An Evangelical Response to 'An Evangelical Manifesto'
- Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The framers make clear their concern to define evangelical over against fundamentalism and Protestant liberalism. Would they include inclusivists as evangelicals?
Another complication on this score comes from the fact that evangelicals are identified as "one of the great traditions that have developed within the Christian Church over the centuries." There is a sense in which this is true, of course, but relegating the evangelical understanding of the Gospel to just one among many Christian traditions undercuts our witness and sows seeds of confusion.
"An Evangelical Manifesto" is, at least to a major extent, an exercise in public relations. The document was released at the National Press Club -- not a usual venue for theological discussion. The stated aims of the document are also directed to public relations. The sense of attempting to convince the public that evangelicals are not what many think them (us) to be pervades the Manifesto.
Evangelicals sometimes have to make strong judgments, the authors assert, but only after clarifying that the "Good News" of the Gospel "is overwhelmingly positive, and is always positive before it is negative." Further: "Evangelicals are for Someone and for something rather than against anyone or anything."
This is a wonderful statement, and entirely true. Nevertheless, as a statement of public relations it will not get very far -- not if any honest discussion or disclosure follows. As the authors recognize, to be for one principle is to oppose its opposite. Those holding to contrary principles will not be persuaded to cease stating that we are against their principles and aims.
Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of the document is its recognition that differences of conviction reach to the most fundamental questions of life. These differences "are not just between personal worldviews but between entire ways of life co-existing in the same society." These differences "are decisive not only for individuals but for societies and entire civilizations."
Another great strength of the document is its profound analysis of the cultural crisis and its challenge to Christians and the integrity of Christian faith. The Manifesto is prophetic in indicting Evangelicalism for its many sins, including:
"All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world."
This is a statement worthy of the most serious reflection -- as is this paragraph:
"All too often we have attacked the evils and injustices of others, such as the killing of the unborn, as well as the heresies and apostasies of theological liberals whose views have developed into 'another gospel,' while we have condoned our own sins, turned a blind eye to our own vices, and lived captive to forces such as materialism and consumerism in ways that contradict our faith."
Again, this is a powerful statement. But what follows is a bit troubling. Just a few paragraphs later, the Manifesto reads:
"All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming anti-intellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith. By doing so, we have unwittingly given comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today."
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