May 07, 2008

The Evangelical Manifesto

The Evangelical Manifesto was released today, and the Christian end blogosphere is abuzz with comment. At the end of this post I'll list the articles I've seen on the subject; I'm certain that there are many more that I've missed, so if you've seen one or written one yourself, let me know in the comments and I'll add it in.

On the whole, this is a very positive document, and one that I support 100%. Evangelicals have been defined by our politics for far too long; it is time we're defined by our theology, since evangelicalism is after all a theological movement. My hope is that it becomes more than just another piece of paper that is ignored in a few weeks; that it becomes a pattern of behaviour among Evangelical Christians.

Just a few thoughts on specific quotes from the Manifesto:

As followers of "the narrow way", our concern is not for approval and popular esteem. Nor do we regard it as accurate or faithful to pose as victims, or to protest at discrimination. We certainly do not face persecution like our fellow-believers elsewhere in the world. Too many of the problems we face as Evangelicals in the United States are those of our own making. If we protest, our protest has to begin with ourselves.
This is an important statement right off the bat, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. We spend far too much time wringing out hands over supposed attacks on Christianity, all the while giving those who attack us the ammunition they need.
There are grave dangers in identity politics, but we insist that we ourselves, and not scholars, the press, or public opinion, have the right to say who we understand ourselves to be. We are who we say we are, and we resist all attempts to explain us in terms of our "true motives" and our "real" agenda.
There are some evangelicals who have a political agenda. These people do not represent the greater body of evangelical thought, and there are often evangelicals who are in complete opposition to them. For example; Constitutionalist Party Presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin is an evangelical; Sojourners founder Jim Wallis is an evangelical as well. I doubt that these two men agree on much, politically speaking.

I like the statement of faith that is included in the document; it should go a long way toward defining who is evangelical, and what that means from a theological standpoint. I found the fourth point particularly interesting, given recent developments within the Evangelical Theological Society; "we believe that JesusÂ’ own teaching and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible, GodÂ’s inspired Word, make the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice."

we believe that being disciples of Jesus means serving him as Lord in every sphere of our lives, secular as well as spiritual, public as well as private, in deeds as well as words, and in every moment of our days on earth, always reaching out as he did to those who are lost as well as to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, the socially despised, and being faithful stewards of creation and our fellow-creatures.
This affirms the social aspects of the Gospel without losing the fact that faith is a requirement to please God in anything.

I'm encouraged that the Manifesto does not condemn anyone outside the Evangelical community, but instead calls us all to repentance. There are areas where we've each had trouble in allowing our practical Christianity to follow our theological Christianity. To live consistently, orthodoxy must result in orthopraxy -- when that doesn't happen, Christianity stagnates. I think that a lot of the problem that many denominations are experiencing today result from the lack of "correct practice" or "correct living" -- living that is informed and fueled by our faith which is the point of this section:

Evangelical belief and devotion is expressed as much in our worship and in our deeds as in our creeds. As the universal popularity of such hymns and songs as ―Amazing Grace‖ attests, our great hymn writers stand alongside our great theologians, and often our commitment can be seen better in our giving and our caring than in official statements. What we are about is captured not only in books or declarations, but in our care for the poor, the homeless, and the orphaned; our outreach to those in prison; our compassion for the hungry and the victims of disaster; and our fight for justice for those oppressed by such evils as slavery and human trafficking.
There are many instances where we are doing this, but it's not noticed. I think particularly of the SBC's Disaster Relief program that I'm familiar with, but there are many more examples. We don't do these things to receive public acknowledgment, but it would be nice to actually have people notice when we do something right -- they certainly are quick to judge when we mess up. Those instances are, unfortunately, much less frequent than they should be. We need to live our faith out on a daily basis, in our own neighborhoods, and around our own friends and family.

"Fifth, the Evangelical message, “good news” by definition, is overwhelmingly positive, and always positive before it is negative." We often forget this, especially those in the more fundamentalist traditions. Forgetting this, as much as anything else, has caused us problems. We must speak the truth, but we must do it in love.

Speaking of fundamentalism

We celebrate those in the past for their worthy desire to be true to the fundamentals of faith, but Fundamentalism has become an overlay on the Christian faith and developed into an essentially modern reaction to the modern world. As a reaction to the modern world, it tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub-Christian.
Couldn't agree more with that statement.

The second section, dealing with reforming our behavior, indicts evangelicals on both ends of the "liberal-conservative" spectrum, and emphasizes what I talked about above; the need to live consistently with our beliefs.

I like this quote especially; "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 any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity." GOP does not mean "God's Own Party" and it's time we started to realize it, and act like it. We need to hold all political leaders to the same standard, no matter which side of the aisle they sit on. And we need to stop allowing ourselves to be courted every four years, and then abandoned as soon as the election results are in. But I've talked about that before, and won't rehash old posts here.

First, we Evangelicals repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many Christians have fallen recently. One error has been to privatize faith, interpreting and applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular, and causes faith to lose its integrity and become "privately engaging and publicly irrelevant," and another form of "hot tub spirituality." The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right in recent decades, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes "the regime at prayer," Christians become "useful idiots" for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form. Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.
That one stands on its own, especially the "useful idiots" part.

As I said, it's my hope that people read this, and pay attention to it. Non-Christians have a lot to learn about Evangelicals, and the media gets it wrong most of the time. And Evangelicals need to get their act together -- this Manifesto will show us all a few ways to do just that.

My fear, of course, is that this one will get big news coverage for about a half hour, and then vanish into thin air, disappearing as quickly as an evangelist on Day 4 of a three day revival.

Read these articles to see what other people have written about the Manifesto:

Let me know if you find more discussion that I've missed. I found a lot of people mentioning it was out, but not a lot of discussion.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 12:59 PM | Comments (55) | Add Comment
Post contains 1477 words, total size 10 kb.

1 "Nor do we regard it as accurate or faithful to pose as victims, or to protest at discrimination. We certainly do not face persecution like our fellow-believers elsewhere in the world." True, we do not face persecution like fellow believers in other parts of the world. But when does intimidation become coercion, turning to discrimination and then to persecution? Are we just supposed to wait till we actually ARE persecuted before we stand up for our faith in the public square and in school quads? "We spend far too much time wringing out hands over supposed attacks on Christianity..." You're probably right. But what about when the attacks are real, not figments of our imagination? Do you agree that such incidents do occur and do exist on a regular basis across America? Do you at least agree that things are getting worse for Christians in America? "To live consistently, orthodoxy must result in orthopraxy..." And of course, there's orthopathos, which you allude to in making your point. "We must speak the truth, but we must do it in love." As a 20-something evangelical Christian from California, I can say that my experience has been that nowadays love is preached far more often than truth, even in so-called fundamentalist Baptist churches. Of course, we need both all the time. I fear this manifesto tends toward love while unintentionally undermining truth--or Truth, rather. And while the Gospel is a positive message, its vitality is diminished if we don't say what the good news is about--our salvation from eternal damnation in Hell. If we don't mention sin and judgment, the living water will look only like a positive alternative for those interested, like a dietary supplement --beneficial if taken, harmless if ignored. "[W]e are fully engaged in public affairs, but never completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity." Couldn't agree more!

Posted by: Daniel Briggs at May 07, 2008 03:47 PM (+8KBv)

2 I would agree that there are people trying to prevent us from practicing our freedom to worship, etc. But when I think of the people who are being actively persecuted, it seems that a lot of our complaints are really whiny. We need to be careful that we don't lose our rights, and work to protect them, but we need to keep our own experiences of persecution in perspective. And I agree that there has to be a balance between truth and love. We err tragically when we emphasize one over the other, no matter which way we lean, and I've seen it happen both ways. We have to preach truth. And you make a good point re: orthopathos. I tend to lump it in with orthopraxy, but that's probably a mistake.

Posted by: Warren at May 07, 2008 08:15 PM (Y0tXa)

3 Re orthopathos, I cannot, in good conscience, take credit for that one. Last summer, I had the privilege to be part of the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a ministry of the Alliance Defense Fund. Jeff Ventrella, the Senior VP of ADF, taught us about the triangulation between orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathos. Good stuff. ) And I want to reiterate my agreement with the point about not confusing partisan policies for matters of faith. It is so easy to forget that we are called to have a Christian WORLDview. Thanks for the reminder.

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