September 28, 2023
Throughout this fall, I will be reflecting on parts of the book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America by Russell Moore. I hope you are willing to grab a copy and read alongside me. Today I will be looking at Chapter One: Losing Our Credibility (p. 27-61):
In college, I briefly served on the Leadership Council of a Campus Ministry. We would meet every other week to plan our worship services and upcoming events. I was honored to be asked to serve on this council, but it eventually became clear that I probably was not a good fit for what they wanted. The other members of the Leadership Council were so sure of their faith and I was wracked with doubts. They wanted to provide black-and-white teaching, but I was looking for help navigating the gray.
All of this came to a head one evening. We were meeting in mid-October of 2006. In Missouri, we were experiencing a U.S. Senate election and it was a very tight race between Republican Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill. At the Leadership Meeting that night, we were just about to wrap things up when a girl spoke up and said, “Oh. One more thing. A member of Jim Talent’s campaign contacted me and asked if they could come to worship next week to educate the students on the differences between the candidates.” My eyes darted around the room and I was astonished to see that everyone else was completely fine with this. I finally spoke up and said, “Yeah, I have a real problem with that. I don’t think a representative from either campaign should be speaking.” To my shock, everyone else in the room disagreed and voted to invite the Talent campaign spokesperson to our campus worship service. I repeated my objection to no avail. I skipped that night of worship and resigned from the Leadership Council shortly thereafter.
Please don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t against everything Jim Talent believed (in fact there were probably a number of areas of overlap). But I was adamantly opposed to the idea of our ministry being co-opted for political purposes.
That’s exactly what Russell Moore reflects on in Chapter One of Losing Our Religion. He points out that “the politicization of American religion is a key driver of people away from religious affiliation” (37). When any church becomes a mouthpiece for either the Republican or Democratic party, it loses its credibility to speak prophetic truth into the world.
Moore points out that the politicization of Church has led to the rapid rise of the Nones or Nonverts (those who grew up in Church and now want nothing to do with it). Perhaps our world has become so super-charged with political fervor that people are hungry for spaces where they can escape the partisan rat race. However, at the same time, we cannot ignore political issues simply in an effort to not rock the boat. Instead, the people of God are called to bravely confront evil in our world but to do so with nobody’s agenda but that of Jesus Christ. That is how you remain faithful even in the midst of political bickering.
The altar call we should experience, according to Moore (and I agree), is a faithful return to the orthodox bedrock of our faith. In fact, faithfulness is where the Christian Church’s credibility problems lie. As Moore pointedly says: “We see now young evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches” (41).
Russell Moore believes that the way to counter this loss of credibility in the eyes of many is to do three things: embrace the disillusionment by allowing our discomfort to lead us to deeper faithfulness, recognize the apocalyptic (a word meaning to be “unveiled”) by taking an honest look at the state of the Church, and recognize judgment by embracing that God is always in the business of both plucking up and planting (Jeremiah 1:10).
So, what does all this mean for Ardmore? And specifically: what does this mean for you as an individual? It means that we all have to be diligent about not allowing ourselves to be co-opted by agendas other than that of Jesus. We have to take an honest assessment of the voices we are allowing to shape who we are and to ask if they are leading us closer to the Gospel or closer to a false Gospel.
My next reflection on Losing Our Religion will look at Chapter Two: Losing Our Authority (p. 63-101) and it will be posted on October 12.