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evangelicalism

May 07, 2008

You have probably heard about the Evangelical Manifesto—a document that has received some attention in the press over the past few days. This manifesto was made public for the first time just a few minutes ago and is now publicly available at anevangelicalmanifesto.com. According to those who drafted the document, “The two-fold purpose of this declaration is first to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States and much of the Western world today, and second to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life.”

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

The document was drafted by a Steering Committee comprised of Timothy George, Os Guinness, John Huffman, Rich Mouw, Jesse Miranda, David Neff, Richard Ohman, Larry Ross and Dallas Willard. Among the Charter Signatories are such diverse notables as Leith Anderson, Kay Arthur, Darrell Bock, Jack Hayford, Max Lucado, Erwin Lutzer, J. P. Moreland, Mark Noll, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Jim Wallis.

I look forward to reading through it as soon as I’ve got a few minutes to do so!

April 22, 2008

BiblemanI recently read Rapture Ready, a new book by Daniel Radosh. The book is subtitled “Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture” which probably tells you most of what you need to know about it. The author, a secular liberal, immerses himself in Christian pop culture and uses this book to write about his experiences. It is at times exasperating, cringe-inducing and just plain embarrassing. Here is a brief excerpt to give you a taste of both the subject matter and the author’s perspective on it. Radosh decided to take in a live performance of the Christian kids’ superhero Bibleman, a production which I have never seen and am quite certain I never will see willingly.


The show opens with the backstory of our hero, Miles Peterson, “a man who had it all: wealth, status, success. Still, something was missing.” I don’t know about you, but when I feel that something is missing I usually mope around the house or browse YouTube for videos of cats falling off stuff. Miles, however, goes tearing out into a rainstorm and collapses in a sobbing heap. “Then, in his darkest hour,” Miles finds something half buried in the mud: a Bible. Not Just any Bible—a radioactive Bible. No, actually, it is just any Bible. But apparently that’s enough to turn him into Bibleman.

In this episode, Bibleman and his sidekicks, Cypher (the black guy) and Biblegirl (the girl), go up against a villain called Primordius Drool, a mincing green-skinned fop with a lisp and a fondness for show tunes. Subtlety is not Bibleman’s strong suit. The same actor also plays a talk show host named Sammy Davey, who is a classic stereotype of a New York Jew, complete with nerdy glasses and a giant Jew-fro. Slouching and cringing, Sammy Davey needles and browbeats poor Bibleman in an accept so thick that he pronounces Bibleman with the same inflection as names like Silverman or Lieberman.

The heart of the show is the fight sequences, typically involving a darkened warehouse (all the better to obscure the lackluster choreography) and Bibleman swatting away CGI fireballs with his lightsaber while announcing, “Isaiah 54:17 says ‘no weapon forged against me will prosper!’” Every now and then, Bibleman shares a lesson with his sidekicks, as when he laments that people “allow their minds to cover up what God has placed on their hearts”—a near perfect pitch for the common evangelical notion that feelings are to be trusted above rational discernment, a belief that many nonevangelicals would be distressed to hear is being passed on to eight year-olds.

April 08, 2008

Joe Carter recently declared that he would be the last evangelical in America. He was being a little tongue-in-cheek of course, but the point was clear. He thinks the label “evangelical” is a good one and and one worth holding on to. “Naturally, I understand why some of my fellow evangelicals prefer not to be saddled with the label. The negative connotations imbued by both our friends and our enemies have weighted it down with unnecessary baggage. But I don’t think we should drop it altogether, especially for higher-level terms like ‘Christian’… I think being an evangelical is the best way for me to be Christian; for better or worse, I’ll never abandon the tradition or the label.”

I found this interesting because I’ve been reading the forthcoming book by David F. Wells and in this volume he suggests that perhaps it is time to let go of the “evangelical” label. Here is his defense and his proposal of an alternative:

Those who still think of themselves as being in the tradition of historic Christian faith, as I do, may therefore want to consider whether the term “evangelical” has not outlived its usefulness. Despite its honorable pedigree, despite its many outstanding leaders both past and some in the present, and despite the many genuine and upright believers who still think of themselves as evangelical, it may now have to be abandoned.

If the word “evangelical” has outlived its usefulness, what is the alternative? Here, I am flummoxed. My own labels are too ponderous to be used widely. I am reaching out for help. I am advertising for a new label!

In this book, I am … going to think of myself as being a biblical Christian first and foremost, as being in continuity with Christians across the ages who have believed the same truth and followed the same Lord. The period in which these truths were brought into the most invigorating, health-giving focus was the Reformation. I therefore think of myself as reformational in the sense that I affirm its solas: in Scripture alone is God’s authoritative truth found, in Christ alone is salvation found, it is by grace alone that we are saved, and this salvation is received through faith alone. It is only after each of these affirmations is made that we can say that salvation from start to finish is to the glory of God alone. These affirmations do not stand simply as solitary, disconnected sentinels but they are the key points in an integrated, whole understanding of biblical truth. It is this which gives us a place to stand in the world from which to understand who we are, what the purposes of God are, and what future lies before us. These are the things that historic Protestants believe and that is what I am.

And this is what I think offers the only real hope for our postmodern world. Not only so, but it carries in it the best help for the evangelical world in its wounded and declining state today. I do not know what the evangelical future will be but I am certain that it will have no good future unless it finds this kind of direction again.

This will take some courage. The key to the future is not the capitulation that we see in both the marketers and the emergents. It is courage. The courage to be faithful to what Christianity in its biblical forms has always stood for across the ages. So, let’s begin exploring what this might mean for us today.

I’d love to know what you think. Is the term “evangelical” saddled with too much baggage? Is it time just to let it pass into history like so many words and labels before it? Or, because it is a word with such a noble heritage and with such a profound meaning, is it one we should cling to? Is it a label you wear proudly or with shame?

August 11, 2005

I have been reflecting this week on the Apostle’s admonition to “avoid evil.” Heady stuff for a vacation, I admit! My need to more fully understand this concept arose as I wrote about movies and the Christian obsession with watching and enjoying them regardless of their content. It took me some time, but I realized that I had reflected on this in the past, though it was several years ago.

The last time I remember writing about the importance of avoiding evil was after reading an article about Jeffery Dahmer. I assume that most North Americans are familiar with him, as he gained great notoriety in the 1990’s as one of America’s most vile serial killers. Over a two-decade period he was responsible for the murder (and sometimes cannibalization and other unmentionable acts) of seventeen men. The usual American media circus accompanied his trial and sentencing. His life came to a violent end when, shortly after being sentenced to life imprisonment, he was murdered by another inmate.

I read the story of his life, from his upbringing in a normal family to his gruesome death in prison, with a kind of horror, but also with a kind of fascination. Though the article was, thankfully, short on specifics, it certainly provided enough detail to show just what a depraved individual Dahmer was. And despite the depravity, I lapped this story up like a dog lapping up his own vomit.

Later in the evening I reflected on the fascination I had felt when reading the article. Why is it that I could be absorbed with something so vile and so unnatural? Why would I even want to know the details of such a life? A couple of possibilities came to mind.

Perhaps it could be that it is simply inconceivable to me that such evil could exist in a mind and body just like mine. In many ways Dahmer was little different than me. He was raised in the same society (albeit a few years before my time) with many of the same values, had a job and paid his taxes. Yet within him lurked this terrible evil. So perhaps my fascination was simply my mind crying out in disbelief that this was a man not too terribly unlike me.

The second possibility may be easier to explain by analogy. I was reminded of a recurring theme within that timeless story Lord of the Rings, a story that most people are now familiar with. Frodo Baggins has been bequeathed a ring of immense power. Though at first he does not realize it, this ring is actually a source of incredible evil. It contains within it the wrath, fury and evil of the sorcerer Sauron, who represents the source of evil within Middle Earth. As the story progresses, we see that Frodo has begun to fall under the ring’s power. The ring has a kind of mind of its own and desires to return to its master. As Sauron’s minions search for this ring, Frodo finds himself drawn to them. The ring, which he wears on a chain around his neck, pulls him towards the power of evil. This evil ring around his neck, desires to return to its wicked master.

Within every human there is an evil nature. The Bible, in Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Anyone who denies that he has these sinful inclinations is in defiance of the obvious. So perhaps the fascination I felt in reading about someone so vile as Dahmer is simply the evil within me drawing me to an even greater source of evil. Perhaps the evil within me is just crying out and pulling me to allow it to return to its master. It is a daunting thought, that lurking within my heart, just barely beneath the surface, is an evil that is fighting to escape.

The third possibility is that my fascination was based on a combination the other two reasons. The side of me that is appalled by wickedness recoiled at the thought of such evil. At the same time, the part of me that delights in all manner of wickedness was drawn towards more and greater evil. One thing that is certain and is beyond possibility is the wisdom of 1 Thessalonians 5:21-24. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

While I may be drawn to evil, and in fact, am willing to admit that I am drawn to it, the fact remains that God commands that I avoid it. And not only am I to avoid evil, but I am to avoid every kind of evil - the mere possibility or hint of evil. God’s standards are high. So is my propensity towards evil. Evil has a magnetic pull that draws me towards it. Thankfully God, in His great wisdom, has placed within me the Spirit who graciously allows me to see this evil, to hate it, and ultimately to avoid it.