Dr. Russell Moore and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Tim Keller, how to live in courage rather than fear, loneliness in standing for what’s right, cynicism inside and outside the church, and why the wedding of politics to Christianity is so disastrous.
Dr. Russell Moore and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Tim Keller, his impact, and Dr. Moore’s friendship with him (3:41). They discuss why Dr. Moore decided to write a book about courage, especially one that focuses on Elijah as an imperfect exemplar (10:39). They talk about signs of when you might be living according to fear instead of faith, and why it is God works most in the most uncertain moments (20:54). Dr. Moore explains why loneliness is sometimes necessary in pursuing courage, and why brave people often don’t realize their own courage (29:43). Dr. Moore talks about Losing our Religion, a future book release of his that discusses cynicism inside and outside the church, especially in the case of politics and Christianity (47:55).
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Resources and further reading:
- Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, Dr. Russell Moore
- The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul, Russell Moore
- “How to die like Tim Keller” Jim Denison
- Between Compromise and Courage: The Choice Every Christian Must Make, Jim Denison
About the host
Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
About the guest
Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America.
Dr. Moore was named in 2017 to Politico Magazine’s list of top fifty influence-makers in Washington and has been profiled by such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME Magazine, and the New Yorker.
An ordained Baptist minister, Moore served previously as President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and, before that, as the chief academic officer and dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also taught theology and ethics. He also hosts the weekly podcast The Russell Moore Show and is co-host of Christianity Today’s weekly news and analysis podcast, The Bulletin. Russell was President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2013 to 2021. Prior to that role, Moore served as provost and dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also taught theology and ethics.
A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons. They live in Nashville, where he teaches the Bible regularly at their congregation, Immanuel Church.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:09
Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison Forum and host for today’s conversation. The Denison Forum Podcast exists to help explain the culture, the world to the church so that the church can be redemptive in the culture. Or as Jesus said, we want to be salt and light to the world, or as I like to say, to be salty, bright, wherever we are, whatever we’re involved in whoever we’re relating to. And we hope these conversations help you to do that, that they encourage and equip you to be those kinds of salty, bright disciples in our generation. Today, we’re excited about a conversation with one of the folks I have really enjoyed following the last 10 plus years. Dr. Russell Moore is editor in chief of Christianity today, and is the author of the book, courage to stand. He is also author of the upcoming book losing our religion, an altar call for evangelical America. We’re going to talk about both of those works. The Wall Street Journal has called Russell more vigorous, cheerful and fiercely articulate. He was named in 2017 to political Magazine’s Top 50 influence makers in Washington, and has been profiled by such publications as the New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine and the New Yorker. He is an ordained Baptist minister, and served previously as president of the Southern Baptist conventions, Ethics and Religious Liberty commission, and before that was chief academic officer and Dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He also taught theology and ethics there. Moore was a fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, and currently serves on the board of the Beckett law and as a senior fellow with the Trinity forum in Washington, DC. He also hosts the weekly podcast the Russell Moore Show, and is co host of Christianity today’s weekly news and analysts podcast, the bulletin. He is a native of Mississippi and he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons. They live in Nashville, where he teaches the Bible regularly at his congregation, Immanuel church. Welcome Dr. Russell Moore to the Denison Forum Podcast. Dr. Russell Moore, welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. We’re glad to have you today.
Russell Moore 02:37
Thanks for having me.
Mark Turman 02:39
Well, I wanted to ask you the elevator conversation, which is I’ve I stepped about a year and a half ago from being a pastor for 34 years into this new world. And the biggest struggle of I’ve had is to figure out how do I explain what I do now to my wife in less than a minute and a half? So I’m just curious, I, you know, you and I are both preachers. And I came up with the alliteration. And I could say, well, Russell Moore is a preacher, a pastor, a professor, a pundit, in the most positive sense, and a podcaster. But how would you explain that if you stepped on the elevator in Nashville or anywhere else? And somebody said, so who are you and what do you do? How do you explain that? Usually, if
Russell Moore 03:25
somebody just says, Who are you and what do you do, I will say, I’m a writer, or I’m a Baptist minister. It really depends on what the context is as to how much they actually want to know.
Mark Turman 03:41
Okay, yeah. So yeah, if I if I can find some good handles on that it would help me to get better. You and I have some mutual. I don’t know if I would call friends but heroes, the names of David French, and Tim Keller, everybody in the evangelical world, at least, maybe not everybody, but many. And I’ve heard you talk in recent days about your friendship relationship with Pastor Keller just kind of wondering now a few days couple of weeks into the time when he passed. How’s that? How’s that working? And tell us a little bit about your relationship with him from our side, my side, one of the most significant voices in the Christian world evangelical world over the last 3040 years. How are you processing that? What’s kind of become more clear about your relationship with Tim Keller?
Russell Moore 04:38
There are a lot of us who I think right now, still can’t believe he’s actually gone. That that’s that comes up quite a bit in conversations with people. He was. He was part of a book club, that I’m a part of, that we’ve been in for years and years. And it’s I tell people, it’s not really a book club. The books are the excuse. But it’s more like a brotherhood breakfast for people who would understand that sort of old school Baptist lingo. It’s a, it’s a kind of a fellowship group. And it’s, he was somebody who went out of his way to encourage the council to build up even in times when he was, for instance, going through chemotherapy, and things like that. And so what usually, we would talk about things going on in the church about books a lot about the books that have have come out. But when he gave counsel, I listened to it. He’s the one who I was at a place in my ministry where I was thinking that I was about to leave that ministry, and he talked me into stay. And then later, I was at a place where I was, again, thinking about leaving, but I had just kind of been mulling it, mulling it, mulling it. And he talked me into, into leaving. So it when he said something, you knew that he knew what he was talking about. And he was a he was a genuine, godly, humble man, and quite an evangelist, it just by the nature of what we do. He and I would often be together in rooms with atheists and agnostics, and everything else. And I could see the way that he would bear witness to Christ. In amazing and amazing ways, it was never marketing manipulation. It was it was genuine New Testament bearing witness. And so we just, we’re not going to see the likes of Tim Keller. Again.
Mark Turman 07:09
Well, and that’s, yeah, that’s been one of my thoughts and concerns. As far as Tim Keller, I know, I can remember the first time somebody put one of his resources, the very popular product, oh, god in my hand, and my wife and I were just taken by it. From the first time that we got our hands on it. I suspect many, many pastors are quoting Tim Keller in sermons, especially right now. But putting some of his resources I just, I was just wishing in these last days that I had connected to his ministry earlier. And many, many people he, he inspired me to want to consider being Presbyterian in some ways. And but you mentioned leaving, which part of that has to do with leaving the denomination of Southern Baptists, which is also a part of my story, I was raised Roman Catholic and then came to Christ as a teenager through the witness of a Southern Baptist teenager that was a friend of mine, and then later discipled by his church. I’m in Texas, we like I’ve always identified more as a Texas Baptist, perhaps more than a Southern Baptists and people who care about such things know what I mean by that. But it’s it’s been a big deal and interesting journey for you in terms of association, kind of where are you in that journey? Now, as it relates to your connection to the larger evangelical world? How would you frame that?
Russell Moore 08:45
My connection to the larger evangelical world, or just Southern Baptists or oh, well, to Southern Baptists, I mean, in terms of the Southern Baptist Convention, I mean, there are a lot of people who will say, Well, when you left the SBC, you don’t, you don’t leave a convention, a convention really isn’t anything. It’s except a collection of churches. And so I am part of a church that’s multi denominational still and always will consider myself to be a Baptist. That’s what my ordination is. That’s who I am. That’s what my theology is. So I think of myself as a as a Baptist Southern and, and maybe a Southern Baptist with a small s. But
Mark Turman 09:38
yeah, no, I totally get it. Yeah. And for people who don’t understand how Baptists operate it they’re just kind of shake their hands and walk walk away and I sometimes do that myself.
Russell Moore 09:51
Yeah, you know, it there’s a couple of tells that I would always know if somebody if a if a secular journalist will encounter Unless was asking about asking about Southern Baptist matters, I would know that they didn’t know what they were talking about. If they said the Southern Baptist Church, I would know. Okay, well, you haven’t done your homework here. And there. There are a couple of others. I mean, it’s been a long time since since this has been the case. But if somebody would, for instance, reference the women’s missionary union, and said, of woman’s missionary union, which, I mean, who knows why it was worded that way, but that’s the way it’s worded. So they’re all these little particularities that it’s hard for people on the outside to understand.
Mark Turman 10:39
Right? And probably true of other groups as well. inside of them, they all have their particular corporate language and inside stories, inside jokes, all of those the acronyms, yes. Well, we want to talk about the important topic of courage today. And it’s challenging to be a courageous believer in the world. Today, as I was preparing to have this conversation with you, I was reminded of CS Lewis quote, another one of our heroes, in The Screwtape Letters. Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality, your book courage to stand has been out a while now I just wondered if you would tell us what was it that prompted you to write a book about courage?
Russell Moore 11:31
I think largely, because the conversations that I was having with people and the conversations that I was having with myself, it tended toward a misunderstanding, of some of the most courageous people that I knew didn’t think of themselves as courageous, because they, they felt scared. And some of the most cowardly people I knew, believed themselves to be very courageous. And so it was, it was a process of asking, How did how does that happen? What What does? What does courage actually look like biblically defined. And so I spent a lot of time with the life of Elijah, and First Kings 18 and 19. And realize that that picture of Elijah just is not anything like the sort of fake bravado that we’re accustomed to, not just in, in this culture, but in, in many other times where the idea is, if I pretend as though I’m invulnerable, that will make me invulnerable. And if I if I posture in such a way, that whoever the crowd behind me is, is applauding, because I hate the same people they do. That That’s courage. And that’s just not it’s just not what what courage is. So I looked at the life of Elijah, and and elsewhere to try to figure out exactly how does God formed courage? And how does somebody who is lacking courage find it? And so that it really most of the things that I write, start with having conversations with people, and not really being satisfied with what I’ve said to them? And I come away and say, I just don’t think that I don’t think I got through with that, because I don’t think I’ve thought about this enough. That was that was how I wrote the book adapted for life. It was because I would be trying to talk to people about adoption and foster care and realize I haven’t, I haven’t really worked through what my own objections were, and how and how biblically I answered them. And so I wrote that book to help me figure it out. And with tempted and tried another book I did it was because I was having a lot of people who thought that they were failing, because they were constantly fighting against temptation when they’re actually succeeding. That’s the spirit does, right. And so I was trying to explain that better. So that’s usually how things come about.
Mark Turman 14:28
So was there something that made you lock on to Elijah as the focus of your study? There’s obviously a lot of characters in the Bible that you could choose from starting with Jesus on down, right. When it comes to courage, both positive and negative examples, and Elijah has some of both as your book really describes in some very powerful and clear ways but was there something that as you worked your way, okay, I want to I want to try to talk about this topic to help people too. equip them, encourage them about what courage really looks like and how it can manifest itself in their life. I, as you were talking, I was thinking, okay, that might have been a conversation in the coffee shop, when you’re waiting to get your latte. And you’re having a conversation or you could have been in an academic setting, you could have been in a lot of different kinds of conversations. But the book is I worked my way through it was not, in my feeling. It wasn’t targeted at the academic community, per se, as much as the guy in the coffee shop, who wants to be courageous doesn’t know if he is or if he will be when the moment comes. But he needs a clear definition of what it really looks like. But what was it about Elijah that really caused you to lock in on his example,
Russell Moore 15:51
I think because I noticed that, that I had a skewed view of Elijah, even though I knew the biblical narrative, and have since I was, you know, a three year old and Southern Baptist Sunday school, but I tended to think of it Elijah burst as the guy on Mount Carmel calling down fire from heaven, that that moment of triumph. And then the moment later on when he’s when he’s, he’s trekking out in the wilderness toward Mount hora. That that was kind of a deviation from the plot that that was sort of the that was sort of a pause in the plot in some tension before he comes back to, to his his main purpose and identity. But I realized that’s not what the text itself is showing us. And showing us instead that that’s where Elijah actually encountered God was in that moment of great weakness and vulnerability in every possible way. And that’s, that’s what I determined really was the was the problem. I mean, there are a lot of people who are, I mean, whether it is a mom, who is saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen with my child that I’m worried about, I don’t know what to do. Or whether it’s the person who is saying, I’m in a, I’m in a workplace that I don’t know if I should stay here, or a church, toxic church situation. I mean, there’s so many different situations that this applies to, where people often think I have to, I have to make sure that I give the image and the picture of winning, and, and victory in order to do that. And so I think about there was Skip Bayless, the ESPN commentator, was once denigrating an NFL player who had acknowledged that he had, that he was being treated for depression. Because he said, You’re letting down the team, the team needs to see you as somebody that they can count on. And that they can, they can follow, which of course, assumes that somebody who’s acknowledging and actually dealing with his depression is somebody who’s not doing those things. Right. But that’s, that’s kind of a Darwinian, social, Darwinian sort of mentality that we see all over the place. In not just in American culture, but in church culture. I mean, I talk to a lot of pastors, every day, I have this conversation with somebody who, pastors who are on the verge of quitting. They’re in a place of despair, and they have nobody to talk to. Because if they were to say anything, one pastor just said to be just a couple days ago, if I were to say to my staff, hey, I’m discouraged. And I just, I just don’t know what to do right now. It would create a panic, can’t talk to them, can’t talk to people in the church for the same reason. And he said, I can’t talk to the other pastors in the community, because he’s, I know, we shouldn’t think of each other as competitors, but we kind of do. And so he is in this place of loneliness. And I think there are a lot of people who are going through that and what what I’ve sort of seen, at least in my own life, is that those those moments where you’re kind of in the in between, and you don’t actually know what to do, and you don’t know how things are going to turn out. That if you look back, those are actually the places where God is doing the most in your life. It’s real. Not those moments of, of triumph that are there. And so a friend of mine, David Brooks talks about. In one of his books, he talked about the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues, the resume virtues, being the things that you accomplish, and the kinds of things that you would list off if you were looking for a job. Almost none of us when were saying, Okay, where did I really encounter God? And where was I really changed, almost none of us would look to the things that we would highlight on our resumes. Instead, we look at those moments that are more likely to be highlighted at our eulogies. And in many cases, those are moments that don’t feel like winning, they feel like defeat at the time. But there’s, there’s power in that.
Mark Turman 20:54
And that’s, that’s always been one of the conundrums for me as a believer. You hear people often say that, you know, when I met God, I encountered God, mostly in a difficult moment when I was really afraid. Yeah. And then you’re like, well, but I don’t want to live in those moments. All right, I would hope that there would be, you know, at least selfishly, I’m kind of hoping that there’s long stretches of, of peace and tranquility. I can remember. Yeah. You know, I helped to found a church here in my community and stayed as pastor of that church for 24 years. I can remember being in a very hard season at that church, thinking that we were kind of like the Corinthians where it says, basically, in First Corinthians 11, it would have just been better off if you’d all stayed at home. And I had a season not just of a Sunday or two, but of several Sundays, measured by months where I was like, it would probably have been better if we just all stayed home, particularly when it came to some of the leadership meetings that I was leading in those conversations. And I remember landing on this verse in the book of Acts after, after Paul’s conversion, where it says that, that then the church had peace. And the Lord added to the church, I thought, that’s the verse I want to see fulfilled in my life, I want to be of peace. It just seems like in our current culture, with all of the dynamics and something strange, new, scary coming around the corner almost every single day that there is, there are a lot of epidemics going on, not the least of which is an epidemic of fear. Which is is why why this book is so helpful. What would you say to people listening to this in terms of, okay, here’s where you know that fear is getting the best of you, instead of your faith guiding you? Yeah,
Russell Moore 22:55
well, what I would say to that is, it can do that in multiple different ways. And so you almost have to, first be familiar with where your particular vulnerabilities are. Because fear can manifest itself in some people as a kind of withdrawal. So because they’re afraid, they’re kind of locking down into a risk aversion they’re isolating themselves off from from people. For others, it can be in a kind of despair, where you just your expectations are all so low, you don’t even expect things to get better at all. And for some people, it can manifest itself in what feels like anger. And that’s why I say there are a lot of people who think they’re courageous, who are actually very cowardly, because the way that they respond to fear is with quarrels, awesomeness, and with with perpetual outrage and anger. And so it’s, it’s almost those categories of fight or flight or freezing, those those sorts of things that over time strips you down. And then I think for some people, there’s a kind of, there’s a kind of fear that you don’t even really recognize because it’s so chronic, and so generalized. So I mean, we were talking about Tim Keller, one of the things that Tim said to me, after I had been through kind of a tumult, he said, You really need to watch your anger. And I said, I’m not angry. I don’t have one bit of anger for anybody involved in this. I really don’t. He said, I know. And that’s what worries me. He said, I’m afraid that you’ve got a current of anger that you’re not even aware of. He said probably because you don’t think you can be aware of it. And that’s really dangerous. You need to you need to find it. And so it’s, it’s, it’s something that will will manifest itself in various different ways. So it’s kind of like when you talk about Lewis, one of the things that Lewis said that that I think about, probably every day, is when he says the devil doesn’t send errors or vices into the world, one by one, but two by two on either side of a virtue. So you have courage. You have one way you can deviate from that is a kind of pugilism and a fighting spirit or what? What the Bible refers to is a constant craving for controversy. Or it can be experienced by a kind of timidity. And a, it all ultimately leads to the same place, which is cynicism, and numbness and deadness, but you almost have to know, okay, where where is my particular weak point? Because a lot of times, you’ll have people where, what they’re wanting to, they’re wanting to talk to you about, you have to say, Okay, wait, but that’s not your problem. There are a lot of people who might say, I want to be more courageous. And what they mean is, I don’t want to be timid when they don’t have a personality bent to be timid, right, they have a personality that to sort of absorb themselves into a crowd and scream at other crowds, you know. So you have to identify that to know really how fear is working?
Mark Turman 26:54
Well, it’s such a good insight. And in Timothy Keller in that conversation, you know, we’re taught so many things, biblically, right, that we, we build up an understanding that sometimes needs to be better informed, which is, well, I’m not supposed to be angry with anybody. And if I am, I’m supposed to repent of that. And I want to be able to honestly say, Well, I’m not angry with anybody. And yeah, but actually, there’s, there’s times when we can be and even should be angry with a person and work our way through that. But we, we build up this facade, that we think is what true Christianity and true faith looks like, when in fact, it doesn’t have the honesty and the integrity that it should have.
Russell Moore 27:44
And that’s especially true when you’re dealing with church situations. And, and I really, I really saw this, I think, in working on issues of trauma, and particularly church related trauma, I came across a psychologist who had been working in the area of children who’ve been abused by their parents, and about how sometimes there is this dog ID loyalty of abused children, to their abusive parents. And this person called it a betrayal bond, and said, It’s because that child, it, it is terrifying to think my parents might be abusive, there might be something wrong with them, because that gives you this sense of am I going to be abandoned. So instead, the child finds a way to blame that upon himself or herself. If only I hadn’t been as loud coming into the room, then that wouldn’t happen if only my grades were better than daddy wouldn’t drink as much as he does, or whatever that is. And they sort of turn the anger internally. And I’ve seen that happen in a lot of church situations, where you have people who would say, if I actually think about what’s going on here, it’s terrifying because I’ve been taught to see my church or my church tradition, and Jesus as as being indistinguishable at the Olympic level. They might be very distinguishable at the cognitive level, you know, theologically the difference, but you don’t you don’t know the difference at that deeper heart level. And so you submerge it. And I think that’s, I think that happens with a lot of people, often.
Mark Turman 29:43
Well, and it’s natural, how it can happen, right? Because especially, we build very deep emotional ties to our congregations as we should. Yeah. But if we’re not careful to differentiate that I you know, as people join my church over the years, I would do a member Ship class and with try to tell them you know, churches a very good place to get hurt. It’s a very good place, kind of like a marriage or any, you know, all families are dysfunctional at some level. But you have to come to a place where you can differentiate between okay, this is Jesus. And this is church, I remember listening to your conversation with Beth more recently about her memoir, just the ability that that God gave her to distinguish, okay, well, these are Christians, and these are people in the process of being redeemed, they’re not fully redeemed, and they’re not equal to Jesus, either on an individual or congregational level, it’s so important to make that kind of distinction so that you’re not disillusioned with the church, because you need the church. And that’s, that’s one of the things. There’s an entire chapter in your book called courage and community connectedness through loneliness. unpack that a little bit. Because each of these chapters is titled this way, kind of ironically, intersecting things that seem to be opposites. How does that work out? In Elijah, how does that work out for us? That we need this connectedness, but there’s also a sense of loneliness that is necessary for us to understand it, right?
Russell Moore 31:22
Well, it’s like anything else, anything can become an idol. And what an idol is, is something that you can, you can simultaneously master and that masters you. And, and community can become that as well. So that I was having a conversation with an atheist friend, who was talking to me about research that he had done in fragmentation in American life, and polarization in American life. And he said that the metaphor that he kept coming back to was the Tower of Babel, there’s this, there’s this people can’t even understand each other. And I said, Yeah, but the problem with the Tower of Babel wasn’t the fragmentation. God did that. The problem was the wrong kind of unity. And so if you think about what God is doing in the Tower of Babel, is he’s taking something that is unified, but in the wrong direction. And he’s pulling it apart, fragmenting it, not just to have isolated pieces, but to build an actual unity and an actual community, through the family of Abraham, ultimately, then in Jesus Christ. And so there are times when community itself becomes an idol of for us where you you think, Okay, I have to figure out who my tribe is. And whatever whoever my tribe is, that means that I have to do everything that it takes to be on the on the inside of that tribe, I need to love all the right things hate all the right people, say all the right shibboleths. And what happens then is that that kind of community actually prevents genuine community on down on down the road. So if you if you look at, for instance, what the Apostle Paul is going through, and Galatia, it would have been really easy for apologist to say, Okay, it’s in order to preserve the unity here in the Galatian. Church, I’m not really going to bring up the touchy subject of circumcision. I’m not going to deal with Simon Peter, eating at the refusing to eat at the table with the Gentiles. I’ll conserve my influence until later when I’ll deal with that. What Paul knew is he said, if if we had yielded to them, we didn’t yield to them for a moment. Why, so that the gospel would be preserved for you. So if you look back, for instance, over Jim Crow, and you look at, there were so many white pastors, some of them identified, called out by Martin Luther King and letter from Birmingham jail, who knew what the Bible taught about these issues, and they knew that the Jim Crow structure was unjust, but what did they do? They said, I don’t want to disrupt the unity of this congregation by bringing up this issue, which means what they end up without the ability to speak to the community of the next generation. A lot of things They have to stand for Church of Christ, but but they also lose the ability to speak to people who aren’t there. So sometimes there’s a kind of unity that feels like Unity. But it really is appeasing whoever has the most power to hurt you. And sometimes in an organization that can be the people who pay most of the bills, sometimes it can be the people who were at a time right now, where shamelessness is a superpower, as they say, meaning that if somebody can get beyond the limitations of of shame, that typically put a check on what it is that we will actually do. If somebody can get beyond that. They can do anything. And they know that there are people who will just step back and then ultimately say, Well, this is the way it is. And after a while, that is the way it is. And you end up with an entire new generation that says that that’s the way it’s always been, because it’s what they’ve witnessed. And so you have these, these patterns that then continue. So every time that you’ve got biblically genuine community emerging, it’s because you have had somebody who is willing to go out seemingly alone, Elijah goes out that thinks he’s all by himself. I’m the only one here. And what does God say? No, there are 7000 that have not kissed bail. And there’s a great multitude that’s coming out of that people you don’t even see and you don’t even know. So every time that this happens, you end up with at least some people who feel like they’re walking out on their own into an uncertain future. And they find that there are other people walking to the same place. And that’s, that’s, that’s important, because, because often with courage, there’s a, there’s a deep, deep loneliness. So if you’re, if you’re the woman who’s working in the, in the convenience store, and you know, that money’s being embezzled from that, from that convenience store, and your conscience is bothering you about that, that that easy thing, in order just to have peace, is to look the other way, and not to do anything about the embezzlement, if you actually say, Hey, we’re involved in a criminal conspiracy, here, you’re going to be very lonely. Especially if all your friendships are in that convenient store where you work, your entire identity is bound up in what you do at that convenience store is going to feel very, very lonely. But that’s what God that’s what God does in order to put together actual and genuine communities,
Mark Turman 38:10
which is, you know, sometimes so very difficult to figure it out. In some ways, as you talk through this, I’m just trying to think how this works itself out. Because part of what your book, the thesis behind the book is, is that we’re not suffering from a lack of clarity, we’re suffering from this lack of courage, yeah. But I can hear, just imagine people listening to our conversation going, but I don’t know what to do in this particular situation. And then I don’t think anybody, nobody, on the face of it says I want to be complicit or I want to be accommodating. But I also can hear the voice of one of my pastors, one of my mentors who said, you know, when it comes to some of this big stuff, he had this phrase, he said, you know, you can’t straighten teeth with a hammer that you you know, you have to, you have to put braces on teeth, and you have to tighten them up about every 60 to 90 days, and move the teeth gradually, which I get here, somebody back in, in the 60s 50s and 60s, Jim Crow era going well, you know, you just, we can’t go that fast. We can’t go that far. We have to change this. But we have to change this gradually, incrementally. And the same thing with the woman at the convenience store and your illustration. Well, I’m going to keep working on that. I’m going to keep trying to find a way to put pressure on that. But um, I’m not going. I don’t want to go too far, because I’ll lose my opportunity over time.
Russell Moore 39:45
Yeah. Let’s say this is the thing. It’s, are there some things that have to be changed gradually and incrementally? Yes. But there also is the great danger. or of being able to justify our complicity in anything with an appeal to gradual, incremental needs. So you think about it in terms of it, just think about it in terms of a person’s own discipleship. I might have one person, and I have in recent weeks, I’ve had one person who’s come to me, he’s beating himself up, because he just can’t believe that he’s as sinful as he is. And he thinks God’s mad at him. And what I’m having to do is to come in and say, remember the gospel. And, and, and all that’s happening is that you are confessing before God, what God has already told you that you’re a sinner, you’re always going to be a sin. Now, I wouldn’t give that same counsel, in the same way to somebody who came in, as has been the case before. They said, You know, I’m, I’m having an affair. And I know that’s not right. But I also know that sanctification is progressive, we’re never going to be totally redeemed this side of heaven. And so no to that person, you need to come in and say, Oh, wait, wait, you’re using gradual, incremental process of sanctification, to justify your own sin. And that’s about it, who needs to be hit from the other direction. So sometimes you’ve got people, there’s a temptation to be impatient, and to expect immediate change in some area. But often, the temptation is very different. Because you can always talk yourself into this is, I see this with members of Congress, with pastors with business leaders, with almost every reality of life that I deal with, you will have people who will say, Okay, I’m in a situation in which something is really morally wrong. But I know that if I bring it up, I’m just going to be exiled, I’m going to be kicked out. And whoever comes in, after me is going to be somebody who won’t be concerned about these things will be somebody who’s is even worse. So what I need to do is I need to conserve my influence. And that means going along with going along with things until, until there’s a moment, but the problem with that is, there never is a moment that comes at which a person can say, Okay, now all the risk is gone. Now all the cost is gone. Now I can take all of that influence that I’ve conserved and, and use it. Instead, what happens is you start to pattern your own conscience, and you start to train your own conscience to go quiet. Because after time, you have to find a way to, to both think about your own place in whatever that system is, without thinking of yourself as a villain. And so what you typically do is just to rewrite the story in ways that can justify virtually anything. So again, it comes back to that same thing we were talking about before, in terms of knowing your own vulnerabilities. So look in your past, and say, am I the kind of person who’s whose vices typically impatience. And I don’t even give people the opportunity to change their a lot of people like that. I mean, especially in a social media, sort of environment, where we think that the way people change is you tell them they’re wrong. And then at the end of that, after 20 minutes, they say, you’re exactly right, I’m evil. That’s not the way it works. It doesn’t go that way. It doesn’t go that way. Usually, instead, it works the way that Jesus told us that things work both and he uses this imagery both with good and the evil of yeast works itself through so if you think about the big changes that any of us have ever made, what happens is we usually kind of mold them. And we think about them, and sometimes we think about them for a long time until something happens. Maybe some sort of crisis and we we kind of like the like the prodigal son, we come to ourselves in that that’s so if you’ve if you’ve got a temptation addition to not see that, then watch it and correct for it. But then you also have a lot of people who have that other temptation of saying, I’m going to find a way to justify my situation, and to justify whatever crowd I’m a part of. Watch that,
Mark Turman 45:22
right. And then, and several other options, more, some of which you’ve pointed out, right, which is one of the options, which is to be cynical and withdrawn, if you have a tendency toward that. And just to say, well, I don’t have any influence. And, and I’m just, I’m going to try to pull away from all of this as much as I can and just live a life of pessimism, cynicism, rather than one of hope and dynamics. That conversation makes me ask this question, which is, whether it was Elijah or others that we could talk about, when a person is actually being courageous? Do you think that they know that they’re being courageous?
Russell Moore 46:00
No, I don’t think so. I find that very rare, that someone that someone knows that as a matter of fact, I think, with almost anything going on in our lives, we don’t really see it or notice it, except in retrospect. And even then, I don’t think that we I don’t think that we see it very much. So you think about for instance, often there will be moments in history that we’ll talk about. And we have to stop and say, Now wait a minute, this story. I mean, as we’re recording this, it’s the anniversary of D Day. D Day is one thing for us, because we know how World War Two turns out. That was not the same reality that those men were facing as they stormed the beaches, because they didn’t know how this was going to turn out. General Eisenhower had a letter written out a statement for if it failed. So there’s a great deal of ambiguity there. So sometimes there’s there’s what’s called survivor bias. And a lot of times, even with our own lives, we have survivor bias that because because we lived through something, we sort of forget how actually fraught that was. And but but with anything, I think it’s you’re looking backward. And you’re saying, sometimes even I think there’s a sense of amazement, when we look back and say, How did I survive that? And sometimes you don’t have an answer. You don’t know you’ve just managed to survive it.
Mark Turman 47:55
You’re just you’re just kind of glad that you can actually have the thought that you’re right. How did I survive that? And you come back to where we come back to in need to soften, which is just simply the goodness and grace of God? Yeah. How we got through any of that. Right. Yeah, there wrestled, there seems to be a theme of courage running through the last number of years in your life, if we look at your writing the the work onward, was obviously along this same theme, this book, courage to stand and a book that you’re going to release later, about the time that this podcast is released, called losing our religion and altar call for evangelical America. That sounds like it’s on the same theme of courage in a particular way. Tell us about that book losing our religion. That
Russell Moore 48:47
book is about if I had to sum it up in in one word, I would say it’s less about courage than it is about cynicism. Because we’re living in a very tumultuous moment in the American church, and especially in the American Evangelical Church, with political divisions and idolatries, and racial divisions and injustice, and sexual abuse and scandals that have been covered up. I mean, there’s just so much that’s being revealed right now. And I find that people are being tempted towards cynicism, but they’re tempted towards cynicism in two different ways. So one way to be cynical is what we we think of, usually when we think of the word which is to say, oh, religions, all nonsense, and because I’ve seen all of these things, that means that that must be true of Jesus. I’m walking away that yeah, that can be cynicism. But there’s another kind of cynicism that says, Well, this is just the way things are, so I’m going to adapt to it. And that’s a cynicism, too. And so losing our religion is saying we actually don’t have to go in either of those directions. What we can do is to remain faithful to the Gospel, think about what it is that Jesus actually told us, we would face and there can be a renewal. But the way that renewal typically happens, biblically, is first a tearing down. So it it seems, as Kierkegaard said, if you bring genuine Christianity, it’s going to feel at first like taking Christianity away. And I think that’s what’s happening right now. And so we’re headed into a future that I think of AW Tozer back in the middle of the 20th century, said, We don’t want revival of the church the way that it is, because that would be a zombie. He would just be continuing the death that is there. What we actually want is crucifixion of everything that needs to be crucified, and a renewal and a revival of what ought to remain. And I think that’s what’s happening right now. And that’s, that’s why I wrote losing our religion as somebody who a lot of times people will say, after the past several years, dealing with what I would see as political captivity of the church dealing with a resurgent, racist backlash that’s happening in many parts of North America right now dealing with sexual abuse in the church. Why? Why are you still a Christian, having seen some of the worst aspects of professing Christianity, and I’ll usually say, it’s because I was already vaccinated for that, because I went through this time as a 15 year old, where I was, I was despondent, because I was looking around and saying, maybe this is just southern culture. And maybe this is just another kind of Political Marketing. And so I spent this, this time in this dark night of the soul to be able to differentiate between Jesus and the Bible Belt. So I was able already to have been through that in a manageable crisis in a way that could prepare me for for a bigger one. So what I’m usually finding myself saying to people, especially young people, because this is what’s worrying me, is that, you know, when I started in ministry, I would have younger people who would come and say, I’m thinking about walking away from the church, it almost always had to do with one of one or two, one of two things. It was either because the person was saying, I just can’t accept the supernatural aspects of Christianity, some point or the other. I can’t, I can’t believe a virgin got pregnant, I can’t believe that a dead person came back to life, I can’t believe these things. Or they thought that the moral rules of the church were too strict on them. And they wanted to do something different. That’s almost never what I’m encountering right now. Instead, I’m often encountering people who will say, I don’t think the church itself believes what the Church teaches. I don’t think this is really about the gospel at all. And so for those people, or, or in many cases, to say, I think the church is actively immoral, and in many cases it is. So for those people, what I want to say is not Don’t be disillusioned. It’s have the right kind of disillusionment, if you think about what the word really means a loss of illusions, let your illusions go. And instead, find something that is, is permanent and real, and that actually can stand. And I think we can do that. I think we’re just at a moment where we’re at a moment where there are a lot of people who are where I was at 15. But in ways that I don’t, I don’t think always are going to go that way. And so I want to speak to them. And I also want to speak to the people around them to say we really have a responsibility to make sure the witness of the church is better than this
Mark Turman 54:54
by such a good word. And with just a few more minutes before we need to end but Just, you know, it makes me come back to this thought that I’ve been having recurring listening to you and your own podcast and writing and others in this space as well is, you know, just, we put it in different contexts, the way I frame it right now is is well, we’ve been talking about these culture wars for so long. If if we as believers actually won the culture war, what would we actually win? I just don’t even have any kind of an answer for that. But but you’re not you know, you and I have come. We have come of age, you might say, in a season where evangelical Christianity has been wed to politics, from the 70s on, and we our whole life, my whole life and ministry has been bound up in that probably a reaction in many ways, a fearful reaction to what was going on in the culture in the 50s. In the 60s, that type of thing. Is there anything giving you hope, at this point, that maybe we’ve gotten, as evangelical Christians finally to the place of being both exhausted and disillusioned with this unhealthy marriage that grew up over time, where there’s were so many instances of, of the Church of Christians trying to solve the problems that can only be solved by the gospel by solving them through political means or other things? You talk about that, in your book some? What’s giving you hope on that front?
Russell Moore 56:32
Oh, what’s giving me hope is that when I’m going around talking to young evangelical Christians, I am not finding the kind of cynicism that I might expect to find, as a matter of fact, it when I’m on a college campus, which is all the time, and I’m talking to Christian students, there are going to be really three questions that I’m going to be absolutely sure that I’m going to get. And there are questions that I never would have gotten before in that context in my ministry, one of them is going to be how do I pray? The second is going to be how do I get to know the Bible when my attention seems to be so attenuated? And the third is something along the lines of how do I maintain a relationship with my family, when maybe they’ve been drawn into some conspiracy theories, or some sort of political division, and that’s all they want to talk about. And what’s what’s life giving about that is that I can’t even think of a single time, where what the Christian is saying is, give me the talking points to be able to win those arguments. It’s, it’s almost always I really want to have a relationship with my mom and dad, or with my Aunt Gladys, or whoever it is, Can you can you show me some way to connect with them? Without all of that, so these are, these are? The Kids Are All Right. I mean, they, they have their own, they have their own troubles, just like we all do. But but the spirits really doing something there. And so I think that there’s there’s great reason for hope, when you look at that. And then when you look at what God’s doing around the world, you know, we talked about Tim Keller, who first started, I had Tim come one time, I was teaching in the Institute of Politics at University of Chicago for a semester, and I had Tim come to the class with me one day, none of these, these were all completely secular students who had never met and Evan Jellicle Christian until me, and they didn’t know who Tim Keller was at all. And I think a lot of them were thinking, why are we talking to some pastor from New York until about, you know, 30 seconds in when they started to realize. But one of them said, because Tim made some reference to evangelical Christianity. And the students said, Why do you all retain that word when it’s become a synonym for a certain kind of political activism, and all of these scandal cover ups and everything else? And Tim said, because most of us are in Africa and Asia and Latin America, and the North Americans don’t get to just choose what were called. And I thought the most important thing in that sentence was the word us. The sense of we are part of a global body of Christ, that, that the Spirit is doing some amazing things in so if you if you sort of have to telescope out. And you see the body of Christ around the world. And then you think about that body of Christ united to the body of Christ as it is in heaven. And you think about the sort of confidence that Jesus has about the advance of the Church, which is honestly what I think we’re we’re missing the most, there is a lack of confidence that the Gospels really true, and that the spirit really works. And for some people that turns into, well, then that means we’re at a moment of catastrophe. And we have to fight against whoever the enemies are, or we’re going to be extinguished. And that means all rules are out some emergency measures, going, for some people, it’s a sense of kind of cowering down, and having a sort of intellectual inferiority complex when it comes to Christianity. That is just that’s not what the Christian gospel is. There’s a confidence that comes with it, that seseri of Philippi still stands. Right. And that means that we can be both calm. Jesus is never freaking out in the New Testament, we can be calm, and we can actually move forward and bear witness, we can recover that.
Mark Turman 1:01:25
Yeah, just like said that confidence. I think you’re right, that in so many ways, the American churches lost its sense of confidence. Yeah. Whereas, you know, when we’re in Israel, we take people up to Syria and say, You know, Jesus chose to found the church here at at what they understood to be the gates of Hell, he didn’t do it in Jerusalem. He didn’t do it in Capernaum. He didn’t do it in Nazareth, he could have done it anywhere. But he chose to do it right where they thought the very presence and entry to Hell was and he was like, we’re going to prevail, we’re going to go right up to the gate and start pushing because the gospel will ultimately be the victor. And if we if we can just get to the place where, you know, in our families, our communities, we see ourselves more as missionaries, rather than warriors trying to win this or that argument or some other kind of battle. I think we’ll be serving the Lord a lot better in in those ways. Dr. Moore, thank you for being part of this conversation. The book is courage to stand the coming book and later this summer is losing our religion, an altar call for evangelical America. Dr. Moore, as I said, I’m a fan even a bigger fan as of today. Thank you for who you are for what you do. We will continue to follow all of your work. And our audience can do that by finding you at Christianity today. Your Podcast the Russell Moore Show, and I listened to it regularly. Thank you for that work and for your other work and we want to thank our audience for being with us today. If you like what you heard today and it was helpful to you please rate review us and pass this on to your friends and family. That will help them be a part of the conversation as well. Dr. More blessings on you your work and on your family.
Russell Moore 1:03:12
Well you as well. Thank you for having me.