What do Russell D. Moore, a professor at Southern Seminary, and Brian McLaren, a major voice in the emerging church movement, have in common? A lot I will suggest today — and it that “a lot” has to do with three words: “Kingdom of God.” They differ, rather markedly it will be seen, on what these three words mean. But this series will look at what I think may become a watershed book in conservative evangelicalism’s interaction of Church and State.
There are three major moments in the development of conservative evangelicalism’s theory of Church and State. The first is Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947), the second (which I’m not sure Moore gives quite enough attention to) is the impact of Francis Schaeffer, especially his A Christian Manifesto and his project What Then Shall We Do?, and the third is Russell Moore’s 2004 book, The Kingdom of the Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.
Moore’s opening chapter re-states, in new terms and for a new context, how the call of Carl Henry needs to be undertaken still and he also states that a new day has dawned. It is of no small pleasure to me that Moore is smitten with Carl Henry, as I have had dozens of lunches with Carl Henry when I was teaching at TEDS. Moore’s essential drive is to carry on and re-enliven the legacy of Henry’s vision for a more robust theology that can drive social interaction.
The opening salvo contends that the rise of the Moral Majority was social activism without an adequate theology, the re-entering of politics and agenda into the evangelical movement without sufficient foundations for knowing why, how, and to what end such engagement is to take place. In some sense, then, this book is an indictment of previous attempts by evangelicals to enter the public forum.
And what I like about this book is that it promises to do so on the basis of a robust theology of the kingdom of God. Moore contends that conservative were so at odds with one another theologically that they could not come to terms with one another on the meaning of the kingdom, which was demanded for any meaningful engagement to occur. In particular, he builds his case on the stalemate between traditionist covenant theology and traditionist dispensational theology. He contends that the progressive wing of dispensationalism (Blaising, Bock, etc) and the new shifts in covenant theology (Hoekema, Poythress, etc) has ushered in a new day for conservative evangelicalism once again to find common ground to build a biblical theology of the kingdom.
Before we move tomorrow to the substance of his proposals, I wish now to give an impression in scanning those with whom Moore interacts: it seems clear from the index that Moore will not engage with the evangelical left sufficiently. I see very little attention given to Jim Wallis, Ronald Sider and even John Howard Yoder, whose books on the Church and State have been profoundly influential for those in the evangelical left and even for those who are evangelical moderates. I will also now register that I think experts will have to assess whether Moore has co-opted Henry or remained faithful to Henry. Many on the left, we all know, have claimed his book as powerful in their own thinking. Time will tell, and I surely am not rendering any kind of judgment at this point.
I will say this though: I’m excited to read this book because I think this issue is the center of the debates within evangelicalism today.