An Evangelical Manifesto

May 07, 2008

A new document, An Evangelical Manifesto, was released today. It is signed by evangelicals like Leith Anderson, Darrell Bock, David Gushee, Joel Hunter, Duane Litfin, Max Lucado, J. P. Moreland, Mark Noll, Sammy Rodriquez, Jr., Ronald J. Sider, Jim Wallis, and many more. It is a very interesting and well-written statement of evangelical belief that is designed to reclaim the term "evangelical" as a theological and not a political label. As a result, a major emphasis of it is a call to evangelical Christians not to become too partisan or too connected to one party.

First, it attempts to explain what it means to be an evangelical because:

... we are troubled by the fact that the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term Evangelical have grown so deep that the character of what it means has been obscured and its importance lost. Many people outside the movement now doubt that Evangelical is ever positive, and many inside now wonder whether the term any longer serves a useful purpose.
It thus outlines seven important issues to consider when defining evangelicals. It then offers seven primary theological beliefs of evangelicals because:
Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.
Here are some other excellent statements in the 20-page document that urge evangelicals not to have too narrow of an agenda or become too partisan, and to live out our faith and support religious freedom:
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.

... All too often we have gloried in the racial and ethnic diversity of the church around the world, but remained content to be enclaves of separateness here at home.

All too often we have abandoned our Lord's concern for those in the shadows, the twilight, and the deep darkness of the world, and become cheerleaders for those in power and the naïve sycophants of the powerful and the rich.

... We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation. We believe it is our calling to be good stewards of all God has entrusted to our care so that it may be passed on to generations yet to be born.

... 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.

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left. Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church - and disastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons rather than constitutional reasons.

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival.

The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness.

... We are not uncritical of unrestrained voluntarism and rampant individualism, but we utterly deplore the dangerous alliance between church and state, and the oppression that was its dark fruit. We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war, we all believe that Jesus' Good News of justice for the whole world was promoted, not by a conqueror's power and sword, but by a suffering servant emptied of power and ready to die for the ends he came to achieve.
Amen! There is a lot to think about here and I hope that evangelicals will give it serious consideration. I recommend reading it and checking out the other resources at the site.

3 comments

  1. Brian,
    I appreciated your comments and paragraphs from the manifesto. You are correct, it is a fresh and needed evangelical voice. Hopefully, some will listen. Thanks. Jim

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  2. good thoughts. like the title of your blog, too.

    i'm enjoying reading the various opinions here and there around the web. i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but i'm actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addresses.

    one of the things i like is that the authors have chosen not to list creationism and inerrancy as non-negotiables. for the first, there's very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can't prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. still, some people hold to these positions; so be it. there's simply too much of a tendency to add items to the ever-increasing laundry list of ideas and doctrines to which we have to pledge allegiance before we're allowed into the room marked "Christian."

    nothing's going to please everybody, and there are a few things i object to. for instance, i don't agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus' message uses "action" verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know ... if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

    i did, however, like these words: We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the 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. somehow, we've got to figure out how we're going to peacefully share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

    one interesting thing: maybe i missed it, but there doesn't seem to be a great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. do you think that was intentional? i didn't see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography...

    more than anything, i find myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece - that it isn't yet another "here's everything we're against" rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that - the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

    perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

    one can only hope...

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa
    mikerucker.wordpress.com

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  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Jim: I am glad to work for someone who recognizes good stuff when he sees it!

    Mike: Thanks for sharing your insights. I am glad that this document has sparked some discussion among evangelicals about what it means to be one.

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