Friday, May 09, 2008

Some Reactions to the Evangelical Manifesto

The following is not a complete round-up. Just some posts that have caught my eye with regard to the Evangelical Manifesto released yesterday. As far as I can tell, the substance of the document has largely been ignored by the mainstream press.

Alex Chediak interviews Os Guinness about the document, asking why James Dobson didn't sign it and whether or not it encourages Christians to vote for pro-choice candidates if they agree with them on other moral issues.

Alan Jacobs, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
I respect all of those [i.e., signers of the Manifesto] I know and count some as friends. But I found this document puzzling. I had read much of it -- it runs to 20 pages -- before I began to understand what it's all about. If Lausanne was an international document based on international concerns, the Manifesto is a very American document, the product of an election year, and a strong reaction against a quarter-century of evangelical identification with the Republican Party

. . . . it turns out that the chief goal of this document is to establish the differences between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. . . .

Once all the self-description is out of the way, it turns out that the heart of the document is a kind of urgent appeal: Please don't call us fundamentalists or confuse us with them. This strikes me as a regrettable tack, for two reasons. First, it is defensive, and manifestos should never be defensive. Second, it suggests a concern for labels and public perception that is not attractive in Christians. Besides, people who make the kinds of theological statements found in this document -- for instance, "We believe that the only ground for our acceptance by God is our trust in Jesus Christ" -- are going to be called fundamentalists no matter what else they say.
Jacobs offers more thoughts here.

Denny Burk:
it is precisely the Manifesto’s recipe for “reforming our own behavior” that becomes problematic. The Manifesto calls for “an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage” (p. 13). The blanket dismissal of “single-issue politics” is what concerns me. Yes, the Manifesto says that “we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, . . . nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman” (p. 13). But the document also seeks to raise other “public square” issues as if they have the same moral urgency as abortion and marriage. I for one am unwilling to tell evangelicals that they should treat the Kyoto Protocols with the same moral urgency with which we address the abortion issue—especially when it comes to evangelical engagement in electoral politics. Abortion and marriage are transcendent moral issues, and evangelicals should treat them as such.
Joe Carter quotes Os Guinness as saying:
"Our problem is not mislabeling by the press or rebranding because we have a bad image," said Os Guinness, an evangelical scholar and a drafter of the document, which was released in Washington. "The problem is reality. Much of evangelicalism is not evangelical."

Joe responds:

With all due respect to Guinness, this is foolishness. No doubt much of evangelicalism is not evangelical (or even Christian) but that has little to do with the perception people have about the term "evangelical" being used as a synonym with right-wing politics. That blame can indeed be placed squarely on the shoulders of the media. . . .

The media considers the term "evangelical" to be political rather than theological because of their own willful ignorance. Part of the problem is that they don't know anyone who would consider themselves an evangelical. Even at conservative media outlets you are more likely to an atheist on staff than you are an evangelical Christian.

But another part of the problem is that the elite media simply has no interest in evangelicals except for our political influence. The reason they don't see us as a theological movement is because in their minds "theology" isn't even a real category. For them to speak of theology is akin to talking about fairies and goblins and other such nonsense. Unlike Guinness, they do not believe that "secularism" is a religion or that faith has any place in the public square. This is the reason that his efforts to reach them--and change the perception they give about evangelicals--is bound to fail.

Nevertheless, these are all relatively minor concerns for such a worthy effort. Although I don't think the document will have much impact after it fades from the current news cycle, it will be useful to return to as a point of reference. And who knows, maybe someday we'll not only be able to come to an agreement about what the term "evangelical" means but also share a consensus about why preserving the term is important.
Update: More Jacobs; Darrell Bock; Douglas Wilson.

Bock will be interviewed about the manifesto on