Saturday, May 10, 2008

"The Evangelical Soul is not for sale"

A remarkable document has been published this past week. It is a courageous effort to clarify an extraordinary awakening that has come out of American Christianity. America has seen several "great awakenings" in its history, some homegrown and some imported from abroad. From Jonathon Edwards in his pulpit in Connecticut in the 17th Century to John Wesley under a tree in the 18th Century to William Booth on the street corner in the 19th century to Billy Graham in the arena in the 20th century - great awakenings have had an enormous impact on the spiritual and public life of Americans.

Through all those great awakenings there have been struggles between the spiritual and public expressions of renewed Christian faith in the pews and in the public square. American history is filled with examples of unrest as Americans wrestled with working out their faith in their daily life. Some have been personal struggles in the walk through redemption, others have been massive overhauls of American society, as in the seeds that planted the War of Independence, the abolition of slavery, work place reforms, the birth of trade unions, women's suffrage, the temperance movement, and the struggle for civil rights. Whether Christians were markedly liberal or conservative, when spiritual renewal swept through the country, it wasn't long before the impact was felt deeply and historically in American culture.

This manifesto marks out evidence that we have experienced another Great Awakening in the United States in the latter part of the 20th century. It has crossed over traditional political and social lines. It is a major movement out of Protestant Christianity, but is not limited any more to protestantism. It hasn't faded away but is finding itself deepening into the pours of American society, Democrat, Republican, amongst all social classes and racial segments of American society, it is nearly borderless for it is global. It is not confined either to American borders or even to Protestant Christianity, for it is weaving its way into the underpinnings of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic traditions as well, both here and abroad.

It is called Evangelicalism. This manifesto outlines what it is not - it is not left-wing revisionism or right-wing fundamentalism (which in fact, in recent years seems to have switched to left-wing fundamentalism and right-wing revisionism which the document unfortunately does not address).

I came to the document, I admit, skeptical. With an artist's temperament, I am not inclined to embrace manifestos (which is why I do struggle with the whole concept of a "Anglican Covenant" for the same reason, as Anglicans our "manifesto" is in our liturgy - we pray what we believe). There were times when I read the document when it seemed obvious. While protesting that we have become to politicized, the document itself is written in a political style and was released in the world's most political city, Washington. But what that says to me is that while there is rejection of politicization (we are not defined by our politics, but our politics are defined by our core beliefs, we define our politics we are not defined by them - a very important point on so many levels) there is not a rejection of "working out our salvation" in the public square - in politics, in the markets, or in the arts.

At the same time, there is an emphasis to rediscover our deep spiritual heritage outside of the fad and fashion of the times in our churches. In fact, the manifesto is quite clear at the failures of American evangelicals at a time when such failures mark us as hypocritical. The emphasis away from what has sometimes become mindless litmus tests of the past twenty years, goes in deeper to lifestyle. While still standing firm on the biblical issues of marriage and the sanctity of human life, the manifesto recognizes that our faith impacts far more than this - pushing us into areas where we have grown comfortable and complacent.

Here is are two sections from the Christian Manifesto, released this past week in Washington, D.C. that address some of those concerns:

We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our 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.

All too often we have set out high, clear statements of the authority of the Bible, but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience.

All too often we have prided ourselves on our orthodoxy, but grown our churches through methods and techniques as worldly as the worldliest of Christian adaptations to passing expressions of the spirit of the age.

All too often we have failed to demonstrate the unity and harmony of the body of Christ, and fallen into factions defined by the accidents of history and sharpened by truth without love, rather than express the truth and grace of the Gospel.

All too often we have traced our roots to powerful movements of spiritual revival and reformation, but we ourselves are often atheists unawares, secularists in practice who live in a world without windows to the supernatural, and often carry on our Christian lives in a manner that has little operational need for God.

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.

All too often we have concentrated on great truths of the Bible, such as the cross of Jesus, but have failed to apply them to other biblical truths, such as creation. In the process we have impoverished ourselves, and supported a culture broadly careless about the stewardship of the earth and negligent of the arts and the creative centers of society.

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.

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.

All too often we have gloried in the racial and ethnic diversity of the church around the world, but remained content to be enclaves of separateness here at home.

All too often we have abandoned our Lord’s concern for those in the shadows, the twilight, and the deep darkness of the world, and become cheerleaders for those in power and the naïve sycophants of the powerful and the rich.

All too often we have tried to be relevant, but instead of creating ―new wineskins for the new wine, we have succumbed to the passing fashions of the moment and made noisy attacks on yesterday’s errors, such as modernism, while capitulating tamely to today’s, such as postmodernism.
Here is another section:

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.

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival.

The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness. The saying is wise: ―The first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing.

The Evangelical soul is not for sale. It has already been bought at an infinite price.
Read more about the Evangelical Manifesto here.


Kevin said...

I saw this from one of the signatories emailed it out.

I like the confession up front, I think it's very important to not be as prideful, usually when I rebuke so-called "evangelicals," two things sadden me, first is the pride, where they NEVER show any weakness and are perfect in their own eyes, the second is how little of the Scripture they actually know and if it can't be deduced to 4 little sayings, it does not really matter.

In confessing the sins, there is hope!Especially in the "cheerleader" section, I'm completely skeptical about it, yet in hopeful.

My dear Indonesian friend was turned off by a parish of one of the steering committee, where no one would talk to him, yet they gave the rector $25K and a new truck and this rector had his nose up every VIP's rear end, proud of who went there, even if on C-SPAN they were an extremely poor witness and I'd not want a non-believer to think that's Christianity is all about. He turns to me after venting his frustrations and asks "how much persecution would it take to wake the American Church up."

Yet, maybe in a 1 Cor 11:31-32 way, this Manifesto is the beginning of true repentance.

Time and actions will tell if are just all pretty words or truly from the depth of a heart change.

BabyBlue said...

Yes, repentance. That's it exactly. We must watch our finger pointing, lest we forget the finger pointed at ourselves. That view permeates this document. Come, Holy Spirit.


Kevin said...

Trouble is repentance is verb of action, there has always been GREAT talk, it in how the talk translate.

Come, Holy Spirit.

1662 BCP said...

I shall read through the "Manifesto" today and comment more fully later. The questions that I have intially, as an Anglican Evangelical, are (1) Who came-up with this?, (2)Who are the signatories?, (3) Are there Anglicans amongst them, and if not why?, and (4) Is this just another empty declaration by well-meaning talking-heads? One may or may not assert that there is "a new awakening" in some Protestant Churches, but what they precisely mean by that I'm not yet certain. One can easonably state that within the Roman Church, the Church of my youth, there is much talk of re-assertion and a return to clearly-held doctrine, I'm not too sure that there is much re-awakening. Church attendance was perhaps up during the recent Papal visit when it was the vogue to feel Catholic, but Americans are fickle and lapse very quickly into their own interpretations of doctrine. Having spent twenty years in the Orthodox Church and having lived on Mount Athos as well as being an Orthodox Priest I am aware that there are some move towards more cohesiveness and co-operation amongst the Orthodox themselves in some areas, though they remain very divided; but where oh where is there any great re-awakening there? The Orthodox would, generally, deny that they had ever fallen asleep. One of the reasons for which I and my family left the Orthodox Church to become Anglican was that it was entirely complacent, self-satisfied and and evangelically sound asleep. Like the Norwegian Blue in the Dead Parrot sketch from Monty Python.

BabyBlue said...

Dr. Os Guinness, an Anglican and member of The Falls Church, is one of the authors of the Evangelical Manifesto. John Yates, Rector of The Falls Church, is one of the signers.


Kevin said...

Hi 1662,

I was planning on bowing out of this thread (my cynicism could move farther than is good), however you raise a topic I'd be interested in your take from growing up in the RCC, but now a 1662 Evangelical.

Topic would be penance. While I definitely agree with the Reformers on how it was practiced then, I also agree with Dr. R.C. Sproul who says we've thrown the baby out with the bath water - his take is how healing it is to hear verbally the words "you are forgiven." I'd add onto this from a banter on another blog that the discipline of James 5:16 that Protestants aren't so good at, sure there is the corporate confession, but I see pressure to put on a face of perfection and never a time to be blunt honest to say in the last 24 hours I've struggled with anger, lust and pride. Earlier today as I pondered my cynicism, one thing came to mind is the number of experience of what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace," so without anything specific tried, I've learned 'I'm sorry' tends to mean 'I'm upset there in conflict between us.' While Satan can certainly tempt "ten Our Fathers" into worked based righteousness, maybe Protested are tempted off the other side of the horse, where often remorse never is concreted into repentance.

I throw out for your familiarity of both.

Per your, "there is much talk of re-assertion and a return to clearly-held doctrine, I'm not too sure that there is much re-awakening." I keep ending up in great theological discussions with Catholics over beer, not apologetic, but broad based discussion that only after an hour does the fact I'm a Protestant come out. After the scandals, many Catholics are either hot or cold, many are disenfranchised, but many are learning the depths of their faith, many know their Bible. Often it's the young desiring the Latin Mass (not surprising, many Gen "Y" have grown up where nothing is stable, so tradition is comfort (honestly, following on a past exchange, you may be less a dying bread than you realize, there is a hunger with those after me for something that's not in constant flux).

1662 BCP said...

For a re-awakening to take place in any Church, there has to have been an awakening. I was still a boy when the ripple affects of Vatican II were just beginning to be felt on a parochial level in Canada. For us the changes were quite radical and it had a negative effect on many, including my own Mother who never went back, she looked at other traditionalist Catholic options, but stayed at home and said her prayers in Latin. My sisters insisted on burying her in the Roman Church, but I know that wasn't what she had wanted. In my own parish we moved from having services in the Church to having them in the Parish Hall, while renovation went on upstairs. The services continued in Latin and English using the pre-Vatican II rite. After a year we went back upstairs to find that the Church had been gutted. Gone were the High Altar, the old pews and statuary, stained glass, lighting, everything. It had become a completely different place. Then they introduced the new services, the missals and hymnals were removed to be replaced by monthly, disposable missalettes. People pretty much stopped going to confession, fasting went the way of the good thief, although if you read the official statements regarding fasting from Vatican II, the requirement was never lifted. The Church did nothing to explain itself and many many people left or remained because they believed thay had no choices. My Father stayed but completely lost faith in the institution. I got used to it; but it never felt the way it had before. Confessions dropped dramatically, many people took advantage of the Masses of anticipation on Saturday afternoon and evening, so as to have Sundays off. My Dad and I began going to confession once a week at a Franciscan Church. Almost none of my Catholic peer-group attend Church at all any more. Although there was an initial increase in attendance by some out of curiosity, after just a few years attendance waned so much that the demographics of the Parish changed entirely. I left and went to the Orthodox Church, but even there confession was very mechanical and a requirement before receiving Communion. Often times the priest had to pause just before the Administration and come out to "hear" hasty, rushed confessions of people who had lined-up along-side the line for Communion. I know for a fact that that still goes on. Rarely you could find a good Confessor who took his time and gave wise counsel. I, myself, spent two years 1986-87 on Mount Athos in Greece and there you saw many men make pilgrimages to speak with an elder or a particular confessor. Some of these priest made journeys to the mainland or abroad to hear confessions. People were either rigorists or they were completely lax. This is why many people were attracted towards monasticism in the Orthodox Church, for them it seemed a surer way towards Salvation than living in the World. For me, being Anglican and using the BCP allow me to be responsible for my own actions, I don't look to a Father-Confessor, Staretz, Geronda (pronounced Yeronda in Greek), or some would-be Guru to tell me what to do get-right with God. It's there in the Scriptures. I take to heart the words in the Prayer Book, particularly the General Confession and the Exhortations which recommend that "if one requires further comfort or counsel they ought to come to me or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God's Word, and open their grief; that by the ministry of God's holy Word they may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of their conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness". Read your Prayer Book! An interesting point, as I was ordained a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church, not every priest was a Confessor, in order to be one they had to have a Letter of Direction from the Bishop which licensed them to hear confessions. I think that the same holds true in the Anglican Church in respect to a "discreet" and "learned" Minister of God's Word. There are a number of priests who play Staretz/Elder and strive to control people who come to them for confession. This is very dangerous. I've seen it happen in both the Roman and Orthodox Churches and I would be quite angry to hear that it was happening in Churches which purport to be Anglican, but I am sure that it does. Tradition can be comforting, but it can be a crutch, even a spirtual narcotic which dulls the senses. Remember that it was man who made void the Word of God by his traditions. The awakening of the English Reformation and the re-awakening of the Evangelical Revival freed us from that.

Kevin said...

Thx for the reply! :-)