Robert George and Russell Moore on the State of Evangelicalism

Oct 11th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Recently I referred to Russell Moore, in reference to his article published earlier this year titled “Where Have all the Presbyterians Gone?” in the WSJ. He is Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Last Monday he sat down with Catholic philosopher Robert George (McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University) at an event titled “Faith in America: The Role of Religion in the Public Square,” and discussed the state of Evangelicalism in America. The event was sponsored by the James Madison Institute at Princeton University. Over the course of the discussion George asks Moore, a Southern Baptist, a number of questions about the ecclesiology of Evangelicalism. The discussion touches on the ecclesial questions and debates that have taken place here at CTC over the last two years. Both George and Moore provide an exemplary model for Catholic-Protestant dialogue, always gracious and charitable, even where they obviously disagree, but always sincerely seeking to listen and better understand each other.

Russell MooreRobert George

Listen to the discussion here:


The mp3 can be downloaded here. A video of the discussion can be viewed here.

The combox below is open only to those who have listened to the discussion or watched the video.

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  1. Bryan,

    Thanks for posting this. I would agree that the tone was admirable.

    What became so weird for me in the interview were the obvious antinomies in evangelical ecclesiology. On one hand we are to believe:

    1. We should listen to the Bible within the Tradition; its not the Bible alone, but the Bible as the final authority
    2. The authority and discipline of the “Church” is located in the congregation which has the “keys of the kingdom” when they *faithfully* proclaim the faith
    3. Evangelicals are sometimes caricatured (by Roman Catholics) as being an “amorphous, non-ecclesial movement where everyone is only concerned with individual flights to heaven

    Yet on the other hand, the congregation as described by Moore is:

    1. Completely changing the way it talks about marriage (from 50 years ago)
    2. The last generation of evangelicals were groomed in industrial movements
    3. The congregations have been overwhelmingly shaped by their culture
    4. Evangelicalism is about a personal commitment to “x”

    Which leads to one possible conclusion: evangelical churches are doomed for apostasy since the authority of the “Church” resides in the congregation. Moore mentioned the difference between a President and Pastor, but as far as I can tell, the only difference is the size of the electorate in the evangelical tradition.

    I also find it interesting when Moore says “Calvin and Luther didn’t say “x” means this (sola scriptura)”, but then in doing that, he tries to prove that “x” means that the Bible is the final authority. It would have been nice had Moore showed how the Bible teaches that sola scriptura means “x” since it would have to be the final authority on what sola scriptura means-; not Calvin and Luther.

    Lastly, Moore said that “showing up and listening to a message” is not what Church is about and you can do that at home. So, then, what in his evangelical churches can you not do at home?

  2. Moore said that “showing up and listening to a message” is not what Church is about and you can do that at home

    Indeed. This is especially true if you attend one of the many churches in the world that do not have communion every Sunday.

    Now that I’ve been Catholic for several years I simply cannot imagine a Sunday worship service that is not centered on the eucharist. Imagine going to church and having the highlight be a sermon?!? It is strange to think about but this is the experience of many Christians.

  3. Well the highlight isn’t always the sermon. It depends on the church. For some, it’s the music. For others, it’s the prayers, for others its the “pouring out of the spirit” (especially in Pentecostal circles where this part can get quite chaotic), and others it’s the fellowship, and others its a place where the family can worship and grow together (including all the rites of passages within the church), but for most its a combination of the above.

    But I agree, it’s hard to imagine how low a view the Eucharist has in Protestant circles, especially since it is specifically commanded by Christ and little mention is given to the other peripheral things found in Protestant worship. Even baptism, which is also specifically commanded by Jesus seems not to be appreciated. I’m not exactly sure why this happened.

  4. re 3.

    What happened in Protestantism happened because we did not believe the scripture, especially the words of Jesus. We believed that the gates of hell prevailed, because if we did not believe that, we’d have an obvious problem with being outside of the Church Jesus founded. It was easier to believe that Jesus had failed for one reason or another than to believe that we were outside the Church.

    By the time I arrived, the word “church” was so nebulous as to virtually defy description. (An aside: I remember reading CS Lewis who noted that the word gentleman once meant property-holding gentry. He noted that gentleman was now either a compliment or an insult, but that the word itself was so degraded as to be useless. I later saw that as an analogy to “church” and, not surprisingly, to “Christian” which was applied to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who appeared not to share anything of the historic faith.)

    We did not see that the lamb of the Passover described in Exodus, which needed to be eaten, applied to Jesus, the Lamb of God, in the new covenant, when He made Himself the Body and Bread of Life. We were like those people at the end of John 6 who walked away grumbling.

    We did not believe Him when He gave the apostles the right to decide whose sins are forgiven and whose are retained (John 20:23). We had a direct connection to Him and did not need to bother with the apostles or those they trained who inherited their functions in the Church.

    My problem was that I actually believed scripture. I believed Jesus when He spoke. What a killer for evangelicalism!

    It turned out that the Church which wrote and codified the scripture actually believed Jesus’ words. I looked long and hard for that and ended up glad that I was privileged to find it.

    I am a bible-believing Christian. I am a Roman Catholic, a son of the Church Jesus founded.



  5. Brent writes: Lastly, Moore said that “showing up and listening to a message” is not what Church is about and you can do that at home. So, then, what in his evangelical churches can you not do at home?

    Brent, that is a really good question. If my “church” is the church that I have set up in my own home, how can I ever put into practice the commandment of Jesus in Matthew 18:17?

    If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matt 18:17

    If every man or woman can found their own personal church, then no church outside of my personal church has teaching authority that I must listen to. But Jesus is teaching the exact opposite of this notion – Jesus is teaching that all Christians must listen to the church that he founded.

    The obvious question to me is this – why is listening to a personal church founded by some man or woman really any different than merely listening to a personal church founded by me? If I am joining a larger “church” founded by some man or a woman because that church agrees with me, what is the difference between doing that, and simply listening to the church that I have founded in my own home?

  6. Donald Todd,

    When I began to really question the validity of the entire Protesant world based off its two crutches of Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura, I started noticing things in the Scripture that I had never noticed (or been taught in any of the churches I ended) before.

    I started the RCIA process to be more of antagonist. I wasn’t convinced of anything Catholic, but I did want to see them squirm in a classroom setting with the questions I had. Not long after I had started, my Russian Orthodox friend sent me a link to John 6 online. He didn’t say add anything other than a request that I read it. So, I read it and, I kid you not, it was like I had read it for the first time. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I read it over about two more times to make sure that I wasn’t misreading it. Then I sat there asking myself, “Could it be possible that I never once read this chapter? Could it be possible that this was never once covered in a single Bible study or sermon? How could I have never seen this before?”. That’s when I started researching the Eucharist and studying the Early Fathers intently. That’s also when I started discovering more Scripture that seemed to have been conveniently glossed over by the many Protestant denominations I bounced around in. That’s also the first time that I was confident that I was in the right direction as far as finding “The Church”. Though, even then, I still held on to some anti-Catholic prejudice and, thus, was more strongly considering the only other alternative, Orthodoxy.

    John 6 and Matthew 16 are two chapters I hold dear because they were major sign posts for me… and they opened my eyes to something I’d never reckoned with before.

  7. Mateo,

    If there is no holy orders, you can do anything that is done in a church at home.

    Hear a sermon—-check
    Listen to good music—check
    Fill in the blank—check

    My friend recently shared with me that a church in Colorado had an online “app” that allowed you to create your own personal customized worship experience. Pick a (1) fast song, (2) slower song, (3) sermon and (4) closing song and you were good to go. Christianity: Burger King style. Of course, as you say, there is no difference between submitting to “Willowbend” church down the street or Bedside Baptist at your own place. Google “home church” and you can see that there is a movement within protestantism that gets the inherent contradiction. Before Catholicism was ever on my radar, I started to notice this problem.

    “Why do I go to Church?”

    All Christians can plainly see from scripture that we are instructed to “not forsake the assembly of ourselves together”, but that still begs the question “why” and “for what”? I get contacted fairly regularly by 20 and 30 something Christians who struggle to answer that question and subsequently find themselves stepping out of regular worship–not because they don’t believe in God but because they can’t figure out “why” and “for what” they go to church.

  8. Joseph,

    When I got to the point you indicated that you are at, I also considered the eastern Orthodox and the Roman Church. I saw Peter’s function in the old testament, the chamberlain (keeper of the keys) to the king, and assumed that Peter is in fact Jesus’ chamberlain. Just as the office continued through the kings of Israel and Judah, I assumed that Jesus’ chamberlains would continue to the end of this age.

    It was reading Augustine that I ran into the phrase, “where Peter is, there is the Church.” That is when Orthodoxy came in second. If Jesus appointed Peter, who was I to gainsay that decision?

    Once for me, papist was a dirty word. It is now a badge. I am a papist.



  9. Once for me, papist was a dirty word. It is now a badge. I am a papist.

    Anyone else in favor of making this the official motto of converts?


    Aaron G.

  10. Brent writes: My friend recently shared with me that a church in Colorado had an online “app” that allowed you to create your own personal customized worship experience. Pick a (1) fast song, (2) slower song, (3) sermon and (4) closing song and you were good to go.

    The mind boggles. I suppose that one could buy vestments and dress up for the home church liturgy too. Build an altar, buy a chalice, put up some stained glass windows in the home chapel! Use a Lectionary, and chant the liturgy in Greek, Latin or Aramaic.

    All in all, that paints quite a picture in my mind. And the best way to describe what I see is with the words “cargo cult”.

    A cargo cult is a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices. …

    Cargo cult activity in the Pacific region increased significantly during and immediately after World War II, when the residents of these regions observed the Japanese and American combatants bringing in large amounts of material. When the war ended, the military bases closed and the flow of goods and materials ceased. In an attempt to attract further deliveries of goods, followers of the cults engaged in ritualistic practices such as building crude imitation landing strips, aircraft and radio equipment, and mimicking the behaviour that they had observed of the military personnel operating them. … In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day to day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses.

    Ref. Cargo Cult

    Brent writes: All Christians can plainly see from scripture that we are instructed to “not forsake the assembly of ourselves together”, but that still begs the question “why” and “for what”? I get contacted fairly regularly by 20 and 30 something Christians who struggle to answer that question and subsequently find themselves stepping out of regular worship–not because they don’t believe in God but because they can’t figure out “why” and “for what” they go to church.

    These 20 and 30 something Christians are asking the right questions – “why” and “for what” . There is a reason why one should not join a cargo cult, and that reason is that cargo cults don’t deliver the goods …

    The term “cargo cult” has been used metaphorically to describe an attempt to recreate successful outcomes by replicating circumstances associated with those outcomes, although those circumstances are either unrelated to the causes of outcomes or insufficient to produce them by themselves.

    Ref. Cargo Cult

    Imitating a valid liturgy does not produce the outcome of a valid liturgy …

  11. DT,

    Ha. Nice. I realize that the theological debate on the primacy of St. Peter is very complex. Orthodox clergy and theologians are no dummies. However, I could not find a valid criticism (one that blew it apart) against the Catholic claim when I questioned Orthodox Christians on the matter. Most of what I got were mottos like, “The Church sits on top of Peter, Peter doesn’t sit on top of the Church”, which didn’t address the Scriptures or the testimony of the Early Fathers that seem to favor the Catholic view. I wanted something concrete, since I believed it had to be for a schism that has lasted 1000 years. To be honest, it started frustrating me because I didn’t want to become Catholic, I badly wanted them to tell me how the Catholics got it wrong. Strangely, when I realized that they couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, I was totally relieved… I finally knew where home was, and it was in the most unexpected place.

    I also agree with you on St. Augustine… but it was interesting to note the staunch loyalty to the See of Peter by men such as St. John Chrysostom, who is considered the greatest saint of the Eastern Church. The fact that he was also Bishop of Constantinople also made an impression on me.

  12. Joseph,

    When I was at your point and became whole-hardheartedly convinced that Eastern Orthodoxy was the One True Faith, I ran into a serious problem…actually converting. The situation in North America is a mess. I felt more comfortable in the OCA but they were out of communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church which was trying to assume authority over North America. Then there was the situation of a person being in poor standing in one patriachate being able to walk down the street to another patriachate and be in good standing, simply because each patriachate has different standards on even such things as divorce and contraception. Then there is the ethnic snobbery that you regularly see that looks with glee when one patriachate is suffering such scandal. The Orthodox know the situation in the North America is bad, but they have no way to resolve it. They’re trying to come up with a pan-Orthodox council, but they can’t agree on the terms.

    It was extremely maddening. I looked at this and realized that if the early Church was like this, Christianity had to have fallen apart. There had to be central leadership of some kind that was more than a first among equals type. I also realized (as I later discovered Newman did as well), that if you look at the Oriental Orthodox split and the Orthodox split, I couldn’t see why I should pick the Catholic/Orthodox side over the Oriental side other than the Catholic/Orthodox was united with Rome and early Christian writings confirm this. If I rejected Catholicism, I would not be able to choose between the Oriental and Orthodox claims.

  13. Russell Moore says:

    “Among younger evangelicals you have two poles. You have either people who have left Evangelicalism and left Christianity, or you have people who are seeking a much more robust and countercultural vision of Christianity. They’ve seen their parents divorcing, they’ve seen nominal Christianity and they want something else. So that’s why you have what some people refer to as the “young, restless, reformed” movement, where you have kind of a resurgence of Calvinism within evangelicalism. I really don’t think the issue there is Calvinism, in the way that most people would see that, I think instead, it’s a group of people who are saying “there has to be more” than the tent revivals and the para-church ministries and the curriculum industries that we’ve grown up with in evangelicalism and so their going back to something that’s deeper and something that’s stronger. And I think that’s going to broaden out even more as time goes on but I do think it’s an encouraging turn.”

    How insightful. I have never been more impressed by a Baptist other than Mohler. This man nailed the situation on the head. I think the statement could be further extrapolated to explain the existence of this website and all of us converts to Catholicism as well. (would Russell consider that an “encouraging turn” also? perhaps, compared to the emergent church or leaving Christianity altogether?)

    The same motivations that drew me to the Reformed community are the ones that drew me to the Catholic Church. Looking back it feels very seamless to me to have gone from Pentecostal>> Baptist>> Reformed>> Catholic. In hindsight, the trajectory is glaringly obvious. And although going from mainstream evangelicalism to Reformed was much more of “something that’s deeper and something that’s stronger”, there STILL was that problem of the “para-church ministries and the curriculum industries” being the real touchstone for me and my friends. And sadly it must be that way, because there simply is not a “Reformed Church” to be part of, there are many different options, and there are sides to be chosen (FV, NPP etc). The para-church Ligonier Ministries is how I became Reformed, and cannon press and Vision Forum were my main touchstones for staying Reformed. What I found was more of a shadow or a memory of a “Reformed Church” of the 16th century before the endless splits began. You can only live on memories for so long. As a Catholic, my touchstone now is the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. I have one of those “true bishops” Calvin talked about. Unlike Calvin, Archbishop John Nienstedt has a pulse, and he is a powerful servant of Christ RIGHT NOW in the 21st century in the ONE Church.

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