The following 20 quotes caught my attention as I read Russell Moore’s excellent new book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (B&H) [review]. Thanks to Tony Reinke for inspiring the 20 quotes idea.


“Jesus came to wreck our lives, so that he could join us to his. We cannot build Christian churches on a sub-Christian gospel. People who don’t want Christianity don’t want almost-Christianity.” (5)

“The problem was that . . . Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel. That’s why one could speak of “God and country” with great reception in almost any era of the nation’s history but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned ‘Christ and him crucified.’ God was always welcome in American culture. He was, after all, the Deity whose job it was to bless America. The God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ, however, was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to ‘Amen’ in a prayer at the Rotary Club.” (6)

“The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself.” (7)

“If adapting to the culture were the key to ecclesial success, then where are the PCUSA church-planting movements, the Unitarian megachurches?” (21) 

“We receive celebrities simply because they are ‘conservative,’ without asking what they are conserving. If you are angry with the same people we are, you must be one of us. But it would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ.” (30–31)

“Our story is that of a little flock and of an army, awesome with banners. Our legacy is a Christianity of persecution and proliferation, of catacombs and cathedrals. If we see ourselves as only a minority, we will be tempted to isolation. If we see ourselves only as a kingdom, we will be tempted toward triumphalism. We are, instead, a church. We are a minority with a message and a mission.” (35) 

“Our life planning ought to be about the next trillion years, and beyond. If we assume that what’s waiting for us beyond the grave is a postlude rather than a mission and an adventure, we will cling tenaciously to the status quo, or at least the parts of it we like. . . . Our lives now are shaping us and preparing us for a future rule. Our lives now are an internship for the eschaton.” (52, 53)

“Our vote for President is less important than our vote to receive new members for baptism into our churches. . . . The reception of members into the church marks out the future kings and queens of the universe. Our church membership rolls say to the people on them, and to the outside world, ‘These are those we believe will inherit the universe, as joint-heirs with Christ.’” (63)

“The kingdom of God turns the Darwinist narrative of the survival of the fittest upside down (Acts 17:6–7). When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run. The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a ‘ministry project.’ He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ. . . . The first step to cultural influence is not to contextualize to the present, but to contextualize to the future, and the future is awfully strange, even to us.” (82) 

“What if our churches weren’t divided up by the same economic and racial and political and generational categories that would bind us together even if Jesus were not alive? What would it mean, in your church, if a minimum-wage janitor were mentoring the multimillionaire executive of the restaurant where he cleans toilets, because the janitor/mentor has the spiritual wisdom his boss/protégé needs? It would look awfully strange, but it would look no stranger than a crucified Nazarene governing the universe.” (84–85)

“A church that loses its distinctiveness is a church that has nothing distinctive with which to engage the culture. . . . A worldly church is of no good to the world.” (88)

“Let’s model what happens to a culture when the kingdom interrupts us on our way to where we would go, if we were mapping this out on our own. Let’s not merely advocate for causes; let’s embody a kingdom. Let’s not aspire to be a moral majority but a gospel community, one that doesn’t exist for itself but for the larger mission of reaching the whole world with the whole gospel. That sort of kingdom-first cultural engagement drives us not inward, but onward.” (91) 

“We assume often without thinking that the church is white, American Protestants doing missionary work for the benefit of everyone else. But the church isn’t white or American; the church is headed by a Middle Eastern Jewish man who never spoke a word of English.” (126) 

“When we pray for those in prison for their faith, we remember that the gospel came to us in letters written from jail. When we plead for those whose churches are burned in Egypt, we remember that our hope isn’t in building religious empires but in a New Jerusalem we’ve never seen. When we weep for those who are (sometimes literally) crucified in the Middle East, we are reminded that our Lord isn’t a life coach or a guru but a crucified Messiah. That can remind us of the gospel we signed up for in the first place, and free us from our fat, affluent, almost-gospels, which could never save in the first place. And we can be reminded that the persecuted Christians for whom we pray and advocate very well may be those who will send missionaries to carry the gospel to a future post-Christian Europe or North America.” (152)

“Despite the utopian rhetoric of the language of “progress” as it relates to sexuality and gender and family, can we really pretend that the culture around us is an increasingly safe place for women or for their children? Despite the promise of women’s empowerment, the Sexual Revolution has given us the reverse. Is it really an advance for women that the average adolescent male has seen a kaleidoscope of images of women sexually exploited and humiliated in pornography? Is it really empowerment to have more and more women economically at the mercy of men who leave them and their children, with no legal recourse? The adolescent girl facing the pressure to perform sex acts on her boyfriend, or else lose him, what is this but the brutal patriarchy of a Bronze Age warlord? All of these things empower men to pursue a Darwinian fantasy of the predatory alpha-male in search of nothing but power, prestige, and the next orgasm. That’s not exactly a revolution.” (171–72)

“To rail against the culture is to say to God that we are entitled to a better mission field than the one he has given us. At the same time, if we simply dissolve into the culture around us, or refuse to leave untroubled the questions the culture deems too sensitive to ask, we are not on mission at all.” (181)

“Convictional kindness [will mean] a doubling of one’s potential criticizers. Those who don’t like the gospel call to repentance will resent the conviction, and those who don’t like the gospel drive to mission will resent the kindness.” (196)

“We must see even our most passionate critic not as an argument to be vaporized but as a neighbor to be evangelized.” (197)

“The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic right now. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star right now. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was.” (215)

“It may be that America is not ‘post-Christian’ at all. It may be that America is instead pre-Christian, a land that though often Christ-haunted has never known the power of the gospel, yet.” (218)