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A while back, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is the President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and is the author of a number of books including Adopted for Life, Tempted and Tried, and most recently, Onward. Dr. Moore has indirectly impacted Susie and me in a number of ways, most notably in giving us a heart for adoption through Adopted for Life, but in other ways too.
I do not count it coincidence that a leader as articulate and gracious as he has been made the leader of one of the most influential Christian organizations in Washington, D.C. amidst our present culture context. The Lord knew what he was doing when he led Dr. Moore to lead the ERLC, and I’m thankful for that. People who get on TV to represent Christianity sometimes make Christians look silly. Dr. Moore has done quite the opposite, and I’m thankful someone like him represents evangelicals on CNN and other places.
One time, when I was in college and when Dr. Moore was still teaching at Southern Seminary, I asked if there was a student discount for a family ministry conference they were hosting, and he told me he’d just pay my way. I was, and still am, so grateful for that. It may not have meant much to him, but it meant a lot to me. That conference truly changed the way I do ministry.
Anyway, I interviewed Dr. Moore about his latest book, Onward. Here’s what we talked about:
Chris Martin: This first question is a bit broad, but I think your answer here is important. In the next five to 10 years the youngest Millennials in America will enter into adulthood. As young evangelicals enter into adult life, what do you think will be the most pressing ethical issue or decision Millennial evangelicals will face?
Dr. Russell Moore: The biggest decision facing millennial Christians is simple: Do we hold fast the faith even when doing so means we will pay a price? There’s nothing new under the sun, so that’s the same question that every generation of Christians has had to answer. But Millennials do face a different context in that their parents likely enjoyed social benefits from being “traditional” in a way this is not the same for the next generation. So Millennial Christians have to clarify what they believe and what they are willing to surrender in order to hold to that confession.
CM: As younger Christians start to take positions of spiritual leadership in their homes, their local churches, and even their broader communities, what can we learn about engaging culture from how Gen Xers and Boomers did it (positively or negatively)?
RM: Young Christians who want to lead out in their churches and communities should avoid two mistakes. The first mistake is to try and reproduce the activism of the last generation and make it work in a different culture that is ill-suited to that kind of approach. The second mistake is to overact and reject not only the excesses of the last generation’s work but reject activism itself and instead retreat into our bunkers with a veneer of piety, as if doing so allows someone to simply “focus on the gospel.”
I think the young generation of Christians can correct some mistakes that the older generation made, particularly when it comes to investing so much time and trust in a theologically nebulous “civil Christianity” that achieves coalitions at the expense of the Gospel. On the other hand, young evangelicals could learn a lot from their parents’ generation about the seriousness of the issues that we’re dealing with and the dire need to engage in the public square.
CM: One of the things you say that I find to be most helpful is that Christians need a shift in perspective when it comes to how we influence the United States. Christianity is moving from being a “moral majority” to being a “prophetic minority.” In what practical ways can young Christians wisely engage a culture that disagrees or even dislikes us?
RM: The very first step is to acknowledge the truth: Biblical Christianity has never been popular or attractive to mainstream American culture. You could talk about God and country in certain places at certain times and get applause, but there’s never been a moment in our history where bringing up the depravity of all human beings and the necessity of substituionary atonement would curry friends and favor in the country clubs. So in one sense, the answer is simply to keep doing what all Christians in every generation have done, because every single age of the church has been an age of unpopularity, cultural suspicion, and unpalatable doctrines.
Biblical Christianity has never been popular or attractive to mainstream American culture.
But it’s also true that young American Christians today face a particular challenge as a unique cultural transition takes place beneath their feet. Until fairly recently, for several generations in America it was assumed that a person who belonged to a Christian church or respected the Bible was admirable and trustworthy. Being a churchgoer yielded a certain social and political capital; it was part of being a “good American.” That’s what is changing. Going forward in a culture that instinctively distrusts those who identify as Christian will require avoiding capitulation on the one hand and a siege mentality on the other hand. If we try to draw the lines of our faith broadly enough that we don’t run into conflict with the ambient culture, we’ll end up with a fake, meaningless Christianity that doesn’t save and indeed doesn’t really want to. On the other hand, if we rev up our outrage machines and try to shout the “other side” down long enough for us to “win” apart from the gospel’s goal of reconciliation, again, we’ll miss the point of the Gospel and the Kingdom completely.
CM: A big issue among young people, or perhaps not a big enough issue among young people is the issue of marriage. Young people simply are not getting married, and if they are, they’re getting married much later than their parents or grandparents did. This is an interesting tension, though, because while many non-Christian Millennials delay marriage, many Christian Millennials are desperate to get married right out of college. What problems do you see in how Millennials view marriage as a whole? Why not delay it?
RM: You said the most important word in that last question: “Why.” Understanding the motivations behind putting off marriage is the key to speaking to young Christians about it both with conviction for their sanctification and compassion and sensitivity to their particular life situation.
Truth is, many that many people are ultimately more concerned with economic failure than moral failure.
There’s no biblically prescribed age for marriage. We do know, however, that the Bible talks about taking delight “in the wife of your youth,” and describes the adulterous woman as “having left the companion of her youth.” So the Scriptures seem to assume that marriage is for young people. This is perhaps made more clear in the New Testament, where Paul quite clearly attributes to marriage a sanctifying power to keep away from sexual sin. “Better to marry than to burn with passion” doesn’t mean marriage is only for satisfying the sexual urge, but it does mean that God intends it to serve that purpose.
So when we look out and see that the average age for marriage is at an all-time high, it should cause us to ask: Why? And part of the reason is, I think, is misplaced priorities. Even many well-intentioned parents often tell their children they ought to wait to get married until they get out of college, get a good job, make sure they are out of debt, and have a reliable income before they think about marriage, as if marriage put young people’s future in jeopardy. Truth is, many that many people are ultimately more concerned with economic failure than moral failure. What we need to see is the way in which marriage is designed to be a foundational to the husband and wife, not the capstone they reach when the rest of their lives are “in order.”