Evangelical Manifesto – Part 4

Unless there’s more discussion on the topic, I’m going to wrap up my views of the Evangelical Manifesto today.

The third section of the document, which I initially termed “let’s all get along,” (and actually listed in the Manifesto as “We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life”) makes some good points.

The opening, grounded in Scripture, lays out a guiding principle too often ignored.

Citizens of the City of God, we are resident aliens in the Earthly City. Called by Jesus to be “in” the world but “not of” the world, we are fully engaged in public affairs, but never completely equated with party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity.

In light of this fundamental concept, the Manifesto then decries several extremes. The first set is the privatization of faith on one hand with the politicization of it on the other. Good points, I think. Our faith should not be divorced from our public life, nor should it be something we try to establish around us through the political process.

The second set of extremes is similar. In the terms of the Manifesto, Evangelicals ought to repudiate the effort to establish a sacred public square on one hand, but also to repudiate the effort to establish a “naked” public square on the other. The point here is that the public square—rather than stripping faith from all discussion—should be a place for civil discourse, even when discussing faith—any faith or even no faith.

Much is made here of avoiding Constantine’s approach—establishing Christianity as Truth through governmental decree—and following Jesus’s example instead. Part of the reason for this seems to be the desire to eliminate the “powerful backlash against all religion in public life among many educated people.”

Another factor seems to be “the fact that the advance of globalization and emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage.”

Here is where I begin to disagree with the direction this section is heading. I would counter that Jesus, who the writers of this Manifesto say they want to follow, was not concerned with us living freely, justly, peacefully with our deepest differences. Rather, he told his followers to shake the dust off their feet when confronted with people who rejected their message, and move on. He told them they could expect persecution, not peace; he warned that if the world hated Him, it will hate us.

The point is, the declaration that Jesus is The way, truth, life, is an affront to those in our society who have rejected Him. And this will always be so, no matter how kindly we speak, how fairly we treat others, how much we stand for justice.

The burden, in my view, is for Christians to love our neighbors without any expectation that we will receive anything in return except ridicule, hatred, vindictive slights, and worse. Why should we expect people of other faiths to act in a Christ-like manner? It won’t happen. So the civil discourse is sort of a pie-in-the-sky dream.

But most troubling to me is the conclusion. Here’s the final paragraph in the Manifesto:

Here we stand. Unashamed and assured in our own faith, we reach out to people of all other faiths with love, hope, and humility. With God’s help, we stand ready with you to face the challenges of our time and to work together for a greater human flourishing.

The truth is, there is no such thing as “human flourishing” apart from Christ. Oh, sure, people might be healthy, wealthy, and at ease, during this temporal existence, but without Christ even those things mean nothing. They don’t even insure happiness in the here and now, let alone for eternity. Why would we ever work together with unbelievers for such an ephemeral purpose?

Published in: on May 15, 2008 at 12:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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