Wednesday, May 07, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto: A Summary

This morning a document was released at the National Press Club entitled An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment, spearheaded by Os Guinness and signed by over 80 evangelical leaders. (You can read a brief interview I conducted this week with Dr. Guinness about the document.)

The full document is over 7,400 words, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s an imperfect but nevertheless (in my opinion) remarkable document that deserves serious attention. The press has latched on to the political dimension of the document, but the critique of theological liberalism is much more extensive and pointed.

In order to summarize the document and the authors’ intentions, I’ve outlined it below, freely drawing on their wording. (Do not rely, however, on my shorthand. As I said above, be sure to read the whole thing.)

As the title indicates, this is a manifest to declare (1) evangelical identity (attempting to clarify the confusions that surround the term Evangelical in the US), and public commitment (attempting to explain where they stand on issues that cause consternation over Evangelicals in public life). They have three burdens: Evangelicals must (1) reaffirm their identity; (2) reform their own behavior; (3) rethink their place in public life.

They define “Evangelicals” theologically and confessionally, as those “Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.” They list the following seven emphases of evangelical belief:
  1. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, as the only full and complete revelation of God and therefore the only Savior.
  2. The death of Jesus on the cross, in which he took the penalty for our sins and reconciled us to God.
  3. Salvation as God’s gift grasped through faith. We contribute nothing to our salvation.
  4. New life in the Holy Spirit, who brings us spiritual rebirth and power to live as Jesus did, reaching out to the poor, sick, and oppressed.
  5. The Bible as God’s Word written, fully trustworthy as our final guide to faith and practice.
  6. The future personal return of Jesus to establish the reign of God.
  7. The importance of sharing these beliefs so that others may experience God’s salvation and may walk in Jesus’ way.
They identify six implications that follow from this definition of Evangelicals:
  1. To be Evangelical is to hold a belief that is also a devotion.
  2. Evangelical belief and devotion is expressed as much in our worship and in our deeds as in our creeds.
  3. Evangelicals are followers of Jesus in a way that is not limited to certain churches or contained by a definable movement.
  4. Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically; confessionally and not culturally.
  5. The Evangelical message, “good news” by definition, is overwhelmingly positive, and always positive before it is negative.
  6. Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism.
The next section calls for Evangelical reform. They write: “Sadly, we repeatedly fail to live up to our high calling, and all too often illustrate our own doctrine of sin. The full list of our failures is no secret to God or to many who watch us. If we would share the good news of Jesus with others, we must first be shaped by that good news ourselves.” “We call humbly but clearly for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle, and therefore for deep reformation and renewal in all our Christian ways of life and thought.”

They then attempt to reposition themselves in public life. In response to the enormous confusion surround evangelicals in public life, they seek to clarify their position through a number of repudiations and expressions of concern:
  1. They repudiate two equal and opposition errors into which many Christians have fallen: (a) privatizing faith (falsely divorcing the spiritual from the secular and causing faith to lose its integrity); (b) politicizing faith (using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth, causing faith to lose its independence). Instead they argue that we have a duty to engage with politics but never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, or nationality.
  2. They repudiate the two extremes defining the present culture wars in the US: (a) partisans of a sacred public square (those who would continue to give one religion a preferred place in public life); and (b) partisans of a naked public square (those who would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square inviolably secular). In its place they are committed to a civil public square (a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths as well).
  3. They are concerned that a generation of culture warring, reinforced by understandable reactions to religious extremism around the world, has created a powerful backlash against all religion in public life among many educated people. In its place they call on all citizens of goodwill and believers of all faiths and none to join them in working for a civil public square and the restoration of a tough-minded civility that is in the interests of all.They are concerned that globalization and the emerging global public square have no matching vision of how to live with our deepest differences on the global stage. Global communication magnifies the challenges of living with our deepest differences. They warn of two equal and opposite errors in the emerging global public square: (a) coercive secularism and (b) religious extremism. They also warn repudiate the positions of coercive religion (which leads to conflict) and relativism (which leads to complacency).
  4. They warn of the danger of a two-tier global public square (the top tier for cosmopolitan secular liberals, and the lower tier for local religious believers), which is not only patronizing but also severely restricts religious liberty and justice. In its place, again, they promote a civil public square, respecting the rights of all and requiring respectful debate.
They end with a series of appeals: to fellow evangelicals, fellow citizens, people of other faiths, gatekeepers of society, etc.

“Finally, we solemnly pledge that in a world of lies, hype, and spin, where truth is commonly dismissed and words suffer from severe inflation, we make this declaration in words that have been carefully chosen and weighed; words that, under God, we make our bond. People of the Good News, we desire not just to speak the Good News but to embody and be good news to our world and to our generation.”