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Editorial by David Kowalski
In 2008, a group of Evangelical Christians signed "An Evangelical Manifesto." There was and continues to be a mixed response to the manifesto. Many Evangelicals lauded the work while others chose not to sign it. As nearly all Evangelicals acknowledged at the time, the document said many good things.
First, it did affirm some doctrinal and behavioral distinctions that mark Evangelicals.
Secondly, it called the church to focus more on the world as a mission field than a cultural battlefield, reminding us that our mission is evangelism of people rather than Christianization of culture.
Third, it sharply rebuked the secularization of the Evangelical church. In a passage that has been highly praised by most Evangelicals, the manifesto said the following:
"We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior. 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. All too often we have set out high, clear statements of the authority of the Bible, but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience."
Critics, however, pointed out what they saw as deficiencies in the manifesto, with Albert Mohler being perhaps the most well-spoken of these critics. Mohler pointed out that the manifesto was unnecessarily narrow and dangerously broad at the same time.
It's narrowness is seen in its identifying "Evangelicals" as those who do not contest the majority view of scientists with regard to origins. Mohler protests that this excludes young earth creationists from the Evangelical fold but a strict interpretation of the text might also exclude as non-Evangelicals those who reject theistic evolution in favor of any form of "sudden appearance" creationism. I agree with Mohler that this is unnecessarily narrow.
Mohler and others also disliked the fact that the manifesto did not clearly advocate particularism -- the view that one is only saved through conscious faith in the person and work of Christ (see my article here) ) The door was seen to be left open for inclusive, religious pluralism (one can be "saved by Christ" through any religion or non-religion without conscious faith in Jesus Christ or the cross).
These fears were not the paranoid delusions of radical conservatives, however, as some signers did eventually advocate inclusive, religious pluralism. Dallas Willard, one prominent member of the steering committee, did later publicly declare his belief in such a view:
“Being a Christian does not mean you are saved any more than anyone one else either from another religion or from no religion at all. Salvation is being a nice person and it has nothing to do with what you believe.” -- Dallas Willard1
The manifesto also seemed to many to disproportionately emphasize that we are for certain things rather than against their opposites. Mohler commented as follows:
"This is a wonderful statement [that we should be primarily for rather than against things], 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."
To be pro-life, for example, makes one equally anti-abortion. To favor freedom is to oppose tyranny. To call the church to holiness is to oppose sin in our ranks. The manifesto did allow for opposing the opposites of what we advocate but only in a subordinate way. It is nothing more than a public relations ploy (as Mohler noted) to say that we can be more for something than against its opposite.
The manifesto said some wonderful things but in the end I must agree with Mohler that the flaws were too big. In many places the manifesto represents an effort to be liked by the world at the expense of definite boundaries between the church and the world. In some ways, it also seemed to lack charity for conservative Evangelicals. Perhaps a better statement can be created in the future.
The manifesto can be found at the following sites:
Albert Mohler's critique can be found here:
© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.
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