Politics and Prophetic Distance: Russell Moore on the Power of a Gospel Community
Religion & Liberty Online

Politics and Prophetic Distance: Russell Moore on the Power of a Gospel Community

Last week, I was pleased to attend the ERLC’s 2015 National Conference on Gospel and Politics, of which the Acton Institute was a proud co-sponsor. The speaker line-up was strikingly rich and diverse, ranging from pastors to writers to politicos to professors, but among them all, Russell Moore’s morning address was the clear stand-out.

Moore began by asking, “How do we as Christians engage in issues that sometimes are political without becoming co-opted by politics and losing the gospel and the mission at the same time?”

Starting from the story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:25-40), and continuing with a rich perspective on Christian exile and a needed critique of American civil religion, Moore reminds us of how the Gospel has the power to cultivate a community that is equipped to “naturally and organically” bear witness to the outside world — through love, conscience, word, and action.

You can watch and listen here:

I encourage you to watch the whole thing, but for those without the time or in need of a teaser, I’ve highlighted some key excerpts below.

(Also, for those paying attention, Moore’s perspective serves as a fine complement to Acton’s latest film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, particularly the episodes on Exile and the Economy of Order. He also has a new book on cultural engagement that is quite good.)

On the Christian position of exile:

You and I are pilgrims again. We’re exiles in America right now not because we have lost America, not because we have come out of some mythical Christian America that never existed. We are strangers and exiles…in every culture and in every place, because the Gospel and the mission gets us out of step with the present in order to conform us to the future.

On the far too typical reverse-order of Christian political engagement:

In too many cases in the United States of America, Christian political engagement has often been a political agenda in search of a Gospel useful enough to accommodate it. That is not what you and I have been called toward. We have been called to be so defined by the Gospel and so defined by the mission that we see everything through that grid.

On the transformative public power of a “Gospel community”:

We must see a community that is being formed as a sign, a sign that is shaping and forming consciences. Paul and Silas are not strategically singing in order to be overheard. They are not strategically praying in order to evangelize. Paul and Silas are forming a community that is joined to the larger community of the body of Christ, and organically and naturally, they are living out their lives as Gospel people do…We must understand that that sort of community is of paramount importance to our mission. That’s what shapes and forms consciences.

On the importance of having better “hymnody” vs. better political strategy:

Paul and Silas are singing. One of the most important things that the church needs in applying the gospel to political engagement is not better strategy, is not better polling, is not better candidate recruitment. It’s better hymnody. They are singing in a prison cell, and they are singing through consciences that are formed as the people of God’s consciences are always formed: by the admonishing of one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…

Our hymns, our service to one another, our life together as a body, our submission to the Scriptures together – these things shape and form us even in ways that we can’t see and we can’t articulate because they shape and they form our intuitions as a Christian people together. They show us and shape for us what matters and who matters, and then we’re able to be the people who speak to the outside world from a Gospel frame of reference.

On the temptation to confuse personal offense with persecution, and what that can sometimes lead do:

You cannot with city ordinances turn Muslims into Christians. You can only with city ordinances say to Muslims, ‘We do not want you here unless you pretend to be Christians.’ A Gospel people do not do that.

On the imperative for Christian political involvement:

In a democratic system of government, the final authority is the people. What is happening in the voting booth…is the delegating of a sword…Citizenship is an office in this country that all of us are invested in. And so if we refuse to use the sword that we’ve been given in a way that is just and in keeping with the common good, we are held accountable for our apathy. We are held accountable for working toward injustice. We are held accountable for the mistreatment of the vulnerable or the poor.

On how God views human dignity:

The future tells us what matters and who matters. When the culture says to us that unborn children don’t matter, that they’re not viable, that they’re not useful. When the culture tells us that elderly people with Alzheimer’s don’t matter, that they’re not useful. When the culture tells us that children with Down syndrome and autism don’t matter, and they’re useless. We have a word of God that tells us that the culture does not define dignity because the culture is not Lord — that the sovereign God of the universe has identified himself with the vulnerable in the person of Jesus Christ. And when he is calling together his kingdom, he is not building it on the rock foundation of geniuses and influencers, but on the rock foundation of apostles and prophets who have a message and who have a word.

On the importance of “prophetic distance”:

We remember where we came from and we remember where we going…We can render to Caesar what we ought, and we can pledge allegiance where we can. But even as we engage politically and socially, we keep a prophetic distance that knows how to say “thus saith the Lord.” We remember how to call Jesus “Jesus.”

Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.