Friday, May 9, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

I wrote the following article for our Message page in the upcoming Word&Way issue. If you are not a subscriber to Word&Way you can find subscription information at here.

Our Communications Specialist, Brian Kaylor, called my attention to the release of An Evangelical Manifesto in a recent post to his blog (For God's Sake Shut Up). It was released on May 7, 2008, by a broad group of evangelical leaders. I appreciated Brian’s insights, and his article caused me to download and read the entire Manifesto which was subtitled A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. I have always considered myself a conservative, evangelical Christian, but I must confess that in recent years some of the things that have been said and done by those who call themselves “evangelical Christians” have made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I was not sure I wanted to be grouped with some self-professed “evangelicals.”

I found this recent statement refreshing and revealing. As a Baptist I am sure I would have written parts of it differently. Surprise, surprise, there are opinionated Baptists. But, I am grateful for those who committed the time to write a statement that provides a positive statement regarding evangelical Christianity. The first portion of the manifesto addresses the need and context for the statement. It speaks to the evangelical identity and the defining features of evangelical life. I found their statements both helpful and positive.

I was particularly interested in how they contrasted evangelicals from what they call liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. Some today have attempted to merge the evangelical and fundamentalist movements in our society. The manifesto draws a needed contrast with the modern fundamentalist movement. Baptists have certainly seen the negative impact of the fundamentalist movement in our church life.

The heart of the manifesto is a call to reform our own behavior as a witness to the Christian faith. When self-professed “evangelicals” fail to live out their faith in their daily lives and relationships we discredit our witness and diminish our impact in the world.

I also appreciated the manifesto’s call for religious liberty for all people. The writers call for a commitment 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 too. I am not convinced this recent manifesto is the last word on evangelical Christianity, but I believe it offers some healthy insights and corrections that have distorted our heritage in recent years. I encourage you to explore the full statement for yourself. Let’s reclaim our evangelical voice.

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