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

Air Date 07/30/2015

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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 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript



You know, I heard a Christian woman on Christian television years ago say, "Even if Christianity were not true, I would still want to be a Christian, because it's the best way to live." You know, that cannot be translated into Sudanese. If you think that you are going to be literally crucified because you're identifying with Christ or if you're in China and you're gonna lose your family and you're gonna lose your job, that's not the best way to live. (Chuckling) It's only because you believe that Jesus is raised from the dead and that you have nowhere else to go, but with Him, to have the words of life, as Peter says to Jesus in John 6. That's when you're really encountering the Christ of Christianity.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That's Dr. Russell Moore and he's with us on today's "Focus on the Family" with Focus President and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and in light of recent cultural changes, Dr. Moore's providing a much need perspective.

Jim Daly: John, I hope people can hear my passion when it comes to this issue of how do we engage culture. It is critically important right now that we line up more closely, especially with New Testament teaching on how to deal with people outside the church. And, the Scriptures are there; Second Timothy, in Romans and other places where, clearly, the Lord and the apostles were teaching us, in essence, how to engage a culture that doesn't embrace Christ. These things are not new. We talked about that last time. We're gonna talk about it more today. Cultures that embrace a different definition of sexuality – that's Rome! That's Corinth!

These concepts, again, are not new to us. We just have to remember the lessons learned by the early church and how do we apply them in today's world. Um, what we talked about in terms of reaching people for Christ – that's the core mission – that idea that eternity is forever. This temporal life – whether we win or lose in our generation – is really not the big picture. It's being faithful to Christ and expressing the Gospel in such a way that maintains the character of God.

If you didn't hear it last time, I hope you get the download or get it on your smartphone or get the CD because I think this is "meat" for today's Christian community. How do we go about engaging the culture?

John: And as you mentioned, Jim, you can listen to the broadcast online or order the CD or get the app so you can listen on the go. All of that at . Now Dr. Moore is the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and he has just written a new book; it's called Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. He joined us from Tennessee for an eye-opening discussion and let's continue that where we left off last time. Here are Jim Daly and Dr. Russell Moore on today's "Focus on the Family."


Jim: You know, Russell, I had an experience years ago, probably around 2000. I was in China and met there with some Christians and they dropped me off at the airport. It was this Chinese couple, internal missionaries. I mean, they were going about China, talking to people about the Lord. That was their vocation and these are Chinese nationals.

And they dropped me off at the airport and they happened to say, "We'll be praying for you in America." And I turned, 'cause I was curious and I said, "Well, how do you pray for us in America?" And they looked at each other like I had caught them with their hands in the cookie jar. And they said, "Well, we pray for greater persecution, because from where we sit, it looks like America's church is weak." Wow! I mean, I spun around and flew all the way back on that airplane thinking about that.

"Lord," I … to be selfish, I was saying, "Lord, are you gonna listen to that prayer or are You gonna let us (Laughing), you know, live in comfort? And I think it's interesting that when you travel internationally and you hear the prayers of Christians for our nation here, many of them are praying that the church would become stronger through persecution, through being under the gun a bit. And I think there's something profound in that.

Russell Moore: Well, you know, Jesus says in the parable of the sower and the soil, that when persecution comes, then the people who have a faith that is not saving, they depart. They're gone.

And I think that's really what we see happening right now. It's not that we have persecution, you know, in the way that we see it in Sudan or China or so forth. But we do have increasing social marginalization in America.

So, the people who ordinarily would just kind of be affiliated with the church in order to find a spouse or to raise up well-adjusted kids or whatever, when it costs them being strange, then they're not going to be willing to do that, which gives an opportunity for the church in the United States not only to reconnect with our roots in the book of Acts, but also to reconnect with, as you mentioned, the global church.

Russell: You know, I heard of a Christian woman on Christian television years ago say, "Even if Christianity were not true, I would still want to be a Christian, because it's the best way to live." You know, that cannot be translated into Sudanese.

Jim: Right.

Russell: If you think that you are going to be literally crucified because you're identifying with Christ or if you're in China and you're gonna lose your family and you're gonna lose your job, that's not the best way to live. (Chuckling) It's only because you believe that Jesus is raised from the dead and that you have nowhere else to go, but with Him, to have the words of life, as Peter says to Jesus in John 6. That's when you're really encountering the Christ of Christianity.

Jim: Absolutely and again, that confidence that comes with knowing the Scripture, knowing that you trust the Lord regardless of your circumstances. I mean, there's nowhere it says that He's all about our comfort and our rights. It's all about Him and you know, doing His work, regardless of the environment that He's placed you in.

And I think again, traveling internationally has been such an eye-opener for me as I did that for 15 years here at Focus, to see the church thriving regardless of what government is over it. It's amazing to see—

Russell: Yeah.

Jim: --the strength of Christian character in some of the more difficult countries; the church is strong. And it's not that we're saying we want persecution. We live in a democracy and we need to express our concerns as citizens of this democracy and I think even attempt to influence the culture to move in more biblical ways. But we can't lose the character of Christ in doing that. We're first and foremost Christians and if we abandon the character of God in that attempt to win a victory; we've lost the battle, haven't we?

Russell: Oh, we have and if we sidetrack the Gospel and simply talk about morals and values—we have to talk about morals and moral principles—but if that's the end goal, well, then if we're not talking to people about how to be reconciled to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, then we've already lost.

Jim: Let me ask you this, a comment that you made in a church that resonated with me. You said, "God's church isn't built on influence. The best way to gain influence is to lose it." I mean, that's right out of Scripture, but it's said in such a modern context it grabbed me. That is so true. God works in a different economy than we work in. He says, "You want to be first? Then be last." It's not natural for our flesh to move in that direction. Even as Christians I think we give in to our fleshly desire to fight, to want to win, to have the victory. And the political arena offers all of those tangible rewards. If we work hard and get people out to vote, we win and you lose.

But maybe God is saying, "You know what? That's not My economy. That's not how I do it. Be involved, but be gracious to those who disagree. Love those who disagree. Treat them with respect, because ultimately that will open their heart to My message and that's more important than a temporal victory."

Russell: I'll tell you when that really hit me, was several years ago when I was in James 2, reading through James 2 and you've got all of the problems going on in the church at that time. You have persecution from the outside. You have false teaching from the inside and James is talking about fashion and where people sit.

Jim: (Laughing)

Russell: He says, "You've got rich people who come in and they're dress well and you tell them to come sit up front. And then you say to the poor person in shabby clothing, 'You sit back here in the back.'"

And I'm realizing, you know, what James is talking about there is something that makes perfect sense to me. If … if I've got a church plant in Seattle and Bill Gates shows up as a visitor one Sunday morning, I'm not gonna say, "Go sit in the overflow room, because we're already full." I'm gonna say, "Oh, Mr. Gates, come sit up here in the front," because if Bill Gates gets saved, what influence he has over the … the rest of the world. And if he starts tithing, you know, what would happen with the ability to send missionaries?

But that's not what the kingdom of God is about. James is saying to them, "Don't you know that the poor," not just meaning the economically poor, but meaning people who don't have any influence or power, "God has chosen to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom." So, the point here is, to say that kid with Downs Syndrome in your church that can't get any sort of hearing on the outside or that ex-alcoholic in your church who's unemployed, these are people who are the future kings and queens of the universe. And so, when we recognize that and we know that, that hotel maid in our congregation who doesn't know hardly any English, but she is going to rule and reign with Christ and we recognize that and we know that.

When the outside world sees that the church doesn't operate by the same Darwinist principles—who has the most money, who has the most power—that's when the outside culture says, "Wait a minute. Now this is not the same sort of organization that we're accustomed to seeing, so what's going on here?" And that's when our power and our influence comes, because it's through the explanation of the Gospel.

Jim: Well and it's so well-said. That distinguishes us from the world. When you look at going back to the Supreme Court decision, when you look at sexuality outside of God's design, meaning one man and one woman, this is not new. Human sexuality is not just coming on the scene. It's been here since Adam and Eve.

And so, when you look at places like ancient Rome and Ephesus and Corinth, this isn't the first time the church has been faced with you know, sexual debauchery and how do we operate? Talk about that a bit to give us a compass about how to act in a culture that no longer sees the definition the way we see it.

Russell: Yeah, well, I talk about it in Onward, the fact that the church doesn't need Mayberry to thrive, because the church didn't emerge in Mayberry. The church emerged in a Roman culture context that was completely chaotic when it came to sexuality. And the things that Christians were saying about marriage and about family and about sexuality were incomprehensible to the culture around them then. Now that's the reason why you have to have all of these explanations of a Christian sexual ethic in 1 Corinthians 5 and in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere in the New Testament.

And so, I think we need to recognize that and know that and we're not in a new place and that Mayberry, without Christ leads to hell, just as surely as Gomorrah without Christ leads to hell. And so, let's be Gospel people. Let's be the people of God.

You know, I had a conversation a couple years ago with a lesbian activist in San Francisco and she said to me, "I don't think you know how strange the things that you all believe about marriage and sex are." She said, "I don't know anybody who believes the things that you believe. It just sounds really strange to me."

And I said, "I understand that." I said, "But I think you need to know, we believe stranger things than that. We believe that a previously dead guy is gonna show up in the sky on a horse," you know. (Laughter) That's strange. That's … the message that we have is strange and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, it's not the similarity of our message with the world's message that brings its powers. It's the difference. It's the distinctiveness of it.

And so, I don't think we need to count on the culture to do our pre-evangelism for us. I think we need to say, "Okay, we're coming in with a strikingly different word about not only what it means to … to be under the lordship of Christ in our sexuality and in our marriage and in our family, but also what it means to be under the lordship of Christ free from the power of death and of accusation and of condemnation.

Jim: Well, and that speaks to that idea again, that we have confidence in where we're going. When Jesus stood in front of Pontius Pilate, I don't get the impression that He was struggling to save His life with the—

Russell: Right.

Jim: --questions that Pilate was asking Him. I mean, it was amazing. Those are great moments. Even Paul in front of King Agrippa. I love that interchange with them, because you know, it's somewhat humorous actually, where—

Russell: Yeah.

Jim: --Paul is showing deference to the power of this world by saying, "It's good to be presenting my case in front of you, King Agrippa, because you're a wise man." And then he goes into explaining his case and then King Agrippa is saying, "Well, if I didn't know better, you're trying to convince me to become one of you." And he said, "Oh, I hope it's so, but only without the chains that you've got me in."

I mean, it's actually quite funny when you think about it, but the point of that is, the Lord wants us to behave in a way that we do show respect to the authority that we're under, yet we move the ball forward.

Let me ask you about this. You know, what's happening in the Middle East with our dear Christian brothers and sisters who are going through terrible persecution, I mean, this is ancient Rome; this is Nero kind of torture, where people are being killed. Children are being killed. Women are being brutalized and you know, our family is praying every night for those folks who are going through that kind of persecution.

We decided here at Focus on the Family to cover the cost to provide the housing for those families who lost their husbands, their brothers, their sons, to the ISIS killers. Those that were martyred for their faith, and that is becoming a transformational experience for me. I was on the phone with our man in Egypt, Sami Yacoub. Sami said, "You know, Jim, the families are weeping." And I said, "Of course, Sami. They're weeping for those that were martyred." Their heads were cut off. And he said, "No, Jim, they're not weeping because of their loss. They're weeping that they were found worthy—

Russell: Hm.

Jim: --as a family to suffer for the name of Christ." And I gotta tell you, it's a little embarrassing, but that in that moment, that taught me an incredible lesson about humility in Christ. We're not about this world and those 21 men have gone on to glory.

Russell: Yeah.

Jim: They now sit with the Father. They're there and I mean, man, what a perspective of their family members to say, "We're weeping with joy that God would count us worthy to suffer for Him." We are so far from that attitude, Russell, that it scares me that we're not mature enough to handle some losses.

Russell: Yeah, but I'll tell you what is the good news, is that we live in a time now where we can be connected to what's going on with the body of Christ around the world immediately in a way that we can recognize that what's happening in the Middle East is not just a Middle Eastern issue. It's our issue. This is our family. These are our brothers and sisters and we have an ability now to know about that immediately so that the rest of the body of Christ can not only start praying and start working and acting, but also as you mentioned, start learning what sort of faith does it take to do exactly what Jesus says and to rejoice that you are counted worthy to share with Christ in His sufferings? We're actually being discipled from afar by our brothers and sisters who are being martyred for their faith.

Jim: Well, and even to be more humbling (Chuckling), you know, these are illiterate, uneducated Christians living mostly at the dumps around Cairo. These aren't people that have gone to theology training or seminary, you know, these are simple people and here they're teaching profound Christian leaders in the West how to behave better as Christians. That is how the Lord does it, isn't it?

Russell: It is and they … they've been to the best seminary in the world, which is walking with Christ.

John: A challenging perspective and Dr. Moore is our guest today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we're talking, not only about Christian persecution, but how we can change the way that we deal with people that don't agree with us, who don't see things the way we do and how to live out a loving principled response and you can read about Dr. Moore's thoughts in his book, Onward. And we'll send that to you if you can generously support the ministry today. You can do that by calling 800-242-6459 or at . Let's continue now with Dr. Russell Moore on "Focus on the Family." 

Jim: Hey, Russell, let me talk to you as a parent of five boys. How do we equip our children at an age-appropriate way? Of course, I've got 13- and 15-year-olds and so, we can have pretty straight talk about what's going on with the Supreme Court decision, with what's happening in the culture in the area of sexuality. But talk as a father about how to teach our children not to be out-of-shape Christians, but how to tone that muscle, as Paul says, to prepare yourself for the race, to do the exercises we need to do. What are you and your wife doing to help your five boys embrace the moment that they're in and to live for Christ in this environment?

Russell: Well, one day my 5-year-old at the time came in and said, "Dad, how do boys become girls?" And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, you have these boys who are having surgery and whatever and becoming girls. I didn't even think that was possible. Why do people do that?" And I immediately start to kinda get panicked and said, "Where did you hear this? Where do you see this?" I mean, we homeschool our kids. We, you know, and he said, "Well, I was in the dentist's office and they had this on television."

And I realized at that moment that I didn't want to have this conversation with him at 5, but I can't shelter him from that and the worst thing that I can do is act as though I'm threatened by some information that I don't want him to have. And so, we had a conversation about why Christians believe that we're created male and female and why people are confused about that or why people disagree about that.

I think having a sense of confidence with your children and being willing to take any question and to honestly deal with that question, as you mentioned, in an age-appropriate way. I think that's critically important. And also to make sure that what you do, you don't want to … you don't want to hide the truth of Scripture and create pagans out of your children. You also don't want to create Pharisees out of your children.

Jim: Correct.

Russell: And so, it's really easy for your children to say, "Oh, everybody disagrees with us. It's evil and wicked." Children tend to think in those categories sometimes. And so, spend time saying, "Hey, look, there are people who disagree with us on this, who don't know Jesus yet. That's why we share the Gospel with them" and so forth. I think that's important.

Jim: And I'll reinforce that. I mean, that's something in our own home when we're talking with our boys. We're talking about everybody being made in the image of God and they deserve dignity regardless of how they live their life out. And we need to always give everyone that base sense of respect and dignity, because they are made in the image of God.

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 this separation. It was enlightening to me, because so often we look at that as the government is creating this 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.

Jim: It's interesting, 'cause I remember a great quote from Justice Scalia who said, "For a country," this is a rough paraphrase, but he said, "For a country that has separation of church and state, we spend an awful lot of time at the court, telling people how to live their faith." I thought that was really profound and so—

Russell: Exactly.

Jim: --true. … really profound and true. Russell, this has been so encouraging to me. I hope people have heard the heart of what we're talkin' about here. We're not talking about backing up from truth or watering down truth. We're just saying, read the Gospels. Read the New Testament, how Paul instructed Timothy to engage the non-believer. Right there in Corinthians, I think it's 5:12, where he said, "What do I have to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom we're to judge?"

And I think that's a good reminder for us to look inside. Look at the log in our own eye. How do we strengthen our marriages? How do we do a better job of keeping our marriages together so that they are a witness to the world when it comes to this issue of divorce? And there's so much more, but we're talkin' about the heart of the Gospel and I so appreciate your book, Onward. Everyone should read this book, because it will equip you with the right perspective and engaging the culture in a way that I think lifts the Lord up in the most and truthful way to a culture that desperately needs Him. Thanks for bein' with us.

Russell: Thanks, Jim and I'm so grateful for Focus on the Family and the way that you equip our churches and our families.


John: Dr. Russell Moore has been with us for the past couple of days on "Focus on the Family" and he sure has had some great things to be thinking through as you move ahead to live out your faith in your home, in your neighborhood, in your community, in your church. And as Jim mentioned, you'll want to get a copy of Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Our number is 800-A-Family, 800-232-6459. And you can also donate and order resources at . Some of those resources would include a document about talking with your children regarding homosexual marriage, other issues that they're likely to learn about in school or from the neighborhood friends or even just going through the grocery store checkout. We want to give you trusted advice so you can help your children process and think through a biblical lens, the various things going on in the world.

Jim: John, before we move away from the topic today, um, the other aspect of this that really motivates me is we really do need to express what we believe in – the SOHL, marriage. In fact, we have an event coming up in January for the SOHL where FOF is partnering with Dr. Russell Moore's group, E&RLC, to host our first-ever major pro-life conference called "Evangelicals for Life." It's gonna occur Jan. 21-22nd in Washington, D.C. It overlaps with the March for Life and the SOHL Week. And this is the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 

I think everyone's gonna be inspired and equipped by the speakers that are coming. It'll be Dr. Russell Moore, Eric Metaxes, Sammy Rodriguez, Roland Warren, David Platt, and myself and others. Um, every life is valuable and what we've gotta do in the culture right now is peacefully express what it is we believe in, what we're for and then let people respond to it. We are winning when it comes to the life issue. Let's keep the momentum going our way. Join us Jan. 21-22 in Washington, D. C. for the March for Life – and for the first time – Evangelicals for Life.

John: It's sure to be a very significant event and you'll find details at , or call us and we can tell you a little bit more about it 800-232-6459. And then yesterday I mentioned Jim's blog and you really want to check that out because he's talking about these kinds of things, religious issues, how to live out your faith with passion and purpose and love and how to stay true to your principles even though the culture isn't understanding or valuing your principles. So we'll link over to Jim's blog and he's sure to have some details about that March for Life and Evangelicals for Life event as well. Our broadcast was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller inviting back tomorrow when we'll 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.