Book Review: The Gospel & Religious Liberty


Moore, Russell and Andrew T. Walker, eds. The Gospel & Religious Liberty. The Gospel for Life Series. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016. 113 pp.


Baptists long have been committed to the principles of religious freedom and soul freedom. From the onset of our existence, Baptists have recognized from biblical texts such as Genesis 1-2 that human souls have been created by the LORD to freely worship him according to his word in good conscience without coercion or restriction from governments pertaining to this God-given right. Thomas Helwys (d. ca. 1616), one of the first dissenters within the Church of England who came to be identified as Baptists, likely died in prison over his convictions about religious liberty in an age in which the state government ruled over all religious matters. John Bunyan (1628-1688), the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, spent years in prison as a gospel preaching Baptist pastor who defended religious freedom. Baptist John Leland (1754-1841) reportedly influenced James Madison to amend the United States Constitution with a religious freedom provision. And in the year 2000, Southern Baptists reaffirmed their commitment to religious freedom for all people, without distinction to their religious beliefs, in Article XVII of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. Southern Baptists have always been a people committed to religious freedom; yet, there are some today within the Southern Baptist camp who, out of self-centered fear in the face of Islam, articulate that religious freedom and soul freedom should no longer be considered a God-given right—at least for those with whom we disagree theologically, while there are perhaps many Southern Baptists ignorant of the importance of religious freedom due to the fact that most Southern Baptists alive today have not had to think critically about the matter and its significance.


In The Gospel & Religious Liberty, Russell Moore, Andrew Walker, and other leading voices have come together to provide an “introductory look at how religious liberty applies to every angle of the Christian’s life—their place in culture, their engagement as everyday Christians, and their role in the body of Christ—the church” (3-4). In a concise 113 pages, the volume clearly addresses a host of issues pertaining to religious liberty: what it is and why Baptists are for it, what the gospel says with respect to it, how the Christian should live in light of what the Bible says about it, how the church should engage in response to it, and what the culture says about it. In short, the book is a highly accessible resource for religious liberty and its application from a gospel-centered perspective.


One of the biggest strengths of The Gospel & Religious Liberty is the book’s accessibility. This book is written in such a way that all Christians—not just pastors or seminarians—can come to understand what religious liberty is, why it matters, and how it can be applied daily. The language is down-to-earth rather than technical. The illustrations are recent and relevant. The vast majority of the book is oriented toward application. There are no arguments that require a working knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, or a Bible dictionary in order to understand. One does not have to wade through page after page of the history of religious liberty. The book combines exegesis and application more like a sermon than like a text book such that novices to experts will benefit, which makes this book an ideal resource for churches to make available as an introductory book on this important subject.

A second helpful aspect of the book is its insistence on the fact religious liberty transcends any one religion. “Religious liberty benefits liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, and non-Christians alike. Religious liberty is a virtue for the common good. Religious liberty and conscience lie at the foundation that allows difference to flourish” (2). Practically, “

[t]he rights of individuals to seek and understand who God is—even when they perceive wrongly—is something that can only be determined by a person and who they perceive God as. Each person, as an image bearer, is created with a conscience; and Christians should respect the consciences of those who come to a different opinion about who God is” (11-12). Personally, then, “Since I don’t want my rights to act on the deepest truths of my faith to be restricted simply because they’re unpopular or perceived as strange by some, so I should be willing to extend this same courtesy to my neighbor who believes differently than I. A government that can impede on someone else’s religion is a government that can impede on my religion” (18). Baptists must continue to fight for religious freedom, even for Muslims, in order to preserve their soul freedom if ours is to continue unhindered by governments.

I do wish that the discussion on relativism was given a little more attention, either in the text of chapter one or in an appendix. As I consider the subject of religious freedom, one of the most difficult concepts to grasp is where the line is drawn with respect to freedom and why. Walker posits, “Where a religion’s desire for free exercise legitimately harms the common good, such as public health, it is fair and reasonable for the government to restrict religious liberty” (18). Who defines what the “common good” is? It’s becoming increasingly clear that Judeo-Christian values are less and less “common good” as understood by the common culture at-large. And what happens, for example, when the “common good” is viewed in a way that demands the protection of human psychology with respect to sexuality and gender orientation such that calling some actions sinful is understood to be “bad” and is thus prohibited? How could we fight for our religious liberty in such a case when the very principles we’ve used to limit some religious practices are thrown back upon us as the “common good” changes from A to non-A? It really seems to me that religious freedom in its current form practically means that all people are religiously free to exercise their religion so long as what they do does not conflict with societal norms and the “common good” as ultimately grounded in Judeo-Christian neighborly love roots.

A final helpful discussion point, among many more that could be mentioned, comes in chapter three on the subject of convictional inaction. Joe Carter defines convictional inaction with respect to religious liberty as “the mere refusal to side with the forces of anti-liberty” (56). Carter continues, “If every Christian in America who truly cared about religious liberty refused to vote for any candidate—regardless of political party—who opposes laws protecting religious freedom, the restrictions would end within two election cycles” (56). Such an approach does not settle on the lesser of two evils with respect to religious liberty, or other non-negotiable truths for that matter. The approach, at its core, seems to demand that Christians know what cannot be compromised as a citizen of the kingdom of Christ then refuse to act contrary to such convictions. If perhaps, for example, an election in the United States pitted a racist against one who is pro-abortion, two non-negotiables for Christians, convictional inaction for the sake of Christ would demand voting for a third party. While the term seems a bit striking as perhaps passive, convictional inaction is a practical conceptual tool that must be wielded for religious liberty, and a host of other gospel commitments, to be preserved.     


If The Gospel & Religious Liberty demonstrates what is to come in The Gospel for Life series, the series will be a must-read collection for Southern Baptists and others wishing to think about ethics and religious liberty from a gospel centered perspective. I commend this small volume to all people concerned with the preservation of religious freedom. I pray that this book will serve to enlighten Southern Baptists and more to the importance of religious freedom and to religious freedom’s impact on our lives for the spread of the gospel. May this series and this book indeed help “Christians and churches navigate life in the Kingdom while we wait for the return of its King and its ultimate consummation” (x).


Jon Canler, Outreach Coordinator and Pastoral Intern at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church

A Note to the Reader: A review copy was provided to Prince on Preaching blog in exchange for an honest review.

By |June 22nd, 2016|Categories: Blog, Book Reviews|Tags: |

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