All Over Manhattan

I mentioned that I would return to the subject of how support for and response to the Manhattan Declaration provides a look at the contemporary fundamentalist-evangelical spectrum. Let’s juxtapose some quotes to see if I can illustrate part of my point:

Timothy George (author and signer)

We ourselves set forth this appeal as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We hold differing political views and follow no partisan agendas. We believe it is time for Christian believers to speak together clearly and boldly on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Al Mohler (signer)

I signed The Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity….

My beliefs concerning the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches have not changed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches doctrines that I find both unbiblical and abhorrent — and these doctrines define nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But The Manhattan Declaration does not attempt to establish common ground on these doctrines. We remain who we are, and we concede no doctrinal ground.

John MacArthur (opposed)

The Declaration therefore constitutes a formal avowal of brotherhood between Evangelical signatories and purveyors of different gospels. That is the stated intention of some of the key signatories, and it’s hard to see how secular readers could possibly view it in any other light. Thus for the sake of issuing a manifesto decrying certain moral and political issues, the Declaration obscures both the importance of the gospel and the very substance of the gospel message.

These three represent, I believe, different points on the spectrum. George and MacArthur stand significantly apart from each other, while Mohler occupies something of a middle ground. George clearly implies that all of the signers are genuine followers of Jesus Christ, something which MacArthur clearly denies. Mohler, I think, tries to keep the discussion completely away from this issue by deemphasizing theology in favor of focus on three social issues. George reflects the kind of ecumenical evangelicalism that the new evangelical agenda called for, something George himself calls an “ecumenicism of the trenches” in his defense of the declaration. MacArthur’s argument squarely rejects any ecumenical effort which obscures the gospel.

Mohler’s middle ground looks like what I referred to in the previous post as some kind of flattened Judeo-Christian worldview or ethic. This allows him to find unity with others who share this worldview, but not call it genuine gospel unity. The problem, though, is that it allows Christian to be used in two distinct ways, and that creates confusion about the real meaning of Christian. This, I think, is a core issue and presents a real challenge for a man like Dr. Mohler.

Iain Murray, in Evangelicalism Divided, has done an excellent job chronicling the danger of ecumenical evangelicalism and the damage it does to the gospel. It might be simplistic to say it this way, but the damage is done by fuzziness regarding what it means to be a Christian. The new evangelical agenda virtually required evangelicals to accept the Christian standing of those who denied gospel truths. The net result is that Christian came to be used as a religious category in distinction to Muslim or Buddhist, not as a name for those who have experienced the new birth by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no genuine unity apart from the gospel, and all attempts at unity apart from the gospel actually work against the gospel.

This is the predicament for Dr. Mohler. He is unapologetically committed to the priority of the gospel in defining Christian identity, yet his commitment to the culture war leads him to make uncomfortable alliances with those who have a similar agenda. I could be mistaken, but my take on it is that he only accepts part of the new evangelical agenda. He does not, for instance, embrace the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham, but seems to embrace the ecumenical activism of Carl Henry. So, he finds himself signing the declaration and simultaneously issuing a strongly worded clarification. One hand builds; the other tears down.

Thankfully, to this point Dr. Mohler has kept a theological edge that has prevented him from fully embracing the ecumenical path of men like Timothy George and Chuck Colson. I hope he never loses that edge. Well, truth be told, I really hope he slides closer to John MacArthur’s position. 

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