Tuesday, May 27, 2008

As I was saying...

I was never able to finish my earlier post about the evangelical movement. Earlier this month, a document entitled "The Evangelical Manifesto" was released. It can be found in its entirety here: http://www.evangelicalmanifesto.com/

I think it is an important document for you to read and think through. What struck me about the media coverage of the document's release was the focus on its political slant. They read it, perhaps rightly, as a shot at the "religious right."

I had a few thoughts...

First: It is good to consider the origin of the term evangelical.

Here's what Iain Murray writes in Evangelicalism Divided:

In 1525, Tyndale wrote: “Evangelion…is a Greek word; and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy....”

At the same period all who so thought [like Tyndale] became described as “gospellers” or, less commonly, as “evangelicals”. Over two hundred years
later it was the latter term that was to pass into more permanent usage at the
time of the “Evangelical Revival”. That it did not do so earlier is
largely due to the fact that all the churches of the Reformation were “of the
gospel” in their creeds and confessions. By the eighteenth century,
however, while the profession of the national churches in England and Scotland
remained orthodox there were many pulpits from which no gospel was heard and
when the evangel was recovered a term was necessary to distinguish its preachers
from others: they were the “evangelicals” (1-2).

What a great understanding of the original purpose of the term evangelical! We've certainly strayed from that original understanding!

Second: I think it is good to consider how to define what we believe more precisely.

I like the idea of making our borders sharper...less blurry. I think we should warn the flock that there are some who are outside the bounds of orthodoxy who still would claim to be evangelicals.

Third: Unfortunately, I have some misgivings about this document.

There seems to be a strange desire among many evangelicals to align themselves with what have traditionally been more "left-wing" agenda items, such as radical environmentalism and the war on poverty. Some of those who are responsible for the evangelical manifesto are part of this movement. While the causes they champion are noble (ending AIDS, fighting poverty, racial reconciliation), the passion for those causes is more often pragmatic than theological. In other words, they are not passionate about these things because they love the glory of God and have gone to His word with a desire to be obedient to Him. Instead they have looked to their culture to drive their ministry.

For example, why are evangelicals suddenly so pro-environment? I don't think its because they have been studying the Scriptures and suddenly found that it speaks to this issue. I think they have found that the culture is passionate about the environment so they are co-opting this issue. A truly biblical view of the environment would be trumpeting the need to produce, the need to do so in a responsible manner, and the temporary nature of matter.

Similarly, true, biblical evangelicals should recognize the line between debatable and non-debatable issues and have a greater passion for the non-negotiables. There should be a greater passion for the gospel than for tax policy. Furthermore, even as we consider our involvement in the political realm, we should acknowledge a heirarchy of issues based upon the clarity of biblical revelation on a particular issue.

That is one reason I become weary of hearing some evangelicals say something along the lines of "We are not just about the pro-life movement, we are also passionate about the government providing for the poor." Due to Scripture's clarity of revelation, the pro-life issue is a far different issue than the government's responsibility to the poor through welfare. Certainly we should think about tax-policy and our opinion should be informed by isues such as fairness and justice and protection of the weak and encouraging people to work if they wish to eat. But there is a spectrum of acceptable positions for a beleiver to hold on this issue, whereas only one consciounable position on the issue of the life of the unborn.

A far better critique of the manifesto can be found at Al Mohler's blog here: http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1147 and here: http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1148

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