dichotomy between the “offer of the Kingdom” and the “forgiveness of sins,” as though the forgiveness of sins can be anything other than a Kingdom act. Instead, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, messianic salvation is defined in terms of Jesus’ promised Davidic kingship (1:32-33); the forgiveness of sins (1:50, 72, 77); the defeat of all enemies (1:51, 71); the crushing of political pretenders-to-the-throne (1:52); the provision of material blessings (1:53); the covenant restoration of national promises to Israel (1:54-55); the redemption of the Gentile nations (1:79; 2:32); and the monarchial anointing of the Spirit (4:18). In Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, salvation is a Kingdom activity whereby the Second Adam, the Son of David, displays His anointing by God and His faithful obedience to His mandate as King by protecting the created order, crushing the head of the ultimate enemy of the Kingdom, the Serpent (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:9). The dispensing of the Spirit on those united to Him in faith is possible only because of union with the messianic King who is declared to be the Son of God (Gal. 4:4-7). It is this Christocentric focus of salvation that ties the salvation of human beings to the motif of the Kingdom of God and to the broader aspects of cosmic salvation. The defeat of Satan by the man Christ Jesus is pictured by the apostle John as the establishment of the Kingdom (Rev. 12:10; also John 12:31; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). The cosmic extent of salvation is seen as the Second Adam offers up to the Father a created order in which He has subdued every enemy (1 Cor. 15:24-26), and there is nothing unclean in the garden over which He rules (Rev. 21:1-8). Thus, salvation is portrayed in the New Testament as more than simply the salvation of so many individual souls. Redemption is the transfer from the satanic kingdom to the eschatological Kingdom that God the Father has prepared for His Messiah (Col. 1:13), a transfer that is by definition a violent act of subduing “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:3-4, NIV) or “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1-7).”
– Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
It has often been thought the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement is incompatible with the traditional Protestant model of penal substitutionary atonement. The former teaches that in the atonement Christ defeats death and Satan, leaving Jesus the Messiah as the triumphant champion of his people. The latter teaches that on the cross Jesus took the penalty (‘penal’) of God’s wrath on behalf of his people (‘substitution’). There’s been a long history of theologians playing these two approaches off against one another, especially over the last century. In my view, this is unfortunate because both are clearly presented in Scripture and work together in tandem. Here Russell Moore shows why:
The historic Protestant understanding of the cross as essentially propitiatory and substitutionary ironically serves as the only way to make sense of the cosmic implications of both redemption and the fall since, in both, the destiny of the created order is tied to the mandate given to the human vicegerents responsible for creation. Indeed, it is the only way to make sense of the “Christus Victor” model itself. Thus, the defeat of the powers of darkness in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus means that the ancient serpent is indeed defeated, but this defeat comes through reversing human slavery to sin and death (John 8:31-47; 12:31-33; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 2:14-15) by hearing the punishment due to a humanity justly accused by the satanic powers (Col. 2:14-15; Rev. 12:10-12), and thereby restoring humanity as king of the cosmos in the person of the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; Heb. 2:5-18).
-Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
Sinclair Ferguson ties this all together quite well:
A comprehensively biblical exposition of the work of Christ recognizes that the atonement, which terminates on God (in propitiation) and on man (in forgiveness), also terminates on Satan (in the destruction of his sway over believers). And it does this last precisely because it does the first two.
-Sinclair Ferguson, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, 185.
For more on the atonement, see,