Neuhaus Excoriates “An Evangelical Manifesto”

In the most recent issue of First Things, Richard John Neuhaus has sharp criticism for “That Evangelical Manifesto.” Actually, sharp isn’t a strong enough word. The sting of Neuhaus’ essay is not so much his critique of the Manifesto’s substantive proposals, but his analysis of the motivations underlying it. Neuhaus thinks the Manifesto is an attempt by some evangelicals to gain acceptance with the broader culture.

In one of the more scathing sections of the article, Neuhaus critiques Os Guinness’ Christianity Today essay “A Gentle Plea for Civility.” Guiness is largely responsible for the wording of the “Manifesto,” and “A Gentle Plea” was a part of the initial roll-out of the document. Neuhaus writes:

“‘A Gentle Plea for Civility’ perhaps, although ‘A Poignant Plea for Acceptance’ might be more accurate. The posture is that of presumably more-sophisticated evangelicals coming hat in hand to their cultural betters, humbly requesting that they be exempted from the opprobrium heaped on their vulgar and unruly cousins, the ‘religious right’ and the ‘fundamentalists.’ To prove that they have earned an exemption, they eagerly join in the heaping of opprobrium on those in the evangelical family from whom they so desperately want to distinguish themselves. This is unseemly. It is also futile. The bid to be accepted as full participants in a ‘civil and cosmopolitan public square’ on the terms by which their secular betters define civility and cosmopolitanism is precluded by the very fact of being evangelicals.

“The document cannot plausibly present itself as evangelical without affirming the belief that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that marriage is between a man and a woman, the homogenital sex is morally wrong, and a host of other things that Christians traditionally believe and that secularists condemn as narrow, fanatical, and dangerously bigoted. The affirmation of liberal political pieties will not earn the signers and exemption from the disdain in which evangelicals, along with other serious Christians, are held by those whose approval these evangelicals so earnestly seek.”

Neuhaus’ assessment in the conclusion is trenchant:

“There are many and complex dynamics involved in the production of something like ‘An Evangelical Manifesto.’ Its theological affirmations are largely unexceptionable. Its call for cultural engagement and the cultivation of honesty and civility in argument is admirable and is always needed in our typically raucous public life. Whatever the good intentions of many of its signers, however, the manifesto is finally an appeal for the good opinion of the cultural despisers of evangelicalism. It is an election-year invitation for evangelicals to demonstrate, by embracing what is depicted as a more comprehensive and nuanced political agenda, that they are not that kind of evangelical.

“I have no doubt that some who signed the statement simply wanted to affirm the important truth that evangelical Christianity is defined by the lordship of Christ and not by political partisanship. Issuing what is inevitably perceived as a politically partisan manifesto is an ill-chosen means for achieving that purpose. Only the naive or disingenuous among the signers will express surprise that the media depicted the manifesto as an election-year effort to drive a wedge between conservatives and what is portrayed as a more authentic evangelicalism. Whatever the good intentions of some signers, the reporters got the story right.”

What are the political implications of the “Manifesto”? Neuhaus sums it up:

“With the help of those signers who genuinely want to depoliticize evangelicalism, those who make no secret of their desire to move evangelicalism toward the political left got what they wanted.”

One other item worthy of note is Neuhaus’ remarks about “single-issue” politics.

“There is much to be said for the manifesto’s critique of ‘culture wars’ and ‘single-issue politics.’ Unless, of course, the culture really is under attack and the single issue is, for instance, the killing of millions of unborn children.”

This last part gets to the heart of my critique of the Manifesto. The Manifesto effectively de-prioritizes the abortion issue and no longer treats it as a transcendent moral concern. So I add a hearty “amen” on that score.

You really should read the rest of Neuhaus’ article. It is outstanding. I would point out, by the way, that his editorials in “The Public Square” section of First Things are often worth the price of the journal. This one certainly is.

My Previous Posts on “An Evangelical Manifesto”

Critical Reflections on “An Evangelical Manifesto” (May 9, 2008)

Debating Bock on the “Manifesto” (May 9, 2008)

A Response to Daniel Wallace (May 12, 2008)

(HT: Justin Taylor)

11 Responses to Neuhaus Excoriates “An Evangelical Manifesto”

  1. Paul July 30, 2008 at 1:07 pm #

    1) Can’t read the article without a subscription.

    2) It’s funny that Neuhaus would lump himself in with the Fundamentalists that would call him an agent of Rome and worse.

    3) If you think that abortion will go away because of politics alone, then I guess ignorance is bliss.

    4) It’s funny how the things that evangelicals think make good politics very easily coincide with the Republican National Committee’s platform. Being that environmentalism doesn’t line up with the fat cat party, it shouldn’t be an evangelical concern.

    As a matter of fact, I’m waiting for Denny to post something along the lines of “Off-Shore Drilling is the Christian thing to do!”

    Heck, Denny, you even tried to discredit the peace churches by using a verse that claimed that a soldier had faith. A real “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” moment. But, hey, ANYTHING to support the Iraq war, right?

    And I’m sorry, but if that’s how you guys connect the dots, then I don’t want you running the conversation. Sorry.

    I agree that big-tent-ism isn’t the way to run a religion, and the Evangelical Manifesto guys most certainly lose some credibility by trying to make it so.

    However, to say that there aren’t other concerns that we need to address, or to say that we shouldn’t worry about those concerns until abortion is criminalized in all 50 states again is absurd.

    Saying that abortion ISN’T a concern is wrong.

    However, saying that nothing else should be, or that people aren’t really Christian if they put other things on that platter is equally wrong.

    And everyone that is decrying this manifesto is doing exactly that.

    Let the flaming begin.

  2. Adam Omelianchuk July 30, 2008 at 1:57 pm #

    If Neuhaus is annoyed at the Manifesto’s assertion of theological identity over political identity than that says more about Neuhaus than the Manifesto. Neuhaus sees the evangelicals and political voiting block more than a theologically equiped force of Protestantism and for good reason. Evangelicalism has been diluted with all sorts of followings after culture, and its priorities in politics are no exception.

    As a signer of the Manifesto I am glad to see Emergents, fundamentalist Southern Baptist, politically conservative and one-issue voters vehemently attack it. Evangelicals have a social and theological identity that trancends those things and cannot be owned by any of them.

  3. Adam Omelianchuk July 30, 2008 at 1:59 pm #

    A REPOST WITH GRAMMAR CORRECTIONS:

    If Neuhaus is annoyed at the Manifesto’s assertion of theological identity over political identity than that says more about Neuhaus than the Manifesto. Neuhaus sees the evangelicals as a political voting block more than a theologically equipped force of Protestantism and for good reason. Evangelicalism has been diluted with all sorts of followings after culture, and its priorities in politics are no exception.

    As a signer of the Manifesto I am glad to see Emergents, fundamentalist Southern Baptist, politically conservative and one-issue voters vehemently attack it. Evangelicals have a social and theological identity that transcends those things and it cannot be owned by any of them.

  4. Brian (Another) July 30, 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    Excoriates and trenchant. As Steve Martin once said, “some people have a way with words while other people… not have way”. Since Denny writes nothing positive, Paul, at least he keeps us on our toes vocab-wise.

    If you think that abortion will go away because of politics alone, then I guess ignorance is bliss.
    Politics can’t eliminate drunk drivers and yet we still have laws for that as well (as well as murder, theft, etc.). Criminalizing abortion would accomplish the same things for abortion as criminalizing murder (i.e. there will be those who do it regardless).

    The core is Denny’s quote:

    “The Manifesto effectively de-prioritizes the abortion issue and no longer treats it as a transcendent moral concern.”

    He didn’t say abortion is the only concern. But it’s been reduced to just another concern.

    It’s funny how the things that evangelicals think make good politics very easily coincide with the Republican National Committee’s platform. Being that environmentalism doesn’t line up with the fat cat party, it shouldn’t be an evangelical concern.
    As a matter of fact, I’m waiting for Denny to post something along the lines of “Off-Shore Drilling is the Christian thing to do!”

    While the Off-shore drilling thing is funny (see here), I don’t know where you get from treating abortion as a transcendental value to no value for environmentalism. I recall conversations stating that we are to be good stewards of the planet, etc. Could it be that the RNC is trying to cater to the evangelical party and is reflective of their values (at least to a degree)? Which came first, the Evangelical leanings or RNC platform (chicken or the egg)?

    saying that nothing else should be, or that people aren’t really Christian if they put other things on that platter is equally wrong.

    No one said there aren’t other concerns, but (reduction alert!) alluding that abortion should be treated the same as car emissions is absurd.

    Plus, why does it seem that so many times if one posts a belief and defends it is so often met with the just-because-I-don’t-believe-it-doesn’t-mean-I’m-not-Christian argument. Denny certainly didn’t say that, never alluded to it. Even Neuhaus’ quotes above don’t say it (I’d like to read the full article, too bad). So slow the “everyone…decrying this manifesto is doing exactly that” train. I would say that someone saying reducing abortion to “just another issue suffers from confusion regarding the issue (abortion here). I would say that a deluding influence has taken over them. But I don’t see myself or anyone else saying (for instance) Paul holds to the C.Man. He’s unsaved. Perhaps I missed it, though.

  5. John July 30, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    The Manifest is being attacked by the people it should be attacked by….namely, the people it describes. It’s tough to sign on to something that describes you so much in terms you don’t like. In any case, I don’t expect most of these guys to sign ANYTHING unless it was produced by Al Mohler or John Piper. Well, at least Piper tries to stay away from all the political crap, unlike other unmentioned people.

  6. Truth Unites.. and Divides July 30, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    I respect Denny for having the courage to take a stance contrary to his seminary professors Daniel Wallace and Darrel Bock, who both endorsed the Manifesto.

    I agree with Fr. Neuhaus’s critique of “An Evangelical Manifesto”. And I agree with Denny’s critique of the Manifesto as well.

    And I respect the drafters of the Manifesto who said that their document definitely does not represent all Evangelicals. And Neuhaus is right: their theological statements were rather unexceptional.

  7. Truth Unites.. and Divides July 30, 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    Os Guiness: “A Gentle Plea for Civility.”

    Richard John Neuhaus: “‘A Gentle Plea for Civility’ perhaps, although ‘A Poignant Plea for Acceptance’ might be more accurate. … The affirmation of liberal political pieties will not earn the signers and exemption from the disdain in which evangelicals, along with other serious Christians, are held by those whose approval these evangelicals so earnestly seek.”

    I wonder if Os Guiness has been feminized. The writer below posits that American men, by and large, have been feminized:

    “Having been recently introduced to Tony Glenville’s 2006 Top to Toe: A Comprehensive Guide to the Grooming of the Modern Male, I was reminded once again how determined our culture is to make men more like women. Now I realize that certain things are important to properly present oneself. I take showers, have my hair regularly cut, generally wear clothes that match, have some nice suits and ties, shave regularly, and even wear men’s cologne on occasion. I know that there are certain fabrics that are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. But the overemphasis on these types of things has encouraged a softness that is neither attractive nor helpful in terms of cultivating the characteristics that men need in order to honor their biblically sanctioned roles.

    For instance, Glenville advises, “A special occasion calls for special treatment, and taking the time to visit your hairdresser, go for a massage, and have a facial scrub will all add to your confidence.” In another section, he tells us, “At sporting events, whether cheering your team on or participating yourself, the wrong footwear can completely skew an outfit.” I wonder if Chipper Jones knows this? Here’s one of my favorites: “After work, before bed, when stressed, or simply as a pick-me-up before a party, the slow pampering of a bath is special.” In addition to this, one finds out the essentials of the bathroom which include moisturizer, eye cream, manicure kit, pedicure kit, body moisturizer, and body scrub. Can you imagine our great grandfathers talking like this? Exchanging tips for dry skin and split ends? With regard to hands Glenville notes that, “Caring for your hands is not a question of vanity or fussiness, it is common sense. Boardroom or factory, dinner table or diner, your hands are much in evidence at work or at leisure and are able to communicate a great deal about your approach to life.” Indeed!

    Granted, the book has some helpful tips. Knowing how to put on a tie is important for a man to know. Caring for shoes is also needful. But so much of the instruction tends toward an unhealthy, hyper, self preoccupation. The roles to which men are called are stifled and hindered by such tendencies. In fact, self absorption is the enemy of true biblical masculinity. The leadership to which men are called is for the good of those whom he is leading. A self absorbed man will lead for his own good, his own self aggrandizement. The role of protector to which men are called is for the well being of another. A self preoccupied man will let others be harmed while he fends for himself. The role of provider to which men are called is for the welfare of others. A selfish man will provide for himself at the expense of others.

    Men reading Glenville’s book will only be encouraged in their sinful tendency to look out for themselves. If men are focused on such trivial things as dry skin and pampering themselves with long baths, it will be all the more difficult to expect them to lead, provide, and protect. There may be a day when Lowes and Home Depot have entire aisles dedicated to moisturizers and skin creams for that weathered carpenter. There may be rows of scented bubble bath for that overworked mason. But if the church continues to follow the culture, we will have plenty of “Top to Toe” men, able to shop with the best of them at Bath and Body Works, but unwilling and unable to fulfill the Gospel demands that require toughness, self sacrifice, and self-neglect. We do not need prettier boys. We do not need softer men. What we need is a church culture that will call boys and men to lives of self sacrifice as exampled by the picture of Christ in Ephesians 5 who loved the church and gave himself for her to his own neglect and sacrifice. What we need are pastors who will boldly preach about and press for an ethos in their churches that expects this type of behavior from their men. What we need is a church culture that will require boys and men to do hard things, to cultivate toughness, resilience, and courage, top to toe.”

    From: Randy Stinson

  8. Paul July 30, 2008 at 5:53 pm #

    TUAD,

    you are the definition of the saying, “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

    That said, Mr. Stinson goes far too far here.

    As a percussionist, I work with my hands. If I don’t worry about things like hangnails and dry skin, I put being able to provide for my family at risk (a percussionist in pain isn’t a percussionist at his top capabilities). Also, as a musician that plays weddings, I MUST look as good if not better than everyone else in the room, save for the bride and groom. I’d better know how to tie a tie, shine my shoes, use an iron, know which shoes to wear with which suit, and many other such things that I assume Mr. Stinson would claim makes me less of a man.

    Granted, I realize that an article like this is meant for mealy mouthed NASCAR fans to poke fun at sissy man city folk, but still, it’s annoying as all get out.

    You really should change your handle to…

    “one trick ponies who focus only on complementarianism might unite and divide, but they also get old really fast.”

  9. Truth Unites.. and Divides July 30, 2008 at 6:35 pm #

    Paul,

    It’s okay that you missed the point. You got stuck in the details and in the particulars and whiffed badly on what Stinson’s main message was. Namely, that men should not be preoccupied with themselves to the point of such self-absorption that they lose their biblical masculinity.

    And there are times when tough-minded leadership is needed, and in those situations, feminized, gentle pleas for civility undermines the leadership needed.

    For example, General Patton. He was a tough-minded leader. So was Winston Churchill.

  10. D.J. Williams July 31, 2008 at 6:44 am #

    Not sure what any of this has to do with the manifesto, but I think it’s sad that so many seem to have entirely missed the point. I’m not so sure I’m thrilled with the prospect of listening to one who rejects the five solas for a definition of what it is to be evangelical. If the gospel’s our first priority, we’re not going to be linking arms with Rome. But if poliitcs are…well, then they’re a great ally to have.

  11. Brittany August 2, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    TUAD,

    “Os Guinness sounds like he’s succumbed to the feminist agenda to de-masculinize him. Gentleness? Civility? Read Randy Stinson’s article here for information about masculinity” would have accomplished what you were trying to say.

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