By / Nov 11

When my brother and I would fight as kids, I remember my Mom saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” In this era of evangelical tribalism, I find myself asking the same question. But the real issue runs deeper than why we won’t hold hands and sing Kumbaya at camps, conventions, and conferences.

Is it possible that in our efforts to be true to the foundations of our faith, evangelicals have actually become unfaithful Christians? Unity around theological liberalism creates tragic consequences, but perhaps Bible-believing evangelicals have underestimated the overwhelming opportunity costs of our fractured orthodoxy. 

When the apostle Paul confronted the Christian factions in Corinth, his simple question was, “Is Christ divided?” Nothing in the text suggests that Apollos, Cephas, or Paul were engaged in heresy or that they were encouraging division. Instead, believers who identified with the particular personality, gifts, and calling of these men were segregating into tribes in a way that distracted both believers and unbelievers from the central message of the Cross.

Personal loyalties to certain brands of Christian orthodoxy distracted first-century onlookers from following Jesus. While the people inside those factions viewed themselves as being faithful to “The Word,” Paul chided them as missing the point of the gospel message altogether. 

Ironically, but not so encouragingly, the tribalism in the hallways of our conferences and conventions, the social media voices that decry one faction while building their own; the influencers who use theological language, yet struggle to share Jesus with lost people; and those who expect civility without modeling it do more to oppose Christ and the message of his bloody, sufficient work on the Cross than they do to promote it.

When we genuinely love one another, we can vigorously and constructively debate substantive issues with one another in ways that do not divide us.

The cost of our factions to legitimate gospel work is revealed in at least seven ways: 

  • Factions reveal a yet unformed character among people who should be mature in Christ 
  • Factions steal from us the joys of Christian fellowship
  • Factions make it more difficult for lost people to receive salvation in Christ and for new believers to grow in Christ 
  • Factions falsely elevate ourselves above “less faithful” brothers and sisters in Christ
  • Factions drain our energy and blur our focus for effectively sharing and showing the gospel in the public square 
  • Factions discourage eager Christians from joining the mission of Jesus at a higher level
  • Factions hinder our ability to debate and more thoroughly clarify important secondary issues 

Assuming we can agree on the destructive costs of evangelical tribalism, what can we do to honor one another as we bear witness of God’s redeeming work in Christ Jesus? Consider these four steps as first steps in that direction: 

1. Determine the doctrinal essentials necessary for Christian fellowship and gospel partnership.

For my tribe of Southern Baptists, our statement of faith is the Baptist, Faith, and Message (2000). It’s the core convictions stated in this document that serve as the foundation of our fellowship and missional partnership.

If your church or network of churches has a statement of faith, determine if it indeed reflects your essential convictions. If it does, hold to it firmly. If it does not, then study to show yourself approved, settle what you believe and why, and then build ministry partnerships with others who share those essentials.

As we identify and agree on our essentials, we avoid insisting on an orthopraxy that is not shaped by our orthodoxy. In other words, we hold fast to our core beliefs, which then frees us to build larger spaces in our lives for fellowship with people with whom we disagree on second- and third-tier issues.  

2. Focus personal influence and energy on the centrality of the gospel.

Jesus called a motley crew of disciples to draw near to him. Among those 12 men were a nationalistic zealot and a compromising tax collector. Some of them were evangelistic men of the people; others became theology wonks more comfortable with a pen and papyrus. 

The Bible records no occasion that Jesus addressed those differences in any way. There is no evidence that Jesus thought the differences among his closest followers were issues worth correcting or that they were a basis for division. When the disciples moved toward drawing those distinctions in an attempt to elevate one over the others, Jesus called them to the back of the line to serve one another. He then showed them the way of the Cross. 

And then in the early days of the New Testament church, the apostle Paul’s unobstructed focus was on Jesus Christ and him crucified. The “foolishness of the cross” was his antidote for Christian tribalism, and thus is not only the basis for our Christian fellowship, but also the fuel for our shared Great Commission ministry.

3. Build and encourage meaningful friendships with people with whom you disagree.

Jesus prayed in John 17 that believers would be one just as he and the Father are one. It honors Jesus for us to make unity among the saints a priority, which then compels us to seek out and honor people who hold alternative views on secondary issues. 

The Kingdom is bigger than we might think. The outsider rarely knows another person’s motives. Humility calls us to acknowledge that as much as we think we are right, we could be wrong. And Christian love insists that we avoid reckless or ill-informed speech that impugns another person’s character or Christian sincerity. Paul’s warning against pugnacity prescribes an expectation for pastors and leaders to model Christian friendship by building relational bridges with one another, championing one another publicly, and demonstrating what it means to overlook an offense.

4. Engage in vigorous debate on the secondary issues in ways that promote love.

Although secondary issues are not primary, they are still important to building a culture of theological fidelity and greater faithfulness in our churches, church networks, and mission agencies. When we genuinely love one another, we can vigorously and constructively debate substantive issues with one another in ways that do not divide us.

The world-at-large, and evangelicals in particular, should see seasoned ministry veterans engaging one another as statesmen who walk with both kindness and conviction. We should give one another the benefit of the doubt, challenge positions when necessary, and yet still refuse to cast a shadow on one another’s Christian fidelity. Even with our clearly articulated differences, we can celebrate one another’s faithfulness to gospel ministry. In doing so, experienced pastors and well-respected leaders model for younger pastors and a watching world how to navigate these same challenges in the local church and in personal relationships.

It could be that beyond our simple failure to share Jesus with lost people, the greatest explanation for evangelicals’ anemic efforts in seeing more people saved and baptized is a contrived, holier-than-thou tribalism cloaked as biblical orthodoxy. Rather than rallying around the Cross, we have dug tribal motes with the shovels of secondary issues at the expense of the primary doctrines of our faith.

What then could happen if we viewed sin, Satan, and death as the great enemy that moved us into Christian friendship? What would happen if we moved to the back of the line and served those who had a slightly different perspective? What would happen if we became students committed to learn from one another and to grow in grace together rather than straining out gnats as we publicly nuance every difference?  

And what would happen if we held the essentials of our faith tighter than the nonessentials so that the essentials rather than the nonessentials fundamentally shaped our attitudes and actions toward fellow and future believers? 

Perhaps when evangelicals become known for our resilient unity around the essentials of the faith and for our gracious disposition around the nonessentials, we will gain a new and measurable gospel influence in the public square. Maybe as we treat people with the dignity they deserve, refuse to vilify dissenters, and learn to weld a thesaurus of civility as we discuss difficult issues, our neighbors will more clearly see the wonder and sufficiency of the gospel to rescue sinners from our greatest enemy.

By / Nov 5

Historian Thomas S. Kidd stops by the Leland House for a roundtable conversation on evangelicalism and politics with Jeff, Travis, and Chelsea. Dr. Kidd tells the story of evangelicals by providing an in depth look at the beliefs that binds them, the history that formed them, and how politics affects their movement. Most importantly for the ERLC, he tells the story of our office namesake, John Leland.  

Guest Biography

Thomas S. Kidd teaches history at Baylor University, and is Associate Director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He also recently joined the faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Church History. Dr. Kidd writes at the Evangelical History blog at The Gospel Coalition. He also regularly contributes for outlets such as WORLD Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. His recent books include Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father; George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father; and Baptists in America: A History, with co-author Barry Hankins. You can find him on Facebook at and on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Aug 19

Evangelism is the one topic that is guaranteed to get the most amens in church and yet produces the most fear and guilt in those of us called to share the good news of the gospel. And today, in an increasingly post-Christian culture, the job of fulfilling the Great Commission seems more impossible than it was a generation ago. 

But there is good news for Christians: the same Holy Spirit who empowered the first-century Church and breathed life into every generation of the Church since is still active today. God is not surprised by your Muslim neighbors, your gay co-workers, and your atheist sibling. And he is calling you to be the very announcement of the gospel to them.

So how do we do this? Three things must happen to a follower of Jesus to motivate him to become a bearer of good news in his circle of influence:

1. Enraptured by Jesus

It strikes me that Jesus’ words to the disciples in Matthew 28 don’t necessarily emphasize the “go,” but the word “teach.” Most Greek scholars agree that go is sort of an English construction designed to help us understand Jesus’ words. The emphasis is on the teaching part. Jesus assumed the disciples would go and tell. After all, they’d just witnessed the bodily resurrection of the Son of God. Nobody experiences that and doesn’t tell someone.

In a sense, we are all evangelists. Even the most introverted person can quickly get animated if the subject is right. Think back on your last few conversations. What dominated those conversations? Perhaps a good experience, like attending a conference, going on vacation, or having someone serve you in a surprisingly good way. I’m guessing you didn’t have to be prompted to retell your story to those close to you.

It works this way with negative experiences as well. When you take your car to a repair shop, you are likely to tell five of your closest friends not to patronize that establishment if they don’t treat you well. And so it goes. You’re an evangelist of the things that matter most to you.

The reason Christians don’t evangelize is not primarily fear or timidity. It’s because we have lost our first love. We’ve forgotten the wonder of that first experience with Christ, when his love flooded our hearts, and we were not the same. We’ve moved past the gospel and it’s become as stale as that 15-year-old living room chair. It’s part of the decoration, part of the things we are used to seeing.

So the way back to a heart for evangelism is not another pulpit-pounding message from the pastor. It’s not another guilt-inducing Christian book. The way back is to fall in love with the gospel once again. Because when you experience Christ, you can’t help but tell someone.

2. Embedded in the community

There is an easy tendency among Christians to gather with other Christians. This is good. There is a need for us to develop rich, deep, lasting friendships with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Furthermore, the life of the Church, this Spirit-knit unity brings God glory and shows the world a glimpse of the world to come.

And yet we must recognize that if we are to be God’s instrument in bringing the gospel to the nations, we must embed ourselves in the very communities he’s called us to reach. But we must do more than this. We must love our communities and their people.

This sounds good in an article like this, but it can get messy, even challenging our biases and prejudices. Immigration has brought a wave of new ethnic minorities, changing the color and feel of our neighborhoods. It’s tempting to view this as a threat to our way of life, but if we’re motivated by the gospel, we have changing demographics as a Spirit-directed, God-sent opportunity for us to reach the nations. The nations are coming to our doorsteps. Will we have open hands or closed fists?

Our calling as evangelists will also require us to build deep friendships with people who might be living in ways that violate our biblical values. We don’t have to condone sin, but if we keep our neighbors at an arm’s length, if we don’t invest our time, resources, and affections, we’ll never get close enough for them to see Jesus in us. We need to embody what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can’t do evangelism from a distance. Instead, we must commit ourselves to know and love people, to build relationships that lead to gospel conversations. 

3. Equipped with a fuller gospel

There was a time when tried-and-true methods, utilizing a few key verses from the New Testament, were all it took to lead a person to Christ. Most targets for evangelism had a background in church or at least a working knowledge of Christianity. But today, our cities are filled with people hailing from all kinds of religious backgrounds, whose knowledge and trust of the Bible is minimal.

This can intimidate us. And yet I think it presents us a terrific opportunity to share the whole story of the gospel, from Creation to Consummation. Many have an idea of what they think the Bible says and why they disagree with it. But few have actually engaged it’s compelling story. The Bible makes a powerful claim and gripping narrative—one that answers the deepest questions of human life and experience.

I used to be intimidated by conversations with people from other religious backgrounds. It seemed all the tools I had were useless with someone who doesn’t accept Scripture as the Word of God. But once I started studying and personalizing the story of the Bible afresh—the thin redthin, red line of salvation that runs from Genesis to Revelation—I was arrested anew by the fullness of the gospel.

Evangelism becomes a joy, really, when we recognize God’s role and our own role. It’s not my job to convert the human heart; that’s work only a sovereign God can do through his Spirit. But it is my job to faithfully and joyfully share the good news of the gospel to those who have not yet heard.

This we can do, not out of guilt, but from a deep reservoir of grace.

By / Aug 29

Some women find themselves attracted to conversations about all things cultural, political, and philosophical, while others find themselves deeply intimidated by these subjects. Unfortunately, I have noticed that both the culturally curious and the culturally intimidated women in the evangelical church often refrain from entering these conversations for fear of sounding insubordinate or uneducated. I do not believe this to be the fault of our brothers, but the sin of silence and apathy instead.

Particularly on issues like racial reconciliation, cultural engagement, a pro-life ethic, and femininity, the voice of evangelical women is needed to complete a part of the conversation otherwise lacking.

Why should evangelical women speak up?

In his book, 7 Women, Eric Metaxas writes brief biographies of seven women whose lives were, and are still, influential not because they were the first to do or achieve something a man already had, but distinctively because they were women. Metaxas’ words are my own sentiments on the feminine abilities to be uniquely influential:

“[T]he stories of these great women show us that men and women are not interchangeable. There are things men can and should do that women cannot, and there are things that women can and should do that men cannot… Indeed we are specifically created as complements to each other, as different halves of a whole, and that whole reflects the glory of God… So when men cease to be such or when women deny their uniqueness, they make that complementarity impossible, and the whole, as it were, suffers.”

Now, you may not be fond of all the women Metaxas chose for the book, but the point remains that women, when operating within their unique femininity, bring an element of influence to the table that only a woman can.

Sisters, we must recognize that leaving our brothers to entertain and maintain these conversations is a disservice to them, ourselves, and the culture around us. Not only that, we deny the abilities the Lord has created unique to the woman but necessary for human flourishing.

Many people are inclined to think that a woman’s sense of nurturing is designed only for motherhood. But when that innate sense of nurturing is brought to tense, and at times volatile conversations it can warm cold hearts and quell untamed fires.

Yet this same sense of nurture can make women the fiercest contenders standing against injustice, defending the defenseless, and protecting the least of these. Nurturing is part of our nature, and the struggles we face in our churches and in our culture can certainly benefit from the gospel-believing woman’s capacity for tenderness and fierceness.

Part of the politics

August 18th of this year will mark the 96th anniversary of the ratification of the 19thAmendment, giving women in the U.S. the right to vote. And once again, us women find ourselves at the center of much political discussion in this election year.

Unfortunately for a while now, but never so starkly, women’s rights and progress have become the adversary to the rights of unborn babies as though only one could have rights and not the other. As Christians, we know that the rights of women and the rights of the unborn child are not a competition, but our enemy has drawn clear battle lines between the two in our culture.

Even so, there is still a waging war on femininity itself, which has also taken stage in American politics. The temptation to believe women are no different from men is the subtle seduction of a shrewd enemy whose desire is to lure God’s most loved created beings into the trap of rejecting the beauty of diversity in this most beloved creation.

This is not, however, any new tactic or new offense on the distinctions between man and woman. Hannah More was a woman who stood boldly for the abolition of the British slave trade, advocated for the education of women and the poor, sought to bear Christian witness in a morally corrupt culture, and promoted the goodness of God’s creative distinctions between men and women.

In her biography of Hannah More, Fierce Convictions, Karen Swallow Prior quotes More saying:

“‘[I]s it not better to succeed as women, than to fail as men? … to be good originals, rather than bad imitators?’”

In politics and in culture, Hannah More understood that bearing Christian witness would at times look similarly and at other times differently from her male counterparts, but that she was not any less responsible to bear these convictions. In fact, she embraced the opportunities to do so in ways her male counterparts could not.

Likewise, in our own culture Christian women have a responsibility to bear Christian witness and testify to the truths that no, the rights of women do not compete with the rights of unborn babies, and no, equality with men does not mean being just like men. We too can embrace the opportunities to speak in a way that is distinct from our brothers, unique to us as women, and true to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Speaking up

So, for any woman who finds herself remaining silent out of fear of being insubordinate or sounding uneducated, know that your silence does not bear witness to the gospel in light of these difficult issues. In these conversations on race, abortion, womanhood, and culture our Christian brothers and our culture need to hear the voice of evangelical women, and we need to offer it.

Counter to culture, I believe the very things that make us great homemakers, caregivers, and mothers are the very things that make us great leaders, influencers, and thinkers; these very things make us great women, great, gospel-believing women. This is why we cannot be silent.

This was originally published here.

By / Jul 12

In the summer of 2015, Russell Moore addressed thousands of church leaders and planters in Nashville, TN about engaging the culture with the convictional kindness of the gospel.

By / Jun 28

Russell Moore hosts Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat, Erick Erickson and Ross Douthat at the ERLC's 2015 National Conference for a panel discussion about the state of evangelical political engagement. 

For more information about Christians and the public square, visit 

By / Jun 14

Russell Moore discusses how the the gospel reshapes evangelical political engagement. 

By / Jan 27

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explains why hispanic evangelicals are profoundly pro-life.

By / Dec 17

David Platt, President of the International Mission Board on the issue of life.

By / Aug 11

Russell Moore, Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat, Erick Erickson and Rod Dreher discuss the Benedict Option, the Wilberforce Option and the state of evangelical cultural engagement.