Saturday, December 5, 2009
A little more on the Manhattan Declaration (and Marinara)
I have taken some heat from various people for signing the Manhattan Declaration. I have read and appreciate all the various critiques of the MD. Some can be found here:
There are others. Having read the MD several times along with these various critiques, I still remain at peace having signed it. I know some accuse signers of poor judgment and possibly hurting the cause of the gospel. I can only say that I would rather God strike me dead than hurt the cause of the gospel. My teaching is on wide display both here and in every recorded sermon, so I am confident no credible argument could be given that would prove I am weak on the gospel (by God's grace only). I have a faithful group of elders who would lay the proverbial smack on me if I strayed in such a way, for which I am grateful. I am sorry if some are disappointed with my judgment on this, I am certainly open to correction as I consider the matter going forward. To be clear and to save you from posting a frenzy of corrective comments- I don't need repeats of the arguments so thoughtfully displayed in the linked critiques, but rather I am letting you know I will keep thinking and praying about this issue.
When I signed the MD I saw terms like "christian" and "gospel" and even "church" in a very general light. I thought it was obvious that each of the three groups (Evangelicals/Roman Catholics/and Eastern Orthodox professors) have different technical definitions and understandings of these terms. Indeed, I would argue I have a different definition of the order of salvation (Reformed) than most of Evangelicalism (Arminian), if not a different understanding of the gospel all together (I don't understand how Arminians can think they "choose" God, isn't that a work? I don't believe works can save, etc., hence, do we have a different understanding of the gospel?). So, the definition of "gospel" in this document, being secondary (in my opinion) to the purpose of the Declaration, wasn't an area I stopped to parse. I still don't think the document is a theological statement no matter how much the various critics say it necessarily is. I don't see the document as a joint statement of agreement on these descriptive terms, but rather a call to conviction concerning the addressed issues. I understand many disagree, I am simply stating my rationale.
Further explaining my very general interpretation of the aforementioned terms, the fact that Roman Catholic signers had no problem with protestants/evangelicals being lumped under the "church" umbrella made me think we are using these terms in a very general, loose way. The Roman Catholics I know understand we (Evangelicals) have different technical definitions of the terms. They are no more agreeing with our understanding of the gospel in signing than we are with them. It happens to be a term that both entities use. If this is too close for comfort for some, and I know it is, I totally respect the choice to not sign. I applaud such conviction. For me as an individual signer, I understood (and still understand) the terms to be general and not technical and the cruxt of the document to be a call to moral conviction not doctrinal unity.
Suppose I called Italians to stand in unity by signing a public declaration addressed to all people calling for the use of only marinara sauce on pasta (instead of, say, alfredo sauce), what would you say is the purpose a such a declaration? Now, keep in mind, as a Sicilian I don't really think Northern Italians should have much say in this as they have not been faithful guardians of marinara. From the other direction many Northern Italians think we Sicilians are the dregs of Italy bearing no sense of wider European culture. Some Sicilians would balk at the notion of my having an Irish mother!!!(I love you mom!). But as it relates to the rest of the nations of the world, "Italian" is a label that people at large basically understand as a group of people that fall in to a certain geographic boundary. If a person looks closely at the "Italian" designation they will find some significant differences between those who call themselves Italian, but that's not the point of the declaration. The purpose of the declaration is to help stop the crime of putting a white sauce on pasta when God meant for tomato sauce to be applied. We'll save the "who's really Italian?" discussion for another time.
I see the MD in much the same way. The world basically sees the three groups who joined to sign this document as "christian" in a general way, inside "Nicene" boundaries we might say. The technical definition of christian isn't the point, it's the call to conviction about three important areas. The "Who's really Christian?" discussion is worthy and will not stop until Jesus returns, but that's not the point of the Declaration. I know some say the cause of the gospel may be hurt by this document because it blurs the necessary doctrinal lines between the three groups represented. I just don't see it that way. I can't see reading this document and saying "Oh look, the Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and Eastern Orthodox have finally come to an agreement on the gospel and what it means to be Christian". Some are concerned such confusion might happen as a result of the MD, at this point I am not.
In addition to the above critiques, several of the signers offered explanations. Kevin DeYoung's response resonated sharply with me. He captures much of my sentiment concerning signing the document very well. You can read it here.
Here's a meaningful statement in DeYoung's post-
So where do I stand on The Manhattan Declaration? Well, I wish I would have listened to my initial hesitation about signing these sorts of documents. The Declaration does not need my signature to make it significant and I don’t need people to misunderstand what my support means. But having signed it (only as one of the crowd), I still agree with the Declaration and feel no pang of conscience for supporting it. If it comes out that the Declaration was meant to minimize the deepest divisions between Evangelicals and Catholics, then I will regret my support. But as it stands, I agree with Mohler’s reasons for signing the document and share his understanding of what signing does and does not mean.
Before you post any comments, let me try to reiterate my main point. This debate, at least among many of us in the conservative reformed world, is not a debate about whether there are essential core-gospel differences between Catholics and Orthodox on one side (who don’t agree either!) and Evangelicals on the other. So please let’s be careful before we blast each other for selling out the gospel. The debate is about whether The Manhattan Declaration implies that there are no essential core-gospel differences among us. After reading the criticisms that have come out I understand how the Declaration could be seen as minimizing our differences. I have great respect for those who read the document in that way. But I still think the Declaration can be read as a statement that simply says “We all as individuals stand in the tradition of Nicene Christianity and we speak together on these three crucial issues of our day.”
So, my dear Reepicheep readers-the critiques are clear enough, there is no need to hammer this post with comments that repeat their notable arguments. In this light, I'll resist responding to the comments that may come, don't be offended, it's a matter of available time. Frankly, save the "you're selling out the gospel" comments, I'm not posting those. I just ask the reader to appreciate a different angle on why someone like myself might sign such a declaration, whether you agree or not.
Finally, no matter what you make of signing the document, I commend the three different statements concerning the issues of Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty to your consideration. I think they offer us a great tool to succinctly argue a biblical case for each of these critical issues.