An Evaluation of the “Evangelical Manifesto”
By Norman L. Geisler
May 15, 2008
Moses is dead, and there are many candidates vying for Joshua’s position. Or, to put it another way, Jerry Falwell is gone. Adrian Rogers is also with his Maker. D. James Kennedy has gone to his reward. Pat Robertson’s political aspirations failed, as has much of his influence. James Dobson officially retired as president of Focus on the Family and, despite his widespread pro-family influence, has never really had much of a taste for political activism. The former NAE president has fallen from grace, and the chair of evangelical leadership is wide open! Enter, the Evangelical left with a handful of self-appointed leaders who propose a “Manifesto” which could be described as “the Evangelical Left strikes back.” Released on May 7, 2008 from the Nation’s Capitol, Fuller Seminary’s Richard Mouw, Os Guiness, Christianity Today’s David Neff, and others led the attempt to redefine Evangelicalism with a distinctive list to the left.
Don’t get me wrong; there are many admirable and even eloquent statements in the Manifesto. Indeed, there is enough truth in it to draw many floating in the middle waters of evangelicalism into the vortex of the left. For example, they claim to be historic Protestants, holding to the essence of the early creeds, the divine authority of the Bible, and maintaining a pro-life and pro-family posture. They claim to hold to the Protestant principles of the Bible alone, faith alone, and grace alone, as well as being Trinitarian. They speak out against the errors of both the far right “theocrats” and the far left “liberals.” They plead for a middle road between the “naked public square” and the “sacred public square” to be found in a “civil public square.” They claim the latter is viewed as one that acts on principles of “civility,” “justice,” “fair[ness],” and the “Golden Rule.” Their stated purposes are to redefine evangelical identity, refine its behavior, and rethink its place in public life.
Concerns About What is Not Said in the Manifesto
But beneath the polished rhetoric and catchy phrases, there lurks a deep danger, both in what they affirm and in what they do not affirm. First, a look at what they do not include in their admittedly “mere Christianity.” Nothing is said about the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, the very basis for all evangelical truth. Instead, we hear about the Bible’s as an undefined “supreme authority” or “final rule of faith and practice” which to neo-evangelicals and neo-orthodox means it is not without errors in history and science.
Second, the fundamental doctrine of the physical bodily return of Christ is watered down to a merely “personal return”–something that even liberals and heretical full preterists could sign.
Third, the critical doctrine of the physical bodily resurrection (called “the resurrection of the flesh” in the creeds) is reduced to an undefined “resurrection”–which could include neo-orthodoxy, liberals, and even Jehovah’s witnesses.
Fourth, while it is commendable to stress that Evangelicals are “for something” rather than “against something.” Nevertheless, it is logically naïve to say so since every proposition is opposed to its opposite. Being pro traditional family means, as Homosexuals readily perceive, that one is thereby against homosexual relations and union.
Fifth, while the Manifesto speaks against “politicizing faith.” Nonetheless, it never spells out how this can be accomplished without privatizing faith and, thereby negating, its rightful influence in the public square.
Finally, one can agree that Evangelicalism should not be defined politically but theologically. If so, the National Press Club was strange place to introduce the Manifesto, rather than a theological forum. In any event, the document is thin on theology in general. It does not represent a historic or robust Evangelicalism. It is a rather minimalist view of true orthodox beliefs.
So, in spite of its claim to be truly evangelical, it does not embrace some of the fundamental doctrines of orthodoxy that have been expressed in the early creeds, councils, and Fathers of the church down through the centuries. And despite of its claim to be “Protestant,” it shows no signs of agreeing with either of the Protestant reformers Luther or Calvin on the inerrancy of Scripture, the physical resurrection of Christ, or His physical bodily return to earth.
Concerns About What is Said in the Manifesto
Further, what the Manifesto does say is also troubling. First of all, it has no real ground for its moral beliefs in civility and justice. It rightly rejects the “theocrats” who ground it in the Bible as the divinely prescriptive basis for civil law. But they show no appreciation of fundamental doctrines of our republic which are God-given, “unalienable” rights come from “Nature’s Laws” which are given by “Nature’s God.” Without a Natural Law (cf. Rom. 2:12-15) there is no non sectarian objective moral basis for social laws. On the other extreme, they defend the rights of “secularist” who does not even believing in the God of The Declaration of Independence, nor that “all men are created….”
Second, while speaking of “creation” without definition, and of harmony of “science and faith,” it does not speak explicitly against evolution and its accompanying social evils. Indeed, it does not make clear that it is not condemning creationist and/or intelligent design views when it speaks of a “false hostility between science and faith.”
Third, the framers of the Manifesto reveal their (left) hand–when they speak against “Fundamentalism” which is a code word for conservative Christians and most evangelicals who hold to the historic fundamentals of the Faith expressed in the early creeds. In their “sixth” of the “defining features” they list “conservative Fundamentalism” as an extreme to be avoided like “liberal revisionism.” They also list “Christian Fundamentalism” as an extreme to be avoided (like “secularism”) because of its alleged “diminished Christian content and manner.” Their leftist leanings and historic misunderstanding are clearly revealed in their erroneous statement that “fundamentalism was thoroughly world-denying and politically disengaged from its outset.” Further, the fact it has attracted socially liberal radicals like Jim Wallis reveals that it is not a mainstream evangelical document. This is confirmed also by the refusal of James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Al Mohler, and many other top evangelical leaders to sign it.
Fourth, the Manifesto rejects “single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage,” this in spite of the fact that the right to life is the right to all other rights, and the family is the foundation for society. If these are not the single most important social issues, then it is difficult to see what are.
Fifth, it is not hard to see the hidden agenda behind the partial truth in the statement that evangelicalism has a “duty never to be completely equated with and party, partisan ideology, [or] economic system.” For an evangelical has a duty to promote the candidates and parties that best exemplify Christian principles.
Finally, placing “Islam,” “communism,” and “democracy” in the same camp is neither accurate nor acceptable. For the latter, at least in its American form, cannot fairly be described as “coercing others” to “believe their way is the only way” and are prepared to “coerce others” to believe it is. This betrays an underlying anti-Americanism strain.
As leaders from the evangelical right have faded, a handful of the evangelical left have made their move to fill the vacuum. However, they do not rightfully represent historic evangelicalism, nor do they have an objective moral basis for meeting the needs of our culture. So, we should take them at their word when they say, “We speak for ourselves” and “no one speaks for all Evangelicals.” And, hopefully, few will listen to their voice as that of full-fledged and genuine Evangelicalism.
While they are commendably not theonomist, their undefined and unfounded “civility” doctrine is too little and too late to meet the challenges facing America today. Only a robust evangelicalism can provide the motivation and a full-fledged Jeffersonian natural law basis for government (which as C. S. Lewis showed in The Abolition of Man, is common to all decent peoples) can withstand the threat of Islamic theonomist on the right and secular relativists on the left.
What can we do in response to this subtle attempt to shift the center of Evangelicalism to the left? For starters, let’s reread and return to our National Birth Certificate, The Declaration of Independence. And the next trip to Washington, D. C., stand in front of the imposing stature of Jefferson. Then look out over the water toward the White House and look up to the big letters engraved in marble and meditate on these words: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God”! And for a more full-fledged response to the Manifesto’s doctrinal anemia and social inadequacy, we recommend a look respectively at our books, Conviction without Compromise and Legislating Moraity.