Monday, April 22, 2013

Challenging the American Christian Public System: Review of A New Evangelical Manifesto-A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good

*Originally published in Englewood Review of Books

No matter how many times I read about evangelicals, their history, their theology and their current work, I find myself struggling to piece it all together, to explain who they are and how they came to be.  Perhaps it is because it is not a centrally defined movement and so much of its history and faith is nebulous in that it started in different places by different people who acted in different ways with similar core beliefs.  In the introduction to A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good, editor David P. Gushee offers his definition of evangelicalism as a foundation for the essays that are to come:
“…evangelicals are spiritually serious, theologically orthodox, evangelistically engaged, morally earnest Protestant Christians, members of hundreds of particular denominational traditions and tens of thousands of congregations all over the country." (p. ix) 

In this characterization, Gushee does not explain what evangelicals believe but rather wishes to define the movement as a wide variety of adherents apart from the most radical sects within, usually identified as right wing conservatives and fundamentalists. 
Gushee prefaces this book by saying that it sprang out of the work being done by the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.  His hopes are that the essays contained within would promote the principles of the mission statement of the organization.  It is too long to reprint here, but I will include portions of it that I think are necessary to understanding the particular stance of this group and their aims in the collective essays.

“Christians by definition are those who bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ….one way is to offer proclamation and action concerning the moral will of God for human communities…some Christian moral witness occurs at national and international levels, where many significant challenges to human well-being are often created and addressed.  Christians have no choice but to engage religious, economic, cultural, and political institutions with our best efforts to articulate and embody the love and justice of Jesus Christ for the well-being of God’s world.” (p. x)

Specifically, the NEP wishes to engage the world in these ways: 
“We want to see Americans to choose to believe in Jesus and live as his disciples.  We see that the evangelistic and discpling work of American Christianity has been badly damaged by a generation of culture war-fighting-some doubt Jesus…because of Christians...We want to see an engagement of Christians in American public life that is loving, rather than angry; holistic, rather than narrowly focused; healing, rather than divisive; and independent of partisanship and ideology, rather than subservient to party or ideology.  We see in many sectors a Christian public engagement that calls itself Christan while often damaging the work of Christ and violating the teachings of Christ…We want to see a Christian public witness that reflects the actual life, ministry, and teachings of the Jesus Christ we meet in Scripture and expience in the church at its best.” (pp.x-xi)