In our polarized culture, how do we hold our convictions with conviction, but also with kindness, so that our style doesn’t alienate people who might be open to a conversation about things that matter? In this joint podcast with the Winsome Conviction Project at Biola, Scott and WCP co-director, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff interview Dr. Russell Moore about his journey in this important area. Join Scott and Tim for this insightful interview with Dr. Moore.
Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of several books, including Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, and the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House). He was named in 2017 to Politico Magazine’s list of top fifty influence-makers in Washington, and has been profiled by such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME Magazine, and the New Yorker.
Scott: What does it look like to hold your deepest convictions but to do so with kindness? How do we do this in a polarized culture in which your opponents sometimes think you are evil and at times, figuratively speaking, want to bash your head in? How do we go about communicating, demonstrating, conviction kindness in controversial subjects like race, immigration, abortion, and gender? Join us today as we explore these questions with our guest Dr. Russell Moore, who is the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today. This is a joint podcast with my colleague and co-host Tim Muehlhoff with the Winsome Conviction Project. I'm your host, Scott Rae, representing the Think Biblically podcast.
Tim: We thought it'd be really good to get rid of the dead weight of Sean McDowell and Rick Langer. We thought we'd go with that. No, we're just totally kidding. But we thought it'd be kind of crowded if all of us were here.
Scott: It's good that we have editing that we can do.
Tim: But it is great to be here with you. Thank you so much for taking time. We love the stuff that you're doing at the Winsome Conviction Project. Your book, Onward, has been really helpful to us.
Russell: Oh, well, thank you. It's great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Tim: So let's jump right in. We just got a chance, the Winsome Conviction Project, to get back from Capitol Hill, where we got a chance to speak in the Pentagon to some leadership, and we had massive pushback on winsomeness, but the time for winsomeness really is gone. Exactly what Scott said, when they're attacking you on social media, when they're threatening your families, when the argument culture is in full bloom you're talking conviction kindness? So can you explain just for our listeners a little bit of what convictional kindness is and how do you apply it in a political context?
Russell: Well, it's always interesting when people say kindness with conviction works in a neutral culture, but it doesn't work in a hostile culture. Because behind that is the assumption that Jesus was delivering the Sermon on the Mount in Mayberry.
Russell: You don't get a much more hostile culture than a Roman empire crucifying all dissidents. And nonetheless, Jesus gave us not just instructions for how to engage and to relate, but also a way that He is Himself embodying. Which I think part of the problem is there's a- we're in a cultural moment where a frantic lack of confidence manifests itself as a constant attack mode. In the same way that when Jesus is being arrested, Simon Peter is the one flailing around with the sword in a way that actually isn't doing anything constructive. And there's a way of sort of performatively being outraged that is cathartic for the person expressing it and also can get applause from the people in one's own tribe, but doesn't actually persuade and change. And if that's what we're seeking, then frantic outrage doesn't do that.
Tim: Can I give you one follow-up question that we get all the time is right out of the gates? is Jesus overturning the tables?
Tim: That he did exhibit righteous anger and he threw tables around. That doesn't sound very much like kindness or winsomeness.
Russell: Within the structures of the people of God. So what the Apostle Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 5, it's those on the inside that I judge not the outside world, which is of course exactly the way that Jesus relates to the outside world. There's greater accountability for those who are representing the name of God. And what we tend to do is to reverse that. And so we're very kind of muted with whoever is on the inside of whatever group that we have, and then very strident toward those who are on the outside without those levels of accountability. And I mean, I think the other thing is, if you notice in the gospels, you have, usually, first of all, when anyone references Jesus overturning the tables and the money changers, it's always best to sort of slowly back out of the room, because this is usually somebody trying to find justification for- In the same way that usually when somebody quotes, "Judge not lest you be judged". They usually aren't actually trying to do an exegesis of the Gospel of Matthew. They're trying to justify something. But you notice that in those very few moments of anger or anguish in the life of Jesus, they are always occurring at moments that seem to be completely unpredictable. No one else is alarmed. So in the temple with the fig tree that's not yielding fruit and the disciples are saying, why are you upset about this? When the disciples are asleep and he's in anguish in the garden, but in all of those moments where everyone else is freaking out, Jesus is preternaturally calm in all of those situations. And why? Standing before Pilate, he has the confidence that he knows you actually cannot do anything to me. I'm not threatened by you. I'm instead on mission with my father." And that sort of confidence leads in that direction. You really know who you're actually combating. And if we're actually not wrestling with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers in the heavenly places, then how are they combated? And they're combated with the Word of God and with the fruit of the Spirit as it manifests. So for us to come back and say, "Well, the fruit of the Spirit, that doesn't work. The way of Jesus doesn't work. It never did on those terms. Instead, Jesus comes in and redefines what it means to work and what it means to win.
Scott: So, Russell, let's be really clear about what you mean by "convictional kindness." So, define what you mean, and then tell us a little bit, what do you not mean by that term?
Russell: Well, a "convictional kindness" would be 2 Timothy 2, in which the Apostle Paul is talking to Timothy about how to engage with people. He's not talking about a withdrawal from engagement. He says, "Exhort, rebuke," all of those things, but to do so with gentleness. And why? Because it's the way of Jesus that actually sees the people with whom we're interacting as being people in need of rescue rather than as people to be obliterated. So, Paul's constantly coming in and saying, "There's an unseen drama behind the drama." And part of the problem we have as Christians is we become really Darwinistic in the way that we see relationships between people. And so, much of it is about firing adrenal glands and just sort of expressing what it is that I am feeling rather than saying, okay, if someone actually is just like I was in bondage to the world, the flesh and the devil, then what I need to do is to confront them with Jesus. And so that's going to mean sometimes arguing, but it's arguing in a very different kind of way in the way that Jesus does. I mean, he's finding people, asking questions, and kind of going around their defenses so that they actually are confronted with what it is that he's saying.
Scott: One of the things that, let me follow up. One of the things I think Arthur Brooks has been so helpful with is he say at the extremes, which are only about 10% each of the population at the extremes, we either appease our friends, or we attack our enemies. But the 80% in the middle are the persuadable middle, and those are the ones who are watching both how we deal with our friends, for hypocrisy's sake, and how we deal with our enemies. And so, I mean, it seems like the redefinition of what makes it work is designed around who's the audience. And it seems like in the way we have dealt with our friends and our enemies or our opponents on the margins, we've neglected the 80% in the middle who I think are watching us a lot more carefully than we often give ourselves credit for.
Russell: Yeah. Well, I would take that even a little bit further and say we've also not dealt well with the people on the margins because of the way that people actually change. Very few people change at the end of a 20-minute argument, much less...
Scott: You mean people don't respond well to being attacked.
Russell: They don't respond well to. Those sorts of change in any of our lives. I mean, if we think about any of the things, whether small or big, that any of us have changed our minds about, almost none of those things were the result of at the end of losing an argument saying, "You're right, I'm an idiot." Instead, what happens? Something embeds. We may be arguing against it, and we're in our mind thinking, "Hmm, I don't know if I'm right here." And we sort of carry that around, and sometimes very slowly it works its way through. Or we find ourselves in a crisis, and we think, "Who do I know who actually has been able to see this well?" And it's the prodigal son. The famine comes. He responds and goes back to the father's house. So a lot of it comes down to a view of change that really is just about YouTube videos. It is not how people actually converse or change.
Tim: You know, a great example of that, I teach a class on persuasion here at Biola University, is that Antony Flew, the C.S. Lewis of atheism, who eventually came around to believing in the god of Aristotle. When you get the backstory, it happened over years and years and years in conversations with some of our finest apologist over a Christmas dinner. One time he was here in the States and had nowhere to go for Christmas. And an apologist invited him over for Christmas dinner. So it's that slow relational plus putting in the classic proofs of God's existence that over time that happened. I would love to pick one thing up that you said that I loved about your book "Onward" and your chapter on conviction, convictional kindness. You mentioned spiritual battle. It's actually a pretty heavy theme of that chapter. And here's a great quote from the book. We don't oppose demons. If we don't oppose demons, we demonize opponents. So have you received any pushback from bringing in spiritual battle of people saying, oh, come on, let's not open that door, cause that could go sideways. Why feel so strongly about bringing in the spiritual battle component?
Russell: Because I think that usually, I mean, for one thing, spiritual warfare, for lack of a better word, is a major theme of both Old and New Testaments. Jesus is referencing this constantly. When the strong man is bound, then his house may be plundered. And I think part of the part of the problem is often when we hear spiritual warfare language used in our context, it means exactly the opposite. What it means is this person that I'm opposing is the devil that I'm coming after. So you have this language that can dehumanize people, either by making them less than human, people are rats or parasites or something. We've seen that all through history. Or they're pictured as diabolical, irredeemable sorts of presences. Christian reality, understands there actually are diabolical, irredeemable presences, but those aren't human beings. That's not our mission field. And so if we have that understanding and then you come in and say, "Okay, what is the fundamental problem that all of us have?" The real problem is that the human race is not divided into the good people and the bad people. The human race is, we are all created image bearers who are fallen, and all of us are in need of grace and reconciliation. So fundamentally, that's where we're ultimately going. Not just, "I need you to externally conform to the way I would have you to do it." But I'm here as an ambassador of reconciliation, wanting to see the grace that I've received for you to have that, too. That changes the way that you see a person. And it also changes the way that I think sometimes we give up on people, and not just people that we're sort of arguing with in coffee shops or in debates, but even people in our own lives, sometimes we'll say, "You know, I just don't know what more I can say to my mom or to my brother or whoever it is because I've said everything there is to be said," which assumes that the way that the gospel reaches people is through an irrefutable argument that knocks them over. What really happens is, same thing that happened with any of us, 2 Corinthians 4, a light comes on. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And so that breaks, Paul says, the power of the God of the sage. And if we, I think sometimes we can retreat to a kind of anti-supernaturalism that really does even though we don't recognize that we're doing this, it really does just reduce people down to sense reactions and neurons firing or into tribal groups at war with each other.
Scott: I would hate to default to a Christian version of rationalism in that regard. So is this sort of what you mean when you say that kindness is a weapon in spiritual warfare?
Russell: Because what's happening when you're exhibiting kindness, and by kindness I don't mean politeness.
Russell: What I mean by kindness is you're actively willing the good of the person in front of you.You really would like to, one of the problems, and I find this myself in my most fallen moments, Sometimes it would almost be a disappointment if whoever it is that we don't like were to get something right. It would almost be...
Scott: It's sort of like Jonah with the Ninevites.
Russell: Yes, we'd love to catch them in this. But to actually be able to imagine this person flourishing in God's way, that changes the way that we see that. And it also enables us to understand, OK, I have certain things that I've been given to say, and then I'm carrying with the the authority to carry it. There are all kinds of other things, though, that I'm I'm not seeing necessarily correctly. And I need to to constantly be checking those things. Sometimes even what are the motives of the people with whom I'm talking. That's often, Jesus knows immediately what's in the heart of a person. We don't. And sometimes, the more that someone is arguing and sometimes even the more hostile a person is, it's precisely because they're afraid that their position is not holding up. And so if we take that as personal insult, and so, oh, you're saying that I'm stupid and I'm evil, which means I'm going to, we're not really doing the ambassadorial sort of work that's necessary in 2 Corinthians 5.
Tim: And then Romans, right, Paul says, when those who hate you, right, the opposition, clearly they're the opposition, but when they're hungry, when they're in need, we need to minister to them, rather than go on the offensive, because they're in a weakened state, now let's go after them. Paul says, no, no, let's absolutely go. So can that lead me into an issue that's become a prominent one, is the transgendered community, which if pure research is correct, about 40% attempted or actual suicide rates, I mean suicidal ideation is a common factor within the trans community. If we do view them that way, that these are people that are fundamentally hurting and parents of trans kids that are honestly worried about the mental safety of my children and why not let them play a sport that they wouldn't prefer to play. Does that change how we relate to the trans community knowing that while we have differences, it's a hurting community?
Russell: Yeah, and it helps us to be able to differentiate between the ideas we're debating and the people who hold those ideas. And so to have a Christian understanding of this is what it means to be created male and female, do not accept gender ideologies of various kinds. So we can debate those ideas and we can step back and say, we're dealing with human beings created in the image of God, often who are in a great deal of pain. And we can both stand with conviction on the ideas we hold, we can have a view of what ultimately is in the best interest of flourishing for those people and have a sense of compassion for the human beings we see in front of us, even if they don't ever agree with us.
Scott: That's such a good insight because these, you know, this, I think this helps us understand that, you know, these are not just issues to be debated for a lot of people. these are really deeply personal, sort of life-altering things that have come about in a person's life. And I think it's tragic, I think, when those scenarios, when we actually win an argument and lose the person at the same time. And I actually think we've gotten pretty good at that. And one of the reasons that I think there is such passion about issues like transgender and abortion, other things that we'll talk about, is that so many of our brothers and sisters, I think correctly, see positions on these as entailments of faithfulness to Jesus. And I think this is why so often we are so heavy on convictions and light on winsomeness and light on kindness. Because we are so intent, I think, and understandably so, on being faithful to Jesus with the positions that we hold, because we see those as these follow necessarily from being faithful to him?
Russell: Well, and sometimes I think we're not even faithful. We're not faithful either...
Scott: I had a feeling you were going to say that.
Russell: Because I mean, if you think of, for instance, take abortion. I'm very committed and concerned about
abortion as a violent act. But several years ago, I heard a woman who ran an abortion clinic
saying, almost none of her patients were pro-choice.
She said, "My patients, none of them are there arguing that this is just a pregnancy, this is just a clump of cells." She said, "Almost all of the people in the waiting room would be politically or culturally pro-life and would have all of those arguments, but who think, but in this circumstance, I'm in this point of desperation. There's nothing else that I can do. So that means it's beyond just whether or not people can check off the right list. It's about actual faithfulness to Christ, which entails someone at that moment of deep crisis saying, "I'm following the way of Jesus," and a community of people who who are able to say, I mean, sometimes you have, one of the things that's the most empowering of the abortion industry would be people who would say, if anybody knew that I'm pregnant, I would be condemned as somebody who has sinned and I would be rejected and put out of that community. Well, that's empowering to the people who will come along with what's a false solution.
Scott: That's empowering all the wrong things.
Russell: Yeah, it's empowering all the wrong things.
Time: But I love what you just said.
When the book of Proverbs says a word spoken in the right circumstances, is I don't wanna miss what you just said. This person is in desperation. Emotionally, intellectually, life is overwhelming right then. For us to step in at that point and have a, hey, let's have a status of the fetus conversation is somehow from a communication standpoint, that person can't receive anything 'cause they're overwhelmed. I love what you're saying is, let's maybe care for that person and then that can open the door to having other conversations.
Russell: And show a way, here is a way that you can be cared for and your baby can be cared for, both of you. And both of you matter and both of you are irreplaceable and precious. And that's one of the reasons why, And I have this conversation with my secular friends often who assume that. I said, "If you really..." When I go into a community and I want to, for instance, get people on board with helping a refugee community there, the first place I will go is to pro-life women who are working in crisis pregnancy or other areas, because they're the people who have an understanding of human vulnerability. And I'm talking about the National Political Action Committee. I'm talking about the people on the ground. They have an understanding of human vulnerability. They have an understanding of the image of God. And they are accustomed to not harassing or demonizing the women that they're talking to because they're really trying to find a way to care for both them and their babies. They're accustomed to that at the ground level. And I think many people are surprised by that because they just don't see it.
Scott: I think this is a big change in what we need to make and how we look at this because I think for a lot of people we see that it's game over once the woman decides to keep the baby. We're done.
Scott: And I think your point about the woman being in a desperate condition. baby's about to be in a very desperate condition too, in many cases, when the woman correctly decides to keep the child. But I think oftentimes we consider that our job is done once she makes that decision to keep the baby. When she may be entering an even more desperate time for the next year or two.
Russell: Yeah, and there are a lot of people who are doing this right, who are not only helping that woman to have her baby, but to help her with job training and with childcare and with resources around her, helping her to get out of poverty or to get out of abusive situations. That's happening all the time. People don't know that for precisely the reasons that Jesus tells us not to be trumpeting our deeds. These are the people, they're actively engaged in the work. They don't care about who gets the credit. There's something really beautiful about that.
Scott: There is it is frustrating because I do think we have a public relations problem...
Tim: We do.
Scott: Because of all the things that we that are being done that nobody ever knows about and God bless those people on the ground Who are doing those and who don't want the credit and don't care about that, right? I wish I wish somebody I wish somebody else would trumpet that for them. Yeah. Yeah in ways that might be effective.
Tim: So we have a segment on the Winston Commission podcast called Reports from the Front and these are people who we think are doing it, right? And so we trumpet them we just had a guy on our show hired by LA County Because they want to reach out to conservative churches because of the foster care crisis But realize we don't know how to talk to conservative churches This guy's a pastor and was hired by LA County And so he goes in and tells him what evangelicals are like and how we would love to partner with you guys blah, blah, blah. And he had a drop the mic moment during the podcast. He said, "I've learned over four years of doing this. "Connect, then correct." Ooh, that's good. I thought, oh, that's really it. We reversed that. Yeah, we did, yeah. And I thought, what a beautiful way. And by the way, we often demonize something like LA County thinking, well, they don't like Biola University. Well, he would say, no, there's a lot of people who think foster care is such an important issue. We'll work with conservative churches. Will you work with us? So that's the connection point.
Russell: Well, see, and this is exactly the problem. I've found that there are a lot of Christians who assume that their neighbors hate them when their neighbors actually aren't thinking about them at all. And so often I'll be on a very secular university campus dealing with atheist and agnostic students who are brimming with curiosity. What does it mean to be a person who thinks that somebody actually came back from the dead? Those are the questions they're asking And then I'll meet with Christian students who think, "How do I operate in such a hostile, secular environment?" And what I would say, if you had just a little bit less intimidation and a little bit more confidence, you might find out that the people around you, even if they think you're crazy, they actually are very curious about this. And some of them are kind of Nicodemus-like, wanting to talk about it more behind closed doors. But that sometimes I think it's a Christian inferiority complex. Without even thinking about it, we assume, well, secular people around me are smarter and more sophisticated or whatever. And so they're always going to be hostile. And I'm always going to be on the losing end, rather than actually being there and Paul in the middle of the town square actually going back and forth. We just give up.
Tim: And we forget the Spirit's been working on them. The Spirit is working on these individuals in ways that we can't even see using past conversations to get us to the present. And we don't trust that the Spirit can take what we're saying and apply it in ways we never even thought of because that person is hurting and they are complex. One thing I love that you've done at Christianity Today is you've fostered that curiosity, not just between us and those outside the Christian community, but what I love is that you've fostered the curiosity even among Christians who see things differently. And I love the forums that you have been putting on of just realizing, "I can be a follower of Jesus and we can disagree on different issues and have an appreciation of different issues." And so when the race conversation happens, we have found that the race conversation is in a totally different category, that I've never encountered a topic in which people can become defensive or hurt or angry faster than the race conversation. Just real quickly, why do you think that is? Why do you think that topic is the one that really can divide Christians?
Russell: Because it always has. Because what's going on with racism at its core is a pricing of the flesh and a pricing of one's temporal kin bonds in a way that that makes those things ultimate. So they seem realer than the kind of life that we have in Christ, which of course we see by faith and by spirit. And so it becomes really, really easy for people to fall into those patterns and to see any disruption of that as a kind of existential threat. I mean, that's exactly what's going on in Galatians and Ephesians and Romans and elsewhere in Scripture, which is why it's so unsettling when the Apostle Paul comes in and says, when we're talking about a reconciled body, we're actually talking about a sign of the presence of the Kingdom of God, a sign to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. That's counter Darwinian in ways that are really disruptive. And then you add to it the fact that often you have people who want to choose either personal morality or public justice when the Bible never makes that distinction. When John's baptizing and the soldiers and the tax collectors come up and say, "What do we do now?" His response is don't extort people, don't defraud people, don't intimidate people. So it's not just your prayer life. It's also the way that you're using your power. So you'll have some people who will say, well, we need to emphasize what the Bible says about our personal morality, but we're not going to pay attention to questions of public justice. When we get to those, we demythologize those and deconstruct them the way a theological liberal would, the virgin birth. And then you have people who sometimes will say, "Well, let's pay a lot of attention to what the Bible says about justice, about care for the poor, about all of these things, but let's not talk about what the Bible says about holiness." Well, about those things are, they're bound up together, and we really betray when we do that, we betray the fact that we actually don't want to follow Jesus, what we want to do is to say, "Okay, I'm here with the zealots or I'm here with the Sadducees or I'm here with the Pharisees or I'm herewith the Essenes and we want to go to heaven."
Russell: In fact, Jesus comes in and says, "Nope, come with me," and that's going to be uncomfortable for everybody because it's taking us out of the way that we would ordinarily go. in our flesh to something that is an entirely different kind of kingdom.
Scott: I think it's particularly easy for white Christians to feel intimidated in that conversation about race. There's another place where I think the Christian community tends to feel intimidated by interacting with cultural issues is in the LGBTQ issues. And you've seen it numerous times. It's easy to be labeled as intolerant if you hold a different view. And even religious freedom in that discussion has been called "code for bigotry." How would you help the Christian community both respond to that and demonstrate the kind of convictional kindness that you're talking about related to issues of marriage and sexuality?
Russell: Well, I think the first way is to get rid of the need to be personally respected. I mean, we need to care about religious freedom, about the ability to live out our convictions, about a biblical understanding of sexuality and holiness. That doesn't mean, though, that we ought to be frantic when someone says we're a bigot, because we believe those things. So usually what happens is if you don't give me the immediate respect that I need, then I'm just going to either withdraw from you or I'm going to attack you. So that action becomes the issue. It's the issue of personal insult. And what I've found is if you have people who say, okay, I understand that you think that, here's why we hold these views, and people who aren't devastated, those are the people who actually are able to be effective in moving forward, even if people still stay in points of disagreement.
Scott: Yeah, that's a challenging one to get your arms around. Because who in today's culture doesn't feel a need to be respected?
Russell: Well see, and this is one of the reasons why, when you, especially when you get to the LGBTQ conversation, there are a lot of really hurting parents, because I remember one time I had a couple who came up, both of them sobbing in tears, because they had a daughter, lesbian daughter, who had married her partner, mom and the dad both committed Orthodox evangelical Christians. The mom went to the wedding and feels just devastated and guilty that she sold out Jesus. The dad did not and feels devastated and guilty that he sold out his daughter. And you have to say, you know, both you can- We should have compassion on both of those parents who are trying to they're trying to make the best of a situation and what both of them are trying to do is exactly what Jesus has told them to do. Love your daughter and be faithful to Jesus. And you actually can do that. And when you make that seem as though it's one or the other, then you're going to have some people who say, "Well, because I love my family member, that means I'm going to throw overboard the biblical teachings on marriage." Or, "Because I hold to the biblical teachings on marriage, that means that I'm going to have an elder brother response to my child, which neither of those two things are faithful to Jesus. And neither of those two ways actually lead to either holiness or reconciliation.
Tim: And this is the gender pronoun conversation as well. And what I see us happening within the church is not only do I not use the preferred gender pronoun, And not only do I not go to the wedding, but I demonize those who do. So within the church, we now are, it's trench warfare of saying, what you did was wrong. That was not following Jesus. Or what you did was not loving your neighbor. And now we're against each other within the church.
Russell: Yeah. And sometimes, I mean, sometimes you have people who hold to the exact same convictions, but they're confused as to how to apply those. And so if I don't go to the same sex wedding, which I don't, because of the way that I view marriage, the people who are at a wedding are witnesses to a union. So I would be violating my conscience by actually participating in something that I don't believe is right. That doesn't mean I would hold the same position as somebody who might also not go to the wedding, but who says, "I don't wanna be around those people." Well, that's, Jesus kind of addressed that before.
Tim: Right, right, right.
Russell: So, and I have people who might agree with me completely, but that mom is saying, "Okay, I know Jesus wants me to love my daughter and to maintain a relationship with her." Okay, that's her motive. And I understand that. And there's not a clear word of scripture that would say, here's the, I mean, I think there are biblical principles involved there and so does she, but we can understand where those motives are in sometimes very, very new situations. That mom didn't have a grandmother to say, Here's how we always did it when we're dealing with that. I mean, nobody's, nobody was learning as a five-year-old in Sunday school, here's how you respond when someone asks for your pronouns. So these are very new circumstances in some ways that people find themselves.
Tim: But the operative word was understand. I love what you just said is understand that Christian brother or sister who's made a really hard decision not to go and for me to sit down and understand. It's kind of like Romans 14, right? That the Jewish converts want to do days and diets, and the Gentile converts are saying, "Yeah, I'm not doing your days and diets." And Paul says, "Work it out. I just don't want to have contempt between you." And you're both gonna stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give it up.
Russell: Well, and even a step back from that, even before you get to those things that would be, where we would say we can all just have different opinions. Some eat vegetables, some eat meat, even on those things where we say, "No, this is really significant and important, and we really should get to the same page here. How do we do that when you're dealing with really new and difficult kinds of circumstances where, I mean, it's not just on those sorts of issues, even at the very practical level. I had an Orthodox priest, Eastern Orthodox priest tell me one time, the confessions, he was elderly. He said, "The confessions that I hear in the confessional, 98% of them would not have been technologically possible when I started in ministry. Now, are there new ways to sin? No. But are there all kinds of complications that he's trying to say, "Okay, how does this... What word of counsel do I give here?" That takes a great deal of wisdom, and sometimes we're going to get it wrong.
Scott: Got time for a couple more questions here. I want to tackle just a brief word about immigration, because I think as I read the landscape, most people agree that our immigration system is broken, the degree to which I think varies somewhat, but we have huge disagreements on the best ways to fix that. And sometimes that involves demonizing either your opponents or immigrants who are coming to this country. How would you help the church do this conversation well by holding to the biblical convictions that we need to, but also exhibiting the kind of kindness we need to, to very vulnerable folks?
Russell: Well, I would say we can disagree on immigration policy, meaning I think most people, there would be a few on either side, but most people would say a country needs to have borders and needs to keep the integrity of those borders, and a well-functioning American society needs to be welcoming legal immigrants into the country. Most people agree on both of those things. We can disagree on, OK, well, how many immigrants should we let in? That's the best way to deal with people who have—who don't have legal status and are here now or their children. What we can't disagree, though, on as Christians are immigrants themselves. And so when you have people who are demonizing immigrants using language of anchor babies or parasites or invaders or those sorts of things, that's not just harmful to vulnerable people, to immigrants and immigrant communities. It's also very soul-deadeningly harmful to the people who hold those views. So when you, for instance, see—I think there's a big difference between—look at the issue of refugees. Say we have people coming out of Syria and other places in harm's way. How many of them can we take? Can't take all of them, but how many of them can we take? That's a different debate than, for instance, the church I knew one time was taking up an offering to do Bible distribution with a Syrian refugee camp overseas, and the pastor faced a backlash from people. We don't want to do things for those people. And it had become this political tribal view. Well, that's not a policy question. That's a question of what kind of people are we and whether or not we're following Jesus in the Great Commission.
Scott: That's a hard question.
Tim: Let's maybe wrap up on a hopeful note and ask you the hope question. What gives you hope and encouragement as you take a look at even divisions in our country or divisions among Christians? Russell Two things, one of them—one of them invisible and one of them visible. The invisible one is that I really believe Jesus meant it and was telling the truth when he said, "I will build my church," and saying that in a place, Caesarea Philippi, that was both a center of pagan worship and named after the emperor who claimed to be a God. And Jesus says, "I'm building my church," and he does. The visible one is seeing what God is doing among younger Christians. And it's extraordinary. I mean, in every generation, people always want to complain about the generation coming after them with all of the same stereotypes all the time. But if you look around and see the faithful cross-carrying Christians who right now doing such extraordinary things at 20 and 22 and 23, I mean, the future of the church is really bright with people like that. So I see that happening all over the place. And I also, I find myself sometimes when I start to get cynical, I was really dark and kind of apocalyptic about the future of the church a few weeks ago. And I went to my church, and there was a man being baptized who was coming out of years and years of addiction, found Jesus. another man who had said, "I'm going to give the church a year of my life to see if it makes my life better," heard the gospel and became a Christian, and a teenager who had come out of an entire life in the foster care system and who came to know Christ from some foster parents and was following Jesus and stepped back and say, "Look at how jaded I was and actually kind of atheistic about where the hope of the future is, when the Spirit is moving all over the place, transforming lives, and you step back and you say, "Grace is amazing." The song really is true.
Scott: Yeah, I think we see that with a lot of our students, too. We are so encouraged with the future of Christian leadership, the future of our folks who are going out in the the workplace as salt and light. It is very encouraging. Russell, thanks so much.
Russell: Thanks for having me. I'm grateful for both of you and for your indispensable work.
Scott: Well, very, very insightful stuff. And I trusted our viewers. If you are not subscribers to either the Winsome Convictions podcast or the Think Biblically podcast, that you'll do that. We hope you've enjoyed this conversation. Thanks so much for being with us.