Friday, May 16, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

Some prominent Evangelicals, including a favority of mine, Dallas Willard, have put out an Evangelical Manifesto, trying to clarify what it means to be Evangelical.

On the whole, it's a very well-done document, and I would subscribe to it without reservation.

One highlight for me is its affirmation of Scripture: "...we believe that Jesus own teach and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible, God's inspired Word, make the Scriputures our final rule for faith and practice." (page 6)

I'm really glad they made this a big enough tent for those who don't believe in inerrancy.

The document also takes a very fair and even-handed tone with faith vs. science (which it denies is a conflict), social justice (which it affirms is an Evangelical obligation), and politics (which it affirms as a human activity, but insists is not a defining trait of Evangelicalism).

Here's where you can find and even sign the statement:

http://www.anevangelicalmanifesto.com/index.php

13 comments:

Ben said...

Hmmmm, Timothy George, David Neff, Dallas Willard, Rich Mouw. Yeah, that's enough names I respect for me to give that document a read. Maybe, after this, I can explain to my non-Christian friends what it means to be an "Evangelical" and that it doesn't mean the shallow stereotype portrayed in the media.

Incidentally, when did I become the kind of person who name drops otherwise-obscure evangelical leaders? (Answer: Probably the day I subscribed to Christianity Today.)

-Dave said...

I don't know if I could agree wholeheartedly with every word. I'm already uncertain about "Yet we hold to Evangelical beliefs that are distinct from the other traditions in important ways — distinction that we affirm because we see them as biblical truths ... vital for a sure and saving knowledge of God."

I'm uncomfortable with the phrase "saving knowledge of God," because it sounds (though this may not be the intent) like salvation is about the truths I know.

I think it would be rephrased "things we must know in order to be saved," which makes the salvation passive... but still puts limits I'm uncomfortable with around who God may save.

If Jesus can promise paradise to an ignorant thief on the cross, then I'm uncomfortable taking many liberties at all about what the preconditions for salvation are.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

The only manifesto I think I have patience for is the one put out at Nicæa in AD 325, and that is predicated on my belief in the Word of God as accepted by nearly all Christians of all time periods and all locations, “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus.

What Dave wrote was well said, especially his last paragraph, “If Jesus can promise paradise to an ignorant thief on the cross, then I’m uncomfortable taking many liberties at all about what the preconditions for salvation are.” Bravo!

Perhaps I’ve become intellectually lazy and overly simplistic in my middle age, but the language in this manifesto sounded pompous and divisive, again as Dave quoted, “Yet we hold to Evangelical beliefs that are distinct from other traditions in important ways…”

Also, this verbiage is consistent with the worldly denominational relativism that increasingly permeates the pronouncements of certain Eastern Orthodox leaders. From a basic, bible-believing Orthodox perspective, it is anathema.

Again, forgive my ignorance and provincialism, brothers, because I have never heard of any of these names, “Timothy George, David Neff, Dallas Willard, Rich Mouw…” but perhaps Ben was only being facetious, and I’m way too slow to get it. This has happened before.

These days I keep recalling the saying of C. S. Lewis, “We are still the early Christians,” only I don't think I understand it quite the way he meant it.

My church-weary mind also keeps searching its memory banks for the light I remember shining on me from the Journal of George Fox. And, indistinctly imaged but nevertheless deeply impressed passages from The Pilgrim's Progess also beckon to me from the edges of my waking mind, somehow mysteriously mingled with startlingly clear scenarios from the Desert Fathers, mimicking in their antics the half remarkable question, “But when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Ben said...

Okay, Romanos, you lost me on that last paragraph.

It's funny, but having read only the first 5 pages thus far, I was struck by the humility, earnestness, and civility of the language. I find it interesting that you find it pompous and divisive.

Also, I seriously doubt you would find these guys disagreeing with the Nicene Creed. I don't think the existence of the ancient creeds in any way makes it inappropriate for those of us in the modern era who seek to define our faith (while certainly including the timeless truths of the Nicene Creed) in light of the issues we face today and in light of how others are trying to define us. So, well, to be facetious, I don't have patience for arguments that only have patience for 1,700 year old creeds.

As for the list of names I give....yeah, I make the point in the second paragraph of my first comment that they are actually obscure figures, unless you happen to be an Evangelical who subscribes to Christianity Today. (Read: Me, Kenny.) In a somewhat less facetious manner I'll say that they are folks who are influential in current Evangelical thought. Also, I've met Timothy George when he spoke at my church and I found him to be really cool. "Coolness" as you know, is the ultimate criterion in determining theological truth. (Okay, so perhaps I'm incapable of ceasing all humor.)

All that said, I still share Dave's concern. But I'm not sure how I would improve the wording. If, as I believe, in order to be saved and reconciled to God, one must accept him as Lord and Savior on faith....then surely some of the truths we know matter. I'm not always sure where to draw that line (i.e. I believe Catholic and Orthodox believers are no less - or more - Christian than Protestants, even though there's some substantial theological disagreement). Perhaps, to double back on myself, the Nicene Creed is a good starting point for which truths are vital. As for saving that ignorant thief on the cross, hey even he accepted that Jesus was going to be in paradise. Or, perhaps, Jesus was making some sort of exception. He's God; He can do that. Anyways, those are my half-baked thoughts. It's 2:15 AM and I should be sleeping, not blogging.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Hey Ben, when I say I don't have patience for modern manifestos, I mean just that. Not that they're Christian or political or whatever, and nothing in the least against the manifesto under consideration. Wordiness just bothers me. I hate my own wordiness when I'm forced to define and expound something which I adhere to at some wordless level and know to be true. I hate it just as much when it's some Orthodox hierarch spouts religious jargon in a feast-day encyclical because it's expected. I also hate it when Christians use it to point out how they are different (and presumably better) than the other Christians.

Forgive me, but it's not about agreeing or disagreeing either. A Lutheran pastor's wife who keeps turning up in the comments at my blog emphasized in her comments on another blog, that she disagrees with my view that Luther was essentially Orthodox. She said, neither would any of her former Lutheran acquaintances that are now Orthodox agree with me. I would respond to her, "Forgive me, sister, but agreement or disagreement is not at issue."

Christ is alive and among us, more active now than He ever was when He walked on the earth in His human lifetime. More active among us, of course, when we let Him be. But with us or without us, by the churches or beyond the churches, He is still seeking and even gathering His lost sheep to Him. There's no mystery in why I seek to remember the light "shining on me from the Journal of George Fox." He understood what I am getting at.

The Symbol of Nicæa is not "a 1700 year old creed," my brother. Would you consider the Pentateuch to be "a 3000 year old religious document"? Or the New Testament "a 1950 year old" one? These documents constitute timeless guides that do not need volumes of dissertation to find relevance and application in every age. Yet we never tire ourselves out explicating them, or improving on them, rather, without admitting it.

As I wrote in my current blog post God loves us so much (http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2008/05/god-loves-us-so-much.html):

…though the Kingdom of God is but one country, “on earth as it is in heaven,” it seems that somebody thought this wasn’t good enough. The “inheritance of the saints” has been divided and sub-divided, the “first and greatest commandment, and the second like unto it” multiplied into hundreds of rules and regulations, and the “one Mediator between God and man” replaced by a multitude of gate-keepers."

This is what puts me out of patience.

Ben said...

I don't see anything in this document in which its authors proclaim to be better than other Christians. If your problem with the document is the very idea of Christians distinguishing themselves from one another based on their differing beliefs.....well, I can have some sympathy for that idea based on Christ's call for unity in the church. But the fact remains that many of us disagree on certain issues based on honest, but differeing, interpretations of the same Bible. I think the quote, attributed to Puritan Richard Baxter, sums up the best approach to issues of church disagreements and Christian unity rather nicely: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love."

Or to put it another way, Romanos (an Orthodox Christian), my colleague Matt Novak (a Catholic Christian), and I (an Evangelical Protestant Christian) may all come to different views about, say, the authority of the Pope or whether anything supernatural happens in the Eucharist/Communion/Lord's Supper. And that's okay, as long as we all agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again, and that the only way to the Father is through him. There's nothing wrong with Evangelicals (like me or the authors of this manifesto) seeking to define themselves, as long as we consider ourselves Christians first and Evangelicals second. (That kind of intra-Christian division has led to all sorts of tragedy and religious wars, among other evils.) The same goes for you, Romanos. If you consider yourself Orthodox first and Christian second, then you aren't following Christ's call for unity in the church. But somehow I don't think that's the case with you. You seem to consider yourself a Christian first....a Christian who draws deeply from the Orthodox branch of Christianity to shape his worldview.

Also, when I said the Nicene Creed is a "1700 year old creed" I did not mean to imply any disrespect toward it or to say that it is irrelevant. As I said in a previous comment, it says most (perhaps all) what is central about Christianity (the "essentials" from the Baxter quote above). As such, it certainly remains relevant for now and all time. But I do take issue with the idea that the Nicene Creed says all there is to say about Christianity. As the problems and issues we face in the world change, the timeless truths of Christianity must be applied in new contexts. It may not be said the same way. Some new stuff might be said which (as long as it isn't heresy which contradicts the "essentials") probably falls into the "non-essentials" category. I believe the authors of this manifesto have something important to say, given the growing influence (or notoriety) of Evangelicals in American life.

So, does the Bible (or the Nicene Creed, which in my Evangelical view is not as authoritative as the Word of God) need commentaries? You argue no but, well let me put it this way: Scripture and the eternal truths expressed in Scripture don't need our commentary and exposition to be relevant and/or true. But for us to expound upon and interpret Scripture is an entirely good, healthy, and Christian thing. To deride such commentary as nothing but excess verbiage is, in my eyes, flippant and disrespectful.

Also, to respond to your quote from your blog, I sincerely doubt Protestants, with their emphasis on a direct personal relationship with God, intend to be an extra "gatekeeper" blocking access to God. And again, I don't see the authors of this manifesto saying anything of the sort.

To conclude: Obviously, I don't have a problem with wordiness. Hey, I've got a lot to say! ;)

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Sorry, brother! I admit regarding commentaries and such "other books" I am generally flippant and disrespectful in disregarding them as excess verbiage. And as regards my priorities, they're put plainly in view in my blog profile. I gladly shed all my humanistic and religious affiliations whenever I am walking with Jesus as He looks for His lost sheep. There is no one there anymore, except just a follower of Jesus.

Go with God, dear brother!

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Dare I say more?

I quoted from my own blog, "…and the “one Mediator between God and man” replaced by a multitude of gate-keepers."

And Ben responded, "…I sincerely doubt Protestants, with their emphasis on a direct personal relationship with God, intend to be an extra "gatekeeper" blocking access to God."

Despite the orthodoxy of their formularies, and their published intentions, the Episcopal Church has nonetheless "gone on the rocks," witness the hordes of former 'Piscopalians now standing like statues among the rank and file in Orthodox liturgies.

Despite holding to pure evangelical principles and rejecting non-biblical man-made traditions, Protestants nonetheless act as gate-keepers, "not going into the Kingdom of God themselves, and preventing others from going in, who want to", witness the thousands of Protestant churches in America surrounded by neighborhoods full of unsaved people.

Why, the same is true of Catholic and Orthodox churches, indeed of all churches. Yes, and that's my point!

Who cares what you hold up as your stated beliefs and priorities, since you cannot be depended on to simply follow Jesus. You put church politics, programs and priorities ahead of simply representing the Kingdom of God, as His ambassadors.

About two years ago, I published a blog post entitled, Not post-Christian, but post-Church, (http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2006/04/not-post-christian-but-post-church.html) in which I expressed more openly my thoughts on the crisis of the contemporary church. So what? I am precisely a nobody, and yet as a follower of Jesus I can still exercise my right to personal folly no less than the big names do.

Today I was studying the last part of Romans and the entire first epistle to the Corinthians. In the latter is the famous passage at chapter 13, "If I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love…" I'm sure you know the rest. Again, this is what I'm getting at.

The line in the film The Matrix, "Don't try to hit me! Hit me!" expresses the same thing.

Am I losing you?
America, no less the world, will come to Christ when the bodies that say they represent Him actually do, really and visibly follow Him, corporately and consistently. Until then, the unsaved world just sees us taking pot shots at each other and occasionally at them.

The early church had no manifestos. It didn't even have the Symbol of Nicæa. Let's not be fooled into thinking that the contemporary world is any different from that primeval one. Material, cultural and social constructs have evolved, but the individual human being is exactly the same inside, and we enter the Kingdom of God one by one, taking the hand of Jesus.

kennyching said...

For me, the significance of the manifesto is that it reinvigorates me in my willingness to be "Evangelical." For whatever reason, God's sovereignty I assume, I've come to Jesus through Evangelicalism. But unfortunately, many aspects of Evangelicalism trouble me and I have begun to wonder if Evangelicalism was really the conceptual province I should/would continue to call my temporary "home." However, it's also, as I've said, been the place where I became a Christian, and I hope there is still spiritual usefulness in being Evangelical. So, it's reassuring to me that there are people within Evangelicalism with whom I still am essentially in agreement with in terms of our practical approach to our faith.

My appreciation for the Manifesto is similar to the reasons I read Christian blogs. It simply encourages me and provides me with a kind of fellowship, which is particularly valuable at this stage of Evangelicalism, in which there are a number of divise controversies about.

I knew, Romanos, that you would not like it. I don't see the worldiness, relativism, or anathaema you allege. I wonder, perhaps, if you don't see the significance of the statement since you are not Evangelical. For example, there is a crisis in Evangelicalism over inerrany, politics, and cultural engagement. Whether there should be, who knows...but there is. Therefore, for me it is useful to see these things addressed in a discerning way.

So, there is a pragmatism to it, in the manner of that famous pragmatic metaphor of the ship at see which needs to be repaired. Whether you like the ship you're in (Evangelicalism for me) you have to deal with repairs and issues of that particular ship.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Thanks, Kenny. As always, you seem to cut thru to a simple but correct answer. You wrote, "I knew, Romanos, that you would not like it. I don't see the worldiness, relativism, or anathema you allege. I wonder, perhaps, if you don't see the significance of the statement since you are not Evangelical."

True enough. It's odd, though, because we each use words like "evangelical" and "orthodox" in different ways, I think.

From my point of view, I am an evangelical, that is, what we call an "evangelical Greek Orthodox." And again, from my point of view, as much as I can tell from what you've written in your blog, I would say you are an "orthodox Evangelical."

I also appreciate what is going on in evangelical circles, tho I admit, I am not very interested in it. There is a peace in Orthodoxy that the West usually mistakes for lethargy even to this day, but that is another story.

Thank you all, brothers, for your patience with this turnip-headed Orthodox muzhik.

kennyching said...

I always take it as a compliment when you say I seem orthodox or Orthodox, Romanos, though I'll confess I don't know precisely what you mean. I certainly think of you as "Evangelical" in a similar sense. I suspect what we both mean is that we recognize one another in Christ.

All I meant by your not being Evangelical is I suspect that your demographic consists somewhat less of typical, American Evangelical Christians than mine and Ben's...and so the issues that Manifesto address probably do not seem as "live" to you as they do to us, and thus seem like surplasage, which I can understand.

I also would say that I wish such a Manifesto were unnecessary, but, as I've said, I think there are some little fires burning in our Evangelical building, and as limited as we may be, to some of us it seems like we should try putting them out.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

True Orthodoxy springs from hearts on fire for Jesus, who are willing to lay down everything, wealth, reputation, social status, even life itself, to follow Him. The content of true Orthodoxy is whatever is consistent with living within the Word of God, and letting that Word form everything about us. That being said, it can be seen that true Orthodoxy is not static, but a daily struggle with self, requiring vigilance and objectivity. On the other hand, there is a trail being blazed, and that is the historic Orthodox Church, but that trail is still part of the world and must be continuously swept of debris, and guarded from attack.

Ben said...

Interestingly, what Romanos calls "True Orthodoxy" I think the writers of this Manifesto would call "the Evangelical Principle."

I think Kenny hit the nail on the head that we are basically talking about the same thing: faithfulness to Jesus and the way of Jesus.

Labels don't matter in the long (eternal) run. Content does. I'm glad to see there's not much disagreement about that content here.