The New Evangelicalism: “Not to Attack or Exclude”

The strikingly new note in the Evangelical Manifesto is that it intends to be conciliatory. In affirming that they totally … Continued

The strikingly new note in the Evangelical Manifesto is that it intends to be conciliatory. In affirming that they totally identify with their faith, the writers quickly declare that their purpose is “not to attack or exclude.” This seems to reverse the very impulse that brought the religious right to power politically. By erasing the line between faith and the voting booth, evangelicals absolutely excluded anyone who believes in a secular Constitution and its separation of church and state. They also vehemently attacked candidates who didn’t share their viewpoint.

What’s changed? We get a clue in another phrase — “the global era” — which points to the promotion of environmental issues among younger evangelicals, who see themselves as stewards of God’s creation. If you want to save the planet, it helps not to attack the bulk of humanity that worships a different God. Beyond that, the manifesto reflects a willingness to be less intolerant. That’s good news from a sector of the American public that made intolerance their marching banner in the past. Can one go even farther and see right-wing Christians through their own eyes, as the most moral and “value-centered” among us? To redefine the evangelical movement, it takes two parties, one to offer the new definition, the other to accept it.

Acceptance is the real sticking point here. I was struck by a right-wing Christian being interviewed on CNN several years ago who said, “As long as you hate us, we aren’t going away.” To me, that provides the first incentive to redefine evangelicals. As long as they remain embattled, defensive, and disdained, their tactics of attack and exclusion won’t go away. Second, the fact that conservative Christians form a reactionary voting bloc isn’t, in and of itself, unconstitutional. To push a religious agenda may seem contrary to the spirit of the American republic and the intent of the founding fathers. Yet we all have a duty, within limits, to tolerate other viewpoints, even when intolerance is part of that viewpoint. The renunciation of intolerance by the religious right would indicate that tolerating them wasn’t in vain.

Finally, it’s worthwhile to take the Evangelical Manifesto at face value. It moves away from a political definition to a religious one. That’s helpful if it’s sincere. When the writers declare that “Evangelicals are one of the great traditions in the Christian Church,” one must admit that this is correct. An evangelical is basically a proselytizer, and Christianity wouldn’t exist except for the fact that converts joined en masse in the Roman world thanks to fervent missionaries preaching the “good news.” What is being proselytized today is more aggressive, narrow-minded, and unloving than pure Christianity as taught by Jesus, but was there ever a time when the faith was pure? Christianity has been dogged from the time of St. Paul by heresy, unbelief, radical extremes, and delusional theology. History has swept in periods of violence and swept them away again.

Accepting the olive branch offered by the manifesto can only be provisional at this point, however. Looking over the seven points of essential doctrine, each takes a dogmatic position that millions of other Christians don’t accept.

1. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, as the only full and complete revelation of God and therefore the only Savior.
— Many forms of Protestantism have relaxed the demand to see Jesus as the only son of God, and the ecumenical movement in Catholicism opened the door for other faiths to be given respect and validity.

2. The death of Jesus on the cross, in which he took the penalty for our sins and reconciled us to God.
–This point depends on the concept of original sin and the fall of man, which is no longer fully accepted in liberal Protestant circles. The redemption of all human sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has been met with widespread doubt, given the fact that the Kingdom of God didn’t descend on earth and sin continues to flourish.

3. Salvation as God’s gift grasped through faith. We contribute nothing to our salvation.
–This point, which demands rebirth in the holy spirit as the only way to salvation, contradicts the broad Protestant social movement toward good works (endorsed even by Pope Benedict on his recent American visit) and returns to a quasi-medieval belief that the elect are chosen by God and the non-elect damned to hell. Yet if our good works can’t contribute to salvation, why should our bad deeds affect it, either?

4. New life in the Holy Spirit, who brings us spiritual rebirth and power to live as Jesus did, reaching out to the poor, sick, and oppressed.
–Here the benefit of good works is acknowledged, even though they contribute nothing to salvation. It is presumed that after salvation has occurred, good works follow as a duty set down by Christ’s example. Yet many Christians (not to mention many unbelievers) do equal if not greater good for the sick, the poor, and the oppressed without demanding fealty to Jesus in return.

5. The Bible as God’s Word written, fully trustworthy as our final guide to faith and practice.
–In a scientific age that has delved into the vagaries of how the gospels were written, how they changed and evolved, and how deeply they contradict one another, holding to total faith in the divine source of scripture strikes many other Christians as irrational and needlessly arbitrary.

6. The future personal return of Jesus to establish the reign of God.
–This point, at least, is agreed upon by all but the most lenient Christian denominations. But by insisting that the Second Coming will occur in our lifetime, evangelicals put enormous pressure on every true believer to adjust to the end of days. This pressure grows desperate at times and seems to have no basis inn rationality.

7. The importance of sharing these beliefs so that others may experience God’s salvation and may walk in Jesus’ way.
–“Sharing” is more or less a code word for “fervent conversion of unbelievers,” which is a nettlesome practice in any religion whenever it becomes too aggressive. Most people would define the evangelical movement largely by this tenet. In a secular society it’s widely perceived that evangelism has already gone too far (as in the Air Force academy, where peer pressure from fundamentalist cadets has created an ethos in which fighting for Jesus is the only way to view military service, and those who don’t follow along are constantly proselytized).

In the end, the new manifesto has to be read in context. On the face of it, the document is more zealous and dogmatic than secular Americans and most mainstream Christians would endorse. (Is it really an issue that other faiths have to be given at least some toleration? Or are we fighting theological Crusades all over again?) But given the extremes to which evangelicalism went in the age of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, any attempt at reconciliation is welcome. One still expects that fundamentalists will vote overwhelmingly on the right and that abortion, school prayer, homophobia, and the flag will irrationally dominate their agenda. Even so, the recognition that there is a world elsewhere inhabited by other faiths and beset by environmental threat is healthy. Can one say that the Bush administration went even that far?

Deepak Chopra
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  • Ryan Haber

    Thomas Baum,That’s more or less it. I was primarily contending with Dr. Chopra’s assertion that belief in predestination is somehow “quasi-medieval,” whatever that means.I stand with the Catholic Church on the doctrine of predestination, as with all things.

  • Tim

    If one doesn’t accept the seven distinctives listed (and I would argue that the Resurrection should be added without apology), then they cannot rightly claim to be a Christian.

  • Jonathan Baird

    Why do you balk at an Evangelical trying to define “Evangelical” in exclusive language? This was the “Evangelical Manifesto” not the “Mainline Liberal Manifesto.”

  • Ryan Haber

    Dr. Chopra,”This seems to reverse the very impulse that brought the religious right to power politically.”That’s ridiculous. I have never consciously voted with the political right because it was the political right, or “conservative,” and generally view the candidates backed by groups like the Moral Majority with skepticism. But to say that the impulse that brought them to power was a desire to exclude, as opposed to a desire to help America as they think best – you are essentially accusing them of bad faith.Do you have any evidence for malice on their part?”By erasing the line between faith and the voting booth, evangelicals absolutely excluded anyone who believes in a secular Constitution and its separation of church and state.”By demanding some sort of line between faith and the voting booth, you are requiring people leave their faith-informed sensibilities behind them, that they cauterize the most important part of them.”They also vehemently attacked candidates who didn’t share their viewpoint.”Like Hillary or Barak, you mean?”it helps not to attack the bulk of humanity that worships a different God.”How is it an “attack” to assert that one’s beliefs are correct, and that contrary beliefs about the same matter are incorrect? That’s simple logic and honesty, Dr. Chopra.”a sector of the American public that made intolerance their marching banner in the past.”Good grief. Taking a particular moral stance is not the same thing as intolerance of persons. You’re a doctor. If you take a moral stance that it is wrong to deliberately poison a healthy patient, or file insurance claims for treatments never provided, are you being intolerant?”Finally, it’s worthwhile to take the Evangelical Manifesto at face value.”Why, that’s noble of you, Dr. Chopra. Actually to engage opponents in good faith and granting the assumption that they are dealing in good faith.”Many forms of Protestantism have relaxed the demand to see Jesus as the only son of God, and the ecumenical movement in Catholicism opened the door for other faiths to be given respect and validity.”Whoa! Easy there, Doctor. No Christian recognizes any Son of God but the Lord Jesus Christ; if a person or denomination does so, he ceases to be Christian. Christianity isn’t a tattoo or a circumcision, carried around with us for life just because we were born into it. It is a circumcision or tattoo on the heart, carried around so long as we accept it.The Catholic Church certainly teaches that we ought to respect people of every faith, but it does not, nor has it ever, for one MOMENT, entertained the thought that a truth claim contrary to its own might be valid.”This point depends on the concept of original sin and the fall of man, which is no longer fully accepted in liberal Protestant circles. The redemption of all human sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has been met with widespread doubt, given the fact that the Kingdom of God didn’t descend on earth and sin continues to flourish.”Bully for the Liberal Protestant circles. They depart from the Christian faith if they so believe. Our Lord himself said that the Kingdom of God wasn’t going to come immediately, and that the good and the bad would continue intermingled for some time.”This point, which demands rebirth in the holy spirit as the only way to salvation, contradicts the broad Protestant social movement toward good works (endorsed even by Pope Benedict on his recent American visit) and returns to a quasi-medieval belief that the elect are chosen by God and the non-elect damned to hell. Yet if our good works can’t contribute to salvation, why should our bad deeds affect it, either?”Do you know ANYTHING about Western Church History? Do you have the slightest clue about Catholic teaching. We have ALWAYS insisted that doing good deeds as we are able is essential to salvation. Protestants rejected that 1500 years after our Lord taught it. The believe in election isn’t medieval (it both predates and follows the medieval period, but the medieval period was perhaps the only period in which unrejectable predestination was universally rejected).Besides, why is something bad JUST because it dates to the medieval period, as you imply?”good works follow as a duty set down by Christ’s example. Yet many Christians (not to mention many unbelievers) do equal if not greater good for the sick, the poor, and the oppressed without demanding fealty to Jesus in return”Stawman! How is doing good works in imitation of Christ logically connected with “demanding fealty to Jesus in return”?You’re supposed to be some kind of a guru, Dr. Chopra, but your thinking here is rather shallow.

  • Thomas Baum

    RYAN HABERYou wrote, “The believe in election isn’t medieval (it both predates and follows the medieval period, but the medieval period was perhaps the only period in which unrejectable predestination was universally rejected).”I am not sure what you mean by the above statement, could you explain?To me, predestination means that God is Omniscient, not that God predetermines what one will do but that He Knows what one will do and there is a big difference between the two.That is why God has a Plan and has had His Plan since before creation and His Plan is unfolding before our very eyes.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Garyd

    Godly works are a product of salvation not a cause of it. In fact truly Godly works as opposed to mere good works can only be performed by those who were saved from before the foundation of the world and are informed of it.I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how there is any joy in a salvation that is constantly dangled before one like some sort of ecclesiastical carrot. If heaven is earned either in part or in whole by works then it is peopled by the same sort of smug and self righteous sorts that give religion here on earth a bad name. If that is indeed the case given me hell i suspect the people there would be easier to tolerate.

  • Anonymous

    New Evilgelicals? or New Eviljealousicals? New Catholics? New Hindu’s? New Buddhists? New Ju’s! New-Islamics? New Pagans? Ne-Witches?

  • Paganplace

    ” Garyd:Godly works are a product of salvation not a cause of it.”Well, that’s awfully convenient for any moneyed or aggressive interest that claims to be ‘saved,’ isn’t it?

  • Paganplace

    Always strikes me as interesting, Angela, how people of your stripe believe that all the Deity in the Universe ‘so loved the world’ he gave you a book about someone getting crucified, yet think it’s so beyond the pale that Deity might appear in other forms and ways to others.

  • perspective

    My latest tone poem -Something from What?“So what is this stuff that’s seen all around?So science must ask without apology or reserveSo in viewing Nature’s singular cosmic designThe things that were not and are now plainly real

  • Angela

    Paganplace: you missed the point of my post: Yes, I do believe, without a doubt that in order that God’s justice and mercy could prevail, He took our awful sin and placed it on his son because if he didn’t, we would stand guilty. In addition, I never doubt that God can save anyone but not by watering down the message. I for one was a wretch until I saw myself clearly (from His standard) not mine and cried out for mercy and asked for His forgiveness so I could live with a clear conscience and please Him by loving Him and His creation. We all believe we’re good but again by who’s standard.

  • Jeff

    Dear Dr. Chopra,Here is what I take away from your post:(a) You don’t believe anyone should make exclusive truth claims, and therefore you hold to a form of religious pluralism (i.e. the notion that all religions constitute varying conceptions of the “Ultimate Reality”, or that all are equally valid).(b) You believe that anyone who does not hold to religious pluralism (i.e. your religion!) should modify their system to be pluralistic (like you).(c) People who do not hold to pluralism owe you some sort of reconciliation, either because they disagree with you and you can’t tolerate it, or because they have voted or acted in the public sphere based on their convictions.I am not familiar with your works, books, etc. This is the first thing you have written or said that I have really paid attention to. I have to say though that you strike me as being singularly intolerant.

  • Jeff

    “If you want to save the planet, it helps not to attack the bulk of humanity that worships a different God.”So, you admit that you worship a different god than Christians do? If so, I applaud your honesty, but I pray that you and your other “tolerant” friends will open your minds, repent and be saved by Jesus Christ, who is the one and only Savior.”I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.

  • Jeff

    And Dr. Chopra, aren’t you being intolerant by refusing to accept Christianity? If all religions are just different paths leading to the same god, why do you exclude Christianity?

  • Thomas

    Hmmmm, no matter where I fell on this topic, I loss respect quickly for anyone making their points by saying…..”many Christians”, “most Protistant Christians”, and other generalities you can’t back up. Many of the points this author tries to contribute to these faceless people do not in any way match up to any beliefs by the Christians in my life. Also, just the concept that somehow, even if it was true (which I highly doubt), that popular vote is the way to find truth is something that turns me off from giving any credit to the author. As someone before noted, just the fact that you believe these folks should be jumping through hoops to reconcile with you instead of trying to find truth shows your arrogence and lack of respect for others. Not a great article in my call…..

  • Lisa

    You say it is irrational to wave the flag. This document is the result of the emergent church movement that says the same thing the world says.Individuals search for truth. Jesus said He was it. Trust or reject. Your choice, thanks to God.