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May 9, 2008Culture, Leadership

Darrell Bock and the Evangelical Manifesto

I recently wrote about the Evangelical Manifesto.

On the morning it released, I received a call from one of the key people behind the manifesto, Darrell Bock. Darrell is Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was quoted in my local paper this morning.

This morning, I had a nice talk with Darrell about his intent (and the intent of the document).

I have read the document and find it compelling in many ways. Would I change some things? Of course. Does it say some important things? Definitely.

As I mentioned in the USAToday story, I was concerned it would be "spun" to say Christians should not be involved in politics. That was not the intent of the signers, but some have tried to spin it that way.

Darrell mentioned his radio dialogue with Denny Burk. Denny has just posted links to the interviews here. Their focus is on what some call "single issue" politics.

Darrell shared the following with me that addresses some of the intent of the document. He will soon release to other blogs but gave me permission to share it with you:

An Evangelical Manifesto is both a call to evangelicals for self-reflection on how they publicly engage in discussion and a reminder of what the term evangelical has meant for centuries before we hit the current cultural wars. About 80 theologians and evangelical leaders released the document as charter signatories. It contains an open invitation to all to consider signing on if they identify with the values of the document. The manifesto notes that evangelicalism is primarily a theological term.

Evangelicals are personally committed to their faith in Jesus. They seek to share that hope as good news about how God restores broken relationships with him and between people. They desire to live out such faith as spiritual experiences where God transforms them through forgiveness and fellowship. Such a faith is public and private. It touches on the entirety of life as sacred.

This understanding means that there is a broad scope of issues that concern evangelicals as they engage in a pluralistic public square. They prioritize these issues in diverse ways, some seeing certain issues as more central than others.

Is the manifesto the same old, same old? I think not. The document asks believer and non-believer alike to appreciate how we affect our social fabric by the way we engage. It then asks everyone, especially evangelical believers, to examine before God how we engage. One way to focus this discussion is to ask what evangelical meant long before the current cultural faceoff. This historical review provides perspective for thinking about that assessment.

This kind of self-assessment is always called for in a spiritual context and can be a very healthy exercise. At an individual level it is what "quiet times" are all about: Before God and the Word it involves asking if we are all we should be as we seek to reflect values that Scripture and Jesus teach. The manifesto is a public appeal to consciously enter into such reflection within our own community. It is the public nature of this personal and corporate-wide call that might be a cultural disconnect. No one is named on purpose. The spectrum includes everyone from the left to the right. So there is no effort to bash one side or another. If the shoe of criticism fits as one reflects on the values described, then the call is to reconsider what can and should be done to regain a better balance.

I signed the document because it stirred me to look at myself and the groups for which I am an advocate. I pondered anew before my Lord how I engage and contend for values in the public square, in terms of the scope of issues addressed, the tone, and especially how I treat those with whom I am in debate or dialogue.

By the way, there is biblical precedent for this. Prophets like Nehemiah and a host others at different times prayed corporately and called for such assessment by the entire believing community of their day.

Here is the question the manifesto raises: Can we/should we pause in self-reflection about how we engage as believer-citizens on issues of the day, both spiritual and political? The manifesto argues, "Yes, we should."

Jesus has much to say about a whole host of issues beyond the ones that have been targeted over the last few decades, including the ones that have been discussed and defended (sometimes very well, sometimes not so well).

In addition and often missed in the early discussion of the document is this question: Does tone matter as much as content? I think so. To these questions the manifesto also calls for reflection.

What factors are at stake in such an assessment? Why does this matter? Among the stakes are: (1) the well-being of our society, (2) the authenticity of believers' claims to love God and one's neighbor, (3) the integration of those calls to love, (4) the central importance evangelicals give to the need for spiritual transformation to really grow into human maturity, as individuals and as a society, and (5) honoring God with a balanced, consistency between witness, truth, and life.

So how does one respond to such a call?

Simply resort to the previous style of confrontation? Probably not.

Claim that such a call for self-reflection and assessment "muddies the waters"? Don't think so.

Concerned about a scorecard that asks who the call initially includes or excludes as charter signatories? Not ultimately relevant.

Do such critiques, though honestly made, really address the point when all, including the signers, are invited to ponder in silence? Not really.

Rather than simply dragging out the old labels and category concerns (liberal; conservative; centrist; Catholic; atheist; too ecumenical sounding, like the Evangelical and Catholics Together document; not enough women nor ethnics), can we ask what in the document is a problem or what is well said? Is it really a key concern to ask who was initially asked to sign a document that invites anyone to sign? Should we not ask instead if one should sign anew on to such an array of commitments? Should we not ask why or why not sign? Can or should one as a believer-citizen today engage with conviction for one's values without doing things that fuel the present cultural war? Is this question worth asking and pondering?

The manifesto simply says emphatically, "Yes." So that is the point. Pause and ponder anew what we evangelicals are truly called to do-and pray it be done with a balance that honors God, reflects the gospel, and loves our neighbor, even in the midst of serious debate. Is that point worth reaffirming with a signature no matter where we are on the evangelical spectrum? Is it? In other words, to reflect or not to reflect, that is the question.

To read and consider signing the document, go to www.evangelicalmanifesto.com

Dr. Darrell L. Bock is Research Professor of New Testament and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Theological Seminary.

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Darrell Bock and the Evangelical Manifesto