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December 6, 2009Culture

The Manhattan Declaration

I have watched with interest the discussion about The Manhattan Declaration. I was invited to attend the "launch" meeting and to be one of the original signers. However, I did not attend-- not out of disinterest, but due to schedule. Yet, in the last few weeks I have been asked on many occasions what I think of the Declaration. I do have an opinion-- and will mention that in the comment thread later. But, I would like to get your input first.

First, some information: The Manhattan Declaration is an affirmation of and call to defend biblical truths that relate to three specific areas of conflict in our culture today. The Manhattan Declaration website opens with this:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1. the sanctity of human life

2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife

3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

As I am writing this there are 262,918 signatures on the Manhattan Declaration. While many Christian leaders have signed and support this statement, there are others who have not, and voiced their concern. The Reformed community seems more split than others on this issue. (Almost all of the objections I have read come from the Reformed wing of evangelicalism.)

As such, looking at the statements of some Reformed leaders may be illustrative.

For example, men like Al Mohler and Kevin DeYoung have signed it. And their reason for signing the Declaration comes down to seeking the good of others and the glory of God by fighting against a common enemy. Dr. Mohler explains in a recent blog post why he signed it.

I believe we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process. There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes. I believe that the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and religious liberty are very much in danger at this very moment.

(Read his entire post here)

Not much with which I can disagree there.

So who wouldn't sign it? What is their problem? Well, some are choosing not to sign it because, while sharing the same values and concerns as those who do sign, the issue of the gospel is cloudy in the Declaration. The opening line, "We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians," includes an affirmation that many evangelicals (and perhaps a higher number of Reformed evangelicals) find inappropriate.

Two of the recognizable Reformed names who won't sign are Michael Horton and Alistair Begg.

Michael Horton wrote at whitehorseinn.org, "This declaration continues this tendency to define "the gospel" as something other than the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ's merits."

Alistair Begg shares the same concern, explaining,

Why then have I chosen not to append my name as one of the initial signers? Because of my convictions about the nature of the Gospel, and the importance of Christian co-belligerency being grounded in it.

Some have chosen not to sign because the Declaration introduces the gospel without defining it, and may even conflate the gospel with law (what Christ has done for us, vs. what we are called by God to do). They are not suggesting that Christians should remain inactive in culture and politics, but that we cannot confuse gospel and politics.

Two divergent views from the Reformed world... and that is a world where theological precision is paramount.

So, did you sign it? Will you sign it? Why or why not?

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