Saturday, May 17, 2008

Responses to An Evangelical Manifesto

On May 7th 2008, a "representative group of Evangelicals in America" issued a statement titled "An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment", during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The conference and manifesto are their attempt to clarify the meaning of the term "Evangelical" and also to correct negative perceptions of the Evangelical movement. At the same time, the document challenges Evangelicals to follow a more Christ-like, "civil" way of pursuing common objectives. It encourages all who are of like mind about its analysis and prescriptions for Evangelicalism to demonstrate solidarity with its aims by signing the Manifesto.

At the press conference, Dr. Os Guinness, a chief architect of the document, spoke of its dual purpose, saying that the Manifesto is intended for two groups, "an internal audience calling for reformation of evangelicals", and an "external audience... a call to a re-thinking of the evangelical position in public life, and openly, a call for civility" in the "global public sphere". The Manifesto, written by a steering committee of nine, was signed by over 80 well-known evangelicals and is accumulating hundreds of other signatures, although some well-known Evangelicals such as Al Mohler, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Rick Warren have not signed.

The Manifesto has drawn mixed reactions from bloggers and columnists across the blogosphere and web. Several analyses, by journalists Alan Jacobs and Frank Pastore, and Christian blogger Dan Edelen (see links below), find little by way of practical application to be drawn from the statement, which they assess as too theoretical and not as direct, specific and focused as a manifesto ought to be.

Questioning "An Evangelical Manifesto"- Frank Pastore

A Show About Nothing- Dan Edelen

Come On, You Call This a Manifesto?- Alan Jacobs

Others, such as Darrell Bock and Daniel Wallace (both professors at Dallas Theological Seminary), have been positive, citing the Manifesto's call to civility in the global public square, its humble tone and moderate prescriptions, as good, necessary steps towards recovering respect and credibility to the Evangelical movement. They would urge many to sign the document. Joe Carter, blogger of Evangelical Outpost also has signed the manifesto and has generally positive thoughts on it.

Darrell Bock: Why a Manifesto from Evangelicals? Why Now?- Darrell Bock

Evangelical Manifesto - Part 2- Daniel Wallace

I particularly resonated with the assessments of the manifesto made by Bill Muehlenberg and Albert Mohler (links below).

Both writers praise the analysis of issues that the manifesto gets right, yet also point out its weaknesses, especially noting its failure to give more specifics. For example, Mohler writes, "what the document never makes clear is how to hold to deep moral and political convictions, based in biblical principles, without running the danger of identification with a political agenda -- at least to some extent", and again, "The Manifesto is brave in calling for and end to 'culture warring' that threatens to unravel the society and shut down civil conversation and deliberation. But its bravery does not extend to any specific proposals about how this can be done."

Mohler, who has not signed the Manifesto, concludes his critique with the following words:
In the end, I must judge "An Evangelical Manifesto" to be too expansive in terms of public relations and too thin in terms of theology. I admire so much of what this document states and represents, but I cannot accept it as a whole. I want it to be even more theological, and to be far more specific about the Gospel. I agree with the framers that Evangelicals should be defined theologically, rather than politically, culturally, or socially. This document will have to be much more theological for it to accomplish its own stated purpose.

An Evangelical Manifesto: An Assessment

An Evangelical Response to "An Evangelical Manifesto" Albert Mohler

"An Evangelical Manifesto" -- Continuing the Conversation

Having now read the Manifesto through a couple of times and taken in various commentaries, I've come to some of the same conclusions as others. First, the Manifesto seems to be misnamed, as it lays out no strong, specific agenda for implementation of its purposes. Although it rightly decries politicization of the gospel, the document and surrounding press conference seemed mostly aimed at correcting the public image of Evangelicalism (a seemingly political or public relations endeavor). In a time when political correctness rules the media and an increasingly vocal secular influence strives to remove all vestiges of religious and particularly Christian influence from the public square, this document seems too accommodating to the times. The Christian gospel by its very nature is exclusive. It is also a call to repentance and is therefore offensive, a stumbling block to many. Yet the Manifesto seems more preoccupied with civility than with bold proclamation. Certainly the Manifesto affirms the basic truths of Christianity, yet its conciliatory and defensive tone is not inspiring, and its prescriptions seem to open the door to an inclusivism that will ultimately affect not only with whom we align ourselves, but also the content of the message. Like Mr. Mohler, I would have preferred that a Manifesto that declares that "Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally" would present a more theologically-based call to action. I am also concerned that evangelicals I admire for their sound theology are nowhere to be found on the list of signatories, but some about whom I would have theological concerns are.

For further information:

An Interview with Os Guinness about the Evangelical Manifesto

An article titled An Evangelical Manifesto by Matthew Kratz at The Truth Will Set You Free blog, does a fine job of quoting and summarizing the key points of the Manifesto.

Press Club and Interview photos about the Manifesto

Why Some Leaders Won't Sign the Evangelical Manifesto

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