The following is an except from Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, a six-session Bible study based on the book of the same title by Russell D. Moore. Both are available to order from lifeway.com.
The church is an alternative society, but the church is no isolated silo. Peter tells us the world is watching:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” —1 Peter 2:11-12
We cultivate churches that model, always imperfectly, the kingdom of God, and from that base we speak to the outside world about the priorities of that kingdom. We don’t simply advocate for the agenda of the kingdom; we embody it. We embody this kingdom message even though it may seem strange to the culture. And we continue engaging culture until the full strangeness of this message is heard.
Yes, often at the root of much of our engagement with culture lies an embarrassment about the oddity of this strange biblical world of talking snakes, parting seas, and empty graves. But without that distinctive strangeness, what’s Christianity for?
Jesus didn’t hide the oddity of the culture of the kingdom, and neither should we. Let’s listen to what our culture is saying, hearing beneath its cool veneer the fear of a people who know judgment day is coming because it’s written in their hearts (see Rom. 2:15-16). Let’s listen beneath the cynicism to the longings expressed in the culture, longings that can be fulfilled only in the reign of a Nazarene carpenter-king. Let’s help them deconstruct the nonsense they’re espousing and replace it with the truth of Scripture.
And there’s more than just communicating the gospel. Let’s live together in churches that call our neighbors to consider the justice and righteousness they see demonstrated among us. Let’s witness—albeit imperfectly and waveringly—to what the whole universe will look like one day. Let’s groan at the wreckage all around us, in this world of divorce courts and abortion clinics and gas chambers, and let’s pray for the day when Christ returns and makes everything right.
Let’s show in the makeup and ministry and witness of our congregations what matters—and who matters—in the long run. Let’s confront culture with the gospel, in all its strangeness, both inside and outside the church. And let’s model what happens to a culture when the kingdom interrupts us on our way to where we’d 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.
Excerpted from Russell Moore, Onward Bible Study. © 2015 Lifeway Press. Used by permission.