Christian discipleship demands political engagement, Moore says

Communications Staff — September 19, 2003

When most Christians think about evangelical political engagement, the first images that come to mind are organizations that assemble a potpourri of people to address a specific issue like abortion, homosexuality or taxes.

However, true Christian political engagement extends much deeper than merely speaking to one or two issues, according to Russell Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Biblical teachings on the Kingdom of God include a mandate for Christians to transform every aspect of culture—including politics, Moore said.

Moore made his comments in a lecture entitled “Christ and the Public Square” hosted by the theology council at Southern. Moore serves as executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, a think-tank devoted to equipping churches and church leaders to engage the culture from a biblical worldview perspective.

“When we think about how we’re to engage politically, one of the first things that we need to be reminded of is that the New Testament and the Old Testament are inherently political,” he said. “… The question is how then do we relate New Testament Christianity to a pluralistic, democratic society in which we live?”

Referencing the writings of Carl Henry, Moore said that in order for Christians to engage effectively in political activity, they must think through three foundational areas of theology.

First, Christians must think through their beliefs about the end times and Christ’s second coming.

“In order for evangelicals to engage politically, we have got to come to some common understanding of eschatology. And by saying that, I am not saying that we all need to agree on the nature of the millennium. The issues [are] far bigger than that. We have to agree on what the Bible is talking about when it talks about the Kingdom,” Moore said.

There has traditionally been a split among evangelicals as to how believers should understand the Kingdom of God, he said. Some contend that the Kingdom of God is a heavenly reality disconnected from this life while others argue that the Kingdom of God exists on the earth within individual believers.

The biblical perspective is actually a combination of both positions though, Moore said. Properly understood, Scriptural teaching on the Kingdom of God commands Christians both to bring this world into conformity with God’s standards and to wait for a perfect future Kingdom, he said.

“In reality, the New Testament teaches … the world is headed towards the Kingdom, [and] the Kingdom is present now in a hidden form,” Moore said. “There are going to be successes. There are going to be failures, but ultimately we do not bring in the Kingdom. Christ brings in the Kingdom.”

Second, Christians must think through their beliefs about the doctrine of salvation.

In the past century, theologians have polarized into two groups when it comes to their beliefs about salvation, Moore said. One group has insisted that salvation is exclusively about transformation of society. The other argues that salvation is concerned exclusively with personal regeneration, he said.

In reality, however, salvation should include both personal regeneration and social transformation, Moore said.

“We need to come together as evangelicals and realize that when the New Testament talks about salvation, it is talking about an act of the Messiah. That means it’s about more than simply plucking out individual souls to Heaven. It means that there is an ethical transformation that does indeed speak to every area of life,” he said.

“That means we are concerned not simply with evangelism in a very isolated way, but as people who believe in evangelism we are concerned for life. If you believe in a Gospel of life, that means you are concerned about those who are right now languishing in freezers in an in vitro clinic somewhere. That should break your heart. It means you should be concerned for orphans in Africa who are riddled with AIDS right now. It means you should be concerned about all of those issues of life and death because the Gospel says that life is better than death.”

Third, Christians must think through their beliefs about the Church.

The Church is simultaneously a colony of heaven awaiting future salvation and a people of God modeling His standards to the world, Moore said. And as the people of God, the Church must speak to political issues.

“That means that we need to fight for religious liberty,” he said. “When you have individuals saying, ‘You have no business sending missionaries to Iraq,’ that’s oppressing them. The state can’t tell us no to that.

“We have the right to speak to the state, and we can’t be segregated out simply because we have a worldview and convictions that inform who we are.”

Moore concluded, “In order to speak to the culture, we need to not just be concerned about politics although we do. We need to be concerned also about theology because the two are linked together.”

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