Russell Moore made a really insightful observation on the Resurgence blog a few weeks ago. I think that it’s worth quoting most of it with the key portions highlighted:
I’ve been asked several times in the last couple of days about whether I’m upset about the new remix of “We Are the World.”
The Christians contacting me about this are disturbed by what they see as a startling omission from the ’80s-era song in its 21st century update, performed by artists in support of Haiti relief. Willie Nelson’s line “As God has shown us by turning stone to bread…” is gone. These Christians are outraged, and they wonder if I am too…. They’re afraid this is indicative of the secularization of American pop culture, and that there should be a Christian backlash.
But wait, again.
God didn’t turn stones into bread. It was Satan, not God, who suggested our Lord Jesus turn rocks into bread (Matt. 4:3-4). God sends bread down from heaven (Exod. 16), a Manna he ultimately gives to us in the body of Jesus (Jn. 6), signified in the communion meal (1 Cor. 11).
Misguided Christian Outrage
These Christians mean well. They don’t want to see the gospel disrespected. But there’s something parabolic here, I think. It’s the same sort of thing we see when Stephen Colbert interviews a U.S. Congressman who wants to legislate the Ten Commandments in federal courthouses but can’t name them. We’d almost rather have the affirmation than the revelation.
Why are we so desperate to see “God” affirmed by the outside culture, even when the “God” they’re talking about more closely resembles Zeus (or, as in this case, Lucifer) than Yahweh? When we reach this point of perpetual outrage, are we closer to identity politics than gospel proclamation? I’m afraid so.
Could it be that the problem is we really want the reassurance that we’re “normal”? We’d like a shout-out in our pop culture and our political speeches to signify that we’re acceptable, that Christianity isn’t really all that freakish. But, if that happens, apart from submission to the Cross, is it really Christianity anymore (Jas. 4:4)?
Preaching vs. Product Placement
What if, instead, we loved the world the way God does (Jn. 3:16), and not the way the satanic powers ask us to? What if we loved the world through verbal proclamation and self-sacrificial giving, not by seeking product placement for the Trinity? Rather than expecting our politicians and musicians and actors to placate us with platitudes to some generic god, let’s work with them where we can on “doing good to all people” (Gal. 6:10). Let’s proclaim the God of a crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus. And let’s teach our kids and our converts the actual content of the biblical revelation.
That project is more difficult than signing Facebook petitions. But it’s more Christian than pouting when our culture mavens misspell “Elohim” on the golden calves we’ve asked them to make for us.
I’ve wanted to articulate that point for a long time, but Moore has done it much better than I could. It seems that conservative Christian activism can often be a lot more about identity politics than the difficult transformation of society through the gospel. Another recent example was the campaign to pressure stores into saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays,” which as some people pointed out was simply getting the people to mouth words rather than engage with what Christmas means.
When I first read Moore’s post, I wanted to say “Ha! I knew I was right!” To adapt Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, I was glad that I wasn’t like other men, who do cultural activism in such a deficient way. But while some may take a stand in an imperfect way, do I really take many stands at all? Am I willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake? In my mind, sure, but rarely in reality. I like man’s approval quite a bit. I’m often shocked at how difficult it is for me to speak up when a view might be unpopular. While Dr. Moore is right to point these things out, from what I can tell he does take stands for the truth. So this criticism is directed not at him, but at myself.
Joel recently linked to and commented on a really good article by John Mark Reynolds a while back, and one of the main themes was that just because middle-aged and older evangelicals did some of the right things (like patriotism) in the wrong way (by having uncritical patriotism), it doesn’t excuse younger evangelicals from overreacting by refusing to do the right things (like having a biblical love for one’s country). This is something that blogging and reading the ideas of good Christian thinkers has helped me to begin to overcome. But it’s only beginning, as I can tell by my first reaction to Moore’s post.