Blog

Why the Evangelical Manifesto Did Not "Work"

Many of you have heard of the “Evangelical Manifesto.” But a whole lot of you have not. The latter are the point of this blog post. I am writing this post to discuss why the Manifesto, in my opinion, did not “work.”

I love the idea of the Manifesto. In fact, it represents so much of what I have been discussing concerning Evangelicalism and the implicit non-institutional identity that we have. The Manifesto was a confession of faith put together by many high profile Evangelical leaders attempting to define and clarify what Evangelicalism is. It had high hopes to remind Evangelicals of our tradition and our mission. Its hopes were to draw attention once again to the center—the anchor—of Evangelicalism by expressing a unified confession of what Evangelicalism is along with what it is not.

However, it did not work – well, that may not be the way to put it. It did not “work” in the sense that it never gained the notoriety or publicity that I believe was intended. The media barely recognized it, if at all. Churches and leaders did not draw attention to it. There was not even too much discussion about it on the bigger blogs.

Why? Why didn’t the Evangelical Manifesto “work”?

It is all about timing.

1. The election: It was produced just before a very emotional political campaign and essentially told Christians (at least this is what they heard) not to worry so much about political party affiliation. At the time, this was like saying Evangelicals are not committed to a particular candidate, which, in turn, said Evangelicals are not necessarily against abortion! I know it really did not say any of that, but that is what many heard because of the timing. Evangelicals were not in a state of mind where such encouragements would be effective. In fact, at the time, some Evangelicals saw it as a between-the-lines proposal encouraging us not not to let their Evangelicalism affect their vote.

2. The Emerging Church: There was an in-house, evangelical, emotional fit going on at the time concerning the “emerging/Emergent” church. No one knew what the emerging church was (including the emerging church), but most evangelical churches had all red flags concerning the “movement.” Since then, the emerging/Emergent church has all but exhausted itself and died, but, at the time, many Evangelicals interpreted the document as overly sympathetic to something they saw as nothing more than a teenager throwing a temper tantrum. Once again, wrong timing.

3. The steering committee was not broad enough: While having Os Guinness, Timothy George, and Dallas Willard on the committee is great, there needed to be the presence of some more high profile leaders. Not Bill Hybels or Rick Warren (both would be great to have, but too radio-active), but the likes of John Piper, Chuck Swindoll, Philip Yancey, Dan Kimball, and Billy Graham (then you could add Hybels and Warren and even James Dobson if he would be willing). There needed to be a representation to the public and a representation to scholarship. It looks like they only were able to pull off the scholarship representation but not the public representation. Even in the area of scholarship, it could have had more balance.

To be up front, I am not an insider to any of the goings-on of the committee or the development of the Manifesto. It may very well be that they tried to get broader representation and they could not. I don’t know. I am thinking this through because I do believe that some sort of Evangelical confession is needed, and it needs to “work.”

Those are my thoughts as to why the Manifesto did not “work.” How about you?

14 Responses to “Why the Evangelical Manifesto Did Not "Work"”

  1. I skimmed the Manifesto and for the most part I agree with everything that is said in there in terms of what Evangelicalism should be ideally. However, that being said I wonder how many leaders in the more conservative wings of Evangelicalism would actually be willing to sign onto this document. I don’t know if John Piper would be willing to sign this document whereas someone like Dan Kimball or Billy Graham would probably sign it enthusiastically (I’m basing this purely on what I have read from these figures or heard them speak, this is of course speculation). I don’t know if I can see Dallas Willard and Jonny Mac even talking to one another.

  2. As an Orthodox christian, things looked to have enough wiggle room for me to perhaps affirm it, right up to around P7, where it says that creeds and traditions are not decisive. (On the other hand this followed the statement that “Evangelicals adhere FULLY to the Christian faith expressed in the historic creeds of the great ecumenical councils of the church”.) So apparently they are not decisive FOR an evangelical, but they are decisive in order to BE an evangelical. Hmm.. I could almost squeeze into the vagueness of this document. But I suspect there are a ton of evangelicals who don’t adhere fully to the ecumenical councils. (7th council anyone?). Of course we might ask what great councils he refers to. Was he thinking of Vatican I perhaps? :-).

    I’m sure he wanted to say something definitive enough to exclude some folks he doesn’t want in “Evangelicalism”, but didn’t want the divisiveness of actually stating a particular set of creeds or councils. So what we have is “great creeds and councils”, which is nice and vague sounding enough most people can sign off on it, without stopping to realise that they may have just excluded themselves. On the other hand to leave this out leaves them open to who-know-what groups that they don’t want to associate with.

    Such is the tightrope of unity of a group who as a group don’t have much in the way of firm definitive beliefs. There is more in this document about what is rejected than what is affirmed. And I think I can say for sure there is a ton of stuff here that self-proclaimed evangelicals would not agree with. For example, “we utterly deplore the dangerous alliance between church and state”. Of course we know that Protestantism in large part came out of alliances with Church and State. I mean, some evangelicals are Anglicans whose head is still formally the Queen. And I know many self-confessed evangelicals would be enraptured if they could take over the government with a christian based theocracy. This document looks more like one guy’s opinion than something a diverse group of evangelicals have actually signed off on.

    I don’t see any hope that evangelicals can rally around this document, or any other for that matter.

  3. I think the whole idea of an Evangelical Manifesto was as alluring and attractive as this post is likely to be. Not that it (and this) was not important, it’s just that it wasn’t sexy. It was as dry and uninteresting as a nun at the beach. Not even Heidi Klum looks good in a habit (unless it’s one of my bad habits, I suppose).

    Personally, the notion of “unity” among evangelicals is as likely as herding kittens tweaking on catnip: it can’t be done. We’re just too consumed with what we’re intoxicated by at the moment to care about the greater good. Maslow comes in here somewhere.

  4. I remember reading the document last year and thinking, a bit differently, that it was a case of timidity masquerading as bad timing. (Oops. Did we articulate our independence from the GOP just as a presidential election was going on? How careless of us!)

    I do wish the document had taken a stronger run right at the abortion question and said plainly what most evangelical Obama-voters I know were thinking: that Republicans have been using abortion as a wedge for thirty years now with only the banning of one percent of abortions (the partial-birth sort) to show for it. The folks I talked to didn’t think that another two thousand, nine hundred seventy years of Bush-empire-style foreign policy was a fair trade for the other ninety-nine percent.

    Oh, and for disclosure’s sake, I haven’t voted for a Republican or a Democrat for president since 1996. Also, my arithmetic is horrible, so forgive me if I got the math wrong on 99 * 30 above.

  5. Without question, the churches are the linchpin here. In fact, how many in churches today have heard of The Fundamentals: A Testimony For the Truth (1910-1915), The Lausanne Covenant (1974), The Manila Manifesto (1989): An Elaboration of Lausanne, Evangelicals and Catholics Together (1994), The Gift of Salvation (1997), The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration (1999)? See my history of these.

    The myopic, inward-focused nature of churches is sad beyond measure.

  6. I presented it to the elder board of my church (I am an elder, too) and asked for input on whether we as a church would support it. Only got one response, which was we really didn’t need to concern ourselves about it. Personally, I think I’m the only one of the board who actually read it. The rest of the guys on the board and our pastor are good and godly men but they don’t see any real value in supporting this statement for the broader church as a whole. So I do think like Paul that we are somewhat myopic in our vision and mission and I think this is probably the case for a lot of evangelical churhes due to them being separate, independent entities.

  7. Sad to hear, Jim W. Truly sad. I cannot think of anything more critical and this statement (among other statements I mentioned) seek to wrap some “best practices” or guidelines around how our faith meets our practice.

    No doubt, your experience is not the only one.

    Cheers to you for presenting!

  8. “The Manifesto was a confession of faith put together by many high profile Evangelical leaders attempting to define and clarify what Evangelicalism is.”

    The problem was that not many people were asking what it was.

  9. It did not work because it had the word evangelical on it. No one cares what evangelicals think anymore. The word leaves a slimy taste in the mouths of those who are not, and those who are still there are either becoming more fundamental… or leaving. Evangelicals will always be around, but their hayday is over and they are now being pointed to the back of the bus (by Christians and non-Christians alike).

  10. I for one greatly appreciated the manifesto. Although I would define myself solidly in the evangelical camp, there are so many caricatures of evangelicalism that I was starting to doubt myself.

    Among the caricatures I have heard:

    Evangelical implies Republican party
    Evangelical implies Young Earth Creationist
    Evangelical implies Complimentarianism
    Evangelical implies Inerrancy
    Evangelical implies Pre-tribulation rapture
    Evangelical implies homophobia
    Evangelical implies anti-women’s rights
    Evangelical implies T.V. Evangelist
    Evangelical implies Focus on the Family

    None of these things I found implied in the Evangelical manifesto, which meant that the “tent” was still big enough to include me.

  11. I think that you might have hit it on the head. I loved the Manifesto, and found profound apathy among just about everyone else.

    A couple of people whom I could convince to read it pretty much came to the conclusion you did — that it was meant to legitimize Christian support for then-Sen. Obama. That became a conversation-ender.

    Ah, well …

  12. I think the Manifesto did what it set out to do. It stated a purpose and accomplished it, albeit in a somewhat muted way. The purpose was not to spark a revival, elect a president, convert a huge amount of people to Evangelicalism, or create a creed that Evangelicals must know just as well as the Bible.

    The stated purpose was to provide a statement of what it does and doesn’t mean to be an Evangelical. I think it was only meant to be read by people who care about that in the first place- that is, those who have a beef with Evangelicals and would say untrue things about them, or perhaps people who find themselves among Evangelicals and like what they’re doing, but they’re not sure why they have to call themselves that instead of “Protestant,” “fundamentalist,” or just a Christian.

    I am one of the people who cared, in that I know quite a few people of both varieties and was able to put this in their hands. Like I said, it accomplishes its stated purpose in either case.

    Once more, the Evangelical Manifesto does what it says it does. That means it works. It doesn’t blitz the media, form a canon, become a creed, force a vote, or give you two pats on the rear. But it’s not supposed to do those things. Mr. Patton, you’ve repeatedly said it didn’t “work.” I tend to say it did.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. aldenswan.com » Blog Archive » Do evangelicals really need a Manifesto? - September 22, 2009

    […] just read a post about the apparent failure of “The Evangelical Manifesto,” something I didn’t […]

  2. Why the Evangelical Manifesto did not “work” | Skillful Shepherds – Blog - July 17, 2011

    […] http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2009/09/why-the-evangelical-manifesto-did-not-work/by Michael Patton @ Parchment and Pen (21 Sep 2009) […]

Leave a Reply