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Evangelical Manifesto (part 1)

July 21, 2008     Time: 00:21:54
Evangelical Manifesto


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript Evangelical Manifesto (Part 1)


Kevin Harris: An evangelical manifesto. It is a document sitting right here in front of us, Dr. Craig. [1] It is recent – May 7, 2008, Washington D. C. It is a declaration of evangelical identity and public commitment. Christian evangelical leaders wrote this out spearheaded by various people that we will get into – Os Guinness and other respected leaders in the Christian world. The first thing that comes up is the term “evangelical” – shouldn’t we just be using the term “Christian?” Why is it necessary to even use the term “evangelical?” Let’s explore that and then let’s look at this evangelical manifesto.

Dr. Craig: All right. I think that the authors of this document see worth in identifying ourselves as evangelicals because evangelicals are a particular kind of Christian as that word is used today. People in the World Council of Churches for example – Catholics and Orthodox – also call themselves Christians. And yet when one claims to be an evangelical, he is claiming to be a particular type of Christian that sets him apart from liberal Protestants and even Catholic and Orthodox, as this document defines the term.

Kevin Harris: It is just a fact of life that often we need to define or further distinguish what it is that we are talking about.

Dr. Craig: Yes, because so many people use the self-description “Christian” that it becomes so broad as to become almost meaningless. Therefore, to call one’s self a “bible believing Christian” or a “born again Christian” or an “evangelical Christian” does help to give some sort of descriptive specificity to the people.

Kevin Harris: I have heard a lot of people say, “I am a Christian, but I’m not one of those born again Christians.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah. Well, then I think that is good that they say that. It clarifies what they think. It helps us to understand what they believe.

Kevin Harris: Someone who considers himself a born again Christian or a New Testament Christian would say, “Well, there is no other kind of Christian.”

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Right, and that will lead to an interesting conversation. But nevertheless if a person in a liberal mainline church says “I am a Christian but I am not one of those born again types” that does tell you something about what they believe.

Kevin Harris: A quick aside. I am hearing the emergent church pastors and some of the younger pastors starting to avoid the term “Christian,” Dr. Craig. And they are saying “Christ followers” because they tend to think the term Christian is so loaded with baggage that you can’t use it effectively today. It throws up walls before another word comes out of your mouth.

Dr. Craig: If what I just said is correct, Kevin, the word “Christian” is so vague and so ambiguous that it is not loaded with baggage. On the contrary, it is a word that can mean a lot of different things to different people in our world today. Many people in mainline churches who are theologically liberal will describe themselves as Christians. So I don’t think that to call yourself a Christian is a term that is loaded with a lot of baggage. On the contrary, as I say, it is so vague that many times it needs to be specified more closely. But it is the term that Christians in the New Testament used to describe what they believed. It meant that they were followers of Jesus as the Messiah. To say that Jesus is the Christ is to say he is the Messiah. That is what the word “Christ” means – the Anointed One, the Messiah. So to be a Christian in the New Testament was to be someone who was a disciple of Jesus as the promised Messiah. So I find this to be really a wonderful term that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice. I think we need to keep it.[2]

Kevin Harris: It is a New Testament term.

Dr. Craig: Exactly.

Kevin Harris: We find it in the book of Acts. [3]

Dr. Craig: And it is a term that originally has a profound meaning. It means that you are a person who acknowledges Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah. That is an enormous important claim that you should think such a thing.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, several people seemed to have spearheaded and drafted this manifesto. Os Guinness, Dallas Willard who is a respected philosopher, and several others. What are your initial impressions?

Dr. Craig: My initial impression was suspicion. Any time a self-appointed group of people issues a document on behalf of evangelicals at large, one is suspicious of their right to speak for everybody else and of any sort of agenda they had. Especially in the popular media, the secular media, the document was portrayed as being in some way a document that was against political conservatives. That it was a document saying that Christians ought to somehow relieve themselves of their association with the Republican party and the so-called “Religious Right” in scare quotes. Yet, as I read the document, my suspicions were allayed. I did not find this to be a document that was against political conservatives, that encouraged political conservatives to give up their views, that said that evangelicals need to become more centrist in their political views. I am just shocked that this is the way that this document is represented in the media. When you read the document itself, it is very balanced. It has a lot of very harsh words to say for people on the left, in fact. I think that it is a document that is one that we can give heed to regardless of your political views.

Kevin Harris: The writers seem to anticipate and then dispel that concern when they say in the second paragraph of the manifesto that “We speak for ourselves. We are not trying to speak for all evangelicals. You can’t do that. But we are a representative group of evangelicals.” [4]

Dr. Craig: Yes, and I think what they mean by saying they are representative is they are sort of a typical, cross section of evangelicals who are speaking out on these issues. I think the driving concern of the manifesto is that in our culture today evangelicals have a bad name. They make a bad impression and that we need to clean house, we need to reaffirm who we are, and to learn how to get along civilly with our non-believing neighbors in the public square.

Kevin Harris: So this manifesto, as I’m reading it, wants to further define or clarify just what it means to be an evangelical Christian. It then gives a two-fold purpose. So we have a definition of evangelical and then a two-fold purpose.

Dr. Craig: Yes. It says, “The two-fold purpose . . . is first to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States.” That would probably be related to the baggage that you talked about that can attend the term evangelical. Then secondly they want to “clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life.” Notice that the consternation is not among evangelicals, this is consternation in the public square about evangelicals. They want to clarify where they stand on some of these questions.

Kevin Harris: In defining evangelical rather than just to give a sentence or a paragraph or two they go through seven categories that we will get to in just a moment. But before they do that, there are three mandates in this document. Number 1 is, “We Must Reaffirm Our Identity.”

Dr. Craig: Right. And the great thing here, Kevin, that I was so encouraged by reading this is that in identifying who we as evangelicals are we identify ourselves not politically, not socially, not culturally. We are to be identified theologically. I think that is such a profound and important insight. Just absolutely fundamental. It is our theology that identifies us as evangelicals and that marks a person out as evangelical. So regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, regardless of where you are socially or culturally, it will be your theology that will determine whether or not you are appropriately to be called an evangelical. So they have seven doctrines that, in addition to the classical doctrines of the Christian creeds which they affirm, help to define what an evangelical is. [5]

Kevin Harris: The first full paragraph on page 5 says, “Evangelicals are therefore followers of Jesus Christ, plain ordinary Christians in the classic and historic sense over the last two thousand years.” Then they give seven foundational beliefs. It seems that we as evangelical Christians hold to a view that we can kind of look down through the corridors of time and see how God has led the church and view the creeds and, while the foundation is the Scripture, we can see those creeds that are most properly based on the Scripture and that gives us that heritage.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is right. We shouldn’t think that Christianity is something that began in the 20th century. We look back to this great rich history of church history. We stand on the shoulders of these giants. So it is gratifying to see the document affirming not only the classic Christian creeds but also the insights that were recovered in the Protestant Reformation. So this is a Protestant movement but then they want to narrow down in addition to that some of these specific important points that theologically we need to affirm as evangelicals.

Kevin Harris: Let’s go through those seven foundational beliefs.

First, we believe that Jesus Christ is fully God become fully human, the unique, sure, and sufficient revelation of the very being, character, and purposes of God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which we must be saved.

Dr. Craig: Now that is a powerful statement. That affirmed the deity and the humanity of Christ. And it affirms the exclusivity of salvation through Christ. “No other name by which we must be saved.” So this is against all forms of universalism and religious pluralism and relativism that are so rampant in our culture. I thought this was a sterling point on which to begin.

Kevin Harris: The second is what Christ did on the cross. Affirming the atonement. Affirming that he paid the penalty for our sins. There is a term in here. You theologians, Bill, you are very particular about your words. I know of several theologians who wouldn’t sign something like this because when it says that “what he is now doing through his risen life” – in other words Jesus’ resurrection – they would say, “No, you need to put bodily resurrection in there” and things like that. So they weren’t trying to be precise here it doesn’t seem.

Dr. Craig: Well, not about the resurrection. I think what this statement, this second doctrine, hones in on is the doctrine of the atonement. What is significant about it here, Kevin, is that it does affirm the penal theory of the atonement. He bore the penalty for our sins. The atonement wasn’t just a kind of moral influence whereby we see God’s love and the extent to which he was willing to go for our sake. It is not just that he conquered violence and death in some kind of victory over the forces of evil. No, this was a penal substitutionary atonement. And it also affirms that he credited us with his righteousness. This is the idea of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us as believers. Then you see also it affirms salvation solely by grace through faith. So this is the heart of the Protestant Reformation that is affirmed here in the second point, I think.

Kevin Harris: They get to the resurrection on the third foundation and affirm that the resurrection is a foundational belief.

Third, we believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift; and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life.

Expand on that for a little bit.

Dr. Craig: What this is saying is you must be born again! When it talks of new life given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, that is just fancy theological terminology for being born again. That, of course, is an evangelical distinctive. It is not enough just to believe doctrines or go through liturgy or be a member of a church. You must be born again. So I appreciated that they included this third plank on the necessity of personal, supernatural, spiritual regeneration as the precondition for salvation.

Kevin Harris: The fourth one is short and sweet:

We believe that Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible, God’s inspired Word, make the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.

Dr. Craig: A strong affirmation of the authority of the Bible. It speaks of total truthfulness and supreme authority.

Kevin Harris: This really undercuts something that a lot of people would say. “I am a follower of Jesus but I don’t read the Bible or need to read the Bible.” Well, if you are going to be a Christ follower then let’s adopt his attitude toward the Scriptures, his reverence for the Scriptures, and the way he handled and viewed Scripture. [6]

Dr. Craig: That is one of the great things about this document. It says people who are devoted to the Gospel of Jesus – that is what they call the evangelical principle, they define themselves in terms of the Gospel of Jesus – will be committed to these seven beliefs. As you say, this means that we accept Jesus’ own teaching and attitude toward the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. So you are quite right – you can’t say I am devoted to Jesus but I am not committed to the authority and truthfulness of Scripture.

Kevin Harris: The fifth really brings in kind of a social mandate as well.

We believe that being disciples of Jesus means serving him as Lord in every

sphere of our lives, secular as well as spiritual, public as well as private, in deeds as well

as words, and in every moment of our days on earth, always reaching out as he did to

those who are lost as well as to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, the socially

despised, and being faithful stewards of creation and our fellow-creatures.

What a mouthful. This helps people who say we need to feed the hungry. The environmentalist can like this because we are to take care of the creation.

Dr. Craig: Yes. But what is significant about it, Kevin – and this is what really leapt out at me that I liked – notice before our duties to the poor, the sick, the hungry, and so forth, what is the first thing that is listed? Reaching out as Christ did to those who are lost. So the first and primary obligation of the Christ follower is to reach out in evangelism to lost people. That is, I think, extremely significant. They affirm that elsewhere as well in the document. We will see that when we get to number 7. We all need to be involved in the project of sharing the Gospel – of evangelism. That is listed even before these social consequences that you notice.

Kevin Harris: I like the beginning of it, too, Bill. It says that serving the Lord, serving Christ, infiltrates every sphere of our lives. We don’t do “Well, these are my beliefs and this is my life” or “These are my beliefs and this is my girlfriend” kind of a thing. It is whether you are hiking through the mountains or building a cabin or painting a picture or whatever you are doing, you can glorify God and serve Christ in all those aspects. We often make these unnecessary distinctions between sacred and secular.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, this blows away the idea of the compartmentalized life.

Kevin Harris:

Sixth, we believe that the blessed hope of the personal return of Jesus provides

both strength and substance to what we are doing, just as what we are doing becomes a

sign of the hope of where we are going; both together leading to a consummation of

history and the fulfillment of an undying kingdom that comes only by the power of God.

Dr. Craig: Yes. This is a very conservative expression of belief in the personal return of Christ. That some day Jesus is going to return again and set up his Kingdom. That is remarkable that they would include this as well and I think appropriately among the beliefs that evangelicals hold.

Kevin Harris: One of the New Atheist writers, Sam Harris, criticizes Christians for having a view of the return of Christ saying that it influences foreign policy, public policy, and causes us not to want to be progressive or even make the country better because it has a tendency to just shut us down and wait for the return of Christ. This tends to dispel that as well. This gives us actually strength and substance for our daily lives as well as opposed to shutting us down.

Dr. Craig: Absolutely. And you know I think sociological surveys would bear that out, Kevin, and would show Harris’ view just completely false. Over and over again studies have shown that religious people are consistently more charitable, volunteer more of their time, give blood more often, and so forth than non-religious or secular people. So it doesn’t at all lead to a kind of other worldly mentality that says, well, this world is going to hell in a hand basket therefore we don’t need to be involved. That is simply not true.

Kevin Harris: Here is the seventh and final foundation:

We believe all followers of Christ are called to know and love Christ

through worship, love Christ’s family through fellowship, grow like Christ through

discipleship, serve Christ by ministering to the needs of others in his name, and share Christ with those who do not yet know him, inviting people to the ends of the earth and to the end of time to join us as his disciples and followers of his way.

Dr. Craig: This is another strong statement of the duty of all followers of Christ to “share Christ with those who do not yet know him.”

Kevin Harris: You know what else? [7] You know what this tends to dispel is the notion of you don’t necessarily have to go to church. While strictly that might be true in some sense, this says we need to fellowship.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: For setting up the assembling of yourselves together.

Dr. Craig: That is right. The person who says, “Well, evangelism can be left to the minister or to professional evangelists. I don’t need to share Christ with others.” This says no, that is not the evangelical attitude. The person who says “I don’t need to go to church. I can just worship on my own” - again, that is not the evangelical attitude. So this is a strong statement, as you say, of the responsibility of every believer to be involved in these things.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, it is an evangelical manifesto written May 7, 2008. We will pick up some more of this on our next broadcast.

Dr. Craig: OK, I look forward to it. [8]