Monday, May 19, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto: two responses

Two interesting perspectives on the Evangelical Manifesto: Bill Samuel blogs about it in light of Quakerism at and Scot McKnight blogs about it at the Jesus Creed.

Here's a passage from Bill's blog, but I recommend reading the whole blog entry as a snippet might distort:

The Manifesto, and here it is indeed representative of Evangelicalism, refers to sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), the “supreme authority of the Bible,” and “the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.” It claims this is shown by “Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude.” This is a Manifesto, not an apology, and it doesn’t do references, so I’m not sure what they rely on for that.

I find Jesus saying in scripture that I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6, NIV) This is a radical statement, and one hard for us humans to accept because we want to be able to package up truth in a neat, rational box. Jesus tells us this impulse is wrong. The people that he has such conflict with are precisely the religious leaders of his day who wanted to tie up faith in a neat little box. Relying on purely the written word of the Bible as the Truth doesn’t really quite succeed in achieving the goal of the neat little box, but the urge to make the book supreme is an attempt to move in that direction. Evangelicals also proclaim Christ is Lord, but their emphasis on the written word as the sole determiner of Truth tends to contradict that. I am not an Evangelical because, in the end, I’m not sure that Evangelicalism is really centered on Jesus Christ.

I believe the premier Quaker apologist, Robert Barclay, put this question of authority well in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity. He states that the scriptures do contain revelations of God to the saints, but notes that, “because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” Barclay notes “that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth” and goes on to make this key argument:
If by the Spirit we can only come to the true knowledge of God; if by the Spirit we are to be led into all Truth, and so be taught of all things; then the Spirit, and not the Scriptures, is the foundation and ground of all Truth and knowledge, and the primary rule of faith and manners

I find Barclay’s arguments convincing. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)

Scot McKnight weighs in at the Jesus Creed with the following:

Two recently published items illustrate the “evangelical” problem — David Wells’ grumpy summary screed of his four volumes that, for over a decade, have attempted to reveal how superficial evangelicalism is and the generously-spirited Evangelical Manifesto. What is happening? Let me explain it this way:

There are too many today who want to usurp control over evangelicalism by demanding uniformity in theology. Evangelicalism never has been and never will be uniform in theology. Three groups today threaten to destroy the fabric of historic American evangelicalism:

The Religious Right, which seems to think all evangelicals have the same political views;
The Neo-Reformed, who think Calvinism is the only faithful form of evangelicalism; and
The Political Progressives, who like the Religious Right think the faithful form of evangelicalism will be politically progressive.

Let me offer a peace offering into this unfortunate turn of events. I believe the threat of complete disintegration is far more serious than many today seem to realize.

Evangelicalism has always been ecumenical for the sake of the gospel.

Evangelicalism has always dropped theological distinctives (confessional level statements of faith) for the sake of the gospel.

Evangelicalism’s approach has always been more like George Whitefield than Jonathan Edwards.

Now a few words of explanation:

Evangelicalism is essentially “gospel ecumenism” instead of “theological conformity.” Evangelicals unite around the gospel but tolerate all kinds of diversity theologically. Thus, from the time I’ve been around this theological issue — and I began reading this stuff in the 70s and have not stopped — evangelicalism has agreed to agree on the basics — the gospel — but has been willing to let theological confessions be what they are: church confessions for local congregations. Instead of haggling over theological confessions, evangelicals have agreed to agree on the gospel.

It is essentially “cooperative” rather than “confessional.” Yes, evangelicals — as Bebbington and Noll have made so abundantly clear (see M. Noll’s The Rise of Evangelicalism and Bebbington’s The Dominance of Evangelicalism) — there are four hubs of thinking in the center of evangelicalism: the Bible, the cross, conversion, and active Christian living.

What alarms me is that some of those today most concerned with taking over evangelicalism, namely the Neo-Reformed and the Southern Baptists, seem to have forgotten the last fifty years of evangelical history: Many in the Reformed camp didn’t think and still don’t think evangelicalism is their kettle of fish. Thus, Hart’s book is a good example of this (see his Deconstructing Evangelicalism). And the SBC was at best a distant “member” of the early rise of the neo-evangelical movement shaped by Billy Graham, Wheaton, and the likes of Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell and others.

To be sure, a robust Reformed faith or a clear commitment to the SBC way of life were more than welcome, as long as the cooperative spirit of a commitment to an ecumenical gospel was what guided the participation. Today many seem to have forgotten this.

Hence, I love what I’m reading now in An Evangelical Manifesto.

1. It welcomes a universality to the presence of evangelicals throughout the world (p. 2).
2. It believes the word “evangelical” is worth saving (2-3).
3. It embraces a world setting where co-existence is paramount (3).
4. It defines “evangelical” by “gospel” (4) and theologically (4).
5. There is some humility to this statement: “We do not claim that the Evangelical principle … is unique to us” (5). We illustrate our own doctrine of sin (6).
6. There is a healthy balance of theology and praxis in this document.
7. It affirms classical christology, salvation, Holy Spirit, Scripture, discipleship and evangelism and social action, return of Christ, and also discipleship for all. [Could be more Trinitarian and have a deeper ecclesiology.]
8. Evangelicalism here is defined as larger than, deeper than, and older than Protestantism (10).
9. It bemoans failures among evangelicals (11ff).

I could go on … this is historic evangelicalism. It’s the kind I embrace.

I'm glad the Manifesto is sparking dialogue. What do you think?


spud tooley said...

i, too, like that it's generating some dialogue.

i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but was actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addressed.

one of the things i like about the document is that the authors choose not to say that creationism and inerrancy are non-negotiables. for the first, there’s very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can’t prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. there’s simply too much of a tendency to add items to the ever-increasing laundry list of ideas and doctrines to which we have to pledge allegiance before we’re allowed into the room marked “Christian.”

more than anything, i found myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece - that it isn’t yet another “here’s everything we’re against” rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that - the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

there are a few things i question, but nothing is going to please everyone, i suppose. for instance, i’m not sure i agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus’ message uses “action” verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know … if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

i did, however, like these words:
We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage.

somehow we've got to figure out how we we're going to happily share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

one interesting thing: maybe i missed it, but there doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. was that intentional? i didn’t see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography…

perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

one can only hope…

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa

Bill Samuel said...

I also agree that the EM is largely a positive development. While I have my theological differences with Evangelicals, I do welcome the EM. If you read not just my piece on theology, but actually read my blog piece on An Evangelical Manifesto, you'll see I am very pleased by the development.