Friday, November 27, 2009

Why I Support the Manhattan Declaration

On November 20, representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions released a statement affirming their stance on the issues of the sanctity of life and of the God-ordained institution of marriage. I first heard about this on Tony Perkin's weekly radio show about current events where he featured Chuck Colson speaking about the importance of the declaration. I agreed and thought it was an amazing display of unity in stating what Christians should not compromise on in this increasingly secularized culture.

Not surprisingly, however, there are some who are denouncing the declaration and saying, essentially, that the evangelical leaders are selling out or compromising the gospel because of their cooperation with Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. I disagree. I used to think this same way. I used to think Catholics were all unregenerate heretics who needed serious spiritual shaking. However, I no longer believe this. I could not in good conscience become a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, but I could also not become Presbyterian for the same reason. A cursory reading of church history shows that many doctrinal issues have been disagreed upon by many godly people. The essentials have always been affirmed, but there are secondary issues that do not determine ones salvation.

The church split some 500 years ago especially over the argument of justification and whether it is by faith alone, and whether we are imputed the righteousness of Christ, or if Christ's righteousness is infused into us. At that time I believe Rome was reactionary. They anathematized those who said we are justified by faith alone. However, in recent years we have seen amazing progress in Catholic/Evangelical dialog. The 1994 statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together (click here) states:

The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of justification is received through faith. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the Gospel, the good news of God’s saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the Gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).

Also, in November of 2008, Pope Benedict said in a speech from the Vatican, "man is unable to justify himself by his works, but becomes just before God only because God restores us to right relationship by uniting us with Christ. Man obtains this union with Christ by means of faith."1 He continued in this speech to articulate an entirely acceptable, according to my evangelical standards, view of the functions of faith and works in the Christian life. This is especially evident in this statement from the same speech: "The centrality of justification without works, the main object of Paul's preaching, presents no contradiction to faith working through love; on the contrary it requires that our own faith be expressed in a life in accordance with the Spirit."2

Now does this mean I endorse all of Catholic theology? Of course not. I think the Catholic church is very wrong on several aspects of theology, especially in regard to Mary. But do these theological errors pass the line of essential doctrines? I don't think so. I think that there are many godly and regenerate Christian people within the Catholic and Orthodox churches who are wrong in some aspects of their theology, just as I think the same thing about Calvinists. There are Catholics and Orthodox who are not truly saved, just as there are many protestants in the same boat. It's all about their relationship with Jesus. Is the rift that came about 500 years ago healed? No, but it is looking much better than it did. As the popular saying goes: "in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity."

So, I stand firmly behind all of the signers of this declaration and think it is important to show this kind of unity in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to the people of Christ.

1 There is no Contradiction Between Faith and Works, Pope Asserts, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=14450

2 Ibid.

16 comments:

The Seeking Disciple said...

Though you and I disagree over The Manhattan Declaration, I am thankful for your heart. You are a good brother and I appreciate you.

bossmanham said...

Thank you. I too appreciate you and your thoughts and passion for the gospel. :)

Matt Dodrill said...

So why do you support the MD? I don't think you made that very clear at all. That you disagree with some schisms in the church give you merit to support this draft? Sure, I have my reservations with the way Catholics and Orthodox members can make a hobby out of their division, but I will still not sign the MD. I think you would do well to explain your logic.

bossmanham said...

Hi Matt,

So why do you support the MD? I don't think you made that very clear at all.

I appologise if I didn't make myself clear enough. I thought I had in saying, "[I] thought it was an amazing display of unity in stating what Christians should not compromise on in this increasingly secularized culture," and, "I stand firmly behind all of the signers of this declaration and think it is important to show this kind of unity in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to the people of Christ."

Much of this is to show why I don't think it is a good reason to not support the document on account of the Catholic and Easern Orthodox participation, as people like John MacArthur have done.

That you disagree with some schisms in the church give you merit to support this draft?

It's not that I don't disagree with the schism (because I do agree that reform was needed 500 years ago, even if it meant separation) but that I don't think the issues that are brought up to continue the separation are big enough to prevent cooperation as we see here.

I have my reservations with the way Catholics and Orthodox members can make a hobby out of their division, but I will still not sign the MD.

I was actually addressing the potential hard-liners on every side. But now I must ask you what your reasoning for not supporting the document is, because I don't see an explanation in what you have said.

I think you would do well to explain your logic.

Hopefully I have.

Matt Dodrill said...

My reason is fourfold: First, the ambiguity of what the drafters wish to do next. The expressions of the document are nothing we haven't heard before, so what good is it going to do for me to merely sign it? What do they wish to do with it next?

Second, despite its claim of "ecumenism", I see virtually no diversity outside the religious right. Look at the names of the drafters and name one who is not right-"hearted". Why is it the case that Stanley Hauerwas, Miroslav Volf, Richard Hays - people quite outspoken on this issue yet NOT right-leaners - not on the list? It's because it's a document that presupposes the church's "freedom" via governmental mandate. First of all, since when is "freedom" a Christian category? Liberal polity, an Enlightenment idea formulated by John Locke and manifested by the likes of Thomas Jefferson is never found in Christian tradition. Thus, "rights" is absent. The idea of Christians having rights is an absurdity. The very idea of grace is futile if we have rights. These are enlightenment ideas that sought out the autonomy of the human person (contra COMMUNITY of the church).

Third, following from the second reason, we must let the church be the church (a la Hauerwas). That is, the church must stop confusing itself with America. The church is historically a polis itself. It does not NEED a politics. It IS a politic. The original revolution of Jesus Christ was to present an ethic of Christian living orchestrated BY THE CHURCH and NOT GOVERNMENT. Hence, render to Caesar what is Caesar's, but not what is God's...

Matt Dodrill said...

Fourth and last, I look past the document itself and acknowledge the statements of the original drafters. Colson explicitly states that the issues of religious "liberty" (again, there has never been such a thing in the history of the church), traditional marriage, and the "sanctity" of human life are the three most important issues Christians face today. This is utterly false. This very document presupposes the notion that the government is a liturgical structure by which the church gains its "freedom" and "rights". First of all, this is idolatry. Second of all, America's prime liturical act is war (think of an era where war does not ultimately determine the America's stature). This country's impulse to wage war is attrocious, and this "war on terror" violates virtually every mandate of just war theory. I am a pacifist, so I generally disagree with "just war", however it's a commendable effort of Christians to be diserning about war. But America DOES NOT DO THIS due to the devouring, self-centered liturgical structure of consumerism via the capitalistic economy we live in - an economy of plutocracy that exploits the downtrodden. So I disagree with Colson: the state's impulse of war and the exploiting efforts of capitalism are the harshest issues facing Christians today (particularly in America).

Don't get me wrong. I sympathize with this declaration and agree that abortion is a GRAVE matter. The matter of abortion revolves around two debates: pro "life" and pro "choice". But both sides assume the constantinian project of liberal democracy. The argument should not revolve around "life" because this debate assumes an element of personhood, which is a weak criterion for being opposed to abortion. As for "choice", I think I have made myself clear that "choice" assumes "rights". Both of these sides are opposing arguments on the same side of the spectrum: namely, the side that says "Liberal polity". I believe that the church must agree to change its language. That is, stop assuming we have "rights", stop confusing the church for America (which means TAKING AMERICAN FLAGS OUT OF THE PULPITS), and start considering ourselves a PURELY ecclesial community that learns the practice of DEATH before it learns the practice of life (e.g., Christian parents would very often take their children with them to martyrdom rather than handing them over to the pagans).

In sum, letting the church be the church and changing the grammar of the church from "American" to "ecclesial" (which would naturally shed the violent, consumerist desires of liberal polity from the bones of Christians) is a prerequisite of getting to the issues expressed in the Manhattan Declaration. But as far as I see it, the MD misses this prerequisite. At most, it even embraces the antithesis of this prerequisite.

bossmanham said...

Matt,

While I'm not here trying to convince anyone else to support the document, I would just ask a few questions about your points.

First, the ambiguity of what the drafters wish to do next.

I'm not sure why this should affect whether one supports the document. As far as I understand, it's just a statement on what we as Christians will not compromise our values on. I would guess the action that would logically result from these positions would be to exercise our right to support policies and representatives who would advance these values, and if laws were passed that were meant to coerce us to disregard our morals, we would have to ignore them. But I'm not sure why that needs to be mentioned in this declaration.

I see virtually no diversity outside the religious right

But how is this the fault of any of these people? I'm sure they opened it to anyone who wanted to sign it. Liberals are usually the ones who are opposed to these positions, so I'm not surprised that most of these people are conservatives.

Why is it the case that Stanley Hauerwas, Miroslav Volf, Richard Hays - people quite outspoken on this issue yet NOT right-leaners - not on the list?

You'd have to ask them. I would guess it's because they are liberals. What does that have to do with the merits of the points of the declaration?

Liberal polity, an Enlightenment idea formulated by John Locke and manifested by the likes of Thomas Jefferson is never found in Christian tradition.

Sure it is. The early church fathers frequently petitioned the Roman government to allow them to worship in peace and stop killing their parishioners.

The idea of Christians having rights is an absurdity

We have the same rights as everyone else. The idea originates in the sanctity of individuals and is emphasized in the fact that humans bear the imago dei. The Bible is full of appeals to love each other, treat each other as we would like to be treated, etc. I'm not sure where you're getting these ideas.

That is, the church must stop confusing itself with America.

Where is this done? I don't know anyone who does this, and I'm not sure how you think it relates to this document. I do know people who think we are supposed to be salt and light to a sinful world. Don't you agree? This document seems to do that in its proclamation.

bossmanham said...

The church is historically a polis itself. It does not NEED a politics.

So we're not supposed to try to spread the message of Christ to politicians? I don't see the problem with trying to protect babies and marriage by utilizing the political system God has placed us in. To do otherwise would be being irresponsible and not using what God has given.

The original revolution of Jesus Christ was to present an ethic of Christian living orchestrated BY THE CHURCH

Well I think Jesus' point was to forgive sins and in doing that give us the means to live a holy life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hence, render to Caesar what is Caesar's, but not what is God's

That system of government did not allow the involvement ours does. To be responsible Christians it is important to utilize the tools God has given us to protect the innocent.

Colson explicitly states that the issues of religious "liberty"...traditional marriage, and the "sanctity" of human life are the three most important issues Christians face today. This is utterly false.

How is it false? Are these issues not at the forefront of the public debate today? Does the government not have a hate crimes bill that would limit free speech and have homosexual activists advancing their political agenda? As salt and light to the world, it's important to voice our position on the issue.

This very document presupposes the notion that the government is a liturgical structure

How does it do that? By holding the government to its own standards to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"? I don't think anyone is trying to turn the government into the church. You're presupposing that this is the goal of conservative Christians.

The argument should not revolve around "life"

It should if that is what is being denied to innocent human beings. We're killing our posterity.

As for "choice", I think I have made myself clear that "choice" assumes "rights".

And no one should have the "right" to "choose" to kill innocent people, regardless of the form of government we live in.

I think in your haste to separate yourself from the dreaded "religious right," you presuppose, without basis, that these people have a mindset that they don't actually have. I consider myself a member of the religious right, as in I am a conservative Christian, but I would classify your description here as a caricature of what our true motives are.

Matt Dodrill said...

I think you miss virtually all of my points. I would recommend reading Hauerwas's "Dissent from the Homeland", and "Unleashing the Scriptures: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America". No, he is not a liberal as you asserted. Neither are Volf or Hays. Such binarism (usually perceived by the religious right AND left) will get us nowhere. And none of what I said entails that we should not be INTIMATELY involved with politics. As a neo-Calvinist and advocate of Radical Orthodoxy, I find it difficult to conceive of a Christian that is NOT engaged with politics. I would also recommend educating yourself outside the binary mindset of "liberal" and "conservative." Life is not that binary, and neither is the faith we adhere to.

As for the lack of "basis" for rejecting the motives of the religious right, I have a countless number of reasons. But the primary one I have already mentioned: they have a difficult time separating themselves from America. To them, the Church IS America. And most often this is an unwittingly built in worldview. Again, for more insight see the sources above.

To end, I have an important question as well: What makes the religious right correct? And please do not respond as if I adhere to the religious left. I do not, and again I do not wish to see this issue through such binary lenses.

bossmanham said...

Okay, but none of your points were really a good reason to not support this declaration.

they have a difficult time separating themselves from America

What does this even mean? Is it wrong to be patriotic?

To them, the Church IS America

You're going to have to show me a quote, because I read and listen to many of these people and never once have I heard America equated with the church. If anything they decry the moral decay of America. It's a baseless assertion. How are you qualified to judge these people's motives?

Life is not that binary, and neither is the faith we adhere to.

You're being extremely presumptuous. Because I hold to positions that are classified in today's political jargon as conservative in no way means I have a binary view of life. That's silly. C'mon, man, I am striving to be charitable and fair to you. Can you not do the same?

As for the lack of "basis" for rejecting the motives of the religious right

From what I see, you don't have a real clear grasp on what their motives are. You're assuming the worst out of all of them, and frankly creating a caricature of their beliefs. To say that they equate the church with America makes clear the presuppositions you're bringing in here.

What makes the religious right correct?

They aren't necessarily right in everything. If they adhere to and advance Biblical principles, then they're right. If they don't, they're wrong.

bossmanham said...

Oh, and I'm curious as to how a postmodern Calvinist works...

Matt Dodrill said...

Again, see the sources I listed before. Agree or disagree, they are great reads.

Yes, patriotism has little to no place in Christian tradition and praxis. Idolatry is in the label of patriotism. Read Augustine's "City of God" and Philippians 3 in its Roman context.

It works like this: you're postmodern and Calvinist. How doesn't it work? Another source: James K.A. Smith's "Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition." Also consider Vanhoozer's anthology on postmodern Christianity.

Matt Dodrill said...

Oh, and wikipedia will not do radical orthodoxy justice

bossmanham said...

Matt,

I agree in principle with some of what you say, but I disagree that one cannot be patriotic without being idolatrous. I don't worship the country, I do care about the state of the country. I don't put my ultimate hope in the country, but as a Christian I will strive to make my country a better place for all people by advancing the gospel and Christian principles. No one is saying to transplant the government into the church or vice versa.

As far as postmodernism goes as a philosophy, it is fundamentally flawed and self-refuting, and therefore I don't see myself studying much of what you have suggested. Do you think we can know objective truth? If not, then why should I listen to your position any more than another?

Oh, and wikipedia will not do radical orthodoxy justice

Wikipedia doesn't do a lot of things justice. I'm not very familiar with radical orthodoxy, but from the brief descriptions of it, I would say we have little that we agree on in that regard.

Matt Dodrill said...

1. Postmodernism is not "a philosophy."

2. Once again, reducing knowledge down to "objectivity" or "subjectivity" is another binary way of looking at the world. In fact, let me reverse the criticism: Your deep desire for "objective truth" - yes, we all desire it, but should we reduce knowledge claims to it alone? - comes from enlightenment epistemology of the modern era (see Descartes, Kant, etc.).

I see more flaws in this modern epistemology (an ACTUAL philosophy) than what you pointed out about postmodern thought. But don't get me wrong - both lines of thought have their black eyes (and actually I see postmodernism, in some ways, as a continuation of modernity). While Radical Orthodoxy is considered a "postmodern theology" you should take that claim with a grain of salt... it also criticizes many tenets of postmodernism (and modernism... same thing?).

By the way, Brennon, I hope you're cool with my commenting on your blog. I think this is a great conversation.

Quick question regarding patriotism: You said you care about the state of the country. I can agree with that. But on one condition: that you care as much about, say, Iraq. Is this the case? If not, I see this patriotism as a partial one that sovereinifies (is that a word?) the American government, which is idolatry.

bossmanham said...

Postmodernism is not "a philosophy."

Yes it is.

Once again, reducing knowledge down to "objectivity" or "subjectivity" is another binary way of looking at the world.

A statement is either true, or it is not. Jesus was pretty binary Himself (Matthew 12:30). This even applies to this statement I am replying to. Is your statement, "Once again, reducing knowledge down to "objectivity" or "subjectivity" is another binary way of looking at the world," true, or is not true? If it isn't objectively true, then there's no reason for me to even consider accepting it over anyone elses view.

comes from enlightenment epistemology of the modern era (see Descartes, Kant, etc.)

Is that true, or not? Does it really come from that, or is that just your interpretation of the metanarrative? If it's the latter, why should it impact how I think?

Can you see how self defeating this mindset is? No one would approach the instructions on a medicine bottle like that. Either what the bottle says is true, or it isn't.

I see more flaws in this modern epistemology (an ACTUAL philosophy) than what you pointed out about postmodern thought

Accepting the law of non-contradiction and the existence of objective truths isn't Modernism at all. Modernism revolves around logical positivism and verificationism, and that can't apply to metaphysical things.

and actually I see postmodernism, in some ways, as a continuation of modernity

I agree completely. I actually don't think postmodernism is the new fad, but I think modernism is still the dominant view in the west. I think William Lane Craig says it best: "The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism! That's just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can't prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist."

I am completely against both philosophies.

By the way, Brennon, I hope you're cool with my commenting on your blog. I think this is a great conversation.

Absolutely.

that you care as much about, say, Iraq. Is this the case?

I care about the people in Iraq just as much as I care about the people anywhere else. They all need Jesus. I want America to succeed because it is the "Last Best Hope" for mankind. It shows how to treat people, how to allow freedom of religion, etc. It is, as Reagan put it, a shining city on a hill. I am patriotic toward America precisely because I want the rest of the people in the world to be free. Our success is an example that the rest of humanity can see and follow to advance the social justice postmodernists seem to be so infatuated with ;). And if there is more freedom of religion, there is more freedom for Christians to spread the gospel of the forgiveness of sins by and through Jesus Christ.

Just being committed to a cause in life doesn't make it an idol. If that were so, your preferring neo-Calvinistic radical orthodoxy would make that an idol to you. The salvation army would be making charity to the poor an idol.

Idolatry is making something more important than God.