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Engaging Today's Culture With the Gospel (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 07/29/2015

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Dr. Russell Moore discusses the challenges of living in a culture that doesn't understand or embrace Christian values and suggests new methods for followers of Christ to engage the world around them. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: You've been noticing the shift in the culture recently and you're wondering, "How do I respond?" Uh, we're going to talk about that on today's "Focus on the Family" with Focus President and author, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John I know our first response needs to be prayer and seeking God's Word on how to deal with a culture that doesn't know Him or doesn't embrace Him. Uh, you know, here in the United States we have been afforded, literally, hundreds of years of a Judeo Christian understanding in this culture. That's why we have defined marriage as one marriage, one woman, uh, literally for centuries. That is beginning to crumble and we have got to decide, "Lord, what are You doing in this culture and what must we do to represent you well in this culture?" And we're going to talk about that today.

John: Dr. Russell Moore is with us and, uh, he's got a pastoral perspective on engaging the culture for Christ, um, he's the President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission and he'd got a new book called, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.


Jim: Uh, that subtitle and many more provocative thoughts are captured in Dr. Moore's book. Let me read you one that caught me. "As the culture changes all around us, it's no longer possible to pretend that we are a moral majority." That should grab each of us by the throat. Uh, Dr. Moore, it is great to have you with us.

Dr. Russell Moore: Great to be with you, Jim. Thanks for having me.

Jim: Let's fill in the next sentence there. What did you mean by that, that we're no longer the moral majority? For some people that just heard that, there was anger that may have risen up in their heart or concern or a question mark. What are you getting at when we say, "We're no longer the moral majority?"

Russell: Well, what I was getting at is really framed by a conversation that I had back when I was in college with a friend who was an atheist and I'd been talking with him and sharing the Gospel with him and we'd been debating the existence of God for a long time.

And then one day we sat down and had coffee and he said, "Hey, can you recommend a good Southern Baptist Church for me to join (Laughter), but one that's not too "Southern Baptisty." And I said, "Oh, so, you've become a Christian." You know what, I was in my mind imagining, what did I say that the Lord used to convict him and he came to Christ and so forth. And he said, "Oh, I don't believe any of that stuff." He said, "But I want to run for office someday—

Jim: Uh!

Russell:  --and I'm not gonna be elected anything around here if I'm not a member of a church." He said, "And I've looked at the demographics and there are more Southern Baptists than anything else, so I want to find a church that I can join, but one that's not gonna freak me out."

Now his situation was common in American culture. Now he was a little blunt about it and overly honest, but that situation was very common. People had to be members of churches or affiliated some way religiously in order to be seen as good neighbors and good citizens and good people in American culture. That day is over.

People no longer have to pretend to be Christians in order to be seen good people and as a matter of fact, it's increasingly the other way, where being affiliated religiously means that you just might be freakish or strange in American culture.

Jim: Well, in fact, you use the term in your book, Onward, you talk about being a "prophetic minority" and many of us have been talking about that in the media and you know, in the spaces that God gives us to express these things. I've used the term, a "joyful minority," but it seems that God uses His people in that kind of capacity when we're not powerful, when we don't have control of the seats of government or maybe education, kind of where we're at in America today where we are losing the traditions of the Judeo-Christian value system that this country was built upon. It can be really scary when you're losing that power. Yet, I guess the big question I want to ask you is, what is God up to in kind of taking His hand, what seems like, taking His hand off of this nation in terms of His blessing?

Russell: Well, what I don't mean is that we've gone from being a majority to being a minority. What I mean is that we know now that we're a minority. The Scripture tells us that we are always a minority voice in every human culture, between Eden and the coming of Christ.

And that's the reason why there's the warning in Romans 12, not to be patterned after the world and why the Apostle Peter tells the Church generally to live as strangers and exiles. That's not just in Roman culture and it's not just in American culture, in every culture we ought to feel out of sync and not at home.

And the problem is, in America I think we had an illusion that somehow people agreed with us on everything. But if we're truly Christian and we understand every culture at every time is in need of the Gospel and is fallen. And so, our situation isn't one that is so different that it ought to panic us. It's just that we're out of the bubble of an illusion and we can get back to being what Christians are called to be, which is a people who have Good News and a word of liberation and triumph through the Gospel.

Jim: Well, and it's so important that we get that right, because I think Jesus Himself said, you know, the world will hate you for My sake, but be of good cheer. I've overcome the world. We tend to forget that part, don't we?

Russell: Oh, we do and when Jesus says in one of my favorite passages, "Fear not little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." That's what I think we need to keep in mind, that the church is a little flock (Chuckling) in every culture and in every time, which means that we don't … our gift to the world isn't our power and our influence. The gift that we have to the world is our Gospel. And we do that with confidence, because we know that we don't have a lifespan of 60, 70, 100 years. We have a lifespan of trillions and trillions and trillions of years on end in the kingdom of God, which ought to give us a certain sort of confident tranquility.

You know, if you've got a kid who is running for his kindergarten class presidency (Laughter) and he wins, it's a good thing to give him a cake and celebrate with him. And if he loses, it's a good thing to hug him up and tell him, you know, it'll be okay. But if that kid at 45 is still introducing himself as the class president of his kindergarten or is still upset and, you know, fuming about the fact that, that election was rigged, he's kind of a loser. (Laughter)

And I think that sometimes our lifespan, simply in terms of this little amount of time, we kind of act like that. We confuse the internship for our real lives with our, with our real lives and then we become desperate and we become grasping and an angry sort of people.

Jim: Well, let me ask you this, we're a few weeks past now, the landmark decision with the Supreme Court and everybody has responded in different ways. The secular media has responded one way. Even within the Christian community, the body of Christ, there's been many different expressions right through that whole spectrum. Talk about where we're at as a nation. Why on that day that they announced, you know, legally across the United States, same-sex marriage would be the law of the land, for me there was a sense of loss. It was a spiritual thing. It felt like—

Russell: Uh-hm.

Jim: --we had lost something and sometimes our humanness, our fleshly response to that isn't rooted in the Word. It's not rooted in God's character. What should we do with that emotion of feeling like we have lost something so important?

Russell: Well, I think we ought to have a lament for the fact that we have a redefinition of marriage in the United States. It's going to lead to a lot of people being hurt and a lot of people being disappointed. But I don't think that our response to that ought to be either to cave or to panic.

I think that we need to recognize and know that marriage is resilient. God designed it to be resilient and so, the Court isn't going to be able to ultimately re-engineer that. And so, there are gonna be a lot of people, including people who are exuberant right now and celebrating, you know what, I was at the Court the day that the arguments were being made and just walking out in front and seeing people celebrating and just exuberant about the possibility of same-sex marriage.

As a Christian, I don't think that the sexual revolution is going to be able to keep its promises.

Jim: Hm.

Russell: And so, I think we have to be ready for a refugee crisis of people who are going to be disappointed, who are going to be asking, is there somewhere to go? Is there something other than this?

And I think there are really two kinds of Christians who aren't going to be able to receive those refugees. The people who've given up on what the Bible teaches or they're embarrassed about what the Bible teaches, so they're silent, are not gonna be able to speak to the consciences of those hurt and disappointed people.

And then the people who simply speak with anger and outrage toward those people and see them as their enemies, rather than as their mission field are not going to be able to reach those refugees. So, I think we need to be people who are confident in the power of God and realize that some of the people even who hate us right now, about you know, the issues of marriage or family or any of the other things that we believe as Christians, they may be our future brothers and sisters in Christ and they may be just like the Apostle Paul or C.S. Lewis or Chuck Colson or a whole list of people in Christian history, might be the people that after they're converted, God uses to evangelize our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Jim: Well, and it's an excellent point. I mean, one of the things that I'll say frequently is, no one, no sinner is beyond the reach of God. Sometimes I think we in our humanness again, we tend to shorten the reach of God and we don't expect that God could ever reach that person because of "fill in the blank," whatever behavior they're expressing.

Russell, you had, I thought, one of the best line post the Supreme Court decision, where you said, "Hey, the Supreme Court did not put Jesus back in the grave." Talk about that, because that is profound. Nine judges did not, you know, eradicate the resurrection of Christ. They're just not in sync with it.

Russell: Yeah and I think one of the problems is, that sometimes as Christians, we buy into the arguments of our opponents. So, our opponents think, oh, well, this is just an upward move of progress and the people who hold to biblical views of marriage are on the wrong side of history. And I think sometimes Christians unintentionally buy into that, which leads to this kind of frantic response and this sort of panic and this sort of hand wringing.

And look, the Court doesn't have the power to do that. The Court has the power to make some legal claims about marriage that are gonna be damaging and they're gonna be hurtful, but the Court does not have the power to overturn the sovereignty of God.

Jim: (Chuckling) Right.

Russell: And so, I think we need to be the people who have confidence in God and to recognize, you know, nothing that's happening right now is surprising to God. And one of the things I think that happens when you have Christians who are panicking or Christians who are just in this gloomy state about the culture around them, really when I get in that situation myself, I realize, it's a kind of pride.

I'm saying to God, Who decided exactly when I would be born and exactly when I would be born again and He decided it would be at this time, in this place, I'm saying to Him, "I deserve a better mission field than the one You've given me."

Jim: Oh. That's profound. We have a boys' Bible study for both of our boys, but for Trent, our oldest, who's now 15, just the other day, we were having a Bible study with about eight of his friends and I was saying to the boys, 'cause we were talkin' about how to witness in this culture and again, these are 14-, 15-year-olds. And I was saying to the boys, "God knew that you were gonna live in this culture, in this generation, before the universe was formed. He knew—

Russell: Right.

Jim: --He was gonna place you right here, right now and you guys have to become equipped to deal with the issues of the day in a way that honors the Lord, that you know, exemplifies His character and reaches the lost for Him." Because that's the mission, isn't it?

Russell: Yeah, it is and I think some Christians think that we have a harder task now. I think we have an easier task now. I mentioned in Onward about when I was a youth minister years ago and one of the problems that I had was that we had a lot of Bible-belt kids who were in that church, who didn't know Christ. They were leading double lives. But they knew how to behave and they knew the answers to the questions.

And then we had this group of kids who started coming to a Wednesday night Bible study, you know, 14-, 15-years-old, most of them didn't have dads and they'd never been in a church before. They didn't know how to act in a church. Sometimes they'd come in a cloud of marijuana smoke, you know and just come in.

But they were the ones that would come up after and say, "Now wait a minute. So, you think that this dead guy came back to life and He's still alive now?" "Yeah." "For real?" "For real." "Dude, that's crazy." (Laughter) And those kids were easier to reach because they actually understood what it was that I was saying. It they weren't immune to it by this sort of cultural Christianity that was around them and so, the strangeness of the Gospel is what was actually able to reach them.

And that's where I think we are now as an entire culture. We have people who are starting to hear the Gospel and they're reacting the way that people did to Jesus and the way that people did to the Apostles in the book of Acts.

Jim: Hm.

Russell: That sounds crazy to us. This sounds insane. Well, that's because it is by the standards (Chuckling) of the world, you know.

Jim: Absolutely. I was talkin' to some 20- and 30-somethings not long ago and some Christian, some non-Christian and it was interesting to hear them. They said basically, we don't really trust institutions. We don't trust government. We don't trust business. We don't trust the church, 'cause we don't see any institutions that actually live up to their creed. And I what that said to me is, the church has an incredible opportunity that if we could actually live it better, that means reduce our divorce rates within the church to love people the way the Bible talks about loving people, not wishy-washy love. Whenever we talk about that, kind of the pharisaical spirit people say, "What about His truth?"

We're talking about His truth, but when you deliver it, you don't have to go out of your way to be hated. Let the Scripture be the offense. But I think there is an opportunity here for the church if we can live up to what Jesus taught us to do, actually I think we can win a generation to Christ and transform the culture.

Russell: Yeah, and I think that's right. I think we have to, in our congregations, give a picture of what the kingdom of God looks like and … and so, we're doing exactly what the New Testament calls us to do, which is to be a colony of the kingdom, to be an embassy of the coming kingdom, so that we're saying to people, "Look, we're sinners and we're nowhere near where we need to be right now, but if you want to see what the kingdom of God looks like, a preview of what it looks like, then look at what's going on within the church."

John: Dr. Russell Moore is our guest on "Focus on the Family" today and he's written a book that captures the essence of what we're talking about today. It's called Onwardand we'll send that to you as our thank you gift when you support us with a generous donation at And we also have a free Religious Freedom kit for you as an individual and to help your family figure out just what can I do as a believer? Where do my rights afford me certain privileges in this culture that we live in? Where do I need to step tenderly?

Dr. Moore, there was a question that was raised by Time magazine in an article, I'm sure you saw it. It was about the Court essentially saying that, you Christians are big on reconciliation. You've gotta lead the way on celebrating the gay community's victory here. And there's a real challenge for our churches, as you were talking about a moment ago. How do we, as individuals in the context of the church community, how do we reach out to the gay, the lesbian, the transgender that's now perhaps looking to us to say, "Are you gonna live out what you believe?"

Russell: Well, I think one of the ways that people mistakenly try to do that is to say, "Let's just not talk about what Christians believe about marriage and sexuality." Or even some people who would say, "Well, let's just throw it overboard." We don't have the right to throw it overboard, because we didn't make it up. It was handed to us by Jesus and He's Lord and we're not. We can't revise that, like a constitution and by-laws.

But also because as we're trying to evangelize our neighbors, including our gay and lesbian neighbors, they can read texts. They know what the Scripture teaches and if we try to do away with that or if we act embarrassed about that, we're gonna lose their respect. Our neighbors are gonna say, "You're not honest with me about what your own Scriptures teach.

But on the other hand, we can't be the sort of people who act as though disagreement on this issue just because it's a culture war issue, means that we relate to sinners any differently than the way we've always been called to relate to sinners, which is that we speak to them with truth and with grace, with conviction and with kindness at the same time.

And I think that probably the most important passage of Scripture for dealing with the next generation is going to be in John, chapter 4, John 4:16, where Jesus encounters the woman at the well and in John 4:16 He says, "Woman, go get your husband and come here." I think both parts of that sentence are absolutely necessary. He … He addresses the issue of her sin, which she doesn't want talked about, that she's had five husbands and the man she's living with now is not her husband. Jesus goes there. He addresses that issue, because He's calling her to repentance.

But He doesn't stop there. He says, "And come here." There's a word of invitation and a word of mercy. And I think one of the things that Christians need to recognize is that most people don't change their minds at the end of an hour-long argument. Instead you speak with conviction about what you believe. You build relationships and you love people and a lot of times what happens is, the Word of God kind of takes root in people's hearts and then when they face a crisis and they're wondering where can I go from here? They know who to call or they start considering the things that have been said before.

And so, I think we need to take a long-term strategy with people, so you don't give up on somebody just because you've had a discussion about Romans 1 or John 3 or whatever and at the end of it, they say you're a lunatic and a bigot. That doesn't mean the conversation's over.

Jim: Well, that's well-said and I think part of the problem that we have in the Christian community and we need some self-reflection at this moment, how did we get here? What were some of the things that we did that maybe provoked the culture to respond? And it's a good exercise to do that.

One of the things that I look at in the book of Luke, and when you look at the Golden Rule, there's a lot before it and that's where it says, you know, pray for those who persecute you. Love those who are your enemy. And then as you go through it, lend to those that you don't expect anything from. Lend to the world. I mean, it really is unnatural, not human to do the things that, that part of Luke and that's the Gospel--that's Jesus talking--is suggesting.

And then you get down to it and if you do these things, then you're reflecting My Father's character, is what He is saying. And then you're loving your neighbor and treating your neighbor as you would want to be treated. The reason I bring this up is that I think there is something very deep about Jesus telling us to love our neighbor.

What I mean by that is, what I've seen as I've reached out to the homosexual community and the abortion community, to talk with them, to sit down with them, some in the Christian community have been very critical of me doing that. But I'm tellin' you, what I have found is, when they find sincerity and concern for them, there's been a warm response and we have talked about how to reduce the number of abortions, how to preserve religious liberties.

There's no guarantee, because it's contentious, but I think when Jesus says, "Love your neighbor, there is something profound when people feel love from you as a Christian. It's as if God uses that to crack the heart open of that person who is in opposition to the Gospel and it begins to, I don't know, lubricate the idea that God may be real and that perhaps they need to listen to you. But I think it's a profound statement to love your neighbor and we're not very good at that.

Russell: No and I write about in Onward about convictional kindness, about 2 Timothy, chapter 2, where the Apostle Paul's telling Timothy, "treat everyone with kindness and with gentleness." And I think a lot of times in our contemporary context, people think that means, with weakness and passivity.

He doesn't mean that because He says, "rebuking them." You are dealing with issues, correcting your opponents. That's there, but the kindness that we're speaking, it's not just that we're saying what Jesus says; we're saying it the way He says it. So, we're speaking Christian truths, but we're speaking them in a Christian accent and that's the way that Paul says that with this sort of kindness, that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil.

That's the way that the Spirit moves to convict and it also, I think, is about confidence. You know, the devil is the one in Revelation 12 who rages all the more, because he knows his time is short. If we have Christians who think that their time is short, then they're simply going to respond to people with a temper tantrum. But if you've got confidence and you know we're really on the winning side here, then you're going to have a certain sort of tranquility toward those who aren't Christians yet.

Jim: Right, you'll have peace, which is exactly—

Russell: Yeah.

Jim: --what the Lord said He will give us, is peace, even though there's turmoil in this world. Can I end with this question? The roots of the separation of church and state, in your book, Onward, you talk about this as a reminder of what started the separation, it was enlightening to me because so often we look at that as the government is creating the separation, but really it was the church back then that required it or requested it, right?

Russell: Oh yes, and before that Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God, that which is God's." So you have two separate realms here and the church does not have the authority to come in and deal with people as criminals on the outside and the government does not have the authority to interfere in religious exercise or in the life of the church. And so I think we really need to reclaim separation of church and state, because we've kind of abandoned that language for a long time to people who mean by that, secularization or they mean by that, a separation of religious conviction and religious motivation from public life, which is never what it meant at all. And I think we need to recognize that many of the religious liberty violations we see are precisely because of a violation of separation of church and state, of a government that wants to establish a religion, just a religion that's on its own terms.

Man, this has been so thought-provoking. I can't stop here. Let's keep going if you can stick with us, Dr. Moore. Let's come back and talk about what's happening with persecution around the world, with really the reality of being bold in your faith and the costs that come our way because of that. Can you stay with us?

Russell: I'd love to. Thanks.


John: This is really good and Dr. Moore's book has some great stories of how you can engage the culture and how Dr. Moore has taught his children in the midst of all these changes happening around us to do just that. And so I hope you'll get a copy of Onward when you call 800-A-FAMILY, (800) 232-6459. We'll send that to you as our appreciation gift when you generously donate to Focus on the Family. Your regular financial gifts keep this broadcast on the air and you keep our Counseling Center staffed, you keep our marriage and parenting outreaches going and all the different things going on here is because of your faithful ongoing support. So please, make a donation today and select Onward as your thank you gift for doing so when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at

Jim: John, before we all move on to our regular day, you know, here at Focus on the Family we are listener supported; our ability to provide counseling, to provide tools and help for marriages, for parents who are at the end of their rope, not knowing what to do with that prodigal child. I think last year alone we provided over 65,000 counseling sessions through the phone. And we need your help right now. It is lean and we are behind and so if you want to stand with us and help us to continue to provide that kind of help and the Gospel to people, will you call us today? Don't put it off. Help us, and let me just say thank you, thank you for standing in the gap for those who need us right now.

John: And again you can donate when you call 800-A-Family, or at And Jim, you blog regularly and as a listener you need to know that he addresses the kinds of moral and ethical matters that we've talked about today with Dr. Moore; court rulings, religious freedom cases, those horrific Planned Parenthood videos that are coming to light, and I hope you'll read it regularly. We'll link over to Jim Daly's blog from our radio page. Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, I'm John Fuller thanking you for listening and inviting you back next time. We'll be looking at how to strengthen your faith in the midst of cultural changes as we continue talking with Dr. Moore and once again help your family thrive.

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Russell Moore

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Dr. Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. An ethicist and theologian by background, Dr. Moore is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister and the author of several books. He blogs frequently at his Moore to the Point website and hosts a program called Questions & Ethics addressing listener-generated questions on the moral and ethical issues of the day. Dr. Moore and his wife, Maria, have five sons.