December 7, 2023
A couple of years ago I went to see a doctor about an ongoing medical issue I was having. The issue is not important; instead, I want to focus on the conversation I had with my physician. After examining me, the doctor said to me, “Why didn’t you come in about this before?” I shrugged and said, “I guess I thought it would just go away on its own.” The doctor smiled through his frustration and said, “You have no idea how many times I hear that every day.”
For a few months, I have been offering occasional reflections on Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America by Russell Moore. I knew that I would both agree and disagree with Moore (and I knew you all would feel that way too). However, I think the ideas in this book are important for us to wrestle with because they examine some of the bedrock concepts of what it means to be a Christian in the United States today. And I also think that Russell Moore is exposing some problems within American evangelicalism that many of us tend to ignore – or even if we are aware of these problems, we shrug our shoulders and think, “It will just go away on its own.”
For this final reflection on Moore’s book, I want to simply offer two observations he makes that I think we really, really need to pay attention to:
- Character Matters
When I was a kid, the news was obsessed with the private conduct of the President of the United States. I learned anatomical facts that I had no business knowing from Dan Rather! And I heard over and over and over from Christian leaders that character deeply mattered for who occupied the White House. However, about twenty years later, it seemed that for many Christian leaders that was no longer true. And, in fact, Russell Moore lost his career with the Southern Baptist Convention because he stood up for character.
Character is a lost concept in our world today. We no longer speak of virtue with the same reverence as previous generations. And I think that is to our detriment. Throughout his book, Moore exposes that when we sacrifice the priority of character for the sake of “winning” or to achieve political “victory” then we are not simply losing the forest for the trees, we are deforesting the landscape of our heart. As Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
For our church, I am prayerfully discerning how we can be a place that readily speaks of character. And, in fact, in the ancient Christian church virtue and character were the telos (a Greek word meaning “primary goal”) of the Christian life. A book that I highly, highly recommend is After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright. In this book, Wright maps out the New Testament’s route to cultivating and growing virtuous, Christ-centric character within our souls.
- The Gospel Really is Good News
Perhaps the line from Moore’s book that has stuck with me the most is this one: “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.”
That’s a haunting line. And I will also say that, anecdotally, it rings absolutely true. Look, I am an outlier in my generation. You all know that I am a weirdo for many reasons, but I am especially a weirdo when it comes to religion. Not only is it odd that I am a Millennial in ministry, it’s odd that I am a Millennial in church at all! And many of you know exactly what I am talking about. I have sat with a number of you in my office and you have poured your heart out about not understanding why your young adult son or daughter seems uninterested in church or faith. And each story is different, but I wonder, I just wonder, what would happen if you showed them the quote above. How would they respond? I truly want to know.
Because my suspicion is that we are sometimes guilty of losing focus of what really matters. And instead of focusing on the beauty and grace we have in the Gospel, we attach other things to the Gospel. We attach cultural trappings, worship preferences, political ideologies, decision-making structures, etc. We don’t mean to, but we accidentally send the message that those things are essential to a true understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Instead, I think the answer is found not in complicated strategies for reaching “young families.” I think instead that we need to regain a renewed commitment to the simple Good News of Jesus Christ for all people.
I hope you have gained some insight from our reading through Russell Moore’s book together. My prayer is the Lord would continue to guide us, sisters and brothers, into a deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus. And I continue to be grateful that I am blessed to walk this journey alongside you all.