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Friday, May 09, 2008

A Manifesto to Clarify or to Quell?

This Evangelical Manifesto first came on my radar last week and has quickly garnered a fair share of media attention this week.

According to the Washington Times article today

A panel of 77 evangelical Christians issued a "manifesto" at the National Press Club yesterday ostensibly to clarify "the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term 'evangelical' "

The article also says evangelicals make up about 26% of the U.S. population.

Probably the best definition of "evangelical" you'll find in a modern dictionary for the modern usage of the term is this: "emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual."

In political discussions of recent years, the term has almost become synonymous with "conservative Christian" or "fundamental Christian."

While some who fit the dictionary definition of evangelical may bristle at this association, the reality is that most evangelicals do hold a conservative ideology. It may be unhappiness at being identified with "conservatives" that has spurred some to come up with this manifesto.

An interesting thing about this "evangelical manifesto" is that a number of noteworthy evangelicals haven't signed it.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council isn't on there. In fact, according to the Washington Times article, he says:

"Theirs is an ivory tower perspective," said Mr. Perkins, who was not asked to sign. "It's an age-old problem with people who are concerned with being spoken well of. They want to rid the world of evil but they don't want to get their hands dirty. It's not true that you can't preach the Gospel and be engaged in taking on the culture."

Christian pollster George Barna isn't on it. Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wasn't asked to sign it. Janice Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, says there are contradictions in the document. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family said he has "myriad concerns." Also missing are Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, American Values president Gary Bauer, Rick Scarborough of Vision America, Phil Burress of Citizens For Community Values, Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright, and Janet Folger of Faith2Action.

I read the manifesto and found little to disagree with...on the surface.

On the surface, the manifesto calls for what one might call a balanced approach to the Christian faith. It says Christians shouldn't be about "single-issue politics."

Interpreting this from recent political discussions, this is almost certainly a criticism of the attention given by conservative Christians to the issues of abortion and the homosexual agenda.

First of all, a great degree of attention to these issues is not inordinate. Since human life is created in the image of God, and we are commanded by God to "be fruitful and multiply," the taking of innocent human life in the womb demands our utmost attention.

And since God laid out his design for human sexuality at the same time he created human beings, the blatant and public misuse of human sexuality (i.e. homosexual behavior) and the attempted counterfeiting of marriage (homosexual "marriage") also demands a high level of attention.

Even if these issues were not critical and foundational to the life and health of our society, it is unfair to infer that conservative Christians are only concerned about these issues. Most conservative Christians I know are also concerned about freedom, crime, justice, protection of the innocent, national defense, the poor, and the role of government in our society, to name a few.

Another area which might sound harmless at first glance is in the area of science and intellect. The manifesto says that some evangelicals 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.

None of us wants to champion ignorance and stupidity, do we? None of us wants to stand in the way of scientific advances that will improve our world and make our lives better, do we? So this must mean something else.

I can't mistake this as anything other than criticism of the belief that the Bible actually means what it says when God created the earth, and all life on it as we see it today.

That is not anti-intellectualism, but is instead anti-evolutionism or anti-naturalism, or simply belief that God meant what He said. There is nothing anti-intellectual or unscientific about that. Many of the great scientists including Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo were all creationists. God created the universe to operate according to scientific principles; how can one believe in God and His creative work and be anti-science? Creation scientists want to understand how God engineered the universe, even as evolutionists want to understand a universe they believe came about through random chance.

Evolution, naturalism and materialism are not science, but philosophies or interpretations of science. Creation scientists study the same science that evolutionists do; they simply approach the science from a different worldview. The drafters of the manifesto seem to have fallen for the evolutionist lie that naturalism=science and materialism=science.

Conservative Christians are also not anti-intellectual from the educational or philosophical perspective, either. People cut from the same philosophical cloth as today's conservative Christians founded the great Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Yale, and have today founded exceptional institutes of learning like Patrick Henry College.

Further, most conservative Christians I know greatly appreciate the thinking of great minds like that of C.S. Lewis. Lewis was anything but anti-intellectual, as evidenced by books such as The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity.

One area in which conservative Christians do differ from the liberal worldview is that they do not believe that man's understanding or wisdom is infinite or even potentially infallible. Nor do they believe that human beings can be "educated" into moral excellence.

In short, it seems obvious that the manifesto has adopted the pop-culture contention that Biblical Christianity=superstition, ignorance and myth.

The manifesto also warns of a "politicization" of the faith and calls for "neither privatized nor politicized" Christianity.

Again, on the surface, that sounds fairly reasonable. After all Christ didn't come to set up a political or governmental kingdom here on earth...at least not at the present time. And Christianity shouldn't become married to a government or a political party or even a particular political movement.

Such sentiments are in complete agreement with the originally intended "separation of church and state" America was supposed to (and did for nearly 200 years) operate under. Not a separation of values and government but the prohibition of an official state religion or a theocracy.

But in a free and democratic society, do Christians and does Christianity have a right, role and responsibility to advocate Christian values? This is where I think the manifesto jumps on the wrong boat.

The manifesto attempts to encapsulate the politicization problem thusly:

Christians, especially in modern society, have been pulled toward two extremes. Those more liberal have tended so to accommodate the world that they reflect the thinking and lifestyles of the day, to the point where they are unfaithful to Christ; whereas those more conservative have tended so to defy the world that they resist it in ways that also become unfaithful to Christ.

While this description adequately describes the liberal mindset, the description of the conservative mindset implies an unfair tone of belligerence.

It is true that conservative Christians "defy" the anti-God secular mentality. But would the signers of the manifesto have the "salt and light" of the world be unsavory and dim? It is precisely because Christians were silent and disengaged that American culture has abandoned Christian values in the last 50 years.

The manifesto continues to unfairly characterize the conservative or fundamental position, claiming we wrongly "romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present."

While we recognize the past was not perfect, it is incontrovertible fact that the moral fiber of America is at an all-time low. And since our current culture lauds the killing of children and sexual license--to the point of trying to call two men having sex "marriage"--on a scale not seen since the decline of the Roman Empire, it's more than fair to say that modern culture is pretty radical.

Do evangelicals sometimes respond too forcefully, even with anger, to the incursions of evil upon our society? Yes, we do, and yes, I have. Some anger is appropriate in the presence of evil and not sinful, but still we sometimes cross the line. We should always strive to be Christ-like, respond appropriately, and "in our anger, do not sin."

But imagine what our world might look like if "fundamental Christians" had abandoned the public square for the last 200 years:

- There would have been no end to the brutal oppression and world conquest of the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan, the chief American force behind the demise of the Soviet Union, would have kept his ideas about an "evil empire" and his Bible-based beliefs about freedom and the dignity of man to himself. He would not have "politicized" his faith to oppose a foreign government.

- There would have been no end to segregation and extension of full civil rights to all Americans. Martin Luther King's belief that we are all God's children would have made any civil rights legislation invalid and illegitimate, since it sprang from a religious belief. The teaching of the Bible that race or nationality is irrelevant to God should have been kept in the church where it belonged; to take such beliefs into the streets or into the legislative chamber would have been a "politicization of the faith" and made civil rights advocates "useful idiots" of a political movement.

- There would have been no abolition of slavery. Slavery was, after all, the law of the land. So what if the recognition "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" sprang from the Biblical teachings that men are created in God's image, and that we are all His children, all equal in His sight? Fundamentalist Christians shouldn't have tried to impose their morality or their religion on others. Fundamentalist Christians shouldn't have pressed for laws based on religious beliefs. That would have "politicized the faith."

- There would have been no American Revolution. Our Christian founders would have kept quiet as King George oppressed the colonists, violated their rights and continued his "abuses and usurpations." To join with any other colonists who wanted to change this state would have "politicized the faith" and made them "useful idiots" of rebellion.

While I know that some of the people involved with this manifesto are liberals, I know that at least a couple of the signers are solidly loyal to the Bible, so I don't think it can be said that supporters (at least not all of them) just want to undermine Christian values in the public square.

But at the same time, with no disrespect intended, I have to conclude that some of the signers have allowed themselves to become what the manifesto itself warned of on page 15: useful idiots, or naive tools.

They have allowed themselves to become tools of a liberal political effort to sanitize the public square of Christian values, Christian influence, and Christian voices...leaving them free to pursue their humanist goals of moral license and loyalty to state.

If followed, this manifesto, while innocuous enough on the surface, can only have one result: a diminished Christian influence on our culture, a dilution of the salt and dimming of the light Christians are called to be in the world. And the world needs the salt and light of the truth now more than ever.

While we are called to love, we are called to tell the truth. Jesus himself did no less. He loved those who were hurting, but he told the unadulterated truth, especially to those who sought to undermine the truth.

If those behind the manifesto think that a surrender in the culture war will purchase peace with the forces of evil, they are woefully mistaken. While their silence might buy the illusion of peace for a short time, it will only last until the barbarians have time to reach the gates. It won't even win any converts, outside of a few pretenders who enjoy the comforts of religiosity without the demands of holiness.

Christ never said we could or should expect to be liked. Jesus told us, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." And "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man." And "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."

Christianity isn't a popularity contest, and it isn't for the timid.

Christians shouldn't favor politics over their first priorities to worship God and bring the truth to the lost. But neither should they adopt a bunker mentality (the same bunker mentality already held by some for years) and surrender the culture to evil. Just as the Body of Christ has many parts and functions, we can work both inside the church and outside the church.

The world won't be saved by American power or prestige. People won't be saved by the Republican Party, and they won't reach the kingdom of Heaven by conservative ideology.

But they will be saved if they embrace the Gospel. The Gospel, or "good news," begins with some bad news: humans are fallen, sinful creatures living in a self-destructive manner on the road to Hell, and only Jesus Christ can save them. The good news is that Christ loved humans enough to die for us, and wants to redeem us from the pit of hell.

But we can't hang onto sin and grab onto Christ at the same time. Liberal Christian "doctrine" sells the hope that you can, but in the end it won't get you one inch closer to heaven. As Christ said, you can't serve two masters--you'll love one and hate the other. You have to surrender your desire to sin and accept Christ.

It so happens that's what fundamental Christianity teaches, in the church and in the public square. And it's what the Bible teaches.

Is the Evangelical Manifesto an evil document? No. Does it counsel or condone evil? No.

But after reading it, I'm left with the inescapable conclusion that it would sap the power of Christ's truth claims from our culture, leaving us all to live in a much darker place...and a growing number of people without hope.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes - Romans 1:16


Anonymous said...

An excellent and important piece, Bob! I see this manifesto as a capitulation to political conservatives who share our beliefs about lower taxes, smaller government and national security, but resent and are embarrassed by the religious conservatives who express their opinions about subjects such as abortion, creation, and stem cell research and who have gained some power in the Republican Party since the time of Ronald Reagan. Basically the "blue blood" conservatives want our money and our votes, but they also want us to keep our religious beliefs to ourselves. I don't understand how "evangelical" Christians can separate politics from a Christian world-view.

Anonymous said...

Bob said: "Evolution, naturalism and materialism are not science, but philosophies or interpretations of science. Creation scientists study the same science that evolutionists do; they simply approach the science from a different worldview."

This contains several errors.

First, Evolution is not a philosophy or interpretation of science. It is a Scientific Theory; as the recently adopted Florida science standards indicate, "a scientific theory is a well-supported and widely accepted explanation of nature and is not simply a claim posed by an individual" (benchmark SC.6.N.3.1); "a scientific theory is the culmination of many scientific investigations drawing together all the current evidence concerning a substantial range of phenomena; thus, a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer" (benchmark SC.912.N.3.1). In the context of Bob's terminology, theories are the best available interpretation of all the present evidence consistent with the underlying philosophical assumptions of science.

Science presupposes formal logic; while this may be minimally formulated via Wolfram's Axiom, I suspect most people would find Robbins' Axiom taken with the Commutativity and Associativity of Logical Exclusive Disjunction (aka, "OR") to be easier leaps of faith to make. This is necessary for validating any way for one statement to imply another, and are as uncontroversial as any idea in the realm of Philosophy can be. Science also presumes mathematics; this requires the eight leaps of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory Axioms (Extensionallity, Unordered Pair, Subsets, Sum Set, Power Set, Infinity, Replacement, and Foundation). Asserting these is necessary to prove anything as basic as "1+1=2", and exactly as uncontroversial.

Less trivially, all formulations of science implicitly assume the Strong Church-Turing Universe Thesis -- in lay terms, that one thing can possibly relate to another with only a finite number of steps. From this assumption, a mathematically formal expression of Occam's Razor may be shown (C. S. Wallace and D. L. Dowe, "Minimum Message Length and Kolmogorov Complexity"; Paul M. B. Vitányi and Ming Li, "Minimum Description Length Induction, Bayesianism and Kolmogorov Complexity"), indicating that the "simplest" explanation which comprehensively describes all the evidence is most likely to be correct. This principle serves as the basic criterion in which candidate hypotheses must compete against each other to become considered Theories in not merely the informal, but the Scientific sense of the word.

In contrast, "creation science" makes the primary assumption that the data of the Bible is privileged via Biblical Inerrancy. This assumption may not be justified from evidence via the assumptions underlying science; it must be taken on its own. Furthermore, any contradictions that result from this assumption are simply ignored. This means the philosophical assumptions of "creation science" are inconsistent with those of "science" as a whole.

I can make no objections to those who chose the philosophical assumption of Biblical Inerrancy. It's a free country, after all. However, denying the character of that assumption is mendacious.

Anonymous said...

“Less trivially, all formulations of science implicitly assume…, indicating that the "simplest" explanation which comprehensively describes all the evidence is most likely to be correct.” In essence, abb3w’s argument is that of Occam ’s razor, less the inscrutable obfuscation (of which much of that side of the argument is made).

The “simplest” explanation is not a testable mathematical or scientific determination, and therein lays the fallacy. For instance, the probability of the origin of life from purely naturalistic mechanisms has been calculated by Joseph Mastropaolo, assuming a minimum of 60,000 different proteins in 100 different configurations, as 10 to the 4,400,000th power! That’s a ten with 4.4 million zeroes! I’ll grant that Professor Mastropaolo might have been off by a magnitude of a hundredth power or so, but that will not help his critics. An event with a probability of 10 to the 150th power or greater is considered essentially an impossibility.

So, in spite of abb3w’s elegant argument, what it comes down to is whether an event that surpasses the impossible thousands of times over is a “simpler” explanation than assuming a creative power that lies outside our physical universe, indeed is the Creator of our universe. Both positions require faith. The claim that “[e]volution is not a philosophy or interpretation of science” is untenable considering the immense faith needed to believe the impossible.

(It is disingenuous to claim evolution does not address origins—it most certainly does. Open any high-school biology book and you’ll find a discussion of Darwinism preceded by the story of the origin of life with little to indicate distinct and separate theories.)

Anonymous said...

Here's the rub ... the entire treatise, is nothing more than a social-theological commentary on the desire to achieve appropriate Biblically based Christian behavior personally, interpersonally, and socially.

There is NO mention in either the Manifesto or the Study Guide of what the Bible says about:

... where faith in Christ comes from (Ro 10:17; Eph 2:8-9)
... the cost of discipleship (2Co 5:15; Mt 16:24)
... the expectations of the fruit of the spirit in changing personal behavior as expressed as the process of sanctification (2 Pe 1:5-12)
... that all of the law is found in loving God and your neighbor (De 6:5; Lev 19:18; Mt 22:39-40)
.... the definitions of loving God and neighbor (Jn 4:24; Mt 25:34-46; Mt 5:43-47; Lk 10:36-37; cf. Ja 1:22; Ro 2:13; Mt 7:12)
... the personal relationship that Christ expects (Mt 12:50; Jn 14:15, 21, 15:15; Ga 4:15)
... and the several expressions of spiritual disciplines that help Christians spend time with Christ in order to build a relationship with Him: confess faith in Christ: Ro 10:9-10 (is important in order for Christ to repair and restore relationship to God); confess sins: 1Jn 1:8-10; repent of sins: Lk 15:7 (these steps are important daily to restore communication with God - Jn 9:31; Ps 66:18; Pr 15:29); participating in a one-time baptism: Mat 28:19-20; participating in the Lord's Supper: 1Co 11:24-26; prayer: Php 4:6; reading the Bible: De 17:19; studying the Bible: Deu 6:6-7; 2Ti 2:15; thanksgiving and praise: Ps 100:4; worship: Jn 4:23-24; tithe: Lk 11:42; give alms (additional gifts beyond the tithe): Lk 12:33-34; personal sacrifice for the sake of advancing the Kingdom of God: 2Co 5:15; serving others: 1Pe 4:10; fasting: Mat 6:16-18.

And that is really and truly the point. In order to achieve what the manifesto wants, every Christian in the world has to understand and personally incorporate in the expression of his or her own personal, interpersonal, and social life, every word of the referenced scriptures. Sadly, the manifesto doesn't do anything more than infer this, and certainly doesn't point out where to find the answer to their question.

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