Finally. I went to school with Russ. I’d lie if I said I knew him well since he ran in different circles than I did. He always seemed a decent enough fellow. Our big crossing came during a colloquium. I wrote a paper suggesting that the tendency of jockeying Scripture around to support this or that political or cultural movement is, in fact, par for the course when it comes to Protestant biblical exegesis in general. Needless to say, Russ disagreed. He responded with a resounding Nein!, echoing Barth’s famous rebuke of Brunner’s theology. Heh. I guess I didn’t listen since I eventually became Catholic.
Other than that, I only knew him as part of the Mohler revolution that was all about returning Baptists to their Calvinist roots and rolling back some of the ecumenism that Baptists had been forging with other traditions, like Catholics. Moore had recently changed to Calvinism and was emerging as Dr. Mohler’s right hand man among the student body. When I went into actual ministry, I remember Russ writing about gathering together a coalition in light of the new millennium, in which conservatives of different traditions could agree to disagree for the greater purpose of fighting those culture wars.
I lost track of him after I became Catholic, but did hear a few years ago that he was beginning to pull away from the whole religious right movement, and was starting to criticize some of the more extreme and, quite frankly, goofy concerns and theories that were being floated. He also was bemoaning the growing tendency of the religious right to follow, rather than inform, the rest of the conservative movement.This year, when he publicly denounced the term Evangelical, I could only say it was about time. Back in the day, during the joyful years of the Clinton administration, the term Evangelical had become a non-negotiable. Claim Jesus all you want, call yourself a Christian if you insist, but if you didn’t claim Evangelical, and by that we mean conservative Evangelical, then there was the door. Trust me, my posterior was hit by that door more than once. Having been schooled by Dr. Bob Long and Dr. David Gushee, however, I developed a quick skepticism about a faith movement too closely aligned with a political party.
Exactly where Russ stood on such issues back then I don’t know. I just know he’s finally becoming known for echoing what so many of us saw back in the 90s, that the conservative Christian movement was becoming far too political, and it was ignoring entire swaths of Christian morality and Christian witness for political expediency. He is reflecting the fear we had that religious faith would be reduced to a political party, as politics swiftly poured in to become the religion faith of our secularized society. Hopefully Russ won’t go the way of so many who have seen the problems with the religious right, and begin throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Based on this piece, it doesn’t look like it. We’ll see.