Posts Tagged ‘social issues’

An Evangelical Manifesto

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

On May 7, a group of prominent evangelical leaders issued An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. It was developed by a Steering Committee of 9, including the President of Fuller Theological Seminary and the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, as well as one of my favorite writers and a leader in the Renovaré movement, Dallas Willard. In addition, there were 75 Charter Signatories, including many very prominent names in evangelical circles - conservative, moderate and liberal. Hundreds more have also signed. So this is a very important document.

The document is the latest development in a growing movement in recent years to rescue Evangelicalism (the Manifesto insists on this capitalization, and I am following their lead in this commentary) from the narrow stereotype of a bunch of fundamentalist conservative Republicans whose concerns are mostly limited to a couple of very controversial issues. Another prominent landmark in this movement was the 2004 statement by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. Much credit for these promising developments should be given to evangelicals who have been actively laboring for many years for a broad agenda of social issues such as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Jim Wallis of Sojourners (both Charter Signatories of the Manifesto).

The Manifesto asserts three major mandates for Evangelicals:

  1. We Must Reaffirm Our Identity
  2. We Must Reform Our Own Behavior
  3. We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life

The wording of these mandates sounds like a call by the signatories to the Evangelical movement; an internal document for those who identify themselves as Evangelical. And it is that, and very rightly so. But it also serves an important function of speaking to those outside the Evangelical community to rectify misimpressions of what Evangelicalism is about. I feel it does a good job of speaking to both of these audiences.

I want to highlight some key elements of this landmark Manifesto (I can only here identify a few; the Manifesto is 20 pages and I encourage you to read the entire document for yourself), and offer some comments on them:

  • In reaffirming Evangelical identity, the Manifesto provides a useful definition: Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. Personally, I can wholeheartedly identify with that definition.
  • It notes that Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. This is in fact its historical place, but developments in the last half century came to blur the lines between Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and I think this point is important. [Side Note: While insisting that Evangelical and its derivatives be capitalized, they don't extend the same courtesy to fundamentalists.] Again, personally I have sought to distinguish my own faith understanding from either of these tendencies, although I have done it outside of mainstream Evangelicalism.
  • It reiterates the concept of sola scriptura and the “supreme authority of the Bible.” This is well in keeping with Evangelical tradition. Personally, I believe this contradicts the centrality of Jesus Christ and is in conflict with their own definition of Evangelicals. This is a major reason why I consider myself evangelical but not an Evangelical. This is not the place to go into depth on this issue, and I plan a separate post addressing it.
  • The second mandate the Manifesto identifies really constitutes confession and repentance. This is very healthy. It does an excellent job of identifying major areas where Evangelicals have often gone in the wrong direction.
  • In the third mandate of the Manifesto, it does a good job of identifying “two equal and opposite errors” of privatizing faith and of politicizing faith. It correctly calls for engagement with politics, but avoiding identification with party or partisan ideology. I appreciate its call to a civil public square — a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. This sets the proper balance.
  • It addresses a key historical issue for the Church in stating, We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. I think the truth is more mixed, and the Manifesto itself is somewhat weak in its argument in this section. It follows that statement by noting While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war . . . This is a factual observation (and putting the two on an equal plane is a step forward, as pacifists often don’t get much respect), but it is somewhat ironic as the Just War Theory is itself a Constantinian development. In this respect, the Manifesto may represent an important step forward, but also illustrates that there is some distance still to go.
  • Importantly, it shares with the earlier landmark NAE Call a call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics.

While I am not 100% in unity with the Manifesto, I heartily welcome it as an important and positive contribution to the Church finding its way to more truly be the Body of Jesus Christ.

Share/Save/Bookmark