Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto - Released

Though CNN broke the story several days in advance, the "Evangelical Manifesto" is out! There are two versions, the brief version (5 pages) and the full version (20 pages). Chiefly, the manifesto evidences a group seeking to define itself over against various compulsions from within and without the movement(s). An encouraging aspect is the fact that the document is irenic in general, that is, while calling for a distinctive identity, at least this appeal is for religious diversity in the global world in which we live. Believers of all religious faiths and even atheists are given fair place. Issues of social justice and equality are mentioned. And on the whole, the document is better, note that honest remark, better than I had expected (well I am rather skeptical). That is not to say, I have no reservations about the document at all.

In brief: Theologically, the document articulates a christological confession consistent with Chalcedon. It continues: salvation by grace through faith, exclusively through Jesus' death on the cross "for the penalty of sin." To that end, the manifesto is very conservative theologically, although they were careful to steer clear of "inerrant," likely a rather divisive term even among confessing Evangelicals. Beautifully, the theologically driven section concludes with an honest self-indictment that evangelicals perpetually fail to live up to their standards. Fair enough!

What I found most interesting about the document (larger version) was that the attempt was made, whether successfully or not remains to be seen, to stand against an evacuation of religion from politics and conversely politics from religion. It is to this point that I would like to comment. Under section 3, "We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life" (pg. 14ff.) this attempt was made. The argument is made that evangelicals must stand against two equal but opposite "errors." The first is "privatized faith" whereas the religious life is neatly tucked away in the "spiritual compartment of life." Conversely, the other "error" they articulate is the politicization of faith, which they acknowledge has been a practice of both the "right and left."

While I do appreciate their sentiments concerning the fact that Christianity has in many senses been hijacked on both sides of the isle as it were, I am still questioning whether "politicizing" faith is something one can not do. Now, if I'm reading the manifesto correctly then the assertion is being made that Christianity is in some sense "other" than partisan. I agree. My concern, however, is that following Jesus is a politic. I think that several key terms and phrases in the document point in this direction (e.g. "independence" and "allegiance higher than a party, ideology, or nationality" [15]). However, that is where it ends. Could this be because this was as far as agreement could be reached among the charter signatories? I will certainly grant them the benefit of the doubt.

At the end of the day, (and it is the end of this last grueling day of finals for me!) I think more needs to be said about what the politic of Jesus is. What does it mean to live in this world as a Christian? In a partisan world? In a world and culture of capitalism, consumerism, militarism, and still bearing the undercurrents of imperialism that, though less visible, is increasingly stronger ideologically within the culture. I applaud the Manifesto and was pleasantly surprised by some of the diversity of signatories, but my concerns remain on several accounts. This will be a topic that comes up again.

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