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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Evangelical Manifesto – Part 3

Short on time today (I hear many sighs of relief whooshing through cyberspace. 😉 )

I thought I’d focus today on a part of the Evangelical Manifesto I find refreshing and honest. The second section addresses purpose number two: We must reform our own behavior. Here’s one portion I found insightful:

All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of he surrounding world.

There’s more.

All too often we have set out high, clear statements of the authority of the Bible, but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience.

And more, but I’ll let you read it on your own.

My thought is, maybe this call to reform should really be a call to repent. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had leaders like Jeremiah to stand before God and confess, though he himself wasn’t even in Jerusalem when the sins he repents of were committed. I am not saying the leaders should act like a priest confessing the sins of the people. But that example … I think it is powerful. It says, This sin breaks my heart and I can only weep before God for His mercy over us and beg for revival within the Body of believers because I love the church and I love God and do not want to see this heinous fractious behavior continue.

That’s what I think anyway.

Published in: on May 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm  Comments (4)  
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Evangelical Manifesto – Part 2

From what I understand, the release of the Evangelical Manifesto was recent. I think I came across May 7 as the date it went public. In case you’re wondering who’s behind it, here are the people listed on the Steering Committee:

  • Timothy George
    Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
  • Os Guinness
    Author/Social Critic
  • John Huffman
    Pastor, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA
    Chair, Christianity Today International
  • Rich Mouw
    President, Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Jesse Miranda
    Founder & Director, Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, Vanguard University
  • David Neff
    Vice President and Editor in Chief, Christianity Today Media Group
  • Richard Ohman
  • Larry Ross
    President, A. Larry Ross Communications
  • Dallas Willard
    Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California

The introduction to the project is also important because it clarifies motives, and there are three:

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for …

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

The Manifesto tackles all three areas, with the identity section first, the call for reform second, and the “let’s all get along” section third. OK, my characterization of the last section is simplistic. I wanted a nutshell way of referring to it, but it probably defies such paring. More accurately, the third section (second in their stated purpose in the intro) is to encourage openness and civility in discussion of faith or non-faith, as the case may be.

Yesterday I posted my initial three reactions to the Manifesto. I hope, at some point, you visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction will take a look at the Manifesto for yourselves. It is beginning to create some stir—there are some 1300 blog posts on the subject already. Until then, here are a few more of my random thoughts on the content.

1. The Manifesto’s “identity definition” flies in the face of post-modern thought that resists propositional truth. There are parts of the document that make me think this is purposeful.

2. While I applaud much of what the Manifesto intends, I see areas that I wish were … more accurate, more Biblical.

And speaking of the Bible, one of the weak points is the watered-down statement of belief about the Bible. From the Manifesto itself, not the summary version (which is even weaker):

Fourth, we believe that Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible, God’s inspired Word, make the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.

Compare that to the statement about the Bible from the National Association of Evangelicals:

I. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.

Or how about this statement from my church, First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton:

The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are the inspired Word of God without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men, and the divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life.

Yes, the Manifesto states, in its round-about way, that the Bible is inspired and that it is authoritative. One could suppose that it implies the Bible is without error. But why the ambiguous language on such a pivotal point?

I mention this because I read one blog post in which the writer praises the Manifesto as needed since from his church experience he had not received clear teaching on “these seven foundational points,” referring to the beliefs the Manifesto enumerates as part of the evangelical identity.

Granted, the Steering Committee probably wanted to choose wording that would allow believers with different shades of understanding to agree, but isn’t that what started the slippery slide away from a clear understanding of evangelical—and more importantly of Christian (you knew I’d throw this in one more time, didn’t you? 😉 )—in the first place?

OK, this post is much too long, and I have more to say on the subject. As always, I’m interested in your reaction, either to what I’ve spouted or to the original document that brought these ideas bubbling to the surface.

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.

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