Although the document named above has received previous attention in the pages of the SB(cf. Jan. 15, 2010, p. 175, Rev. C. Spronk), due to recent developments we have decided it is worth a couple more articles and further analysis.
The document (drawn up in the fall of 2009) is worth some further attention if for no other reason than the stir it has been creating in Evangelical circles. Its signing by a long list of leading names has caused some ripples to course through the Evangelical community, ripples severe enough to cause some fracturing, if not realignment, of old alliances. There is division amongst long-time Evangelical allies about the propriety of signing this Declaration due to two things, first, the looming presence of Rome amongst those who signed the document, and second (more importantly for its severest critics), the wording of the document itself—wording carefully crafted to allow for the broadest possible coalition of ‘Christians.’
However, the document is worth some extra attention for more reasons than the division it is causing in Evangelical circles. It deserves our attention also because it addresses what is of present concern to every one of us, namely, the issue that is commonly referred to as “the present cultural wars.”
It is a document (declaration) drawn up by three well-known names—Charles Colson (of prison ministry renown), Dr. Timothy George (of Beeson Divinity School), and Dr. Robert George (of Princeton University and a leading Roman Catholic intellectual). The declaration was drawn up in the interests of forging a unity of purpose amongst all ‘Christian communities’ and, in time, to serve as a basis for united action against the growing evil that today threatens everything moral and Christian, which evil is being more and more identified with our own government and its elected officials.
And who can deny that we live in a society that openly expresses an increasingly anti-Christian bias and antagonism, which spirit is showing itself in increasingly aggressive measures against every law and practice that can be traced to any Christian, biblical source.
In response to this real and present danger has come this Manhattan Declaration (so named because it was formulated in Manhattan, of New York City). The rationale behind the document, with its call to Christians of every cloak and caliber to sign their names to this document (with men having name recognition called to lead the way), is the old motto “United we stand, divided we (will) fall!”
From every human point of view, we understand the allure of the document and its call to solidarity of all professing Christians. We live in days when there is coming into clear focus what one twentieth-century author of Christian renown called That Hideous Strength. There is an anti-Christian spirit that shows itself with increasing clarity in high places and governs more and more all new legislation and laws. And if there is not a united action across Christendom against a common enemy, how can we hope to accomplish anything against so powerful and relentless a foe?
The question is not whether those who drew up the document are correct in their assessment of what is taking a stranglehold on the whole of our Western, post-Christian world, nor whether such spreading evil is not reason for alarm and even for sounding the alarm.
Rather, the question is, “Sounding the alarm with whom?” And another would be, “Worded how?” Which is to say nothing of, “And urging what actions?”
We do well to get a summation of the document before us. One of the best we came across is found on the website www.challies.com (whether designed by the co-authors of the Declaration or some other source, we are unable to determine).
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.
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Note the three items (‘truths’) mentioned—the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage, and the rights of religious liberty. Following a Preamble and then a page of introduction, the Declaration spends some seven pages setting forth these truths as being essential for the well-being of natural life and human happiness. As indicated, the intention of the Declaration is that by signing it the signatories make public declaration to our present society and Government that for themselves these truths are non-negotiable items when it comes to honoring the State and obeying its edicts in these areas.
In the interest of getting the flavor of the document itself, it is worth our while to quote part of it before we offer some analysis. The following quotation is the main part of its introduction. (Those who would like to read the whole document can find it online underwww.manhattandeclaration.org).
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God….
Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
Note especially the opening words, “We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians (emphasis ours—KK), have gathered…to make the following declaration.” Words that speak of a broad ecumenicity. The same idea is found a couple of paragraphs later, “We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences….” And then this telling remark, “We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers (emphasis ours—KK), that no power on earth…will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.”
That phrase “our fellow believers,” which includes, then, Roman Catholics that sign (and really Mormons too, if they want to add their signatures), carries a freight of implications of course!
The list of names found amongst the original 152 signatories is a veritable who’s who in Evangelical circles today—names such as Dr. J. I. Packer, Dr. Cornelius Plantinga (President of Calvin Seminary), Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (President, Southern Baptist Seminary), Dr. James Dobson, Rev. Jonathan Falwell, Dr. Wayne Gruden, Josh McDowell, Rev. Tim Keller, and Joel Belz and Marvin Olasky (Editors of WorldMagazine), to name a few of those most familiar to us.
This is not to say that all the Evangelicals have gotten on board. Some prominent names that declined the invitation are Drs. Alistair Begg, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and James White. So great was the pressure to sign, however, that several felt compelled to write statements why in good conscience they could not do so.
A brief overview of their explanations for declining to sign the Declaration can wait until next time.
For our present purposes it is worth noting that there has been enough criticism directed at those who did sign, that a number of them have felt compelled to justify their having done so.
Their basic defense is that the document is not an ecumenical document at all, along the lines of the controversial documents drawn up by the ECT coalition (Evangelicals and Catholics Together), but merely an expression of solidarity amongst individuals who as professing Christians are and ought to be aligned against the same evils loose in our culture.
Representing such an explanation is Dr. Ligon Duncan, president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The following quote gives the heart of his justification for those of the Alliance who did sign, in contrast to those who refused.
Commenting first on those who refused, Duncan states:
Those who did not sign the document believe that it is a lamentable example of the confused sort of ecumenical theology, on display in the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) statements, and that it implicitly commits its signers to acknowledge a commonality between Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Orthodox on the gospel, who is a true Christian and what is a true church….
Then comes the justification for those who signed.
Those who did sign the document believe that it is a statement of solidarity, not of ecumenism [!], and that it represents the kind of principled co-belligerency advocated by, for instance, Francis Schaeffer and James Boice. These signers believe that document actually helps clarify their concerns with the whole ECT project, because the Manhattan Declaration only asks Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox to agree on matters on which we actually agree (marriage and sexuality, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty), rather than purporting an agreement in vital matters on which we do not agree (the Gospel, what is a Christian, what is a true Church).
It should be made clear that those Council members who did not sign the document agree with what the document says about the social issues it addresses. Their concern is that the document implies an agreement between Evangelicals and Catholics on the Gospel where there is in fact not an agreement….
[Therefore], [t]he issue boils down to a matter of judgment, not a disagreement in principle, between those Council members who signed and didn’t sign. The non-signers believe that the content of the document and the associations of the primary authors imply an ECT-like confusion about the Gospel. The signers believe that the explicit assertions and emphasis of the documents relate only to areas of principled social-ethical agreement between Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals. Further, they believe that it is important for individuals from the major quadrants of the historic Christian tradition to speak on these pressing matters in solidarity.
So Dr. Duncan seeks to set the lines of disagreement. The evidence is that he rightly assesses the difference of perspective between the men who signed and those who did not.
The question is, however, does this assessment of the document and what it attempts to do and what, in the judgment of its critics, it fails to do, go deep enough?
The evidence is that it does not. A penetrating analysis of what (who!) lurks behind the document comes from the pen of Richard Bennett, a former Roman Catholic priest, whose name has been mentioned in the SB before in connection with ecumenical documents drawn up by men of the ECT.
This we intend to consider in our next article, D.V.