The Manhattan Declaration is almost a month old and it still a statement I regard with great ambivalence. My discomfort owes partly to the name. As a native of Southeastern Pennsylvania and a fan of Philadelphia’s college and professional sports teams, I am congenitally disposed to animus (I am hoping within the bounds of the sixth commandment – Protestant numbering) against all things New York City. At the same time, I like old fashioned cocktails and think beer and wine have too readily displaced drinks like the venerable Manhattan.

One other factor is pride. Why do the instigators of these projects keep losing my name when the invitations go out for signatures of Very Important Persons? It could be that I recently moved. It could also be that I’m not very important. Both are true but the older I get the more I realize the limits of my import.

But deeper down come other reservations about the Manhattan Declaration which put me seemingly at odds with many of the signers whom I respect and want to encourage in their own convictions about morality, civil society, and the common good. My questions do not concern the sanctity of human life, the nature of marriage, or religious liberty. I am more than comfortable with the specific items affirmed in the Declaration. But like any good conservative who may like planks in the GOP’s platform and then votes for a different candidate because of the mechanisms associated with Republican policies, I resonate with the concerns of Timothy George, Robert George (I don’t think they are brothers) and Chuck Colson but wonder about the methods they employ by drafting and circulating this statement.

First, I wonder what function such declarations serve? I am open to instruction here, broadminded fellow that I am, but has any such a declaration (other than Mr. Jefferson’s) ever amounted to a real change in ordinary affairs? I think, for instance, of the recent declarations that Evangelicals and Catholics Together have produced. For all the seeds of unity these statements may have sown between a certain class of Roman Catholics and born-again Protestants, those statements have also created controversy – at least in conservative Protestant circles – by raising questions about the doctrinal position of the statements’ signers. Meanwhile, declarations produced by evangelical Protestants – such as “For the Health of the Nation” or “The Evangelical Manifesto” – don’t seem to have amounted to much, aside from the comfort given to those who sign that they are on the right side and are public about it.

I do not mean to question the motives of anyone who signed, but isn’t it possible that a measure of moral grandstanding goes into these statements, along with very little policy or legislative reform, because these statements are so far removed from the legislatures, courts, and chambers of elected officials? Meanwhile, such statements do function to throw down yet another gauntlet in the culture wars, thus inviting as much opposition as support and cementing the stalemate that already exists between the parties of morality and license.

Second, the Manhattan Declaration troubles me because of the progressive narrative that introduces the affirmations about life, marriage, and religious liberty. The history the authors invoke is one that goes from early Christians down to the suffrage movement and Civil Rights. This is not much of a variation on the old American Protestant whig interpretation of western civilization and the assumption that the right kind of Christianity was on the side of social, political, and economic progress. This kind of progressivism (and the Social Gospel that accompanied it) should trouble any American conservative worthy of the name. Indeed, highly ironic is the reality that now some Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians have identified with such whiggery. I guess, one question is if the narrative is true, why not affirm it? One answer is that the narrative leaves out a host of other contributors to this “progress,” among them the Enlightenment and other less orthodox outlooks about the true, the good, and the beautiful. Another answer involves the irony already mentioned – namely, that it was used once by Protestants to exclude Roman Catholics and other “outsiders” from the mainstream of American society. The Manhattan Declaration appears to employ it again to do the same to Americans who do not share Christian morality.

This leads to a third concern, namely, how do believers and non-believers co-exist in a religiously diverse society, in one, in fact, where religious freedom also means freedom for the non-religious? I do not have an answer and I doubt that any readers of FPR do that will achieve consensus for Americans. One way to negotiate this diversity, once upon a time, was through the autonomy or local governments and communities to regulate their own affairs. But now that the United States matters more as a collective than as a union of states, that political option seems impossible. In the meantime, conflating Christian morality with the common good and the foundations of civil society not only seems to discount the contributions made by non-Christian traditions, but the Manhattan Declaration also seems to conflate the involuntary and voluntary aspects of civil society. In the involuntary realm Christians must try to get along with a number of other believers and their skeptical neighbors. In the voluntary realm of private associations, Christians may legitimately be concerned to protect the prerogatives of church, school, and organization. But because the Declaration vacillates between the common good and a private morality, it fails to acknowledge that making Christian norms the basis for American public life will exclude non-Christians. (Some Mormons have even complained that the Declaration needlessly leaves them out.) In other words, it would have been one thing for the Declaration to call upon Americans to respect the convictions and practices of Christian institutions. But the Declaration goes beyond this defensive posture and makes claims about Christian norms being the basis for civil society and the common – period. So where does that leave an Abraham Lincoln, an H. L. Mencken, or even a Leon Kass?

My last and biggest reservation is related to the Social Gospel aspects of the Declaration – that is, the idea that Christianity leads to and promotes a just society. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be heard to be saying that Christianity promotes injustice, though, of course, Christianity’s record in human history has not been free from embracing tyranny and injustice (at least as defined by the likes of Kant). But do the authors of the Declaration believe that Jesus and the apostles would have signed a Rome Declaration if one were available to them? In other words, is the purpose of Christianity to progress this world or is it to prepare believers for the next? Is the purpose of the gospel to yield the common good or eternal salvation? I understand that Protestants and Roman Catholics (I have interacted less with Orthodox about this) differ on questions of continuity and discontinuity between temporal and eternal goods. Will truth and justice and prosperity in this world be like the truth and justice and prosperity that believers will experience in the new heavens and new earth?

If it is legitimate to raise this question, then the Manhattan Declaration needs to address the concerns of those Christians who believe that the gospel has a higher aim than simply the right ordering of this world. This doesn’t mean that necessarily that the Christianity of which I speak is opposed in fundamentalist, docetist, or gnostic fashion to a good society, or to ordered liberty. But I do worry that by directing so much attention in the name of Christ to the great moral concerns of this age, Christians will lose sight of the eternal truths that older professions of the church recognized (and encourage non-Christians to look to the church for solutions to society’s problems. Older expressions of Christianity put the problems and even the evils of this life into a perspective that saw them as not ultimate but temporary. It is an outlook that my own communion, the OPC, for some a hangnail in the body of Christ, professes in the following terms:

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

I understand that this liberty will not fix the woes that ail our society. But if something like this is true of Christianity, and if statements like the Manhattan Declaration do not address the links and gaps between the common and ultimate goods, then I think my Christian profession requires me to thank the Lord that I was not included among those invited to sign.

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D. G. Hart is a visiting professor of history at Hillsdale College. After completing his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, he taught at Wheaton College and Westminster Seminary before directing academic programs at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He is the author of several books, including A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee); The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies and American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press); and From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelical Protestants and American Conservatism (Eerdmans).

35 COMMENTS

  1. Oh, I dunno, I kind of get off when Christians, from various and sundry sects, come together in brotherhood/sisterhood to give the devil’s spawn a little hell! That said, it seems my fellow followers of the Jewish carpenter are an equivocating bunch. Rather than “declaring” what everyone knows Christians stand for, why not directly criticize the primary source of evil in America, the Democratic Party?

    Given the Democrat Party’s long and inglorious history, it’s efforts to raise the slaughter of the innocents to the level of a secular sacrament, to impose euthanasia via gummint (socialized) medicine, restrict free enterprise, engage in “political science” practices, incorporate homosexual “marriage” into the culture, and the current efforts on the part of our undocumented, Kenyan president and his cronies to collapse the American economy, we have to raise the question: Is it possible to be a proud member of the Democrat Party and a Christian?

    Well, obviously I don’t think so but I have to ask why aren’t Christian churches ostracizing (excommunicating) avowed Democrats, much like the Catholic Church threatened to do to most of the Kennedy family over the past thirty years or so? In allowing Democrats to remain in communion with the fellowship isn’t the church tacitly condoning the evil practices of the Democrat Party?

  2. As far as I’m concerned, these maniclaractions serve mostly as the air pump keeping afloat the foil balloon that is the self-importance of certain “public square” Christians. Hey, ya gotta make sure the Christian balloon is visible so that Salon.com knows where to throw their darts.

    I doubt it will do much harm, of course, as it probably won’t do much of anything. The positions they defend ought to be defended, just preferably in the context of real and robust preaching about sin and forgiveness and the nature of man.

    For some of the signers it may have been healthy to let their own flocks know where they stand on the issues, I’ll grant that.

    The Orthodox Fr. Jonathan Tobias over at Second Terrace asks, “Will anyone repent because of the Declaration?” Repentance being a word far outside the lexicon of Declaration-speak, and furthermore a concept uniquely ill-suited to capturing the attention of Salonites, we can only assume that its creators had no such aim in mind.

  3. H.L. Mencken is Dead and has no replacement. Ditto Izzy Stone, ditto Lippmann, dito, ditto, ditto. We have David Brooks, Oprah, MSNBC, FOX and Friedman. Hence the general debauched quality of our turbid “mainstream media”…hence the flummoxed quality of our big muddy “Mainstream Culture”. The urge to create some over-arching manifesto on the global and national stage remains one of the more ridiculous things about globalism…….thinking globally and acting globally and the dry rot happens at home apace. Welcome to the Vicarious Agora. Yesterday, I overheard a discussion of a law suit by a Manchester, Ct. Newspaper that is suing the venerable Hartford Courant….the longest continuously running Newspaper in the country, a paper with a masthead that is little changed from the time of its reporting on the movements of Napoleon within the European theatre…but little Manchester is suing the Hartford Courant because the Hartford Courant “downsized” its local and State reporters and is purportedly…according to Manchester, pilfering local content and publishing it as its own. It also has no “State Government” beat and justified it by saying it was going to put more effort into “local reporting”. Apparently, it still is reporting the “news”.

    Chuck Colsen ehhhh? Yes, I know, it is good to be charitable and turn the other cheek.

    Speaking of cheeks, Cheeks, I am happy that you have the villainous Democrats to occupy your thoughts from the comfortable redoubt of a praiseworthy GOP. Those sweet little attendants whispering their sweet nothings in your floppy ears are succubus harlots though, fully as debauched as even …gawd forbid: Bernie Sanders.

  4. Succubi harlots, the stuff of dessicated dreams. Actually I’m an Independent, divorcing myself from the malevolent, murderous commie dems in ’72 with their abortion plank construct and the GOP in ’04 with the rise of the Rino/Neocon foreign interventionist, anti-localist cabal!
    However, I’ve retained my broadminded approach to political science! Which still leaves the question, can a Christian, in good conscious be a member of the Democrat Party?

  5. “…how do believers and non-believers co-exist in a religiously diverse society, in one, in fact, where religious freedom also means freedom for the non-religious?”

    I don’t have much of an issue with the three main points of the manifesto. However as a Libertarian I have a major issue with an ecclesiastical statement by such prominent leaders who are trying to enact civil change through the auspices of the church.
    I have read many of the responses of those who have elected to not sign the MD (Horton, Sproul, MacArthur, Begg, etc.). They all have raised major ecumenical concerns, and rightly so. But what has not been addressed by many of the detractors is precisely what Dr. Hart questions here. I think the MD represents a muddying of the distinction of the church and the state and an imposition on civil liberties. These don’t seem to be an issue for the signatories of the declaration. I see trouble on the horizon if this kind of rhetoric continues to be espoused in an official manner from so many religious leaders.

  6. Dr. Hart, have you read this article by Dr. Niel Nielson, President of Covenant College, titled “Why I Almost Didn’t Sign the Manhattan Declaration.”

    Here are some excerpts, but do read the entire article:

    “I realized as well that the Declaration, while implying that the signers may agree on the nature and meaning of the gospel, does not define the gospel in any way that I find objectionable, i.e. by signing I was not affirming any heterodox, unbiblical view of the gospel. My signature – and this is important – signals my agreement with the Declaration as it explicitly and specifically stands, and nothing more.

    To critics of the Declaration who say that it implies agreement with Catholics and Orthodox on the nature and meaning of the biblical gospel, I say that such implication is possible but certainly not necessary. To critics of the Declaration who say that it commits the signers to agreement with Catholics and Orthodox on the nature and meaning of the biblical gospel, I say strongly, “No, it does not.” I disagree with official Catholic and Orthodox understandings of the gospel, and embrace wholeheartedly our Protestant Reformation theology, grounded in the Scriptures and summarized most beautifully and convincingly in the Westminster Standards. The Declaration not only does not in any way violate those Standards, but in fact flows from them.”

    I heartily commend Dr. Nielson’s thoughtful article.

  7. Homosexual activists target signer of the Manhattan Declaration

    A post appearing on GayBuzz(dot)blogspot on Nov. 28 calls upon gay activists to punish Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Ca., for signing the declaration.

    “It is time we let Bishop Cordileone know there are consequences for his actions,” the blogger states. “Is anyone up for a rally in front of the Oakland Diocese or a disruption of services? Let me know and I’m happy to help organize.”

    After listing an address where people could write to the bishop, the blogger goes on to say: “By the way, here are the other Catholic cardinals and bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration.” Listed are the names of the 17 bishops who signed the Declaration to date.

    The blogger goes on to cite Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate who refers to the 152 framers of the document as “zealots” who “drafted, approved and signed their Declaration of War on full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans last week. They threw in some other societal beefs, just to try and mask the overriding issue, their fervent opposition to same-sex marriage.

  8. Truth, I didn’t say in this post that the Declaration commits signers to a shared understanding of the way of salvation. Whether or not the Declaration is another iteration of Evangelicals and Catholics Together is another question. What I did say was that such outrage about moral issues of our time has deflected from an otherworldly understanding of Christianity, as in where people go when they die. It may be impossible for a gay person to be virtuous, but it is possible according to Christian teaching (in all the churches) for a gay person to be forgiven. That forgiveness “thing” is something from which such Declarations divert attention.

    As for the gay-marriage activitists targeting Bishops who signed the Declaration, I do wonder if heteros have found an easy scape goat in gay marriage when marriage among heteros is in a shambles. I wonder if we could have a Colorado Springs Declaration on the Family that called upon the communions of everyone who signed the Manhattan Declaration to enforce ecclesiastical discipline against all divorced church members who have not followed church or biblical grounds for divorce.

    Overall, the prophetic pose in the public square by Christians has the real potential to look self-righteous. You’d have thought our Lord’s encounters with the Pharisees would encourage his followers to avoid that appearance as much as possible.

  9. Dear Prof. Hart,

    There are two big lacunae in your post:

    1) Any sense that politics is the art of the possible and has to deal with concrete realities; and

    2) Politics is a moral action that requires the exercise of practical reason and the virtues, most notably prudence; that is, knowing how to act and what to do at the appropriate time.

    We can theorize all we want, and make these sorts of interesting points as you do in the post, but the bottom line is that Rome is burning. It is a rather powerful witness for Christians to come together and galvanize a pan-Christian movement against some of the darker forces of our age. Yes, we’d like to ban no-fault divorce. But since that is not now possible, we have to fight the battles that are directly in front of us.

    What is going on is a battle over public funding of abortion, same-sex marriage, and ensuing threats to religious liberty. This declaration speaks to all of these, and makes basic points about fundamental.

    Of course, I have to point out that Protestants have traditionally eschewed virtue ethics or any philosophical tradition which can articulate the moral issues that are more fundamental than others, so your post makes sense from that standpoint.

    I am a Catholic who dislikes the agenda of the neoconservatives and those who want to simplistically put the Church at the service of the GOP (or American empire or civil religion). I also think gay marriage is a symptom of a deeper problem with marriage and sexuality, as you point out. But this declaration is worthy of support. It speaks truth to power and also galvanizes the Christians against these serious evils.

  10. I’m a little confused on your position, Darryl. I thought you were a two kingdoms sort of guy. You said, “But because the Declaration vacillates between the common good and a private morality, it fails to acknowledge that making Christian norms the basis for American public life will exclude non-Christians.”

    Does this mean on your understanding of 2k, that society isn’t governed by natural law? Are you advocating moral pluralism? My understanding of the natural law tradition is that natural laws are binding on both Christian & non-Christian. And natural law is identical to the basic morality of the Bible. So making Christian norms the basis for society is simply making natural law the basis of society — norms that non-Christians should already be following.

    Other than this, I liked much of what you said regarding the MD.

  11. JD, Esq., But what about the lacunae in your response? Wasn’t Rome burning in the time of Christ and the apostles’ ministry? Wasn’t the flame even a little hotter for Christians? And did the apostles draft a declaration?

    Of course, that’s not an answer to the fire that now burns, nor does it acknowledge the obligation of trying to preserve a civilizational heritage. But in some ways I’m simply trying to get the Christian drafters and signers of such statements as MD to consider the ways that modernity infect believers’ responses to cultural crises. Maybe you have to fight modernity with modernity. But the Protestant modernists tried that one and look what happened to the Protestant mainline.

    Vern, I’m no expert on natural law. I am comfortable with any and all efforts to employ it in public life, though I tend to be pretty pragmatic (as is Americans wont) about such things. I would not, though, identify basic biblical morality with natural law, at least if the Decalogue is an example. That first table — especially the business of no other gods — can make hay of assertions about religious freedom.

  12. Mr. Hart,

    Thank you for your commentary on the MD. I agree that modern evangelisms can tend more towards social gospel than is necessary, but as a member of the OPC you undoubtedly have an understanding of the “already, not yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. Do you then believe that the MD does nothing to realize, as best as possible, the “already” of that reality? I am not taking issue with your essay, simply trying to understand the nuances of your argument…and, far be it from me to argue with Sproul, or any other heavyweight, who has taken issue with the MD on ecumenical terms, or any other terms.

    To be clear, I do take major issue with the move in the evangelical church within the last 20 or so years to effect civic change through, as Jed above says “the auspices of the church”. However, I wonder how nuanced our theology needs to be, when the moral stream of culture (or, anti-culture as it were), is so opposed to God and His Christ that public policy would require us to take part in activities, of which we are categorically opposed to in solidarity (as Protestants, Catholics & Orthodox).

    However, reading your last paragraph again, it seems that you are saying without the true Gospel being preached in effort to effect spiritual and social good, then any effort to effect change in the public sphere apart from the Gospel of Christ is one that is in fact outside the realm of the Church. To this I say “Amen and Amen!”

  13. Justin I.: as a member of the OPC I affirm what our confession of faith teaches, that the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (25.2). I can well imagine the Roman Catholic snickers about any Protestant, especially in the lowly and microscopic OPC, making claims about the visible church. But the conviction is part of Reformed Protestantism’s heritage and I will not let the Social Gospelers, whether on the right, left, or in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome (a recent article in First Things by the Archbishop of Denver comes to mind) dissuade me from looking for the evidence of Christ’s redemptive rule anywhere other than in the institutional church.

  14. Hi Darryl,

    Of course, natural law is not the same as covenant law. Paul said the Gentiles have natural law in which they do the things contained in the Mosaic law (basic morals, not all the religious, cultic or liturgical details).

  15. Mr. Hart,

    Thanks for the response. As one in similar, somewhat-microscopic denom (PCA), I can echo those sentiments. I also just read Sproul’s statement, as well as one by Horton over at White Horse Inn and they both make the point of the MD confusing special and general revelation…makes sense to me…

    -J

  16. “Is the purpose of the gospel to yield the common good or eternal salvation?” I think the answer is “both”. To separate them would be to de-incarnate the Word, who was made flesh in this world and promised to remain with us until the end. On this point, I recommend David Schindler’s book: Heart of the World, Center of the Church; and Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s book: Love Alone is Credible.

    Statements like the Manhattan Declaration and the writings of natural law scholars like R. George, G. Grisez, and J. Finnis, while useful in many regards, do not foster the sort of unity or “communion” of hearts that is central to the Church’s temporal and eternal mission. Natural law arguments like those in the Manhattan Declaration typically involve believers asserting various truth claims against a rival group, leaving the argument at a rational, intellectual level that seems somehow unsatisfactory or inadequate (even if the assertions are true). Perhaps that is why Pope Benedict gave preeminence to charity over truth in his last encyclical, as did the writer of 1 Cor. 13 (“If I have not love, I am a noisy gong”), and John’s gospel, where God is identified as love. While respect for human life, conjugal love, etc. are vital to a just and healthy society, and the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration are right to defend those truths, a public discourse that is based on truth assertions will, in my view, always fail to be compelling, in part, because the human person is made for something more than rationality – he is made for love. In my view, a public discourse that invites skeptics to consider and pursue the development of a society built on love, rather than morals truths, is more likely to be compelling.

  17. I think a lot of the criticism of the declaration centers on points that the declaration leaves out this or that aspect of the Christian teaching and is therefore flawed, or should be rejected or at least not supported or signed. I think this is unfair to the signers, as it certainly does not represent the sum total of their preaching. They are simply calling attention to a particular, important social issue from an ecumenical Christian viewpoint. Do some people expect that they should attach a Catechism along with the declaration for it to be valid?

  18. Perhaps that is why Pope Benedict gave preeminence to charity over truth in his last encyclical, as did the writer of 1 Cor. 13 (”If I have not love, I am a noisy gong”), and John’s gospel, where God is identified as love.

    Love is preeminent over knowledge, not truth. For Christ is identified as the truth in John’s gospel, and 1 Cor 13 tell us love rejoices with the truth. So I would be wary of placing “charity” over and against “truth.” You can have knowledge without love. But love rejoices with the truth.

  19. If a Christian can belong to any political party at all, the Democrats are an acceptable choice, and in my seldom humble opinion, far from the worst. I generally vote Democratic, since I resumed voting. Although I know there are many sincere, honorable, Republicans with many rational ideas to offer our nation, its been a long time since any of them ran for office.

    I disagree with much of the content of the Manhattan Declaration. But I disagree even more with the “targeting” Daniel writes about. All political discourse has consequences, but to set someone up artificially for “consequences” because a citizen (even a bishop is a citizen) exercises their rights of free speech and assembly is a dangerous form of totalitarianism and enforced conformity. It is also terribly, terribly childish. We don’t all think alike, and we don’t have to. There is no groupthink in a republic. If we didn’t have disagreements and things to discuss, there would be no need to vote at all.

    I find it hypocritical for a church which believes it is the only True Church Established by Christ and the Apostles to sit down with clergy from “not-churches” to sign a common statement, without giving up its claim to an exclusive franchise. I find it hypocritical for churches capable of evangelizing Ireland, reporting that people there “don’t know Jesus as their savior” to sit down with representatives of the “Whore of Babylon.” For God’s sake, these guys can’t even agree on how many books there are in the Bible. (For a humorous bit of self-promotion, check out this theme at
    http://archives.wittenburgdoor.com/archives/ecumenism.html).

    Also, I am unreservedly pro-choice, in the libertarian constitutional sense that first trimester abortion, some second trimester decisions, and decisions where the mother’s life is in danger, are none of the business of The State.

    Finally, I am sick of organizations and causes, from treatment of animals to gay rights to poor picked on oppressed Christians, wrapping themselves in the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement. It is more or less accepted that the Civil Rights Movement was A Good Thing, therefore it is a cheap short-cut to end debate on any subject by referencing The Civil Rights Movement. Any cause worthy of support will seek vindication on its own merits, not by drawing analogies. Each one is quite different.

  20. If the salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing and is left to be trampled under the feet of men. Christians are not called just to another world but to influence, preserve, and light up the world around them. This should not be their _only_ goal, but it is something we do. If we believe that directions our country or world are heading are detrimental, we should speak up. That’s what the MD does. I signed it.

  21. Christians are not called just to another world but to influence, preserve, and light up the world around them.

    The appeal to salt and light seems to distinguish the two outlooks. One says that there is “being called to another world AND lighting up this one” as if these is some sort of disconnect between these things. The other is more organic and says that there is “lighting up this world BY calling it to another one.” The former outlook doesn’t seem to take into account that if both un/believers can do whatever “lighting up this world” seems to mean then there is nothing distinctively Christian about it. But only Christians, by the narrow definition of the gospel, can point the temporal world to the eternal one.

    Life and marriage are common and temporal goods that everyone can affirm, but they pale in comparison to eternal life. Or does anyone imagine that Christ’s call to hate our temporal lives and marriages and lay them down as a prerequisite to eternal life means something else?

  22. Jon: “Christians are not called just to another world but to influence, preserve, and light up the world around them. This should not be their _only_ goal, but it is something we do. If we believe that directions our country or world are heading are detrimental, we should speak up. That’s what the MD does. I signed it.”

    Good man, Jon. Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Niel Nielson, all signed the Manhattan Declaration because they wanted to speak up too.

  23. Jon and Truth Unites, by your reasoning how do you understand the efforts of Christ and the apostles? They didn’t seem to leave much of a trail of affirmations or social reform. Couldn’t you at least make room for their approach as legitimate? (Please remember, their society was more hostile to Christians than ours.)

  24. Darryl, I’ll try to avoid a lengthy reply and so will necessarily miss some aspects, I’m sure we could launch into a lengthy discussion on this topic. Certainly Christ and the apostles did not focus on social reform per se, and certainly much social reform hinges on reforming individuals’ hearts. But I don’t think we can directly compare or use Christ’s individual mission or the apostles’ missions with our own. Certainly there are many individuals in the Bible with different missions than Christ and the apostles, and many involved influencing government and/or society: Joseph, Daniel, Esther, Jeremiah, Solomon, and many others. In Christ’s time one did not have any right to directly challenge societal norms or government policies, so that kind of behavior didn’t fall into a person’s “sphere of influence”. And in apostolic times the most important and immediate focus was establishing the Church. Like it or not, our “sphere of influence” in a democratic society with a free press includes a voice on society and government. If we leave that voice only to those who oppose or are even ambivalent to ideas we think are best for society, we’ve simply abandoned part of our ability to be salt and light. I’m not saying we all MUST use that voice — some may be called to purely spiritual missions, others to secular missions, just as throughout history (Jesus didn’t tell the centurion, incidentally the one with the greatest faith in all Israel, to quit being a centurion). But I do think that the Church should use what capabilities it has here on earth to exert influence (Paul was very quick to use his secular status — a Roman citizen — for his missional purposes), while not abandoning its central purpose: “go and make disciples of all men”.

    BTW, I love FPR and wish I had time to read more of it…

  25. DGH: “Truth, I didn’t say in this post that the Declaration commits signers to a shared understanding of the way of salvation.”

    I didn’t say you did. I just excerpted a part of Dr. Nielson’s article.

    “Jon and Truth Unites, by your reasoning how do you understand the efforts of Christ and the apostles? They didn’t seem to leave much of a trail of affirmations or social reform. Couldn’t you at least make room for their approach as legitimate? (Please remember, their society was more hostile to Christians than ours.)”

    DGH, I’ll reply in the same manner as you: “DGH, I didn’t say that the efforts of Christ and the apostles were illegitimate.”

    I.e., that’s a false imputation. And false imputations are not conducive to productive and fruitful discussion.

  26. Mr. Hart,

    I realize that this is not quite relevant to the discussion at hand, but I’m working through your required reading for your upcoming class at Westminster Seminary California on “Machen and Modernism.” Your understanding of Machen and his understanding of ‘Christ and Culture’ were magnificent, par excellance. It was interesting reading it during this entire MD debacle, with such a grand confusion of the kingdoms, social activism dwarfing doctrinal precision and particularity, all done in the name of “the gospel.” There truly is nothing new under the sun. Your analysis is much appreciated, and I’m looking forward to your class in January.

    Jordan

  27. The readers of this blog may be interested in what I wrote for “From the Pastor’s Desk” for our congregation, North Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.atlanta-rpc.org):

    In November 2009, a group of evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox leaders released a document, the Manhattan Declaration, which expresses concern with regard to abortion, the homosexual movement, and religious freedom. Signed initially by about 140 leaders, it has now been signed by many thousands of people.

    Despite much with which traditional Protestants might agree in this statement, I find myself having to decline from joining the other signatories. For this document promotes an ecumenism that would no longer distinguish between the genuine Biblical faith (as represented by historic Protestantism) and damnable heresies (such as the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church).

    Now, let me be clear —- I am dead set opposed to abortion and the homosexual agenda, and am concerned about the increasing threats to our ability to preach and promote a Christian world-view. (Those interested may want to check out a couple of my articles, “Equal Rights for Homosexuals!” and “Luther Must Be Spinning in His Grave”, in the “From the Pastor’s Desk” section of our congregation’s website.)

    However, there is something even more important than these issues, and it is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t think that the Apostle Paul would have regarded the Judaizers of his day, who were trying to subvert the Galatian church, as being genuine Christians. Nor should we regard those who anathametize Protestant teaching on justification by faith alone as being genuine Christians. Paul is clear: “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

    In the early 1980s, at the Westchester County (N.Y.) courthouse in White Plains, I helped lead an anti-abortion rally that featured both Roman Catholics and evangelicals. In helping to co-ordinate that event, and in drafting a statement signed by more than 50 evangelical leaders in our county, I was careful not to give the impression that the two groups were doing anything other than sharing the same platform in order to address, from each group’s perspective, a pressing moral and social issue. I was following the pattern of the late Francis Schaeffer, who wrote that Christians may be able to advocate similar positions with those who are opposed to them on the basis of “co-belligerency”, but not on the basis of an alliance. (For Schaeffer, Scripture and gospel were the twin issues that defined the divide between faithful confession and faithless denial.) But the evangelicals —- including a number of high-profile Calvinists -— who signed the Manhattan Declaration, by placing their signatures on this document along with Roman Catholics and those of an Orthodox persuasion, have given the impression that evangelicals and Catholics and Orthodox really are together.

    It is easy to understand why a document such as this Declaration, with its clarion call for morality and accountability and courage, could appear to be such a welcome development. Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that this document not only is deficient, but also insidious -— it threatens to entrap people by confusing them as to what the fundamental issue is, viz., the gospel itself founded on the doctrine of sola scriptura.

    At best, this document is a band-aid which will not cut out and extirpate the cancer of our culture. Only the gospel -— that is, the true gospel, not some seeming replica with which Roman Catholic apologists can agree—will avail. The need, as always, is for a consistent adherence to and proclamation of that gospel. And preaching the truth necessarily entails pointing out the soul-destroying errors of systems such as Romanism which deny the truth as it is in Jesus.

    Sincerely,
    Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D.
    Stated Supply, North Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA)

  28. Frank Smith wrote a thorough defense of one of the threads of reformation theology, that Jesus calls for human reconciliation with God didn’t happen until the 1500s. AND that if that call were heard today, all evil would vanish overnight. I applaud his faith. As one of the unworthy catholics, I invite him to the parlor of our American house to discuss the issues he raises from his pulpit. we can have coffee, or plain water if that’s too intoxicating while we try to focus on Jesus’ message. However, we’d probably have to cut it short, since the American house is on fire with the pervasive cultural acceptance of anti-Christian moralities, government adoption of evil moral structures, and the leitmotif of sin in human beings. WE should have 2 themes for our discussion. The first, assigned to you, is “Ain’t it awful but if Calvin was around today, all would be well”. The second I assign to me “so we’re all broken, how do we help our children be less broken in our present moral cultural calamity. What do we do today?”. I look forward to our talks, since you have the answers. But i’m coming in firemans garb. So, in context, what’s wrong with the manhattan declaration, aside from it’s authorship and that benighted folks signed onto it?

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