Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Why I Signed the Evangelical Manifesto


Preliminary Comments:

A group of Evangelicals have produced a document titled, An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. Currently, there are over 80 Charter Signatories including a number of high profile Evangelical leaders, pastors, and scholars.

As soon as the document was available online, I printed it off in triplicate, bound it (yes, I have a binding machine for just such an occasion), and began to comb over its contents word by word. In my “first read”, I was immediately impressed with the tone, intent, and substance of the Manifesto. Though I have some reservations (and will most likely have more in time), I believe this documents is a substantial contribution towards developing a robust Evangelical identity in an age where the very meaning of the word is on the verge of being forever lost. After an afternoon of deliberation and study, I added my name to the list of signatories (an insignificant addition, to be sure) and agree with the overall direction and content of the Manifesto.


Reasons I signed the Evangelical Manifesto:

The Manifesto stands firmly behind the Gospel of Jesus Christ - The documents asserts the deity of Christ, his death and resurrection, his atonement of our sins, and the imputation of his righteousness to believers. It affirms the "total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible" (p 6). Furthermore, it affirms the great Reformational doctrines of Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Christ Alone. Perhaps most importantly, it forcefully rejects the revisionist liberal ideologies which strip Christ of his redemptive power. In an age where we are witnessing a wide-scale Christian abandonment of robust theological identity, the Manifesto declares that "Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally" (p 4, 8). Though one may question whether many of the Charter Signatories themselves have a “robust theological identity”, it is refreshing to see a major Evangelical document recognizing the centrality of theology to the Christian faith

Negatively, the document is light on teasing out the theme of repentance of sin. The Manifesto contains a very strong call for the Evangelical community to repent of not genuinely and consistently living out the Gospel--and this is a very, very good thing. However, when explaining the Gospel itself there is no clear reference to the need for the sinner to repent of their sin. No genuine reading of the New Testament can ignore the foundational nature of repentance for salvation. Elements of this thought can be found throughout the document, but one searches in vain for a clear, forthright affirmation of this biblical teaching.

The Manifesto boldly calls for the Lordship of Christ in every sphere of life – The Manifesto states, "We believe that being disciples of Jesus means serving him as Lord in every sphere of our lives, secular as well as spiritual, public as well as private, in deeds as well as words, and in every moment of our days on earth...."(p 6). The Manifesto both recognizes our failures to live out the Gospel while simultaneously calls us to live our entire lives as disciples of Christ. I was disappointed to see so little focus on God’s glory (which is the reason Christ calls us to live as radical disciples in the first place). The 5thsola” of the Reformation is not emphasized in the document, though one should not minimize the clear call to discipleship that the Manifesto contains.

The Manifesto rejects both liberal revisionism and fundamentalist isolationism.- Pages 8-9 of the manifesto take issue with the liberal and fundamentalist versions of 'Christianity'. The Manifesto strongly differentiates itself from liberalism, maintaining that it holds to a counterfeit faith that has "cut itself off from believers across the world and down the generations" and is "no longer...solidly, decisively Christian". The document, using Kierkegaard's phrase, refers to liberals as "kissing Judases" who "betray Jesus with an interpretation".

The document is more gentle with the Fundamentalist, though it does offer thoughtful critique. By isolating themselves from the culture, the fundamentalists have in effect entombed the glory of the Gospel within their own subculture. By hiding their light under a bushel, they are at risk of expelling the very flame of Christ's love within their hearts.

The Manifesto reasserts the primacy of personal transformation.- Much of the document is devoted to calling on Christians to first live out the implications of the gospel in their personal lives. It demonstrates its disgust with ‘gospels’ that replace radical discipleship with “therapeutic techniques, worship as entertainment,…expressions of faith that are churchless and little better than vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering felt needs…feel-good gospels of health, wealth, and human potential, and religious happy talk” (p 11).

Page 12 of the document summons Christians to live out the radical implications of Christ’s lordship—which are only possible when we embrace the robust message of Scripture. This section, which I will not repeat here, is a natural outworking of the beautiful definition of the gospel given earlier in the document. The earnest believer would do well to read and reread this section.

The Manifesto calls for faithful engagement in the public sphere.- Recognizing the two extremes (both the privatization and politicization of faith), the document reminds Christians that we are “called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality” and are never “to be completely equated with any party” (p 15). It sees Christians who confuse faith with a specific political party (whether liberal or conservative) as being “useful idiots”(an unfortunate phrase that should not have been included) who are simply being manipulated and deceived (p 15). It reminds us that “the Evangelical soul is not for sale. It has already been bought at an infinite price”.

At the same time, the document empowers Evangelicals to take a stand on the important issues of the day. It champions the need to address the social evils of abortion, racism, genocide, and oppression—and to actively resist these evils and intervene. The Manifesto strongly repudiates the prevailing view that Christian faith has no place in the public square, and calls upon Christians to live out their personal faith publicly.


Weaknesses of the Document:

There is no mention of the need for repentance – As mentioned above, the document suffers from this glaring deficiency. It rightly calls on the Evangelical community to repent of not being consistently Christ centered, but fails articulate the concept of repentance in it's presentation of the Gospel. Since the Gospel itself is crystal clear on this issue, any explanation of the gospel should be also.

There are only a few Theologians and Scholars among the Signatories – Evangelical scholarship is poorly represented in the Manifesto. Though it certainly contains some amazing signatories (Timothy George, Darrell Bock, J.P Moreland, Mark Noll, Alvin Plantinga, Kevin Vanhoozer, etc), it excludes some of the most important Evangelical thinkers of our age. Considering the Manifesto defines Evangelicalism “theologically, and not politically, ethically, or culturally”, it seems odd that only a few of the leading Evangelical theologians had a hand in its drafting (in fact, of the above names listed, it appears only Timothy George was involved in the drafting of the Manifesto).

The Manifesto’s commitment to a ‘civic public square’ is na├»ve and simplistic – While the document correctly affirms the right of religious (or irreligious) expression, it also argues against the right of any one viewpoint to dominate the policies of our nation. It correctly rejects the current atheistic attempt to keep religious morals out of the public sphere, and also rightly reminds us that Christianity is founded upon the principle of persuasion, not coercion. As such, it calls for a distinctively American view of the equal rights of all (whether Christian, Muslim, Atheist, etc).

However, at no point does the Manifesto explain how we can rise above the current culture war. At present, our nation is warring over which vision for morality is best for our country. All parties (Islam, Atheist, Christian, Mormon, etc) are advancing their own ethic and seeking to influence this nation according to that ethic. The policies of a society are merely the enshrinement of a particular ethic (applied to a particular situation).

For example, our country will either uphold the tradition view of marriage (the Christian ethic), meaning that atheists will be forced to accommodate themselves to a foreign ethic; or, we will revise that view to include same-sex or multiple-partner relationships, forcing Christians to accommodate to a foreign ethic. As the culture wars are ethic-driven, holding to a system of ethics will inevitably produce conflict. Instead of lifting Evangelicals above the culture war, it plays a monkey’s game of “see no evil” as it covers its eyes to what is a very real ‘war’. Though it repudiates ethical relativism (quite forcefully), its conclusions cannot logically lead to any other option.


Concluding Evaluation:

In the end, the document does not solve the political conundrum of how Christian faith should relate to the public square, though it does offer some valuable correctives. The documents strength lie not in its view of political engagement, but rather in its definitions of what it means to be Evangelical.


Recommended Links:

An Evangelical Manifesto (main document & website)
An interview with Os Guinness (by Justin Taylor).
A brief summary of the Evangelical Manifesto (also by Taylor)

8 comments:

  1. How can it be an evangelical manifesto if James Dobson didn't sign it?

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  2. Last I heard is that Dobson had not signed the document, though I'm not even sure it was presented to him. My guess is that he would be in disagreement with the last few pages of the document--as I am. But, since political involvement is what he is all about, I sense it would be enough for him to reject the Manifesto.

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  3. nice analysis.

    i confess that i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but was actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addressed.

    i am glad they chose not to say that creationism and inerrancy were non-negotiables. for the first, there's very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever latest flavor of anti-natural selection is being put forward; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can't prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. kind of stupid when you think about it ... not that thinking is a pre-requisite of course in any of these endeavors.

    more than anything, i was motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece - that it wasn't yet another "here's everything we're against" rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that - the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic ever since it embraced the neo-con's Jesus bobble-head doll.

    perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

    we can only hope...

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa
    mikerucker.wordpress.com

    p.s. i view dobson's refusal to sign it as a big plus...

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  4. Josh,

    I was proud to see your name on the list! Though you may not agree with every little nuance (which I don't either...who does?), you still stepped out, took a stance, and signed it. I admire that and wish more of the reformed evangelicals were like you in their thinking (and reading!). You did the right thing brother.

    PS - I, too, see Dobson not signing it as a big plus (as well as Land, Colson, Mohler, etc).

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  5. Mike,

    I believe you did misread the Manifesto on the inerrancy issue. They did affirm that, though perhaps not as tightly as the Chicago Statement crowd would like. But certainly the Manifesto expresses some form of inerrancy.

    As for creationism, one wouldn't expect them to take a stand on that issue in this type of document.

    The Emergent Manifesto is a different beast entirely. Though it has similarities, it also has significant differences - such as an utter failure to articulate a Gospel anywhere remotely similar to the New Testament.

    It is significant that no emergent leaders were asked to be charter signatories (though, Wallis did make the cut).

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  6. Mike,

    Are you implying that one cannot be a thinking, intelligent Christian and believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture?

    Are you further implying that those who believe in creationism are also Christians who are not thinking or intelligent?

    From what I know of Josh, he believes in both quite strongly--as do many of the leading Evangelical theologians of the past and present.

    Why is it that every emergent or emergent-sensitive person styles himself as being more intelligent that all the rest of evangelicalism? Along with many other traits, they share that similarity with the old classical liberals who viewed themselves as the intellectual elite.

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  7. anonymous,

    yeah, i guess my comment did come across that way, didn't it ... really didn't mean it to. thanks - a lot of times the things we post come across differently than they would if we were sitting in a room adding a little good-natured ribbing to the discussion. i believe that a lack of thinking often is a badge worn on both sides as we talk to labels and generalities and make statements that will make good sound bites but don't have a lot of truth in them.

    my intent really was to say that there's this ever-growing laundry list of things we're expecting people to swear their allegiance too before we graciously grant them our approval as "Christians." and neither creationism nor inerrancy are non-negotiables - they are topics to discuss and reach a workable agreement about, or they may be topics we just agree to disagree on.

    sorry if i was 'disagreeable' in the process...

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  8. Mike, I was being sarcastic.

    You are right though, the only Biblical evidence for creationism is limited to, well, the Bible but since you seem to dismiss inerrancy as well you certainly can feel free to cast aside literal creationism.

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