October 12, 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 Two: Losing Our Authority (p. 63-101):

My wife studied early childhood education in school. She has taught me so much about being a parent and I am deeply grateful for her. She recently was telling me that there tend to be four ways to parent; three are dangerous extremes and one is healthy:

  1. Permissive parenting – Your kids get to do pretty much whatever they want.
  2. Authoritarian parenting – You dominate over your kids and they do what you want them to do.
  3. Neglectful parenting – You pretty much check out and do not nurture or guide your children.

Those are obviously the three dangerous ways to parent. But there is one other way:

  • Authoritative parenting – You set limits and rules, but also take your children’s emotional health into consideration as well. You maintain a positive relationship even in the midst of when things get hard.

I thought of those ideas when reading Russell Moore’s second chapter in Losing My Religion. Because, for many of us, our parents are our first glimpses of faith and the way our parents treat us has great impact on how we view the nature and character of God. As Moore says, there is a great difference between “power” and “authority.” “Power” demands respect; “authority” deserves respect.

And, as Moore points out, the Church has had an authority issue for some time now. When Christians claim to be those who have access to objective truth in a deeply post-modernistic world and then those same Christians cling to political punditry and conspiracy theories, any claims of authority are thrown out the window (and rightly so).

Moore brings up the day of January 6, 2021 as an example. To watch someone building gallows, breaking the windows of the Capitol, and demand the death of the Vice President, all while holding a sign that says, “Jesus Saves” completely shreds any authority the Church may have to be a witness in the world. And it’s just as prevalent amongst progressive circles as well when people seem to follow socio-cultural fads of what is acceptable rather than resting on what God’s Word says.  

So, how do we combat this lack of authority? How can we avoid being permissive, neglectful, and authoritarian Christians? How can we embrace the authoritative way of living our faith that stands up for truth in a post-truth world? Moore offers these suggestions:

Maintain Attention – Many of the voices in our world today try to gain our attention by appealing to our fear. But we must be so familiar with the voice of Jesus that we can hear him above the din around us so that we do not lose focus on what truly matters.

Tell the Truth – “To pretend a lie is true is to lie” (p. 85); it’s as simple as that. We must resist the temptation to only pay attention to the truths that support our already held-beliefs and we must instead be willing to embrace truth no matter how uncomfortable it may make us.

Avoid Foolish Controversies – “Agreeing together on avoiding topics that would only cause discord is not lying about those matters. It’s just agreeing that you like being with one another more than you value being proven right” (p. 90).

Don’t Self-Censor – Related to truth-telling, we have to pray for the wisdom to know when to speak up and when to be silent. But we should not be silent simply out of fear and we should not alter our stated beliefs simply to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Question Authority – Moore does not mean to question all authority; he means to question everyone’s claims of authority. If a politician claims that “I alone can fix it” or if a preacher claims that their interpretation of scripture is the only right way to read the Bible, we should be very, very skeptical of such claims. Instead, our final authority is sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”).

Inhabit the Bible – Moore says that to regain our “authority,” we must constantly immerse ourselves in the story of scripture. He does not mean that we should use scripture as a doctrinal bat to beat people over the head; instead, we should see the Bible as a grand, epic story. And where do we find ourselves in the story?

Churches have the same temptations as parents. We could choose to be a permissive church in which we teach that none of our behavior matters and you can pretty much do whatever you want. We could choose to be an authoritarian church in which we spread a black-and-white Gospel that has no nuance and we condemn this sinful world to the hell it deserves. We could choose to be a neglectful church in which we simply ignore those parts of God’s Word that make us uncomfortable.

My prayer is that we would be an authoritative church in which we do not shy away from difficult topics and we do not avoid hard truths. But, at the same time, we take our relationships seriously and we seek to love one another as we all try to live out our faith under the authority of the One who made us and redeemed us.

My next reflection on Losing Our Religion will look at Chapter Three: Losing Our Identity (p. 103-152) and it will be posted on October 26.

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