The Evanelical Manifesto – Part 1


Discussion is heating up about the recently released Evangelical Manifesto, a document put together by a number of, uh, Evangelical leaders, I suppose. I don’t recognize all the names listed on the list Steering Committee. Notably absent were scholars from some of the more prominent seminaries. Notably present were people connected with Christianity Today.

Interestingly, one key motivation behind this manifesto seems to be the idea that the term “evangelical” has been hijacked. The people constructing the manifesto then are aiming to clarify the definition.

Why interesting? Because I’ve said much the same thing about the word Christian. So here’s my first reaction to the Evangelical Manifesto. Why put forth all this effort to redefine a term that is nowhere in the Bible used to identify followers of Jesus? The tag, and others like it—Protestant for instance, and denominational names—have been created by people to label differences. All the while, the label that should identify our unity—Christian—has been left to absorb whomsoever wishes, illustrated most recently by the effort of Mormons to be included as just another Christian denomination.

The result of this neglect to redefine Christian is serious, I believe. An effort was made perhaps thirty years ago to clarify rather than redefine the term, so people began speaking about being “born-again Christians.” One commenter noted that the phrase is actually redundant—like saying, I’m a Christian Christian. But it would seem such a clarification is needed because so many people who don’t share a Biblical worldview were nevertheless riding the coattail of the term.

I guess I’ve given a second reaction to the Evangelical Manifesto—surprise at those included and those not included in writing such a serious document. How can this treatise be take seriously if the main players proclaiming Evangelical theology are left out of the process?

A third reaction. I understand the desire to distance Christianity from extremist groups. I hate the fact that there are undoubtedly numbers of non-Christians watching the news about the fundamentalist, polygamist Mormon sect, and those non-Christians think this is another arm of Christianity. Or they hear health and wealth preaching and label all Christians as pie-in-the-sky, greedy fools. Or they hear about child-abusing or sexually deviant pastors or priests, and they brand all Christians as hypocrites. In light of this mischaracterization, I think the Steering Committee behind the Evangelical Manifesto is trying to do something helpful. If nothing else, they are drawing attention to the fact that we are not all alike.

What I don’t understand is the need to divide evangelicals from other Christians. As the Manifesto itself points out, there are many points of denominational difference among evangelicals, but there are key points of agreement. Isn’t that true of all Christians? And here, I am using the term Christians in its restrictive sense, the way I defined it in my recent post on Christian Worldview:

But the key is, those externals don’t define me as a Christian. My relationship with God does—a relationship I enjoy solely because Jesus Christ willingly took my just due, swapping in His righteousness instead.

That’s who any Christian is, and it colors how we see Truth.

The fact is, some “Christian” churches no longer believe in the atoning death of Jesus because they no longer believe Mankind is under judgment due to original sin. Instead, Jesus is someone to copy because of his teaching, his exemplary life, his inspiring acts of kindness. Hogwash.

I’m not saying Jesus’s life was not exemplary or his teaching truth-filled, but these are not the things that set Him apart from Gandhi or Confucius or the Dalai Lama.

As far as I’m concerned, before we have any need whatsoever to redefine “evangelical,” we must first reclaim Christian—the word the Bible uses to identify believers, saints, individual members of the body of Christ.

%d bloggers like this: