An Evangelical Response to 'An Evangelical Manifesto'
- Wednesday, May 14, 2008
This is a good and helpful statement ... as far as it goes. The Manifesto is brave in calling for an 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. The foundation for this part of the Manifesto appears to be Os Guinness' book, "The Case for Civility," which makes precisely the same arguments in precisely the same elegant language -- and with precisely the same limitations. Guinness is a brilliant social analyst and should be counted among the most insightful thinkers in the evangelical world. But the brilliant insights found in "The Case for Civility" are, in the main, the same brilliant insights found within an earlier project that was, by his own account, largely his conception -- The Williamsburg Charter of 1988.
The limitations of both of his projects are found within "An Evangelical Manifesto," and to devastating result. Civility is urgently important and is central to American order. Civility is a virtue rooted in the fact that Christians understand each human being to be made in the image of God. But neither Guinness nor the Manifesto can construct the framework for civility that Guinness brilliantly imagines. This is due to the fact that we are now dealing with the very fundamental questions of existence that the Manifesto acknowledges -- the questions that, in the end, will shape the civilization.
Issues such as abortion and marriage are not only important, but urgent. One gains the impression that the civility so prized in this document can only take the form of endless talk and dialogue. That may fit the culture of Washington think tanks, but it does not fit the culture of public policy or the lives most of us lead. The Manifesto is wonderfully prophetic in calling for civility, but it never explains how civility can survive a policy conclusion -- or how civil parties to a conversation about ultimate things can speak the truth and always be considered civil.
When the document correctly states, "In a society as religiously diverse as America today, no one faith should be normative for the entire society, yet there should be room for the free expression of faith in the public square," does it mean that there can or should be no normative morality for the public square? Or, one might wonder, would this normative morality (without which no society can survive) be as secularized as the framers of the Manifesto eloquently fear?
Where does a commitment to civility meet its limits? Can one speak truthfully of the Gospel, and of the fact that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and be considered civil?
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.
Now, perhaps we evangelicals will all gain by a civil conversation about this Manifesto that calls for civility. That at last would be a good place to start.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared on his blog at AlbertMohler.com. The Evangelical Manifesto can be read online at www.evangelicalmanifesto.com/docs/Evangelical_Manifesto.pdf.
© Copyright 2008 Baptist Press. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
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