Russell Moore absolutely nails it (and I nod my head smugly)

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.

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3 comments

  1. I waffle on this one, because while I recognize that asking businesses to keep Christmas in the Christmas season is in some ways like asking to keep the word Jesus in the corner of a whorehouse advertisement, the removal of the word Christmas from stores is also a reflection of our cultural memory and a distinct attempt in some circles to erase that cultural memory. People are more likely to spend egregious amounts of money if they view Christmas as simply a time to give and receive the material goods we covet, instead of a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ with gift giving as a reflection of that great gift of God. As an especially egregious example of attempts to erase cultural memory, calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree, takes a symbol of the Christmas celebration, and co-opts it for the purposes of material gain. While a Christmas tree is not a central symbol of Christmas, and was itself co-opted from originally pagan roots, it isn’t primarily a Jewish or African symbol, so the only major “holiday” in December which it is related to is Christmas. It has almost exclusively been associated with Christmas historically, so to call it a holiday tree is in some ways a form of historical and cultural ignorance.

    Now some may say that the best way to maintain authentic cultural memory of what Christmas is supposed to be like, is to concede the public sphere to agnostics who want to erase all memory of Christ at that time of the year, but I’m unconvinced that is the best way to approach the issue, and that is rarely what is said by those who rail against protests over keeping Christ in Christmas. While our cultural has become excessively materialistic in its celebration of Christmas, I’m not convinced the best way to regain an appreciation of the divine is to abandon the public sphere or gift giving entirely. A balanced view of Advent and Christmas calls for more acknowledgement of Christ, not less. Also, none of my Muslim, Hindu or agnostic friends are offended by the Merry Christmas greeting. A healthy mutual respect among the various religions acknowledges their beliefs in private and public ways, and doesn’t force their celebrations underground.

    MB

  2. I think I’d agree with everything that you said. We don’t ever want to concede the public square, but we shouldn’t want to make people acknowledge our values if they don’t agree with them. Rather, the focus has to be on persuasion.

  3. Unfortunately, beating people over the head in the public square can also be effective at changing culture, if you can persuade enough people to do it and the rest to shut up.

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