If I want to read anyone’s reflections on recent years, it’s Russell Moore. The president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC hasn’t been as visible or vocal as he was before 2017, at least until the last week following the attack on the U.S. Capitol. But his newest book, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul, published by B&H, is even better than a tell-all memoir. It’s a grace-infused reflection on where and how to stand tall when it feels like the world is going to crush you.
Moore says, “The courage to stand is the courage to be crucified.” Indeed, Jesus sets the tone for this book. And if you’re going to worship and follow a Savior who submitted to the cross, you’re not going to follow the world’s typical mode of courage.
I see this book as seeking to reclaim Jesus, or at least his reputation and authority, among evangelicals. Moore observes, “An entire generation is watching what goes on under the name of American religion, wondering if there is something real to it, or if it is just another useful tool to herd people, to elect allies, to make money.” Elsewhere he writes, “I’m not surprised now when I see Jesus used as a mascot to prop up some identity politics or power agenda, or even to cover up private immorality or public injustice.” We’ve seen all of the above recently with the Jericho March, and then the protests-turned-attack at the Capitol.
Moore joined me on Gospelbound to tell us what scares him, how to lead when no one seems to be following, ambition masquerading as conviction, and much more.
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Collin Hansen: If I want to read anyone’s reflections on recent years, it’s Russell Moore. The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC hasn’t been as visible or vocal as he was before 2017, at least until the last week following the attack on the U.S. Capitol. But his newest book, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul, published by B&H, is even better than a tell-all memoir, because it’s a grace infused reflection on where and how to stand tall when it feels like the world is going to crush you. Moore says, “The courage to stand is the courage to be crucified.” Indeed, Jesus sets the tone for Moore’s book. If you’re going to worship and follow a savior who submitted to the cross, you’re not going to follow the world’s typical mode of courage.
Collin Hansen: I see this book as seeking to reclaim Jesus, or at least his reputation and authority among evangelicals. Moore observes this: “An entire generation is watching what goes on under the name of American religion wondering if there is something real to it, or if it is just another useful tool to hurt people, to elect allies, to make money.” Elsewhere, he writes, “I’m not surprised now when I see Jesus used as a mascot to prop up some identity politics or power agenda, or even to cover up private immorality or public injustice.” And certainly we’ve seen that recently with the Jericho March and then the protests turned attack on the Capitol. Moore joins me on Gospelbound to tell us what scares him at a lead when no one seems to be following, ambition masquerading as conviction, and much more. Thank you for joining me, Russell.
Russell Moore: Oh, thanks for having me, Collin. Good to be with you.
Collin Hansen: I read this book as a kind of testimony to your last three years. At least that’s what came through to me in passages like this. It’s a long one. I had too many things I wanted to quote from this book, so forgive me for the long quoting of yourself. But I think it puts it well. You write, “The problem is that much of what is actually described as courage in scripture, the bridling of the passions, kindness, humility is seen as timidity while many who feel themselves courageous because they tell it like it is are really just seeking to be part of their protective tribes, even when those tribes are boisterous and angry. They may feel that they stand for something but this is not courage, if courage is defined by Christ.
Collin Hansen: To follow the way of Christ is to stand for the things that matter and those things are not just the right side on issues or the right side on doctrines, but conformity with Christ in terms of the affections, the experiential lived reality of walking with Christ. Courage is needed not to do radically important things, but to live out a quiet ordinary life with integrity and with love.” So, does this book seek to explain some of your journey in the last few years?
Russell Moore: Well, if it does, it’s only at a subconscious level because I really started working on this project in 2015 as a result mostly of working with campus ministries where there were so many evangelical college students and university students who were trying to live out their faith and trying to figure out how to do that in the sort of a world. And so that was the genesis of it. But as with everything else that I think I’ve ever written, I’m seeking to persuade myself before I’m seeking to persuade somebody else. That was when I wrote Adopted for Life, on adoption I was trying to sort of bring people along with my own working through what does the Bible tell me about this. Something probably was similar here.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. What actually scares you? I asked that question to Ross Douthat years ago, and it was one of the most illuminating I got because he and I were talking about politics. We were talking about religion, theology, changes in the world and in the end he said, “None of that scares me. What scares me is this technology in my kids.” And I’ve never forgot that. You’re pretty courageous guy, but what actually scares you?
Russell Moore: Well, I think I would have to differentiate that between what ought to scare me and what does scare me. So I would agree with Ross that technology does scare me as it relates to my kids. And not just in the ways that we typically think of that in terms of porn and everything else, although that is really true, but also just the continual dehumanization that we see happening all around us. But in terms of what really scares me at a personal level, it would probably be many of the things that Jesus tells us not to be afraid of. I think probably what I am fearful of most often and that I have to bring to the Spirit to be crucified would be the fear of exile. Fear of being alone, fear of being rejected by people that I love and respect.
Russell Moore: I think that would probably be the number one thing, and that might be a little surprising because I’ve written about exile for all of my life, 25 years of ministry. But I think that’s why, because there’s a reason why I think Jesus says don’t be afraid and it’s not because he’s saying you don’t have anything to be afraid of. It’s because he knows that we need to be told that. And we all have different points of vulnerability and different points of weakness, but that would be probably at the top of list of mine.
Collin Hansen: Just yesterday you wrote about your own position. Does this relate to that? Did it take you a while to come to a point where you thought, even if I do lose my job, I’m okay with that?
Russell Moore: I am okay with that. I’m perfectly at peace with when we’re living in a time when the name of Jesus is used for horrific things. I’ve been seeing this take place over the past several years as it applies to sexual abuse of children and women and what that has done to the lives of people and also what that has done to the witness of the church of Jesus Christ. And then looking at this gathered mob of people attacking our Capitol, seeking to murder our vice-president, other congressional leaders, and in fact murdering a Capitol Hill police officer. And as I’m watching the scene of gallows being constructed outside, people chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” there were also signs that said “Jesus saves.” I mean, this is something that communicates not only the horror of what was taking place, but communicates to people that this is what Jesus Christ is about. And I think we have a responsibility when something satanic is being represented as the gospel of Jesus Christ to say that that is not so. This has consequences that will go on for generations and has eternal consequences as well.
Collin Hansen: Russell, what if you know you need to say something, but you’re guaranteed to fail or people are not going to listen. That’s one of the scenarios that you paint for pastors speaking against racial injustice in the Jim Crow South in your book. I keep wondering, and this has been haunting me, and I know you and I have talked about this before, but why couldn’t churches act even when they knew the right thing to do? It’s not that every church in the South was completely and totally racist and was not going to give in. In many cases, the leaders or pastors knew the right thing to do and still couldn’t bring themselves to do it. I mean, my city today is littered with churches that died because they were afraid of losing people if they did the right thing. I don’t think, unless we can get a handle on this history, we can understand how to respond to what happened last week.
Russell Moore: Well, I think that’s right. One of the things that has been haunting me over the past year or so is a passage from Peter Berger, a sociologist, that was written in the early ‘60s, I believe, in his book on The Noise of Solemn Assemblies. He talks about how there was a perception that a lot of these church leaders were doing the wrong thing knowing what the right thing is and had guilty consciences. So as Carl Henry would say, the uneasy conscience that is there. But he argues that instead that by the time those questions were raised, that consciences had already been navigated around because it’s easy to talk oneself into ways that one ought to do what’s not scary.
Russell Moore: So in that case what you say is, well, my people aren’t ready for this. If I speak to this, I’m not going to be able to reach Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, or wherever you are at the time. And so what I’m going to do, and if I speak to it I’m just going to be a martyr or they’re just going to fire me, which means I can’t reach people. And so what I’ll do is for the sake of reaching these people, just sort of move very, very slowly, which in most cases meant not at all. And all the while saying, if I speak to this, I’m going to lose my place at the table. And I’ve heard this many times, about a thousand different scenarios. Well, if I’m not here, someone worse than I am will be here. And so I needed it well. So little by little by little one can adjust one’s conscience to where it no longer is even bothered. That’s a scary thing.
Collin Hansen: This is a related point, and you already touched on it, Russell. What if you’re supposed to lead but no one appears to be following? I’ve talked with many pastors who feel strongly convicted about what they believe and what they do. And even when they have the courage to speak, it seems like they cannot get any traction against the media megaphones of the world. So what does courage look like for them for us?
Russell Moore: Well, I don’t think that everyone is required by Jesus to speak to everything all the time. For instance, I’ve had a lot of pastors during the pandemic who would say to me how discouraged they were when they would look at the social media feeds of some people in their church in the way that they were talking to one another and so forth. And some of these pastors would say something along the lines of, “Well, I look at this and I think, where have I failed and what should I do on Sunday morning?” What I had to say is, “Well, this isn’t your failure.” I mean, this is something that just makes visible and audible and readable what is already there. I’d say, “Well, you really can’t address that in a Sunday morning sermon one time and move forward from this. This is showing you sort of after-effects of things that have gone on before, and so you have to have a very, very long-term strategy of speaking to this.”
Russell Moore: I don’t think that everybody has to speak to everything all the time, and sometimes you’re going to make mistakes and not speak where you should or speak where you shouldn’t. You’re going to make mistakes. We’re all going to do that. But I think the main thing is to recognize and to know when someone says no one is following me, that’s rarely the case when someone is faithfully following Jesus Christ. Sometimes what’s happening is you’re speaking to an entire group of people that you don’t see or know who sometimes can feel very alone or sometimes have grown cynical. And you’re speaking sometimes to future generations.
Collin Hansen: That’s what I was actually going to mention there because when I go back then to the situation that you and I know so well, the civil-rights movement and white churches and their responses to it, I know that the careers of these pastors who did speak out, who did take up the cause of integration, ended in disgrace and failure and sometimes even they died because of the stress that was imposed on them. And yet, while their lives ended in failure, in the worldly sense, I can look back on them at least in these books and appreciate what they did, that they did the right thing in their time. And I guess as Christians, we should be able to have comfort in that because we know that this is not the end in this life.
Russell Moore: Yeah. I had a pastor say to me one time that… He was a preacher’s kid and his dad had been pastor in a rural Mississippi church. The person who was talking to me said that he was going through almost the stereotypical preacher’s kid rebellion as a teenager, and really was far, far away from the Lord. But his dad in the church was preaching the gospel and was seeking to baptize African American neighbors who had come to faith in Christ into his church. And he came into opposition from the Ku Klux Klan and from the deacons at his church. And this guy said he was watching his dad to see whether or not this was really real for him or whether this was a job for him. His dad was fired and he ended up being a janitor, I think, at night at a hospital in order to make ends meet.
Russell Moore: This pastor told me that when his dad was dying, his dad said, “I’m just really sorry for having to move the family and disrupt your life in high school.” And this guy said, “Dad, you lost a ministry position, you gained a son.” I think that you often don’t know what it is that the Lord is doing around you. You think about the apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 1 and 2 about the Judaizers. I did not yield to them for a minute. And why? So that the gospel would be preserved for you.
Russell Moore: Seth Godin’s a leadership writer that I read everything that he writes. I’ve benefited so much from him. He talks about choosing one’s audience is choosing one’s future, and one’s audience can never be everybody. He’ll talk about, “Go look at Amazon reviews for Moby-Dick or Huckleberry Finn or some other great novel, and there’ll be one star reviews for those books. Everything can’t speak to everybody. But if you’re speaking to a group of people and seeking to lead them and to move them forward, often those are people that you don’t immediately see around you or if you do, they’re people who are a different audience than you expected.
Russell Moore: I think that’s something that you see so often in Scripture is that the people that God calls end up with audiences that they did not expect. Just among people that I know and respect, I can think of a thousand people whose ministries did not go the direction that they would have chosen them to have gone, and they ended up with joy and effectiveness. I can think of, I spoke at the retirement service for a pastor who had been fired from two churches and ended up planting a congregation that has reached countless people that he never would have reached because he never would have thought of himself as a church planter. He would’ve thought of himself as a large established church pastor, and God derailed his plans in his view, but gave him the people that he was calling him to minister to. Elijah sees that with the widow at Zarephath. You have that just happening repeatedly in Scripture.
Collin Hansen: Who are you speaking to Russell when you know you’re saying something that the majority if not the vast majority of Southern Baptists are going to disagree with?
Russell Moore: Well, I mean, for one thing, I don’t know that that’s always the case. I mean, sometimes, especially in my corner of the world, the majority of people are not the people who are sort of firing off missives at people on Facebook. They love Jesus and would never do that sort of thing. And so it’s easy for people to caricature just based on what a small minority of people do and say. But what I think God has called me to do primarily is to speak to people who are in the situation that I was in as a 15-year-old kid going through a spiritual crisis where I was looking at racism in the church context, I was looking at cover up of sexual immorality in many church contexts in the Bible Belt and was starting to wonder, is Christianity really just about Southern culture and politics, and Jesus is just sort of the way to get there?
Russell Moore: And that was a terrifying thought for me. What happened was thankfully I had read the Chronicles of Narnia so many times as a kid that I recognized C. S. Lewis’s name on the spine of Mere Christianity and took it home and read it. And what I tell people all the time is, what changed my life were not the arguments in Mere Christianity, although those are good arguments. But my problem wasn’t intellectual. My problem instead was one of panic at maybe Christianity is a means to an end. And it was less what Lewis was saying as much as how he was saying it. That he really wasn’t trying to sell me anything, he really wasn’t trying to manipulate me from the grave. He was just bearing witness to something.
Russell Moore: And from that, finding Christianity Today magazine and reading those columns by people like Philip Yancey and J. I. Packer and Chuck Colson and others had a similar effect, sort of a radio free Bible Belt in my mind. And so I really spend a lot of my time talking to young people who love Jesus and are just about to walk away, and to say, “No, Jesus is worth following. And don’t confuse Jesus with whatever you have seen around you or experienced around you by people who claim the name of Jesus.”
Collin Hansen: Another thing you write in The Courage to Stand is this: “Clearly the Scriptures call us to judge those on the inside who bear the name of brother and not those on the outside. Doing the reverse can make for a much easier ministry, as a hack.” Russell, how can we reverse the obsession with what’s happening in the world that seems to have so overtaken much of the church so that we can focus on the integrity, especially the theological and moral integrity of the church?
Russell Moore: Well, I think that there’s always going to be a temptation to highlight the sins of whoever is not just on the outside, but whoever’s on the outside and unpopular with the people in front of you on the inside. That’s always easy to do. And somebody can get a reputation of preaching hard against sin when they’re really just getting up and talking about what’s going on in Hollywood, or what’s going on somewhere else, rather than actually speaking to the sins that are right in front of people. And also to give people maybe even unintentionally the idea that outward conformity can reverse the fall in a way that’s not true.
Russell Moore: And so I think that there has to be, if we think about what Jesus says with Matthew 18, which is of course applying to a church discipline situation where something has gone wrong, a similar pattern I think works in the heart of a follower of Christ, which is start with your own sin and your own temptations and so forth. And then move to bearing one another’s burdens in the church body to which you belong, the church, for lack of a better word, tribe to which you belong, and then work outward from there.
Russell Moore: And so we speak differently inside and outside. Inside, we speak to people who have been redeemed by Christ and who are bearing witness to the world of what the kingdom of God is like. And we remind one another, remember who you are. When we’re speaking to the outside world, what we’re doing is representing Christ in order to convict of sin and to invite. And so we’re saying, “Come and see.” We’re speaking in a very different way to the outside world. And it’s just easy to get that all convoluted and turned around.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, it’s another way where our historical experience informs us, and you look at the Southern landscape over the last 70, 80+ years, and one of the things evangelicals have been known for is preaching against sin. And yet the sin that was often not preached against at all was the sin that we now remember them so much for.
Russell Moore: Yeah. And even when, there are many people who will note that Southern churches would often be preaching very hard against personal morality and not about the things that were going on in terms of slavery, the Jim Crow, lynching, everything else. And that’s all completely true. But it’s also true, even if one just isolates the personal morality, that too would differ from area to area. I remember when I moved from south Mississippi to Kentucky and I went to preach at a church in Kentucky, I was shocked to see a deacon smoking a cigarette. Not surprised that a deacon smoked a cigarette. I had seen deacons smoke cigarettes. I had never seen a deacon smoke a cigarette out in the front of the church, right in the public, in front of everybody. Because that was a tobacco farming area, nobody was going to be preaching against tobacco.
Collin Hansen: Wendell Berry country right there.
Russell Moore: Oh yeah. As a matter of fact, it was right down the street from his very home.
Collin Hansen: Well, here’s something you write about seminary students. You say this. “Some people even seemed bored by biblical or doctrinal or practical truths that couldn’t be marshaled in debates against others. This is the spirit of the age.” Here’s something, Russell, I’ve been trying to just run over in my head. I’ve noticed that Baptists in particular, and I count myself among the Baptists even though I’m not in a Southern Baptist congregation, but that Baptists in particular seem to be especially attuned to political dynamics, by which I mean how their views position themselves in relation to others. And in many cases, it almost seems to be more important to them than their orientation toward biblical truth. I’m wondering if that’s a by-product of the democratic polity of Baptist churches with congregational votes and that kind of authority, but I might be way off base here. So here’s your chance to set me straight. What am I observing, right or wrong, and where does this seem to come from?
Russell Moore: Yeah, I think you’re a little bit off base there because I think that this is not unique to Baptist life. I see this phenomenon taking place in all sorts of sectors across evangelicalism and it sort of shows up in different ways. So, take aside politics for a minute if what we mean by politics is sort of partisan who’s up, who’s down, so forth. But if you think about it in terms of controversy, this is what I was talking about in the book is that I would encounter a lot of. There was a time at the very beginning of my ministry when I looked around at cultural Christianity and saw this as a problem. I thought the answer to cultural Christianity would be a theological resurgence.
Russell Moore: And so when you start seeing that, people being much more attuned to theology, I really thought this is what is needed to correct this. I no longer think that because theology alone is not going to correct this when the theology often becomes, even good theology often can become just one more form of cultural Christianity. And the way that can show up is with people who will know a lot of theology, but what they know is how to argue whatever are the points of specific controversy at the moment. Now, to some degree, that’s always going to be the case.
Russell Moore: If you’re living in the time of Augustine, you’re going to be shaped between Augustinian and Pelagian views of human nature and sin and so forth. And much of Nicea is about controversy and so forth. Reformation is about controversy. But there’s a sense often where it’s about having the answers to these specific debates so I can tell you why complementarianism is good and egalitarianism is bad or vice versa. Why limited atonement is good and unlimited atonement is bad or vice versa. All of those very specific debates. But sometimes these are people who really don’t know, what is he curious about?
Russell Moore: And what I think is necessary for following Christ is a shaping and forming by the Scripture that is not all just at the cognitive level. In other words, the Word of God is shaping and forming you even in ways that you’re not aware of at the time, and preparing you for questions that you’re not asking at the time and maybe no one else is asking at the time. So if we think about for instance Jesus in his desert temptations, people will often say, “Notice that Jesus is quoting Scripture.” And that’s exactly right. That’s key.
Russell Moore: But what Jesus is not doing is quoting back Scriptures that he learned in order to combat the question of what do you do about turning a stone into bread. Instead, what Jesus is doing is quoting from Deuteronomy 6 and quoting from Deuteronomy 8 and quoting from the Psalms, indicating that he knows exactly where he is, that he is standing where Israel had stood before. And he’s standing there in the Spirit. I think that’s often what’s missing.
Russell Moore: There was a little book that I think Baker put out a couple of years ago, a Concise Guide to the New Testament, and the introduction to it was gold because the author is talking about having a generation of Bible quoters but not Bible readers. When I read that, I thought that’s exactly right. I mean, even when you have people who would say, well, we’re biblically faithful and biblically literate and would contrast themselves with market-driven sort of evangelicalism, whatever, often that’s what it is is Bible quoting not Bible reading and Bible shaping, and that’s a problem for us.
Collin Hansen: Let’s try to compare our timelines here. When did that realization about theology come to you?
Russell Moore: I don’t know. I don’t know that it came all at once to me. It was something that I think over the years started to change. I started to see some of the people that initially I had thought, well, they’re going to be the ones who can sort of lead us out of Bible Belt cultural Christianity because they’re so well catechized who later on I would see repeating the very same things. And the question was, why? Why is that the case? And then honestly just looking at, when I look at my own life and I say where has the Lord most confronted me and taught me, it’s almost always in ways that take me to the Word of God and in prayer, in desperation, in ways that later on I may have theological reflections about that I could systematize and put down to some degree, but not at the moment. That’s not what’s going on. So I think it’s a long process I think of realizing that.
Collin Hansen: This is a related question, Russell, why for many evangelicals is political alignment more important to them than theological alignment? This is one thing you write about. In the book, you allude to it a couple of different times, at least. But in other words, why will somebody anathematize you over political positions while partnering with actual heretics?
Russell Moore: Because politics feels more real to us than the kingdom of God does. I think that one is able to participate in politics as a spectator sport. So if for the most part what we’re dealing with is often very different than say Constantine or Charlemagne or someone else who’s channeling political power through religion. Now that does happen a lot, but it happens mostly with people who actually have power. When we’re talking about everyday normal people, what we’re typically talking about is the way that politics becomes at the spectator level a way of defining who I am over and against who you are, and that feels more lifelike to people because it’s a way of walking by sight rather than walking by faith. I mean, apart from faith, Ur would have seemed much realer to Abraham than the promised land would have, much less the kingdom of God that he saw and greeted from afar. I think that’s part of it.
Russell Moore: I think the other part of it is if you notice how often Paul is warning about an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrelsomeness, and often putting those things in the very same context to sexual immorality. And for a while I would wonder, why is he doing that? But after now 25 years in ministry, I’ve concluded they’re coming from the same place. So when I’m dealing with somebody who’s wrecking his life with maybe marital infidelity, for instance, I almost never find someone. I mean, often I’ll talk to, and say this is a man who’s doing this, often his wife will be saying, “Well, maybe I wasn’t attractive enough.” And that is, well, at least in my experience, never been the case, that that was the case.
Russell Moore: Instead what usually happens is that you have somebody who’s trying to recreate the feeling that they had maybe when they were in high school or they were in college. And it’s, I like her and she like me, that sense of kind of drama. And then it drives them into this. It gives them a feeling of life. And often these adulterous people, whether male or female, will say to me, “But you just don’t understand. I feel alive for the first time in a long time.” And I think also this sense of identifying oneself and tribalizing oneself in view of controversy and craving for controversy is a similar thing. It gives a feeling of life that really isn’t life but it’s like the electrical charge going through a dead frog. It’ll make that leg jerk but it’s not life. And I think that’s often where this comes from.
Collin Hansen: And an election night gives us a tangible verification of whether or not our identity is valid and whether or not our tribe is valid.
Russell Moore: Well, yeah. And that’s especially true when there’s a sense in which we have… I mean, Neil Postman warned us about this, about the way that… I mean, I think God has designed us with a narrative sense of reality, sense of our lives. And what Postman was warning us about is sort of what television would do to that. I don’t think Neil Postman could have ever imagined what reality television and social media could do to that. But I think that there’s a sense of election night for people who are more politically oriented. This is when the narrative is resolved. So this tells you who the winners are and who the losers are, and that’s especially true when it’s in the interests of people to speak of everything in apocalyptic terms.
Russell Moore: This is, if this election doesn’t go our way, whoever our happens to be, if it doesn’t go that way, then you will not recognize America. America will be gone. I mean, I’ve been hearing that since I was in preschool, Sunday school, from people and it only becomes more and more heightened all the time. So you have people who really do think this is when the storyline is going to be resolved. Either, OK, our problems are solved or nighttime has come in that way. And that’s just not the way actually that life works.
Russell Moore: And so I think that Augustine’s framework with city of God, city of man is so much more biblical and explains reality so much better in a way that gives a sense of perspective that ought to draw us back from, “Hurray, we won.” Or a sense of, “Oh no, we’re about to lose everything.” To say, “No, we have a certain kind of tranquility that comes to us
Collin Hansen: I’ve got two more questions here with Russell Moore, author of The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. Russell, how can you tell if conviction is actually just a strategy of ambition?
Russell Moore: Well, I think one way that one knows that is just by continually interrogating that in the same way that we have to do with anything else. But the other way is to say, is this something that is consistently being applied? Now, we’re sinners and so nothing is ever going to be perfectly consistent, but am I seeking to be consistent in the way that I’m applying this is a really helpful tell, I think, as to whether what one has is conviction or it’s something else. Sometimes you can have people who can say to themselves, well, I’m following Jesus and I’m walking the narrow way when in reality, they’re just sort of conforming to an audience. And sometimes, I mean, in the world that we’re in now, one can find those silos and herds wherever.
Russell Moore: So just constantly asking, is this something that is actually consistently being applied in terms of my life. And also to say, “This sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not in my view. Am I changing?” I mean, if you’re not ever able to change your mind… I was struck years and years and years ago by hearing about several publishers would do these four views books, five views books, three views books on various issues, and someone was telling me about being a part of one of those projects and the leader of the project said, “Let’s get together and have a retreat and see if any of us change our minds and we spend the weekend in prayer and study.” And someone said, “If we do, it’ll ruin the book.”
Russell Moore: I don’t even remember what the four views were there, but the attitude there was one that is really admirable to say we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ here who are accountable to the Word of God and so theoretically the Word of God should be able to change us if we can be convinced. So I think the saying is can I see in my life a consistency in integrity and can I also see in my life a kind of teachability and flexibility in ways that I have changed in response to the authority of Christ, not against him.
Collin Hansen: Let’s say, Russell, you get a chance to talk to yourself as you accepted the presidency of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. What do you tell yourself?
Russell Moore: I would be really, really quiet and would walk away and here’s why. I would almost Grand Inquisitor myself in that case because I often think about that question, not about necessarily that point in my life but often I’ll think of different points in my life and say, what would I say to myself? What sorts of questions would I have for my future self and what would I want to say to myself back then? And it’s a helpful exercise for me to go through because usually whether I’m thinking about my 20-year-old self, my 30-year-old, any point, usually what myself now would have to say is stop wasting so much time worrying about stuff.
Russell Moore: The things that you’re worried about, most of it doesn’t happen and the things that do happen, you’re God’s faithful. You’re able to get through that. And so I really wouldn’t want to… I think that in everything in my life, God has shown himself to me in different ways and I wouldn’t want to take any of those away. So I really wouldn’t want to direct myself in that way except to say don’t worry, it’ll be all right.
Collin Hansen: Well, Lord willing, I’ll turn 40 in a few months or a couple of months. It gave me a chance recently to look back on my 30s and one of my original thought was, What an amazing decade. Look how much of my life changed. Look at all the amazing things that happened. How would my 30-year-old self have had any idea about these things that were going to happen? And then I thought a little bit more and I thought, Wait a minute, my 30s were horrible. All kinds of terrible things happened in my 30s. How could I have ever thought that I would do the things that I did, or I would suffer the things that I suffered, or that I would experience what I experienced. And then I stopped and I said, Huh, well, I guess it’s going to be the same thing in my 40s and 50s and 60s. I think that’s the way God designed it.
Russell Moore: You know what, as I think about that a little bit more, what I would say to my younger self wouldn’t be about preparing for anything coming in the future, but it would be about patience and kindness to people. When I look at the things that I say I regret these things the most, it is often giving up on people too soon, not understanding as much what somebody was going through at the time. And I would tell myself in every case, when you think you know something, default to humility; and when you’re facing someone, default to kindness.
Russell Moore: Sometimes there’s a time to shake the dust off your feet and move to the next. That is all true. But I think there were many cases where I expected things out of people, “Come on, live up to who you are in Jesus Christ, and why won’t you.” And when I look back on it now I say, that person seemed very confident, but that person was hurting really badly. What that person needed from me was not a list of exhortations, what that person needed for me is kindness.
Collin Hansen: I’ll do a final three questions now with Russell Moore, author of The Courage to Stand. I’ll do these quick Russell and you just give me, you can give me a little bit of explanation if you’d like, but let’s give you three questions, you gave me the first thought that comes to mind. First, what is the last great book you’ve read?
Russell Moore: I think the last great book that I have read would probably be Marilynne Robinson’s new volume in the Gilead series, Jack. It’s very different from the others, but everything that she writes is great.
Collin Hansen: Excellent. Okay. What brings you calm in the storm?
Russell Moore: My wife, Maria, and friends. I have a couple of different friend groups that I really am dependent on. One of them has sort of moved to Zoom over the pandemic time. And another of them, I have a group of guys here that we get together and read T. S. Eliot or something like that, which it’s really just the excuse for us to actually get together. And so we’re finding socially distanced way to do it, but that brings me a great deal of calm.
Collin Hansen: Last question then, where do you find good news today?
Russell Moore: Oh, I think there’s lots of good news today and most of it has to do with seeing what God is doing among young Christians who are following Christ often in some very, very difficult circumstances. I get to see that all the time on college campuses and in other places. And then also to see what God is doing around the world with Christians who are faithfully serving Christ in, again, very, very difficult circumstances. When you encounter a Christian, as I did not long ago, who had come across a river out of China, those sorts of things are, that’s good news.
Collin Hansen: Our guest on Gospelbound has been Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, author of The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. Russell, as always, it was great to talk to you, and I was really encouraged by this book and by this conversation. Thank you.
Russell Moore: Thank you. Thanks for having me.