I recently saw a report of a hard-hitting lecture that Russell Moore gave at Princeton University. If you don’t know who Russell Moore is, he is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. If you have never read Russell more, let me suggest Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. It really is an excellent read, even though it deals with a uniquely American Perspective.
As has become standard fare for him, Moore called the church back to preaching the Gospel and to cease a relentless pursuit of political goals and agendas. But it was what he said next that really interested me: “God does not need the evangelical movement. The evangelical movement desperately needs God.” He meant of course that evangelicals need to stop thinking that they are required to bring God’s reforms to America. Instead, evangelicals need to return to the cross, both applying its promise of mercy to our own lives, and proclaiming this bold truth to all who hear.
In some circles, Moore is both controversial and divisive. Some have sought his removal from the commission he heads in the Southern Baptist convention. But in my circles, Moore is simply speaking biblical truth.
Acts 17 records Paul’s encounter with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the city of Athens. Paul is conversing about the hundreds of temples and even more gods and goddesses that had statues in the city. In response, Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 16:24-25).
The idea that God does not need the service of humans was news indeed, to the Athenians. But Paul is standing on good footing, a footing that is rooted in the Old Testament. Psalm 50 was written as a denunciation of an errant theology that had crept its way into the sacrificial system of Israel. Some had come to believe that God needed to be fed in the sacrifices, in the same way that the pagan gods were being fed in pagan sacrifices. This is Paul’s response to the pagan view: “For every beast in the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness is mine” (Psalm 50: 10-12). Translation: There is not one thing that God needs from human hands.
This brings me back to Moore’s basic theological statement, that God does not need the evangelical movement. That statement should not be surprising as it reflects the most basic form of biblical thinking: we don’t feed God; we don’t go to heaven so that God would escape from His loneliness without us; we certainly don’t help God out in managing the nations by forming voting blocks. The Gospel never was about what we supply God. He has no needs. He is complete, lacking in nothing.
Rather, the Gospel is a declaration that we need God. That we are lost in sin. That we are without the means to save ourselves. We come to Him, bringing nothing of value to the king. Indeed, even the commands of Scripture that we manage to keep offer God nothing. Rather, they are given to us to heal us of our love affair with sin.
So on the basis of elementary biblical thinking, let’s reestablish what is necessary. Let’s get back to the Gospel of Jesus, and let’s stop trying to use our political power to change the world. God doesn’t need the evangelical movement. The evangelical movement needs God.