Book Review: Onward


“Let’s not seek to resuscitate the old civil religions.  Let’s work instead for something new, and for something old: the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, gathered in churches of transformed people, reconciled to one another, on mission with one another, holding together the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ.” Russell Moore, Onward

Bruce Jenner.  The Charleston Shootings.  The Confederate Flag.  Gay Marriage.  Planned Parenthood.  Donald Trump.  The Chattanooga Shootings.  The Louisiana Shootings.  Donald Trump.

Wherever you stand on any of these issues…the summer of 2015 will go down as one where we saw some major culture shifts take place.  None of these started in 2015…we had been inching towards several of them for years…but the major shift occurred as these headlines took over our newcasts, podcasts, blogfeeds, twitter, and more.  The good news?  None of this was a surprise to God.  It really never should have been a surprise to us either.  If you have read Genesis 3, then you know that the world is not what it was originally intended to be…and thus, people make choices and do things that they weren’t originally created to do.

In his newest book, Onward, Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission makes a plea for Christ followers to engage culture while holding fast to the gospel.  We have compromised the gospel for far too long in favor of building a bridge to the culture or trying to fit in.  That’s not at all what we have been called to do.  We also haven’t been called to be mean, bigoted, hateful people.  We come bearing good news…Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  Christ will come again.  We are called to live lives in which we love God first and then love others second with the hope of having an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those we come in contact with.

Onward is a great read for anyone that desires to step away from the hype of the six o’clock news in favor of studying what God’s word has to say about how a Christian should live in light of the world around us.  If you are ready to focus on God’s truth and truly live out the gospel, this book is a great tool to understanding the authority of Scripture and the supremacy of Christ.  Don’t be fearful, be prepared to love others well.

Below I have listed several things that I highlighted while reading…

  • “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
  • Walking away from our own lordship—or from the tyranny of our desires—has always been a narrow way.
  • Our call is to an engage alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens.
  • Our end goal is not a Christian America, either of the made-up past or the hoped-for future.  Our end goal is the kingdom of Christ, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.
  • Before the culture war came to the ballot box, it came to the jukebox.
  • If we were ever a moral majority, we are no longer.
  • That’s why the Bible warns us that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
  • We ought not to shy away then from saying, “the Bible says.”
  • We must learn to be strange enough to have a prophetic voice, but connected enough to prophesy to those who need to hear.  We need to be those who know both how to warn and to welcome, to weep and to dream.
  • The kingdoms of the moment, whatever they are, seem more important than the kingdom of Christ, without our ever even realizing it.  That’s why our blood pressure is more likely to rise when we hear someone disagree with us about our political party or our sports team or an item in the news than when we hear faulty teaching from a Christian pulpit.
  • Implicit in Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue was the message he would preach everywhere else later, to seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.  Kingdom first does not mean kingdom only.  Since the kingdom is a kingdom of justice and righteousness, seeking the kingdom means that we come to know what to care about in the first place.
  • The church is a signpost of God’s coming kingdom (Ephesians 3:10), a preview to the watching world of what the reign of God in Christ is to look like, a colony of the kingdom coming.
  • We do not seek to legislate the kingdom of God into existence, any more than we seek to legislate the unique covenantal order of Old Testament Israel.  But the pattern of justice in Israel, and even more so, the pattern of the restored future can give us a moral framework to question the assumptions of our ambient culture.  The priorities of the King, seen in the ultimate restoration of creation, become the priorities of the colony of the kingdom: the church.
  • All the promises of God find their “yes” and “Amen” in him.  (2 Corinthians 1:20)
  • There’s no doubt that we should want to see widespread repentance and the seeking of God in our country.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is that the application of this, and other passages, to the United States—or any other nation, for that matter—is a confusion of the question of who “we” are.  The United States, or any other modern nation, is not in a covenant with God.  Second Chronicles 7:14 is not a general statement about humbling or blessing, but about the gospel.
  • A prosperity gospel applied to a nation is no more biblical than a prosperity gospel applied to a person.
  • With a kingdom vision, we recognize that the priorities of this present world system are different from those of the age to come.
  • The internal doctrinal and more ordering of the church is a matter of mission.  Without it, the presence of Christ is gone, the lamp stand removed (Revelation 2:5), and with it the light that shines out into the world.  A church that loses its distinctiveness is a church that has nothing distinctive with which to engage the culture.  A worldly culture is of no good to the world.
  • 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.
  • The future of Christian social witness cannot assume the gospel, but must articulate it explicitly and coherently, not silly as the tagline at the end of our activism but as the ground and underpinning of it.
  • The word of God exposes the conscience in order to drive it to the goodness of the gospel news, even at those points where the conscience argues that the word of God ought not to have jurisdiction.
  • The gospel teaches us to differentiate between the “very good” of God’s original creation along with the “even better” of his coming new creation from the pain and suffering of sin and curse.
  • The gospel does not expose sin in order to condemn but in order to reconcile.
  • Any “gospel” that evacuates the cross of judgement against sin, that alienates the gospel from personal reconciliation with God and with others, is something other than the gospel  of Jesus Christ.  And any Christianity that turns us away from the truths handed down to us about Jesus—his deity, his humanity, his miracles, his atoning death, his bodily resurrection, his future return, his authority in Scripture, his building of his church—is pointing us to some different Messiah.
  • Those who develop a sense of how human dignity fits in the larger meaning of the universe have consciences that can be trained to see related issues of racial reconciliation, euthanasia, war and peace, treatment of migrants and workers, capital punishment and prison conditions, as well as the rapidly changing challenges to human uniqueness proposed by technologies that promise life-extension and even artificial intelligence.
  • A Christianity that doesn’t prophetically speak for human dignity is a Christianity that has lost anything distinctive to say.
  • A vision of human dignity can exist within the common grace structures of the world, but a distinctively Christian vision of why humanity should be protected must emerge from a larger framework of kingdom and culture and mission.
  • Even those who reject Christian doctrine, or even any religious teaching at all, can acknowledge that something seems wrong with the world.
  • The universe was called into existence as an inheritance for Jesus, that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).
  • The image of God, biblically speaking, is a mysterious reality in which the invisible world and even inanimate nature seems to recognize in humanity the distinctive mark of our Creator (Romans 8:19-23).  This image is about who we are—not just about what we do—but clearly the image of God defines and equips us to carry our God’s mission, ruling beneath and for him over the rest of the creation.  This is the end-result of redemption—a humanity once again, under God, on the throne of the cosmos.
  • Our task as the people of God is to recognize this culture where we see it, to know where this comes from, and to speak a different story.
  • We must repent of the way that we, sometimes without even knowing it, have prized the powerful over the powerless.
  • We must first deal with the question, contested in our time, of whether children are persons or property, based simply on whether they are existing inside or outside the biosphere of the womb.
  • We cannot combat a culture of death merely with appeals to abstract human dignity based on natural law (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  In every assault on human life, there’s not only a life left for dead but also a conscience left for hell.  The gospel addresses both.
  • A religion that needs state power to enforce obedience to its beliefs is a religion that has lost confidence in the power of its Deity.
  • The gospel is big enough to fight for itself.
  • The most important thing the church can do to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience is to hold to the gospel itself.
  • There will come a day when Old Glory yields to an older glory, when the new republic succumbs to a new creation.  We must not shirk our callings as citizens, but we also must not see our citizenship of the moment as the final word.  We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.
  • The “crisis in the American family” isn’t downstream from Woodstock or the Pill—whatever factors cultural trends may have played—but downstream from the wreckage of Eden.
  • The household is not just a “relationship”, but an economy, an economy where we learns something of what it means to be the children of God.  Disharmony between parents and children is not simply a cultural problem; it implicitly pictures a false gospel of a Father who does not hear his Son, a Son who does not honor his Father, a church that is not mother to those of the faith.
  • How can churches castigate the outside culture for believing the family structure is socially malleable when we fail in our church households to maintain a consistent witness to the kingdom of God?
  • We ought to love those who disagree with us, including those who see us as bigots.  They are not our enemies.
  • We need to be ready, after all that, to point a light toward older paths, toward water than can satisfy.  We need to be a John 3:16 people in a John 4:16 world.
  • Kindness and gentleness grow, not when we downplay warfare, but when we emphasize it.  For Paul, kindness is not politeness.  It’s a weapon in spiritual warfare.  We teach and rebuke with kindness and gentleness, so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may…escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
  • The line between light and darkness doesn’t line up by party affiliation or by moral values, but right through everyone one of our hearts and souls.
  • The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them (2 Timothy 2:26).
  • In our message, people are to hear the Galilean accent of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • We stand and we speak, with reconciliation in view.  We see, therefore, even our most passionate critic not as an argument to be vaporized but as a neighbor to be evangelized.  This doesn’t mean that we back down one iota from the truth.  But we proclaim the whole gospel of truth and grace, never backing down from either.
  • Preachy propaganda doesn’t arrest the conscience.  We, as ambassadors of Christ, are dealing with the aroma of life and the stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).  We must appeal to the depths of accused consciences that already know God, but shrink back from him in fear.
  • Kindness does not avoid conflict; kindness engages conflict, but with a goal of reconciliation.
  • We are the voice of the future, of the coming kingdom of God.  The message of the kingdom isn’t “You kids, get off our lawn.”  The message of the kingdom is, “Make way for the coming of the Lord.”
  • “For where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the widow from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  James 3:16-17
  • Let’s not seek to resuscitate the old civil religions.  Let’s work instead for something new, and for something old: the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, gathered in churches of transformed people, reconciled to one another, on mission with one another, holding together the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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