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A Movement Actually on the Move: An Appreciative Response to An Evangelical Manifesto

 

There seems to be a move by some Evangelicals to engage more effectively today’s culture and society. This has been building for some time. Neither do these appear to be isolated incidents. Several Evangelicals are moving in similar directions. “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment” (see www.evangelicalmanifesto.com) is an especially significant example. First, several stalwart Evangelical leaders and thinkers, including Richard Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary), Timothy George (Samford University), Dallas Willard (Southern California University), and others not only signed it but also helped shape it. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, was one of the charter signatories. Other notable signatories include Kay Arthur, Stuart Briscoe, Leighton Ford, Justo Gonzalez, Mark Noll, and Alvin Plantinga. Pentecostals will notice names like Jack Hayford, Cheryl Bridges Johns, Mel Robeck, Amos Yong, and others. (I just now signed it myself, and I encourage others to do so too.)

Second, among other things, “An Evangelical Manifesto” enumerates concerns for political and social action, ecological awareness, and ecumenical openness and even interreligious engagement – all without sacrificing or apologizing for continuing commitment to historic Evangelical principles regarding Christ, the Bible, or the Church and its mission. Its tone is quite positive, though perhaps just a bit defensive at times, but overall well balanced. Most of all, it is an intelligent and articulate presentation of Evangelical concerns for a wider arena of issues than previously typical. Additionally, it steadfastly resists and repudiates attempts to stereotype Evangelicals, maintaining a firm grip on a moderate posture between reactionary fundamentalism and reductionist liberalism, viewing both as undesirable, avoidable extremes. These Evangelicals see themselves, though perhaps not as “mainline,” yet as moderates, that is, as members of a movement more in the middle rather than to the far left or far right. Significantly, “An Evangelical Manifesto” is biblically and theologically sound while being culturally engaged. The steering committee and participants are to be commended for courageous work of exceptional quality. (NPR also has an interview about this with Mouw that is interesting. See http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90252763.)

Interestingly, there appears to be an expanding and, at times, energetic move among some Pentecostals toward cultural and social engagement that gels well with “An Evangelical Manifesto”. For example, Jerry Redman has written persuasively on “A Theology of Social Action” (http://www.faithnews.cc/articles.cfm?sid=8827) designed for Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Furthermore, Fleming Rutledge, in “When God Disturbs the Peace” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/june/13.30.html), has connected Pentecostal and Charismatic understandings of the supernatural dimension and spiritual deliverance with social dynamics. Internationally known Charismatic speaker and writer Cindy Jacobs’s emphasis on working to achieve social transformation through intercession and prophetic ministry (The Reformation Manifesto: Your Part in God’s Plan to Change Nations Today [Bethany House, 2008]) comes to mind as well. From a sociological standpoint, the significance of the move toward Pentecostal social engagement has been studied by Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori in Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007).

“An Evangelical Manifesto” is apparently an emphatic attempt to address contemporary concerns without abdicating traditional commitments. Likeminded Pentecostals can say “Amen!” Faith in Christ and life in the Spirit propels one beyond the borders of individual experience and interest into the wider arena of a needy if sometimes nasty world. Yet one does not forsake the former in favor of the other. Personal piety and social activity are, or ought to be, partners in Christ-centered, Spirit-filled living.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2009

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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