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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

At Last: An "Evangelical Manifesto" That Doesn't Punch Someone in the Face

A few correspondents have asked me what I think of the new “Evangelical Manifesto,” recently released by a group of evangelical leaders (including—full disclosure—some friends of mine).

Another friend, Prof. Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College, grumps in the Wall Street Journal about how boringly moderate it is, among other sins. But let’s just see if that’s such a bad thing.

The nice people at Merriam-Webster tell us that “manifesto” means “a public declaration of intentions, motives, or views: a public statement of policy or opinion.” Jacobs wants the writing to be “punchy” and the document to be “short,” although he recalls that the most famous manifesto ever, the communist one, amounts to a small book.

Still, this one is twenty pages, and when I read it, I wondered why anyone would care what I thought about it. It strikes me as completely sensible, moderate, intelligent, a bit wordy here and there, and kinda dull.

And isn’t that a pleasant change!

Manifestoes typically offer a sweeping analysis of something dreadfully wrong that must be changed —this instant! or at least by next week! Such revolutionary documents trade in stark dichotomies and demand bold choices upon which hang matters of great moment.

Many statements of Christian belief in the past, furthermore, have included not only positive statements but also negative ones. “We believe this, and cursed be those who believe that.” The technical term for the latter phrases is “anathemas,” and plenty of them have been pronounced against heretics of all stripes over the centuries.

This statement, however, goes only so far as to mildly distinguish evangelicalism from fundamentalism and theological liberalism, which seems to be a necessary thing to do every few years, it seems, as new generations of journalists, politicians, academicians, and other teachers of the public keep needing to keep those distinctions clear.

Otherwise, however, the main importance of this document is that it makes manifest the moderate, intelligent, concerned, and active evangelicalism that is rarely manifest in accounts of North American religion. For it is the the nutty or the nasty who make the news. It is the preachers who unqualifiedly bless or condemn America, who reduce politics to a few key agenda, who proclaim their particular doctrinal varieties as “true Christianity,” who perpetuate a binary view of a complex world, and who call for immediate and drastic action to put everything right.

. . . And who enjoy damning their enemies—that is, everyone who disagrees with them over any detail.

So I agree with Brother Jacobs that “An Evangelical Manifesto” doesn’t get the pulse racing, let alone the blood boiling. Instead, it offers assurance to a worried society that many evangelicals are capable of moderation, are willing to offer “on this hand and on the other hand” qualifications, and have ideas that are not reducible to “punchy” slogans intended to incite action at the expense of reflection.

In that, I think “An Evangelical Manifesto” is well worthwhile.

Am I excited about “An Evangelical Manifesto”?

No, not really . . .

. . . for which I sincerely thank God.


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