Thursday, May 8, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto

It's been a busy week here, and I'm just now getting around to reviewing the Evangelical Manifesto that so many are buzzing about right now.

Those who know me know I'm still quite keen on the "evangelical" label, not so much as a word itself but for what it still means and can continue to mean. I'm not ready to abandon it (like "fundamentalist," which was a justifiable abandonment, or what-have-you) simply because it has been loaded by the culture with the baggage of "fundamentalist" or because it has been carried as a flag by political-minded Christians keen on waging the so-called culture war. It's a good word, and it means something too important to give up. Evangel = gospel, and now, when more believers, pastors, and churches are dedicating themselves to gospel-driven renewal, is not the right time to ditch the word. It has the possibility to mean and communicate more now than it ever has, particularly if the Lord will grant us the revival many are praying for.

Os Guinness and others on the Manifesto's steering committee write in the Introduction:
For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform -- an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

Yes. Reform. Good.

What of the Manifesto itself?
For all of the drafters' insistence that it is not a reaction to media bias or political/moral culture wars -- Os Guinness tells USA Today, "Our problem is not mislabeling by the press or rebranding because we have a bad image" -- it is quite verbose on "the marketplace" and civic engagement.

The concerns as drafted are valid ones, good ones, and the exploration of them is incisive and important. These lines from the conclusion are laudable:

“Finally, we solemnly pledge that in a world of lies, hype, and spin, where truth is commonly dismissed and words suffer from severe inflation, we make this declaration in words that have been carefully chosen and weighed; words that, under God, we make our bond. People of the Good News, we desire not just to speak the Good News but to embody and be good news to our world and to our generation.”

Generally speaking, it's a fine and dandy resource. Taking a look at the ongoing accumulation of signatories reveals quite a few important leaders think so too.

However, I do believe the Manifesto is too long to be useful. I mean that seriously. There's nothing wrong with signing this thing, as far as I can see, but what will it do? Anyone remember This We Believe? A bunch of important people signed that too.

Evangelicalism won't be reformed by a long document full of distinctions signed by a who's who, particularly if that who's who thinks signing this thing is one of the most meaningful things they can do.

What we need is a merging of the groundswell of discontent among evangelical laity hungry for the gospel and a commitment by pastors and teachers and writers to center on the gospel. So long as the culture of therapy and politics and popular entertainment maintains its hold on the shaping of the gospel in the life of evangelicalism, signing a manifesto means nothing.


Joe Carter, who is a signatory, shares his thoughts here.
Justin Taylor summarizes the document here.

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