An Evangelical Manifesto: An Assessment
About a week ago a group of American Evangelicals released a 20-page document called “An Evangelical Manifesto”. Subtitled “A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment,” the document seeks to lay out basic Evangelical convictions, offer some warnings, and present a way ahead for Evangelical Americans (and others).
When I first read it, I thought to myself, “This reads a lot like something Os Guinness might have penned”. Thus it came as no surprise when I later found his name on the nine-man steering committee for the Manifesto. How much he and the others actually contributed to this document is unclear, but the Guinness footprint certainly looms large over the entire 20 pages. Indeed, given that Guinness lives near Washington DC, where this Manifesto originated, it is likely that he is its major author, if not source of ideas.
Since I have been a long-time fan of Guinness – going back to when he was associated with Francis Schaeffer and wrote his seminal volume, The Dust of Death (1973) – I have read most of his books and enjoyed most of his commentary. The English-raised Guinness always has incisive, intelligent and profound observations that are well worth reading. Of course that does not mean I agree with everything that he says, but for the most part he is very high up on my list of favourite Christian thinkers and writers.
So with his imprint looming so strongly throughout this document, it is to be expected that I find it to be mostly quite sound and informative, with only small areas where I might find something to quibble about. Indeed, much of the document states what most Evangelicals would have also stated.
The document begins with seven foundational beliefs of Evangelicalism, which stress all the accepted Evangelical emphases: the uniqueness of Christ and his atoning work for us; the necessity of new life by spiritual regeneration; the trustworthiness of God’s inspired Word; and so on.
It then lists seven defining features of Evangelicalism, including the importance of Jesus Christ as the object of our devotion; that the Christian life must be expressed not just in our creeds, but in our deeds and worship; and that we should not unduly and unnecessarily restrict Evangelicalism to just one church or denomination, but see that God is bigger than any one church. That is, there should be both unity and diversity in the Evangelical movement.
And it asks us to avoid unnecessary extremes, such as liberal revisionism on the one hand and fundamentalist conservatism on the other. The authors put it this way: “Called by Jesus to be ‘in the world, but not of it,’ Christians, especially in modern society, have been pulled toward two extremes. Those more liberal have tended so to accommodate the world that they reflect the thinking and lifestyles of the day, to the point where they are unfaithful to Christ; whereas those more conservative have tended so to defy the world that they resist it in ways that also become unfaithful to Christ.”
Next the document speaks of reforming our behaviour. It rightly notes that our walk has not always matched our talk. Too often we Evangelicals “have betrayed our beliefs by our behaviour”. Much of the rest of the document applies this to how Evangelicals are to live in the public arena, and how we can avoid mistakes along the way.
It warns of turning the Gospel into a purely political affair; of becoming too obsessed with single-issue politics; and of getting too bogged down in the “culture wars”. It does agree that the various political and social issues which both left and right champion, be they issues of justice and poverty, or marriage and family, are important, and must not be neglected. But it warns against overly politicising the gospel.
It is here that I would offer a bit of adjustment, by teasing all this out more, and making some qualifications and amplifications of what is being said. Of course for the most part I agree with what is being encouraged here. As is clear from this site, I too have warned in various articles that Christianity is ultimately above any political or ideological camp.
True Christianity cannot be reduced to a political platform, or to a social agenda. Sure, Christianity must be expressed in all the realms of life, including the social, cultural, political and legal, but no one earthly position must be baptised as the one true Christian position.
Faith in the Public Arena
Of course there will always be disagreements among Evangelicals as to how their faith should be expressed in the public arena. This too I have written about at length elsewhere on this site. But it is worth examining further.
The document argues that there are three main ways that Christianity interacts with the public realm. One is the “sacred public square” model in which the church overtakes and subsumes society, as in a theocracy. The next is the “naked public square” model in which the secularists drive Christianity out of public life altogether. The third – and preferred option, according to the authors – is the “civic public square” model in which all sides are allowed to make their case in this debate, and let the best man win.
I broadly agree with this. After all, in a democratic, multicultural and pluralistic society, the first two options are not desirable. (Discussion about the desirability of the first option can certainly be debated among believers and be further teased out – but I will not here take this up.) So a type of religious freedom where all views can compete in the public square does seem more or less to be the way to go here.
But such an approach does not leave me without concern. Indeed, I heard this scenario expressed before, even with the exact same terminology. Yes, I had heard Os Guinness discuss this several years ago at a lecture he gave in Melbourne. I went up to him after his talk and shared a few concerns with him. What follows is roughly what I discussed with him.
I said that I agreed that in a pluralistic society, the third model may be the best we can aim for, but I did ask if he was being perhaps a bit too cavalier with all this. That is, what if tomorrow 51 per cent of the citizenry vote to make illegal all Judeo-Christian thought, values and expression. Do we just say, “oh well, the people have spoken, and that is the end of the matter”?
What about millennia of Western achievements largely brought about by the Judeo-Christian worldview? Do we just allow it to be undone like that? After all, much of Western civilisation is in fact Judeo-Christian civilisation. So many of the benefits and blessings that we enjoy in the West are directly due to the Judeo-Christian presence and influence.
I reminded him of the stirring words of TS Eliot, and what happens when we allow our Christian heritage to slip through our fingers. His quote is worth repeating here at length. “I am talking about the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is, and about the common cultural elements which this common Christianity has brought with it. . . . It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have – until recently – been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning.”
He continues with this important consideration: “If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.”
I put these fears of Eliot to Guinness. Is not all of this worth fighting for? Indeed, is that not part of the reason why the culture wars are raging? I forget now his exact reply to me, but I suspect it would have mirrored what is said in the Manifesto.
I tried to explain to Guinness that the culture wars really are tied up with what Eliot was talking about. I suggested that it was the militant secularist lobby that really started this fight. By seeking to eradicate religious influence in the public square, by seeking to ban one thing after another – be it school prayer, the Ten Commandments, etc. – Evangelicals were left with a choice: Either just allow this anti-Christian agenda to continue until it has accomplished its nasty purposes, or rise up and be counted.
And the various attacks on morality also demanded a response; be they the assault of the pro-abortionists, the homosexual lobby, the sexual liberationists, and so on. Believers not only wanted to stand up for their faith, but to protect their families, and fair enough. Some issues are too important to just allow the other side victory by default.
Of course there are different ways these battles can be fought, and yes at times the so-called Religious Right has done things wrongly, or not very biblically. But God-given institutions like marriage and family, and bedrock values like the sanctity of life are too vital to just allow the secularists to have their way.
And it is not just the secularist jihadists who are at war with Christians and want to take over the public arena. Militant Islam with its intent to spread Sharia law over the globe is another pressing concern, and one which we must be aware of and engage with.
So this is one important area in this document where I would like to have seen the discussion further addressed, and more fully explored. Again, the document does try to get the balance more or less right here, even though it perhaps goes a bit into the anti-culture wars discussion too much. It does recognise, for example, that both sets of concerns in this debate must be heard:
“Once again, our choice is for a civil public square, and a working respect for the rights of all, even those with whom we disagree. Contrary to medieval religious leaders and certain contemporary atheists who believe that ‘error has no rights,’ we respect the right to be wrong. But we also insist that the principle of ‘the right to believe anything’ does not lead to the conclusion that ‘anything anyone believes is right.’ Rather, it means that respect for differences based on conscience can also mean a necessary debate over differences conducted with respect.”
No attempt at getting some kind of broad-based consensus on Evangelicalism – what it is, what are its values, how it should be expressed, etc – will be perfect, and that is true of “An Evangelical Manifesto”. It has things mostly right, and believers will differ here and there. But it is a helpful step in the right direction in the debate about who we are, how we define ourselves, and where we should be headed, as Evangelicals.
27 Replies to “An Evangelical Manifesto: An Assessment”
Thanks Bill. An interesting read. Keep up the good work.
You claim that “much of Western civilisation is in fact Judeo-Christian civilisation”. While the Christian church certainly had much power and influence in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, Western civilisation and democracy derives largely from classical Greco-Roman civilisation, and our laws can be traced back to Babylonian times, particularly the Code of Hammurabi. Much of Hebrew law suggests similar origins. The term Judeo-Christian is largely an invention of American politics.
Your hypothetical “what if tomorrow 51 per cent of the citizenry vote to make illegal all Judeo-Christian thought, values and expression” is a very strange concept. Which elements of today’s society did you think this term would cover?
And for once I have to agree with you. The “civic public square” model is certainly the framework which is fairest to all viewpoints, and is in fact what a secular society means.
Steve Angelino, WA
Bill, Bill, Bill,
All this talk of “squares”, “theocracy” and letting “the best man win”?…..The “Best Man” already has won…..
2 Cor 10: 3-5
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”
Also, please…..read, don’t merely recall or give assent to, but read again: Psalm 2 & Psalm 110.
Thanks for your thoughts, although I am not 100 per cent clear where you are going with them. Yes I know these passages, and yes I have read them again, and yes I am comforted by them. They of course speak in general to God’s sovereignty, and in particular, of when Jesus returns and subdues all things and consummates his Kingdom reign in its final and conclusive form. That is what all believers look forward to, the final rule of Christ on planet earth.
While those are wonderful promises, there still is a legitimate place to ask how believers should live in the here and now, what our political involvement might be, and how we should see our faith expressed in the public arena. That is what this document is mainly about, and that is what my review mainly addresses. I believe those are important issues for Christians to be thinking and praying about.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
But plenty of world-class historians and thinkers would beg to differ here. The term Judeo-Christian is a fully acceptable and common term, and the idea that the West owes so much to the Judeo-Christian worldview is an uncontroversial contention, except to atheists who do not like anything that smacks of religion.
And to argue for the importance of religion on the foundation of the West is not to imply there have been no other influences. The Greco-Roman world also played a role, but in terms of important Western virtues such as human rights, the importance of the individual, and related issues, the Judeo-Christian worldview offered far more than did ancient Greece.
Your atheism simply forces you into such historical revisionism. If you one day take your ideological blinders off, you might see things a bit more clearly, instead of always coming out with this atheist silliness, which plays fast and loose with the facts and denies the evidence. I could suggest a few volumes here, but it seems you have not taken up any of my previous reading suggestions.
I am continually amazed at how the closed mind of atheism does not see the need to get a bigger perspective on things. So much for following the evidence where it may lead, and being willing to revise one’s theories in the light of the facts. The religion of militant atheism is about as fundamentalist and closed as one can get.
And while you might give lip service to the idea of a public civil square, most of your atheist buddies have made it clear that they really champion the naked public square. They want religious voices banished from the public arena altogether, and that is what is increasingly happening in secular Western societies.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Hi Bill, thanks for the summary.
I have downloaded the manifesto, and plan to read it shortly. It sounds as though it is thoughtful and useful. I’m glad that people of the ilk of Os Guinness were involved in its conception.
David Wells, Don Carson and Os Guinness have been very critical of evangelicalism in the past decade or so. This manifesto will, perhaps, have the capacity to inspire some changes and reinvigoration into certain corners of the evangelical church. Thoughts?
Simon Kennedy, VIC
It is a pretty reasonable and accurate representation of Evangelical belief and practice.
I do find this statement a bit problematic though:
We do indeed want to impose our belief in regard to abortion, euthenasia, same-sex marriage, murder, rape, paedophilia etc.
I think the statement as a whole is too wordy, and should have been divided into 2 parts:
1. Why we need it (which contains all the reflective, self-assessing, and analytical commentary).
2. What we actually believe, and are called to do/achieve (a clear and concise list of affirmations)
Anyway, I would be happy to sign it.
Steve A wrote:
Western civilisation and democracy derives largely from classical Greco-Roman civilisation, and our laws can be traced back to Babylonian times, particularly the Code of Hammurabi. Much of Hebrew law suggests similar origins. The term Judeo-Christian is largely an invention of American politics.
This is total bollocks and has no historical support whatsoever!
Read Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity led to freedom, capitalism and western success
While I can’t disagree that modern Westerners have adopted a lot of thinking from ancient greeks (the Olympics is such a great example of the implementation of an old greek idea isn’t it?!) I strongly disagree with your statements about greco-roman civilisation or babylonian law being the foundations of our civilisation. You really need to get a good classical education, or read a few more of those old dusty hard-cover volumes, not just the new shiny paperback ones.
Romans did build great roads and buildings though – we could probably learn a few things from them on that score, we’d just need to come up with hordes of slaves/prisoners to do the work. Modern contractors just don’t seem to have the same commitment to the longevity of their work. 🙂
You raised the question: “That is, what if tomorrow 51 per cent of the citizenry vote to make illegal all Judeo-Christian thought, values and expression. ”
Well, what if they did? It wouldn’t be the first time in history that Christianity has been made illegal. But if a society chooses that path then that’s THEIR choice isn’t it? Notwithstanding the fact that real Christianity has always flourished in such circumstances, Christ’s humility will NEVER try and force and individual or group of individuals to accept him, it just doesn’t work that way. Sure, is the truth in all it’s aspects worth fighting for? Sure it is but if a society rejects that truth, then what? Do we start forcing Christian morality and beliefs on the population like the medieval Church? That’s been tried and failed before as well.
If Christianity becomes illegal tomorrow then you and I will be criminals, if anti spanking laws became legislation tomorrow most of the population will become criminals. Legislation used unjustly always makes criminals out of innocent people, like those examples I mentioned or someone who smokes a joint or someone who drives over 60kph or someone who changes a tap washer if they aren’t a licensed plumber. All such frivolous legislation all seeks to limit the freedom we have in Christ, if that’s the way our society chooses to go, I will fight it where I can but in the then, as I said, it’s their choice.
Seek to understand “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
“centuries of barbarism” (TS Eliot)… scary… and our freedom to speak in the public square is in itself under threat.
But I nowhere said force should be used to promote the faith, so I am not sure why you are going on about that.
Yes, persecution is often the best thing for the church, in terms of weeding out the dross and refining true believers. I am fully aware of how the persecuted church is often the truest and best church. But that does not mean we should go looking for persecution.
My point was simply that some goods in society are worth fighting for (in a metaphorical sense of course). Perhaps others don’t give a rip if democracy or religious freedom or morality disappears over night, but I do, and I will certainly do all I can to defend such things, if for no other reason than for the sake of my children and their children.
And as a citizen of this nation, I have every right to see my values and beliefs reflected in the political and social arena, as do the other two thirds of Australians who call themselves Christians. Certain things are too important to just say, ‘so what, that’s their choice?’
Imagine telling Wilberforce when he expressed his concerns about the slave traders: ‘so what, that’s just their choice, so why bother?’ Fortunately Wilberforce did not heed such defeatist attitudes. Today millions of blacks are very glad he did not as well.
And I don’t accept your attempt to equate laws banning the faith, for example, with anti-pot laws. Your libertarian pro-drug stance is simply muddying the waters here. I certainly do not want to share a jail cell with you for smoking dope, but I will share one with you for being a follower of Jesus!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks for your reply Bill.
I am glad you were comforted, but more so, I hope also encouraged.
I suppose I was thinking about the fact that, as you say, these Psalms do indeed refer to the final consummation of the Kingdom of God when Christ will hand it over to the Father (I Cor15:24-25). From these 2 verses in I Cor 15, especially verse 25, you will see that Christ reigns now, not just in the future. In fact it will be the Father who will finally reign supreme in the future. So, there is this “now but not yet” aspect to it as well. Christ reigns now and is actively working towards bringing in the Kingdom, (verse 24b).
He will do it!!! In fact it is so sure, it is as good as done! Because the Father has given the Son this task and it is impossible that God can fail.
Whereas, what we do, is, in a sense supplemental or contributory, and does bring Glory to God. However, our efforts are not decisive with respect to whether the Son succeeds in his task. He will succeed because of who He is, not because of who we are, what we do, don’t do, or how well we do it. Be encouraged!!
Hi Steve A,
Can I suggest you do some history? I highly recommend anything from Stark. He was an atheist who specialised in monotheistic religions. In particular Christianity. By his third book he had converted.
They make for great reading and dispel a lot of the misinformation surrounding Christianity. Western Civlisation IS a Christian Civilisation. And is it any surprise then that as people have attempted to divorce that heritage and re-term it “western cvilistsation” that this civilization has just gotten worse and worse? More banal, more vulgar and more violent.
At what point do Christians take up arms then? It’s a tough question and the general response would be never for most Christians I expect. But then again if the crusaders hadn’t “taken the war” to Islam or if the Spaniards didn’t fight back or the Knights of St. John didn’t make a stand at Malta would there even be a western civilization to save today? Thousands (millions?) of devout Christians have literally given their lives to protect the civilization we are dismantling. Not all those who made the sacrifice did it peaceably but fought back with force of arms.
I know it’s a tough question and I don’t know the answer. I do know however that God always sides with the oppressed, disenfranchised and the underdog.
God the Father handed all authority over to Christ. Christ in turn handed authority over to the Church. I have said this before but I think it is worth repeating the Church is the legs, voice and arms of Christ. We can not say “oh well, Christ will come back eventually and we win!” We need to stand up and be counted now. It doesn’t matter how ineffectual or messed up our culture is. We can never abandon the jungle to the monkeys. It’s certainly comforting to know that in the end we do win. But we also need to be wary of not using Christ’s return in the future to feed apathy today.
The thought that is going through my mind as I read these comments is that we are happy to say “if that is what the world wants so be it” because it means that we can retreat into our comfy christian chair and rock back and forwards in front of the altar.
The NT is full of battle rhetoric, army talk, defeating the enemy, fighting the good fight and being a good soldier of christ. I don’t know how you can do all this if you are in your armchair smoking the pipe of peace (otherwise known as waving the white flag of surrender).
From what I can see the church has retreated into its shell to protect its “don’t bother me now, I’m happy” attitude. Meanwhile, 246 babies are murdered everyday in Australia. Murder 246 animals everyday and there would be uproar.
I think you are quite right on all three counts. I too would have recommended Stark and other authors to Steve, but he does not seem to have taken up any of my previous reading suggestions as yet.
And you second point is true – there may indeed be a time and place for Christian civil disobedience, perhaps even the taking up of arms. But that opens another whole can of worms which will require a whole new article to tease things out properly. So stay tuned. I feel another article coming on!
And yes, I was also tempted to reply to Robert along the same lines. God is of course sovereign and will get his job done, yet for some strange reason he has chosen to get his job done – at least in good part – by we his people. It is all very risky business to commit so much responsibility to us frail and finite creatures, but that is exactly what he has done. Sure, God will be fully responsible to carry out his duties, but we also have been given responsibilities that we must work to carry out. We must, in other words, take the many imperatives addressed to believers in Scripture seriously, all the while trusting in the sovereign plan and purpose of God.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Yes I certainly agree. And when I brought up the slavery example, I was also going to bring up the abortion issue as well. It is just not good enough to say of the abortionists, or pornographers, or drug peddlers, or homosexual activists, that that is all just their choice, and we must simply live with it. There are some things worth fighting for.
Unfortunately too many believers either do not know of, or care about, the many battle fronts we face. And some are too timid to get involved. Yet interestingly, leading the list of things God will judge in Revelation 21:8 is cowardice. We need to pray for some holy boldness here. We need to get out of our comfort zones, and engage in these many important battles.
And of course this will take many different forms: praying and interceding; political lobbying; writing letters to newspapers; standing outside of abortion mills; and so on. But the vital need is to care and to act, not to be indifferent and uninvolved.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Hey, we’re not ganging up on you! Really! Indeed, I certainly did not have you in mind when I spoke of apathetic Christians. So have no fear. In fact, we agree with you. The sovereignty of God is absolutely biblical and terrific news, and we know he will be victorious in the end. That is a clear biblical truth.
But so too is the fact that we have been given marching orders, that we have responsibilities to carry out, and that we are often slack in doing all that Christ asks of us. (Indeed, doing all of what he demands us to do. I am just now reading John Piper’s tremendous book, What Jesus Demands from the World – Crossway, 2006. Piper of course is a clear champion of God’s sovereignty, yet he spends 400 pages outlining all of our obligations and responsibilities as followers of Jesus. You would quite enjoy the book I believe.)
There is nothing wrong with holding both sets of truths, is there? Can’t we hold to both simultaneously? I don’t see that as being problematic in any way. So rest assured of our support for what you are saying.
We are just aware that some will take the emphasis on God’s sovereignty as an excuse for inactivity and not fulfilling their biblical obligations. I trust you also would be concerned about such people as they misunderstand and misapply the biblical truths of God’s sovereign rule.
OK? Comprendo? Still friends? Still brothers?
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
The intent was to encourage.
I don’t think I was advocating a “monastic” lifestyle, was I?
I am not saying that the Church should not engage with the world. I fully agree that we are to be salt and light and to be ready to give a defense of the hope that is in us.
I think a number of comments here were directed to believers in general, or to other commentators on this post, and not so much to you in the first place. So it sounds like we agree! Good! Let’s move on!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
The “gee guys” was a finger slip, the next response was intended.
Hey, a good example perhaps of how our human shortcomings can work into God’s sovereign purposes! It did provide me with a good opportunity to plug Piper’s book. It really is a first rate volume, and I will do a full review of it soon. Stay tuned!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
My intent definitely wasn’t to attack you at all. But to comment generally on Christian apathy. I wasn’t intending to say you specifically were apathetic.
The internet tends to lose tone in translation. Apologies for any offense.
Having read the “Evangelical Manifesto” there is one point I would take issue with. When it refers to “The way of Jesus, not Constantine” and the issue of church and state, it makes no reference to the actions of emperor Theodosius. In 380AD he issued an imperial command:
It is Our Will that all the peoples we rule shall practise that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans. We shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with divine judgment.
Theodosius took for granted the close link between his own will and God’s. This is far greater than anything Constantine did.
Unfortunately, I have read christian literature of more recent times that appears to adopt a similar v’iew, that belief in christ is compulsory. In addition, the “One nation under God” stated by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address is taken by some to make the United States of America an implied theocracy.
Both of the above issues significantly affect the way christians “evangelise” unbelievers and, in my opinion, it undermines the evangelical process.
My understanding of the purpose evangelism is to introduce the unbeliever to Jesus, whom they can either accept or reject. The Gospels are quite clear that there were those who accepted Jesus and those who rejected him. His mission on earth was not a failure because he was rejected by some, and it is the same with today’s evangelical effort. To measure of evangelism by those who accept Jesus is not a true measure of success. We are to “preach the Gospel to the whole world” so that all have had the opportunity to deal with the issue of Jesus and accept the consequences of acceptance and rejection. This to me is the aim of evangelism.
I find it disturbing that the “Manifesto” seems to agree too much with the secular fundamentalists, that Christianity should indeed be silent in certain areas of our culture.
If we choose to place “civility” above the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then who really is god to the evangelical? Are we supposed to believe that Stephen was really a fool?
I suspect that this manifesto is an attempt to become popular with the world in an attempt for some who are weak in the faith to help them feel comfortable in disbelief.