An Evangelical Manifesto

by Derrick G. Jeter

Jesus had the annoying habit of never doing or saying what was expected of Him—by everyone, that is, except His Father. The religious elite were confounded by His Messiah-like popularity. But when He didn’t act like the Messiah, according to their expectations, even the populous grew skeptical. Both the religious leaders and the people wanted a Messiah who would lead a revolt and trample underfoot the Roman eagle. And amidst the ashes of Roman power the Messiah would erect a glorious Jewish kingdom. Jesus did none of these. In fact, when asked whether taxes should be paid to the government, His reply was decisive: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” [1]

 

Yes, Jesus was annoying—to those with a limited perspective. But Jesus was and is the living truth—He transcends political pigeonholing. Never engaging in cultural criticism or political posturing, Jesus instead heaped scorn on the religious establishment for corrupting theology with politics, for confusing spiritual freedom from sin as political freedom from Rome.

 

Because Jesus rebelled against the expectations of the mob, He changed the course of history.

 

For those of us who follow Jesus, our purpose is not exactly the same as His, but we are all called to point people to Him, wherever God has placed us—in business, medicine, law, education, entertainment, or politics. The danger for us, as it was for the Jewish population two thousand years ago, is to mix theology in the muck of politics. The history of doing so is long and unsavory. Jesus prayed that His followers would engage the world but no succumb to it—the famous “in . . . not of” dichotomy. [2]

 

Increasingly, however—especially over the past two decades—Evangelical Christianity has lost it distinctive mark, its commitment to follow a crucified and living Savior. Non-Evangelicals equate us with being conservative (read Republican) politically, that is all. The sad truth is many of our recognized leaders have perpetuated this perception through impertinent political comments. The result has been a poisoning of the fresh, life-giving well of the gospel.

 

We have traded the truth for a lie. It is not enough for Jesus to have come as a suffering servant to save the souls of mankind from sin, and return some day as the victorious King and Lord of all. He must return now on Air Force One and cut the abortionist off and cleave every gay marriage law by means of a marriage amendment.

 

Do not misunderstand me. Abortion is a blight that has reached holocaustic proportions within the United States. With Thomas Jefferson I shudder: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” [3] Add to this vile sin the moral earthquake that would destroy the institution of marriage and I’m as outraged as anyone. Nevertheless, the question is not whether Evangelicals should involve themselves in political concerns, they should. The question is whether their commitment to conservative politics trumps their devotion to the Savior who transcends politics. After all, the greatest need the abortionist and the homosexual have is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet because of the graceless manner in which many Christians have conducted themselves on the political front, a relationship with Jesus is less attractive than a relationship with the Devil.

 

These concerns, among others, have prompted Os Guinness and other Evangelicals to issue “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.”

 

I confess at the outset that I’m a signatory.

 

The manifesto has two declared purposes. The first is “to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States and much of the Western world.” The second is “to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life.” [4]

 

While addressing the first of these two goals, the manifesto boldly affirms: “Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.” [5] Theologically, Evangelicals are followers of Jesus Christ, as stipulated in seven Christological truths.

 

  1. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, as the only full and complete revelation of God and therefore the only Savior.
  2. The death of Jesus on the cross, in which He took the penalty for our sins and reconciled us to God.
  3. Salvation as God’s gift grasped through faith. We contribute nothing to our salvation.
  4. New life in the Holy Spirit, who brings us spiritual rebirth and power to live as Jesus did, reaching out to the poor, sick, and oppressed.
  5. The Bible as God’s Word written, fully trustworthy as our final guide to faith and practice.
  6. The future personal return of Jesus to establish the reign of God.
  7. The importance of sharing these beliefs so that others may experience God’s salvation and may walk in Jesus’s way. [6]

 

As the manifesto asserts, being an Evangelical “Above all else, . . . is a commitment and devotion to the person and work of Jesus Christ, his teaching and way of life, and an enduring dedication to his lordship above all other earthly powers, allegiance and loyalties.” [7]

 

The clarification of Evangelical devotion is not controversial, though the second goal might cause heartburn among some. The manifesto calls for Evangelicals to reform our behavior, to repent from exchanging

 

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. [8]

 

The manifesto continues with a reaffirmation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and calls for a civil public square, not a secular or sacred public square, as I argued for in an earlier essay: “Preacher-in-Chief, or President?

 

Evangelicals have nothing to fear from a civil public square. If we have the truth, the truth will win out in an open society of honest individuals. We have much to fear, however, in a naked or sacred public square. In the one our voices are mute. In the other our voices are shrill—cramming religion down the collective throat.

 

A civil public square inherently compels us, who follow Jesus, to treat those of other faiths or no faith with dignity, courtesy, and above all, grace. To do so is to simply show Christ to those who have never really seen Him. And that is much.

 

This manifesto is by no means perfect. But it is a clear statement of our commitment, above all other loyalties, to follow Jesus Christ as He has revealed Himself in the Scripture, and as the “People of the Good News [to] not just . . . speak the Good News but to embody and be good news to our world and to our generation.” [9] Both considerations transcend culture and narrowly defined political issues. If we, who call ourselves Evangelical can return to these truths then I trust that Jesus can change the course of our history from this day forward.

 

 

[1] Luke 20:25.

[2] See John 17:14–16

[3] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/jevifram.htm (accessed 8 May 2008).

[4] “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment,” May 7, 2008, Washington, D.C., http://www.anevangelicalmanifesto.com/index.php (accessed 8 May 2008), 2.

[5] “An Evangelical Manifesto,” 4.

[6] See “An Evangelical Manifesto,” 5–6.

[7] “An Evangelical Manifesto,” 8.

[8] “An Evangelical Manifesto,” 11.

[9] “An Evangelical Manifesto,” 20.

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