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Evangelical Manifesto (part 2)

July 21, 2008     Time: 00:25:47
Evangelical Manifesto (part 2)


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript Evangelical Manifesto (Part 2)

Kevin Harris: We are discussing an evangelical manifesto drafted May 7, 2008 in Washington D. C. [1] Dr. Craig, it is a declaration of evangelical identity and public commitment. There is a lot in this manifesto. We’ve discussed it earlier. We are going to kind of pick it up in part 2 here. Who are some of the leaders who drafted this manifesto?

Dr. Craig: Os Guinness was one of the principal authors of the manifesto but also involved were people like Richard Mouw from Fuller, Timothy George at Samford University, and Dallas Willard of USC. They were some of the other members of the steering committee.

Kevin Harris: Now this manifesto gives a couple of mandates. One is we must reaffirm our identity. We discussed the seven foundational principles that we ought to hold as evangelical Christians. The second is we must reform our own behavior. I do want to chase a quick rabbit because I hear a critique a lot. On the seven foundations that were given, one of the foundations is that we must reach out to the lost – those people who don’t know Christ. Those people who are separated from God. Those people who are in need of the salvation that Christ offers. Then we must do exactly as Jesus did: to feed the hungry, visit the poor and the oppressed, the socially despised, and so on. What we are often accused of is going as Christians to places of disaster or places of poverty and only doing that as a means to proselytize and evangelize. I’ve read two blogs on the internet this week that accuses us of doing that very thing. They see that as rather hypocritical. Well, OK, how do we do this and not be hypocritical about it?

Dr. Craig: Obviously, we need to have compassion for those who are suffering independent of whether or not they become Christians; that we have compassion on them simply as human beings. Although some of these bloggers may say that this is not what we do, I think the facts don’t bear that out. Organizations like World Vision and Food for the Hungry, and just people who volunteer from local churches to go to Hurricane Katrina ravaged places and rebuild homes, and help folks or take folks into their own homes when they have been rendered homeless show that people genuinely do this because they care about people and not just about making proselytes.

Kevin Harris: I have personally witnessed and been involved with an organization called Food for the Poor. They never made the homeless people that they fed in Jamaica and the Caribbean and others sit through a sermon before they got something to eat. That has been a criticism. I don’t know anybody that does that – I’m sure there is somebody somewhere. But that is certainly not what the mainstream Christian relief organizations do, and it is certainly not what the New Testament says.

Dr. Craig: Sure. We can do both evangelism and care for the physical needs of suffering people without making these preconditions of each other.

Kevin Harris: “We Must Reform Our Own Behavior” is the second mandate. There are twelve ways here, it looks like?

Dr. Craig: Yes, look at number one. This is, I think, one of the most powerful paragraphs in the whole document. These are ways in which we as evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior. [2] We haven’t lived up to what we claim is true. The first paragraph says this,

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.

Kevin Harris: Ouch. All I can say is: ouch.

Dr. Craig: I agree! That is so powerful. I think that all of us who have watched some of these televangelists and other things on Christian television resonate with this paragraph in terms of the vapid spirituality, the religious happy-talk, the feel-good gospels of health and wealth and human potential that are exhibited there. These really do betray genuine evangelical beliefs I think.

Kevin Harris: Is there room for any entertaining aspects?

Dr. Craig: Sure, it doesn’t say here that worship has to be boring. What it says is that too often we’ve replaced worship with entertainment. I think that that is a valid criticism.

Kevin Harris: I think so, too.

Dr. Craig: I saw just this week a story that certain Christian organizations and leaders were encouraging churches to shut down or cancel one of their services and instead go out and minister to the poor. And I thought what a misplaced priority and understanding of what church is supposed to be for. If you think that the purpose of church is for entertainment or for fellowship, then sure, cancel one of the church services and go minister to the poor. That is all right. You don’t need to be entertained. It is more important to help the poor. But if you understand that the purpose for which the church gathers is to worship God – that that is why we meet is to worship him – then to cancel worship for the sake of ministering to the poor smacks of idolatry. This is utterly misplaced priority. So it seems to me that this idea of replacing worship with entertainment is something that is a real danger that feeds into the kind of attitude that I just described.

Kevin Harris: The next one says,

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.

Dr. Craig: Well, again, I think it is talking about using materialistic sorts of techniques and methods that are maybe designed to grow churches or get people involved and so forth but don’t necessarily reflect a deep spirituality.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, well, churches tend to think if we can just invest in some really good laser lights – a good laser light show. You know the world is always going to have better spotlights and technology as far as they are in that business. Since we are not in the entertainment business, why embrace the spirit of the age? Yeah, we can have some stuff, but it certainly is not our priority. And they go so obsolete, Bill. I mean today’s laser light and today’s laptop is going to be obsolete in eight months. I know that is controversial, and I think the disclaimer would be “there is nothing wrong with technology” but it is certainly not the business that we are in.

Dr. Craig: I think what this document simply does is it calls us to self examination and saying, “Are we going over the top here? Have my attitudes become inappropriate?” There are extremes to be avoided on either end.

Kevin Harris: Next it says,

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.

Accidents of history? Factions? [3] 

Dr. Craig: There I think they are talking about, for example, denominational origins and little groups that form because of geographical proximity and so forth. And it results in a kind of divisiveness and turf jealousy that promotes division among Christians that is unnecessary.

Kevin Harris: Next it says,

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.

Dr. Craig: Yeah. I think what that is reflecting is people who don’t really act as though we live in a world that is controlled by a supernatural God. They just sort of get along without him in the way they live their lives normally.

Kevin Harris: We live as practical atheists even though we give lip service.

Dr. Craig: That is something that I think we do need to fight against.

Kevin Harris: It is easy to do it in such an affluent country like America.

Dr. Craig: That is a good point.

Kevin Harris: The next one:

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.

Another ouch there. Other aspects of the pro-life movement that can be unkind in its zeal to do that which is good, and that is to protect life.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it is important to see that this doesn’t in any way downplay the importance of the pro-life cause or the sanctity of life. But what it does say is very often we ourselves become captive to other forces like materialism and consumerism. When I think of, again, some of the health and wealth gospel preaching that you see on television, that is so clearly true. God just becomes a sort of facilitator for my having success and prosperity in life. That is a warped Gospel. That is also another gospel.

Kevin Harris:

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.

Dr. Craig: Right. What they are saying there is of course that the central truths of the Bible are things like the cross of Christ but they are calling us to also recapture biblical teaching about the creation in the sense that God put man on the earth to tend the garden and to be good stewards of the earth. Therefore, as Christians, we ought to be environmentally conscious about the stewardship of the earth and its resources rather than plundering and exploiting the earth and polluting it – its water and air. We should also be concerned about the stewardship of the earth. Then also they mention fostering the arts and other creative centers of society.

Kevin Harris: I hear echoes of Francis Schaeffer here.

Dr. Craig: Os Guinness was deeply influenced by Francis Schaeffer. I think you do see a lot of Schaeffer in this document.

Kevin Harris: We used to lead – the church at one time was more of a leader in the arts.

Dr. Craig: Oh my goodness. Think of the medieval church and how it was the patron of all the great arts. The sculpture, the painting, the architecture. You are absolutely right.

Kevin Harris: What happened? Why did we start to downplay an appreciation of the arts? It was a withdrawal and we are supposed to instead have a kind of a religious counterfeit of those things.

Dr. Craig: Yeah. So often it seems that what we have is a cheapened kind of tawdry version of those things. So often Christian music or other things are just kind of poor imitations.

Kevin Harris: Rather than an authentic creative expression.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, they are not on the cutting edge. They are just wannabes.

Kevin Harris: Oh, boy, that is a whole other show – it really is. Well, let’s see:

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.

I guess syncretism should be defined there.

Dr. Craig: The idea would be that you kind of cobble together your own sort of Christianity that fits you personally as an individual. [4] This is a religion “I like.” I think what they are saying here is that this kind of individualism is a betrayal of evangelical beliefs. We are part of a broader community called the church. I think that they are saying that we need to see ourselves as that and not think that each of us has the right and the ability to put together our own sort of religion that we want to have that suits our personal fancy.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, I saw your eyes kind of light up on this one and that is, it says,

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.

Dr. Craig: That is remarkable, isn’t it? They call anti-intellectualism not only a handicap in reaching our culture but they actually say it is a sin to be anti-intellectual. Certainly, this is true of a great, great deal of evangelical Christianity today. It is anti-intellectual, it is shallow. They go on in this paragraph to say that we’ve often betrayed a high view of science that needs to be recaptured again today.

Kevin Harris: Anti-intellectualism makes us “vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah.

Kevin Harris: That is what we are often accused of as Christians – that we are hostile to science.

Dr. Craig: They go on then to say that this “unwittingly give[s] comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today.” By setting ourselves up in opposition to science then that gives all the more credence to the kind of scientific naturalism that says “We really know the truth and you Christians are just backward, ignorant people who know nothing about science.” So I think this is absolutely correct. We need to recapture a high view of science and the call of being a scientist as a Christian.

Kevin Harris: It uses the term scientism there.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: There is a difference between science and scientism?

Dr. Craig: Right. This extolls science and says we need a high view of science. But scientism is this warped view that science is the only means to truth and the only arbiter of reality. That is a narrow and frankly scientifically unjustifiable view. It is self-refuting. You couldn’t show scientifically that science is the only way to truth because that would be a non-scientific argument. It would be a philosophical argument.

Kevin Harris: “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.”

Dr. Craig: I think that that’s true, sadly. We do talk about how wonderful that it is that the church is booming in Africa and growing in Latin America but many of us attend racially segregated churches here in the United States. We, for one reason or another, haven’t managed to really become reflective of the diversity that there is in the body of Christ.

Kevin Harris: We’ll just look at a couple more of these as we end this program, Dr. Craig. They do mention in this evangelical manifesto postmodernism. What is their point here?

Dr. Craig: Well, it says that “we have succumbed to the passing fashions of the moment and made noisy attacks [I like that] on yesterday’s errors, such as modernism, while capitulating tamely to today’s, such as postmodernism.” That is a very strong statement, Kevin. It is saying that modernism is an error and that a lot of the attacks on it are just sort of noise, not really very thoughtful. But while we make these noisy attacks on modernism we capitulate to postmodernism which is just as bad – the view that there are no objective standards of truth and rationality and so forth. I appreciated that very much because I think that as Christian evangelicals, we need to repudiate both modernism and its scientistic view, but we also repudiate postmodernism with its relativistic and pluralistic view.

Kevin Harris: The manifesto ends with how we need to rethink our place in public life. Having to do with behavior. I think it tends to dispel some of the political affiliations that we think are more Christian than others. In other words, this is an address of how we ought to view politics. [5]

Dr. Craig: What it basically says is that evangelicals are independent of blind allegiance to any political party or group. We can’t be taken to be so to speak useful idiots of any sort of political party. We have these positions to affirm, we stand by them, and we are not going to just have blind allegiance to some sort of political party. I think that is quite correct. It also calls for us to be fully involved in the public square, that we don’t need to privatize our beliefs as Christians, we can express these publicly and should be involved. I think it’s basically saying being evangelical and being Christian should be your primary identity that comes first ahead of being, say, Democrat or Republican.

Kevin Harris: This is an intriguing title to the paragraph and section here – “The way of Jesus, not Constantine.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah, this really surprised me quite honestly reading this. This is a real blast against the idea of the establishment of religion. As Constantine tried to establish Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, they really, really criticize any attempt to establish a state religion such as, for example, you have in England where you have the Church of England. This is very anti-establishmentarianism. In fact, I hardly ever get to use this word. This is a document which holds to disestablishmentarianism. So if you are an anti- disestablishmentarianist you won’t like this document. But basically what it says is it affirms what we have here in the United States, namely, the establishment clause that Congress shall make no law that establishes a religion, but then also the exercise clause that we have the freedom to exercise our religion as we see fit. That is what they are really calling for. The state should be neutral rather than have a kind of state sponsored religion of any sort.

Kevin Harris: That is one of the biggest fears that skeptics, secularists have – is that we are trying to establish a theocracy and we are going to take away everybody’s DVD player.

Dr. Craig: Right, and this just repudiates that. This is saying that we repudiate the idea that we want to have a theocracy. We recognize that there is a religiously neutral public square in which everybody is free to participate but nobody is free to establish by governmental authority his viewpoint.

Kevin Harris: The thinking is that actually the Christian faith can actually better flourish in that kind of an environment than one that could be easily taken over by fallen man.

Dr. Craig: You know, Kevin, although I don’t think the document makes that practical point, I think in fact you could make the case very convincingly that that is true. In countries where you have a state church like Italy with Catholicism until recently, in England with the state church there, in Germany where Catholic or Reformed churches are recognized as state churches, the church has not flourished. The mixing of government with church tends to deaden the church. Whereas in a country like the United States where there is no established church but there is freedom to evangelize and exercise your faith, well, this is the most evangelized society on earth with the greatest number of Christian organizations and the vibrancy and the life of evangelical faith in America is just unparalleled anyplace else in the globe. So I think that practically it is probably the better part of wisdom to say that we don’t want to have any kind of a state church but we want to have a religiously neutral public square.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, your overall assessment of an evangelical manifesto seems to be mostly positive.

Dr. Craig: I think it is positive, Kevin. I think it is a mistake to see this as a document that is saying you need to shed yourself as an evangelical of conservative, political views. It doesn’t say anything of this sort. Rather, it simply calls for us to reaffirm our identity as evangelicals, to reform our behavior where we have lapsed into worldly excesses in many ways, and then to participate freely and openly in the public dialogue in a charitable and civil manner with unbelievers and people of other faiths. That is a call that I think everyone as an evangelical, whether he is politically left or politically right can agree with and should heed. [6]