Monday, May 12, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto?

What's all the ruckus about the recently unveiled 'Evangelical Manifesto'?

Here's a background article -- "Clarifying the Evangelical Manifesto".

And here's the site itself -- An Evangelical Manifesto. Check out the document(s). And watch the interviews.

What should we think of this -- is it significant? Yes. At the very least, it's a stimulus toward some serious reflection & conversation that needs to take place.

Do I concur with the 'manifesto'? Before answering, let me first refer you to 'An Evangelical Response' posted today by Dr. Al Mohler -- a non-signer of the manifesto -- so you can get another point-of-view.

In fact, here are all the 'EVANGELICAL & MANIFESTO' items that I've tagged around the internet recently.

And lastly, my thoughts...

  • I'm always leary of something generated by a completely 'pale' group of folks. Apparently there were no African Americans are among the early-signers.

  • Nor were there signers from the blogosphere. [...not counting the signers who are primarily pastors, albeit now blogging pastors] This manifesto is founded among the Christian MSM... the mainstream... the majority voice... current leaders of the Church today... which is 4% effective. [Read on, I'll validate that below.]

  • I wince when I read a 'scholarly' document using the term 'idiots'.

  • I wince when I compare the concise 'Summary' document which attempts to make a cogent argument, with the rambling Manifesto itself which seemingly adds 'something for everyone', much like any stump speech.

  • And I especially wince when I discover it buried a highly significant line of demarcation drawn in the sand of the fuller manifesto, yet without mention in the summary. [read on below]

  • However, like Dr. Mohler, I appreciate the document's objective, and a great deal of what's said therein. But a signature is not a vote of general confidence; rather it's advocating the entirety of what's written.

  • And I agree with Dr. Mohler who effectively asserts that the document's ambiguity does NOT clarify -- thus missing its target.

  • "Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically; confessionally and not culturally."

    Hmmmm. Scripture leaves no room for an intellectual faith lacking practice. Thus a true theology absolutely must be evidenced by our actions. And individual practice always has corporate implications. Our neighbors may have little knowledge of what we think or believe; but they can see our practice. And if our practice walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we can disavow all day our being labeled as a duck, but our actions on the whole define us.

  • And btw, why do our neighbors not define us according to acts of compassion, and concern for their eternal enjoyment of peace with God? Dare I suggest we ourselves created the definitional vacuum and our neighbors simply filled it in according to what they've observed?

  • Nor are we known as 'a house of prayer', as Jesus indicated we should be. Hmmm. Does this at all relate? Maybe we'd better move on and not think about that. Let's get back to politics.

  • In the political realms, any label worth consideration must have big numbers in tow. And a mere 4% demographic slice isn't worth labeling. But let's get honest here. According to Barna Research, only 4% of Americans hold to a 'biblical worldview'. [And btw, thankfully those 4% tend to reflect a high degree of living out their faith transformatively.] Even Barna's reasonably-narrow theological definition for his 'evangelical' category encompasses only a few more percentage-points -- now building the total up to appx 8% of all American adults. But Pew Research and others count self-described evangelicals upwards of 25% or higher. Now we're talking! This 'notional' label is worth political consideration.

    My point: The small amount of theologically-defined, practicing evangelicals are seemingly willing to be conglomerated with... and even out-weighed by... the greater numbers of non-practicing, notional evangelicals... in order to be recognized as 'successful'. After all, what pastor in his right mind preaches about the ineffectiveness of the Church? He'd be fired before lunch. But talk about the 42% of Americans professing to be 'born-again', and he can keep his job another year. Aha! We're successful! No need for repentance. Long live King Notional and Queen Status-Quo! And by royal decree or manifesto, we're declared 'free' of cultural accountability. Silence that young lad. The 'dirty little secret' of evangelicalism's invisible outworkings must remain unspoken in this legendary kingdom called the American Church.

    Translation: The small number of staunch evangelicals holding to a biblical worldview CAN demonstrate transformation. But 4% is inconsequential politically. Unfortunately though, in order to merge with others and thus attain politically significant numbers, we have to sacrifice evidence of a transformed characterization. Thus the only remaining characterization of the label is a political one. And evangelicals are seemingly too vested in the status quo to actually rebel, revolt, repent, or otherwise bite the paradigm that feeds us.

  • And what shall we think of this paragraph buried in the manifesto yet without mention in the 'summary'...

    "All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming anti-intellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith."


    Wow. Did they really say that in writing and sign it? Ironically, despite apparently being one of these anti-intellectual caricatures, Dr. Mohler surprised them by actually reading the fuller blah-blah-blah manifesto, and noticing for us that we've been denigrated. [That means insulted, folks. I looked it up.] Maybe this is a clue why they didn't seek out any signatures among the African-American community who frequently tend to read their bibles at face-value.

  • Even if we can lay aside misgivings about the framework of the document, and its insults to some of us wanting to simply read & practice what we think we understand God is communicating to us plainly... what about the core of the manifesto's argument for the leveling of the civic playing field?

    "In a diverse society, it will always be unjust and unworkable to privilege one religion."

    Wait a minute. Our American sense of civility did not somehow evolve via a survival-of-the-fittest principle. It is not the purely secular concept these signers conceive. Rather, it was designed in the early years of the American Experiment as the result of a Christian understanding of good & evil. That is, our version of civility comes from biblical instruction about God's perfect (and patient) sense of love, mercy... and justice. It is NOT a product of a humanistic 'majority rule' mindset. Rather, the majority may be trusted to rule only when adhering to the altruistic principle of looking out for your fellow man: "Do unto others...", knowing you'll end up giving more than you'll receive. [You cannot count on others treating you equally well.] Jesus knew that. And our fore-fathers knew that. And many self-sacrificially died defending that principle.

  • "Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." How can we pray this in private, yet advocate for a perfectly level playing-field for all religions... preferring none in the public square. I full well accept for the moment that we live under a compromised constitution; I'm not calling for its overthrow. But I question aloud whether Christian leaders should be heralding a high goal of some concept of sterile civility, absenting themselves from overt advocacy of Christian principles over those of other world religions.

    [Subsequent Note: FINALLY! Someone else is raising this issue. See N.T. Wright's article in the Washington Post.]

  • Ok, so let's try to apply the theory espoused by signers of the manifesto...

    What are we to think of, and do about, opportunities to right certain societal wrongs... such as abortion-on-demand... or exploitation of the poor, the aliens, the widows, the orphans? How 'civil' would we have been during the Holocaust? Who gets to define 'civil'?

  • Even 'theocracy' needs to be better-defined by the document. Who wouldn't want a community governed by God? So I'm assuming the signers are only referring to the poor use of the term... ie, the one with a negative connotation of the word... a community governed by the Pharisees, for instance. Alternatively, true 'theocracy' is what we pray & work toward... and would never be considered 'sinful' or 'unjust'. Would it?

    Dr. Huffman's video interview says "We're people of the Book". So I ask: Does the Book in any sense teach the positive practice or goal of pluralism? Or the unjustness of a truly-Christian nation?

    "Blessed is a nation whose God is the Lord." How much do you really love your neighbor? Do you want that for him or her?

  • It's interesting that the signers recognize an inability globally to implement this 'civil public square' goal. Does it betray a practical unwillingness to place their faith so ultimately in mankind? So why be so willing to do it in the U.S.? Perhaps it has something to do with their subconscious reliance on our Christian sense of civility, as founded by our forebears.

  • Letter to Diognetus -- It may be instructive reading for all of us, as relates to the issue at hand.

  • Or this great article by Marvin Olasky, including the excerpt below... [ht: Barry Bowen, ChristianHeadlines.com]

    A reading of the New York Times through the mid-1870s shows that editors and reporters wanted to glorify God by making a difference in this world. They did not believe it inevitable that sin should dominate New York City or any other city. They were willing to be controversial. One Times anti-abortion editorial stated, "It is useless to talk of such matters with bated breath, or to seek to cover such terrible realities with the veil of a false delicacy . . . From a lethargy like this it is time to rouse ourselves. The evil that is tolerated is aggressive."

    The editorial concluded that "the good . . . must be aggressive too."

  • Or this Colonel Doner article taken from the book, "The Samaritan Strategy". [ht: Barry Bowen, ChristianHeadlines.com]
Consider these scriptures as they may apply... Eph 6:10-20... II Cor. 10:4-5.

Bottom line: 'An Evangical Manifesto' has brought a great conversation to the surface -- thank you. But I can not at all agree with it in entirety.

Jesus is Lord... and I believe we're called to pray and work on earth toward that certainty. To be an early sign-off is to suboptimize the (whole) Great Commission.

I have a small number of friends among these early-signers. If you're reading this, I hope you'll reconsider.


************
[Speaking of 'friends', here's a related post by a friend from my Coral Ridge days. I suspect many of you can imagine Dr. Kennedy's input, were he alive today. He undoubtedly would have devoted an entire Coral Ridge Hour presentation to denouncing this 'manifesto'. After all, he too was apparently among these 'anti-intellectual caricatures' and 'useful idiots'.]

[My followup article... "Evangelical Elite?"]



3 comments:

Melanie Reed said...

Many thoughtful and insightful comments. I enjoyed reading it a great deal. I think you have given some context on which it is well-worth rethinking this document for any who have given a wholesale approval of it. Two questions when reviewing or taking to task some relational problem in a group we may encounter and writing a manifesto about it are these:1)Am I doing it in love or am I doing it out of fear of the crowd disguised as intellectual reasoning? and 2) Am I doing it out of pride to be well thought of by the crowd disguised as embarrassment? A group may well have problems, but what is the service of asking worldly sanctionists in the court of public opinion (such as the Washington Press Club) to make judgment upon us in so public a way as to undermine our instructions to make these judgments for ourselves internally? (1 Corinthians 6: 1-10) This scripture, of course refers to judicial proceedings and courts, but the lesson to be learned could also be applied in this instance.

Al said...

Excellent post... My favorite line:

Who wouldn't want a community governed by God?

I think many evangelicals have a desire to be ruled by a generic god. One who soothes lightly the bruises of those opposed to the truth.
The authors of the Manifesto have not written anything new. So long as we don't proclaim Jesus as Lord, we can live in peace. It has always been so.

al sends

Stephen James said...

I group this with a document more like a business manifesto and less like a scholarly article.