Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ERLC's Russell Moore - Houston we have a problem...

As a representative of thousands of churches small and large, effective and ineffective, some type of names other type of names, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission led by new president Russell Moore is tasked with speaking up on the Christian view (positive and negative).

The ERLC is tasked with speaking to many various issues we actually face in our time (not theory issues). This speaking on issues is meant to instruct churches not just to know, but also to act according to God's wisdom in standing firm in faith.  Yet, by definition, the ERLC will have certain strengths and weaknesses due to any president's ability, wisdom, and spiritual walk.

For instance, Richard Land the former president had some good views, but also in many's eyes had some weaknesses in something he said that led to his moving on, and Russell Moore's replacing him.

I know Russell Moore personally from days in graduate school at the same institution.  It was a Bible believing graduate school with a rich historic faith.  Men and women from all backgrounds attended there for advanced degrees (Masters/Doctoral) so as to represent the kingdom at large in pastorates, Christian schools, Christian missions and relief, and Christian journalism.  The vast majority of students and faculty truly have a heart to help people and also to speak truth using normal Bible study methods.

So given this historic kingdom of God role, you suspect that Russ would be supportive of Christian radio.
However, recently he has been called on to take back comments he made regarding it as a bad gospel witness for Christian faith.  See one article here on the comments, and then his 'explanation' of what he meant, at this link:  here.  This link from Christian Post shows how he attempted to walk back the comments, even though the original statement pretty clearly generalized.

In my opinion as a Christian, there are times Christian radio is very useful.  I admit there are times I definitely turn it off and listen to many other stations.

But I would not throw all Christian broadcasters under the proverbial bus in front of a delegation of Christian pastors and theologians like Russ did recently several times.  His recent radio generalizing is a risk for some North American Christian progress, since his position will be seen as abandoning their support.

It also raises the question:  how can Russ rule out good commentators and some great interviews of people like well-respected theologian Wayne Grudem on stations across North America?  What about Focus on the Family programs?  Unfortunately, what is going on with Russell's comments is a backing off of truth in part, and it is not especially a new thing with him (others have noted it on separate issues I'm not interested in in this article) (see also WSJ on Moore, and also Huff Post interviewers who say he is backing off truth in their view while listening to an interview).

The whole situation matters since Russell Moore as the president of ERLC is assigned to speak for Christian churches (and inevitably in some minor ways himself).  He is essentially influncing the next generation of Christian leaders in an area of Christian life.  During his planned out/prepped conference lessons he has used a serious logical fallacy:  a hasty generalization of many agents of God's kingdom in our time that reflects less about Christian radio and more about Russ' view on the world.

Russ basically stated he would hate Christianity if he only listened to Christian talk radio to see what it was. Wait, really?  Everyone on Christian talk radio? Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University inspired radio programs?  Even his old former mentor, Dr. Albert Mohler when he was on the radio declaring positive and negative parts of the gospel of Jesus?  This kind of statement made at a meeting of the ERLC is unfortunate because it is so easily seen as false, but it is his style to take down those who make a stand for truth, and avoid the whole message in some settings.

One important article is here on the stir explaining what Dr. Moore said that created the situation.
Another commentator is here at this link from YouTube.
A major Christian radio figure here at this link has a call for Russ Moore to take back his comments.

On those comments, a logical fallacy is the culprit.  Hasty generalizations are dangerous because they may sound nice, but they do not reflect reality.  These fallacies generalize a class of people in a way that the speaker should know otherwise is false.  For instance, saying all people who love the color red are dishonest is such a fallacy in logic. Likewise, labeling all Christian radio as counter productive to the kingdom is dangerous for a figure who is supposed to be at the forefront of cultural issues and engagement by definition. This is why he has had to walk back his comments.

It's also a hugely telling statement that Russ Moore cannot well engage on Christian radio.  He is disdainful of it.  But yet his job requires him to engage those millions.  Does he plan to circumvent them with the web? Why would he disdain them like he has several times over?  The ERLC president must reach millions upon millions so as to influence for good causes Christian people and Christian churches.  Ah well, Christian radio in his view is a joke altogether, literally.

His generalization against Christian talk radio was what well known commentator Janet Mefferd has called 'firing' on our own people.  I'm not a huge huh rah Janet Mefferd fan, but she has built me up with useful info on the Christian news, and I'm sure built up others in Christ spiritually before in some programs.  Russ has this sensationalist angle to him though.  It will likely happen again soon.

I agree Russell Moore's comments went too far, if, he is claiming to represent churches rather than himself by and large.  Churches, you see, must walk the fine line of being the heralds of truth, positively (amen), and also negatively too (probably what Moore sees as the main problem, the negative).  Christian radio commentators contrary (180 degrees) from what Dr. Moore said, do in fact often share the gospel message of how to be saved during their programs.  They express God's mercy.  Maybe some could do this better, but to write them all of is not right.

Jesus saving someone is a self-realization from God that we are both sinners (negative) and yet declared free and guilt removed in the Cross of Calvary (positive).

Since being redeemed (aka bought by the blood of Jesus) we know personally as well as affirming objectively that the gospel is both a positive and negative message.

Therefore, knowing this as a belief and then also reflectively, a wise Christian lay person/leader should not agree with Russell Moore about Christian radio being largely useless.  Christian radio even if it were largely a problem then would need to be updated, repaired, changed, or improved (which in some ways I agree with).

In this situation, contrary to Dr. Moore, I agree with well known commentator Janet Mefferd that the front lines of the gospel are often these days on Christian radio so that there are some aspects of sin that have to be brought up.  This may simply be so that believers know what is going on.  Many people are very busy and disconnected from current events.  Major news networks do not carry this news on purpose.  So Christian radio fills a knowledge gap in the gospel awareness, how it applies in our time. Why does it have to do this?  I agree, many of our church pulpits and discipleship groups have grown silent on half of the gospel.  We need an ERLC president who understands this critical role that Christian radio plays while people are on the move, in their cars, commuting, taking kids to soccer practice, and so on.  Real life stuff.

The truth is some radio programs are useful.  I cannot imagine writing off most or all of the marriage advice and tips from Focus talk.  There are great teachings from Criswell College radio on ethics for Christians on tricky questions, like end of life, etc....  There is useful financial help to people for free to help them retire with dignity and honor God by not becoming debtors.  These talk programs help people and they point to Jesus' work on the whole (I agree it needs to more, in that part of Russ' critique).

At the end of the day, Russ Moore probably is - not - the right person for the ERLC.  This is not because what he says is always untrue or off most of the time (besides the recent comments).  He should leave the ERLC because he has a history of not speaking parts of the gospel (such as God's judgment) in public settings.  He is now attacking Christian radio for doing exactly what he ought to be doing himself, thus confirming his pattern of this.

He may write about something on his blog, but what about when he is in the spotlight on a television program, on a production piece for mass appeal, Russ hides back from pushing back darkness in culture, even if he does in fact tell Christians what they should speak to more.  Then amazingly, Russ throws people under false hasty generalizations that disagree with his modus operandi.  If he won't speak up part of the gospel (Romans 5) too often saying it is embarrassing or negative, then at least he can leave those who do when they are at the mic or on tv free from harassment, right?  This goes beyond the recent flap he is in hot water over, and that's why I'm writing this beyond that one flap...

Russell Moore has a hesitancy to declare God's truth in its fullness on some issues of note:

1.) In my experience at the same graduate school with him though a different program, Russ was scared to speak up on gospel issues in the state of Kentucky.  I know this because I helped tipped the balance along with another student in favor of biblical teaching and leadership at the state church association level.  Kentucky had for decades a gospel rejecting entrenched leadership team.  This was not a small matter, it was over a large state convention of churches and they were doing harm to gospel teaching.  Things needed to change.  Cultural and ethical issues were absolutely in play.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in education and help assets were in play as well.  People knew this, but a few of us finally after a long time of people having given up, acted on it.  There were many who were satisfied with doing nothing out of fear, lack of knowledge, or what not.  This particular church convention needed change, and yet could be changed easily. Despite this, Russell Moore told me in front of others verbally, he was afraid of "getting in trouble" by allowing believers (such as pastors in classes) know what was going on in the gospel meets culture near him in that convention.  This was said on the job while he worked for SBTS, a very large and influential Christian seminary.

That kind of reclusive attitude against taking action, in favor of just talk, is exactly what the ERLC has taken up recently in interviews and in training guidance. You can boldly-prophetically lecture Christians in Russ' view, but if it comes to taking a stand in the culture on the news or at large or doing something, you just have to retreat backwards allowing darkness to fill in the gaps on the front line.  This is not appropriate to the ERLC historically or in its calling.  It needs to lead in what we do as well, as Richard Land did historically in his tenure.

Ultimately the president of a group dedicated to standing firm in the culture with the gospel has to have a president willing to do that, not just to state views and do nothing but talk.  At least some of the Christian radio commentators are calling people to action while they share the gospel too.

2.)  In his interview on C-Span as the newly appointed ERLC president, he avoided declaring what God is against.  At the time, I thought to myself, 'Ok..., just wait and see what he does in the future,' but I was uneasy just to myself.  I decided at that time (a while back now) to just wait and see in the future, after all, that was just one long interview and the future may differ.  This uneasiness because his stand was not strong on what we believe God is also against remained but was silent on my part.  When it came to what was not morally correct there was a limited stand by Russ, and thus he only stated half the gospel in an interview setting.

Only half of the message in public is a risk.  Both New Testament and Old Testament preaching include a positive and negative element which we must have.  Moreover, recently, famous and well respected evangelists like Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Ravi Zacharias, James White, and others teach us that we also call out sin enough to connect with people where they are so as to call people out of it.  We do not labor on it but we do mention it deliberately as they have.  We go on immediately to the cross, but we do not hesitate to speak to what is wrong as well.

Indeed, the founding of Christianity Today and Dr. Carl F.H. Henry the partner in much of this would not hold back part of the message in public settings like Moore has.  In God, Revelation and Authority, Dr. Henry refused to speak only what he did believe, but also shared at length (talk show-ishly really, in great irony) what he saw was sin against God.

Russ Moore at the ERLC is a problem largely because Christian ethics being sold out to Jesus also includes stating then what God is against.  That's not all we are about, but it is a part of the message, and has been historically in God's church throughout the ages.

3.)  In addition, another situation that was very public is worth mention.  When it came to light that Starbucks was openly advocating with finances for homosexual marriage in several areas as the CEO was making radical statements, Russell Moore publicly rejected calls for Christians to dine and shop elsewhere.  This was despite the call being very successful without Dr. Moore (itself insightful).  In the US, Starbucks noticed this press back big time through their bottom line.  Since then they have backed off of much of the rhetoric.  Time will tell what they do again, but the - only - reason Starbucks paused was because sales were hit in part of the US at a noticeable level.  But no thanks to the ERLC under Russell Moore who would have us just pay people to bash our churches and our views.  If we are honest, that is what their CEO was doing and if we do not make a choice about where to shop for a set time and a set place, we tacitly allow the evil to continue. This element of social action taken by key figures in Christian life before is very much missing from Dr. Moore's ERLC.  There is in its place a lot of talk, a lot of generalization, and a lot of change at the ERLC that seems to yet have an effect.

4.)  Another situation highlights the problems:  In Louisville, KY, there are two large churches, Ninth and O Baptist Church and Highview Baptist Church.  Highview is much larger than Ninth and O.  Russell Moore was a member and Sunday school teacher at Ninth and O Baptist Church for years.  He baptized people there and helped with some things.  When it became clear that it was politically advantageous to switch churches and speak at Highview Baptist Church, he went for it.  This was clearly a popularity move.  This tendency to jump ship with what is popular should be seen as indicative of the kind of direction the ERLC may want to go at his direction.  Whatever is popular will win out.  This is a real risk for churches like ours paying for the ERLC to help them in turbulent times know what to research and how to move forward on the Bible's terms instead of just what is popular (if the two cross paths, so be it).

5.)  Beyond this, Christ following churches should be wary of what Russell Moore, a former Democratic political figure in the South, might want to do to biblical church's voice given his national opportunity at the moment.  Perhaps his tendency is to take up positions that may or may not fit the biblical mandate, due to his committed background.  It is not clear to the churches exactly what Dr. Moore will do as a result.  This last one is not as yet clear, but it is worth noting.

For these and moore reasons, we should expect more leadership on ethics issues.  Even the name ERLC partly stands for ethics, and distinctively Christian ones at that, and ethics that don't do anything do not matter at all in the end.

For the weaknesses of Richard Land, we may be much worse off now with Russell Moore.  If Russ is backing off key Christian issues of engagement in favor of 'talking to the choir,' and also attacking Christians like Christian Radio commentators and interviewees who have been on that radio who are trying to help people in guidance and encouragement, then we have an issue long-term with him.

Short-term he will have no noticeable impact.  Unless there is a change of direction, it is very clear that the wrong choice in a gospel of engagement was made in appointing him as head of the ERLC.

In writing about this, I do have a measure of hesitancy.  It is not fun to describe these things, and it would be better if I could say other pastors were already doing this.  This kind of topic is not what I like to spend time on, yet it does trickle down to churches practically in time.  Someone has to point the problem emerging out and say we need a restoration or change at the ERLC.

If no one says anything, the horizon of what is possible in the wrong direction may increase way beyond what is repairable.  This has been the case in the past with many denominations, and it starts with not being cautious who is at the top.  In the end, I'd rather see churches helped and also Christian radio improved rather than rejecting part of our North American witness in these areas slowly but surely.

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