Friday Five Interview – Russell Moore

Today I’d like to repost an interview I did in 2010 with one of my favorite contemporary Christian leaders, Dr. Russell Moore. Russell D. Moore is the Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

The grandson of a Mississippi Baptist preacher, Dr. Moore is also a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, where he ministers weekly. Dr. Moore is a thoughtful writer whose columns always spark introspection and discussion. He is a senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity and also blogs regularly at Moore to the Point.

Dr. Moore’s has written several books, including Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches, and  Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ.  Prior to entering the ministry, he was an aide to U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor. He and his wife Maria have four sons: Benjamin, Timothy, Samuel, and Jonah.

Dr. Moore, you teach and lead at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. How did God call you into a ministry of preaching, teaching, and leading in ministry? Has it always been your passion?

My grandfather was a Mississippi Baptist preacher. Despite the fact that he died when I was six years-old, it was as though I was always in his presence, since I grew up in the church he had pastored and the entire community was shaped in many ways by his ministry. In my early teens, I felt a call to Christian ministry, but I resisted it, largely because I didn’t feel I fit in the models of ministry I’d always seen, models I appreciated then and appreciate now. I went off and pursued other things, but the call to preach tracked me down. I was in the Library of Congress, going through discarded books as a congressional staff member (the Library would allow us to have discards) when I found myself picking up an old Free Will Baptist Pastor’s Manual. It wasn’t until later that night that I wondered, “Why did I want this collection of wedding and funeral services?” That prompted a renewed grappling with the call to ministry, and I ultimately went home and announced I was to prepare to preach. I’m thankful God was patient with me.

You’ve become an articulate voice for adoption in the evangelical world. This seems to be the golden area for this in the church. Why so?

The Spirit is afoot in calling the church back to orphan care, and I’m frankly amazed to see it happening in such a wind-whirling kind of way. I think there are several factors at work. First, is that Christians are recovering a sense of incarnational mission, of joining Jesus in his kingdom announcement. Second, evangelical churches have been awakened to the plight of the fatherless through the abortion debate. Seeing the way the broader culture can be so calloused to the “least of these” in depersonalizing children as “embryos” or “biological waste” has pricked our conscience about the plight of the fatherless in the world’s orphanages and foster systems and group homes as well. Third, the orphan care movement is self-replicating. Rarely do you find a church where one or two families are adopting or fostering. As soon as one or two do this, “orphan” is no longer an abstract category; now the congregation sees “Caleb” or “Chloe” in the pew in front of them, and additional consciences are stirred. I’m encouraged by this, and I think we are just on the edge of the wave that is coming. Jesus loves orphans and widows, and as the church becomes conformed to his image, we will too.

Like many people, I read your reaction to the evangelical embrace of Glen Beck as sort of revival leader. I think you spoke for a lot of American believers. Were you surprised by how widely quoted and read your piece was?

I was both discouraged and encouraged by the whole thing. The vitriolic calls, letters, and emails I received demonstrated a wing of evangelical Christianity that is even more politically defined than I suspected. These people were more than willing to receive a Mormon who rejects the biblical Christ as a spiritual leader as long as he articulates the right political message. This is telling, I think, of what is really at the core of such Christianity, and it isn’t Christ. On the other hand, I was surprised by how demographically predictable the response tended to be. Those falling for this kind of hyper-politicized civil religion tend to be in the oldest wave of the Baby Boomers and older. Evangelical Christians under forty, on the other hand, tend to be more theologically and missiologically defined. This seems to be true, I might add, regardless of partisan political identification. I think that’s good news for the future, with a church that will be less likely to confuse Christ with Caesar.

Do you think the Church loses something when it pursues political power?

I think the church loses everything when it pursues political power. This isn’t to say that the church should be isolated from social and political realities. The church shapes consciences. But political power drives the church toward the three temptations of Jesus- appetite, self-protection, power. I think James Davison Hunter’s book “To Change the World” is almost wholly right on what has happened to hyper-political evangelicalism in the last generation. This is especially true, in some ways, in the current political context. In an upcoming issue of Touchstone magazine, we’ll be quoting my friend David Mills who argues that political discourse these days is driven by wrath, envy, and resentment (see Fox News and MSNBC any given night for this on display from the Right and from the Left). You can see this in the “siege mentality” of the last generation of evangelical culture warriors in which there is often a reversal of the Pauline admonition of 1 Corinthians 5. Those on the outside we judge; not those on the inside.

This mode of discourse fundamentally transforms the gospel when it wraps itself around the church’s mission. David goes on to say that the high passions about politics reveal what really is at the core of our conviction. Sadly, I think many evangelicals have their pulses race much harder in a debate about whether Sarah Palin is smart or dumb than they would over a debate about whether God is triune. That is scandalous.

Lastly, if you could encourage a potential pastor or ministry leader with one piece of advice, what would that be?

My advice would be a lyric from the Grateful Dead song, “Touch of Grey”: “It’s even worse than it appears but it’s alright.” By that I mean, the principalities and powers are stronger, deeper, more primal than you can ever imagine. The creation screams out in agony for the sons of God to be revealed. Your own sin, if you can see it, will tempt you to buckle in despair. But, take heart, King Jesus has overcome the world. Keep pressing on, until (as the old gospel song puts it) “every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed.”