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.Here is another section:
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.
Today, however, we Evangelicals wish to stand clear from certain positions in public life that are widely confused with Evangelicalism.Read more about the Evangelical Manifesto here.
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.