Evangelical Manifesto

On May 7, 2008 an Evangelical Manifesto was published in Washington D.C. by a consortium of Evangelical thinkers and leaders. It is addressed not only to Christians and Evangelicals but to American citizens of all faiths and no faith. I would describe it as an attempt to re-identify, re-position, and perhaps re-energize Evangelicals in the contemporary American landscape. Most importantly though, I would say the Evangelical Manifesto is an an attempt to untangle American Evangelicals from the apparatus of partisan politics — something I have come to feel increasingly passionate about.

Here’s my take on it.

First of all let me say I have signed the Evangelical Manifesto.

After thoughtfully reading this manifesto I not only happily signed it, I enthusiastically signed it.

For me the two notable standouts on the Steering Committee are Os Guinness and Dallas Willard. I have enormous respect for both of these men and have been significantly influenced by their writings. I regard them as two of the finest and most important Christian thinkers in the world today. In reading the Evangelical Manifesto I frequently recognized the influence of Guinness and Willard. That’s a good thing.

Their “must read” books:

From Os Guinness:
Prophetic Untimeliness

From Dallas Willard:
The Divine Conspiracy.

The Evangelical Manifesto has received a fair amount of press coverage and not all of it positive. Some of the press dismissed it as bland. I found it exciting, but then again I’m interested in how Evangelicals are going to relate to American culture in the 21st Century. Or maybe it just wasn’t sensational enough for CNN or Newsweek. Perhaps the journalists who found it bland can report on a train wreck instead.

Also there has been some reporting on the notable Evangelicals who have not signed it. Personally I’m convinced that the only Evangelicals who would not sign this manifesto are die-hard fundamentalists or those committed to the idea of maintaining Christian activism through political partisanship (i.e. they’re committed to being a “tool” in a particular political party).

What I want to do is share a few personal highlights from the Evangelical Manifesto.

I’m doing this without attempting to summarize the manifesto. You can read the manifesto yourself.

(A 6 page summary or the 20 page manifesto can be found HERE.)

Some of my personal highlights from the Evangelical Manifesto:

1. We Must Reaffirm Our Identity
Our first task is to reaffirm who we are. Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.

Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.

There are grave dangers in identity politics.

Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically; confessionally and not culturally.

As such, it should not be limited to tribal or national boundaries, or be confused with, or reduced to political categories such as “conservative” and “liberal.”

Ask an average American, “What is an Evangelical?” and they will most likely give you a political description without any reference to Jesus Christ. We must be defined by our Christian faith and not our political affiliation.

Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism.

The liberal revisionist tendency was first seen in the eighteenth century and has become more pronounced today, reaching a climax in versions of the Christian faith that are characterized by such weaknesses as an exaggerated estimate of human capacities, a shallow view of evil, an inadequate view of truth, and a deficient view of God.

But Fundamentalism has become an overlay on the Christian faith and developed into an essentially modern reaction to the modern world. As a reaction to the modern world, it tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub-Christian.

Christian Fundamentalism has its counterparts in many religions and even in secularism, and often becomes a social movement with a Christian identity but severely diminished Christian content and manner. Fundamentalism, for example, all too easily parts company with the Evangelical principle, as can Evangelicals themselves, when they fail to follow the great commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves, let alone the radical demand of Jesus that his followers forgive without limit and love even their enemies.

There is a better way than compromised liberalism or narrow fundamentalism. Dividing Protestant Christianity into liberalism and fundamentalism is like being asked to choose between being a Sadducee or a Pharisee. There is another way. The Jesus way.

2. We Must Reform Our Own Behavior

All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world.

Man! That hits the nail on the head. With a sledgehammer!

All too often we have attacked the evils and injustices of others, such as the killing of the unborn, as well as the heresies and apostasies of theological liberals whose views have developed into “another gospel,” while we have condoned our own sins, turned a blind eye to our own vices, and lived captive to forces such as materialism and consumerism in ways that contradict our faith.

Consumerism is the drug in the American culture that we eat, drink and breathe. There’s no avoiding this. And if we are serious about living authentic Christian lives we must acknowledge the elephant in the room…or shall I say the Leviathan in the mall. At its heart the American Dream is a consumerist dream — the dream of owning and acquiring certain things as the presumed way to happiness. Of course this flies in the face of the most basic truths taught in the Old and New Testaments regarding morality, values, how we should live, and what will ultimately make us happy. If we make the mistake of twisting the gospel into an endorsement of our cultural assumptions we have committed a grievous error that will distort the gospel as severely as did medieval superstition. It takes a concerted effort on the part of the American Christian not to be seduced by the ubiquitous lure of consumerism. It takes real conviction not to allow Christianity to be commandeered into a spiritual means to a materialist end. Consumerism is our antichrist, our beast, our false prophet and it takes tremendous moral and spiritual courage to oppose it.

All too often we have been seduced by the shaping power of the modern world, exchanging a costly grace for convenience, switching from genuine community to an embrace of individualism, softening theological authority down to personal preference, and giving up a clear grasp of truth and an exclusive allegiance to Jesus for a mess of mix-and-match attitudes that are syncretism by another name.

The metanarrative of the gospel is, in fact, quite different than the metanarrative of American dream — though as it is often told in popular American Christianity you may not know it. Vigorous Christianity has always been a subversive and transcendent counterculture movement.

All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming anti-intellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith. By doing so, we have unwittingly given comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today.

I dare you to read this book. Read it and weep.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark A. Noll

We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation. We believe it is our calling to be good stewards of all God has entrusted to our care so that it may be passed on to generations yet to be born.

I suppose this would be a “controversial” portion of the manifesto. Buy why? Authentic Christianity can speak to the global condition beyond the talking points of pachyderm politics.

3. We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life

We are fully engaged in public affairs, but never completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity.

Neither privatized nor politicized
Today, however, we Evangelicals wish to stand clear from certain positions in public life that are widely confused with Evangelicalism. First, we Evangelicals repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many Christians have fallen recently. One error has been to privatize faith, interpreting and applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular, and causes faith to lose its integrity and become “privately engaging and publicly irrelevant,” and another form of “hot tub spirituality.”

The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right in recent decades, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes “the regime at prayer,” Christians become “useful idiots” for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form. Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left. Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church – and disastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons rather than constitutional reasons.

The Evangelical soul is not for sale. It has already been bought at an infinite price.

When we allow ourselves to be used as a tool in political partisanship we forfeit our prophetic voice.

A Civil rather than a Sacred or a Naked public square

We repudiate the two extremes that define the present culture wars in the United States. On one side, we repudiate the partisans of a sacred public square, those who would continue to give one religion a preferred place in public life. In a diverse society, it will always be unjust and unworkable to privilege one religion. We are committed to religious liberty for people of all faiths. We are firmly opposed to theocracy. And we have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose beliefs and behavior on anyone. We believe in persuasion.

On the other side, we repudiate the partisans of a naked public square, those who would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square inviolably secular. This position is even less just and workable because it excludes the overwhelming majority of citizens, who are still profoundly religious. Nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are.

We are committed to a civil public square – a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths as well. Every right we assert for ourselves as Christians is a right we defend for all others.

This is the way it works in a democracy. Christianity is capable of thriving in the marketplace of competing spiritualities. We don’t need state-sponsored privilege. All we ask is to be able to have our say in a civil public square.

The way of Jesus, not Constantine

We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war, we all believe that Jesus’ Good News of justice for the whole world was promoted, not by a conqueror’s power and sword, but by a suffering servant emptied of power and ready to die for the ends he came to achieve. Unlike some other religious believers, we do not see insults and attacks on our faith as “offensive” and “blasphemous” in a manner to be defended by law, but as part of the cost of our discipleship that we are to bear without complaint or victim-playing.

This is a nice way of saying that we Evangelicals should behave ourselves better than fundamentalist Muslims.

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.


As I said in my Manifesto blog on April 26…

In an age where Christianity is distorted by
Hollow consumerism,
Shallow pragmaticism,
Narrow fundamentalism,
And selfish individualism,
We seek a more authentic Christianity:
By choosing to be radically centered on the cross of Christ,
Always exploring the mystery of God,
Enriched by being an eclectic church,
And actively participating in Christian community.
All of this is part of the revolution of the Kingdom of Heaven,
Which is made manifest in personal and global transformation
Through our Lord Jesus Christ.