The Manhattan Declaration and the Gospel

The Manhattan Declaration is a new statement or manifesto by numerous leaders from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical/Protestant traditions dealing with current cultural issues that face Christians. The statement is over 4,000 words and was drafted by Chuck Colson, Robert P. George, and Timothy George. Some evangelical signers include Al Mohler, Tim Keller, Wayne Grudem, Ligon Duncan, and others. You can see the complete list here.

These Christians have united to “reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them.” The specific truths articulated in the document are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Al Mohler, one of the signers, provided a post on why he signed the declaration, but a number of Christians have voiced concern over this. Some evangelicals have complained that the document fails to articulate the Gospel, especially since these different groups of Christians (Orthodox, Roman, and evangelical) do not agree on the gospel. An example of this criticism has come from John MacArthur, Jr. as well as Michael Horton.

In his recent newsletter, Father Pat Reardon, Pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, and a signer of the document, explains that the Orthodox Priest Father Tobias is also frustrated because the document doesn’t call for repentance. After explaining both of these objections, Reardon concludes:

The objections of MacArthur and Tobias are curious in their evident presumption that Christians, when they speak in public, should limit their discourse to the proclamation of the Gospel and the summons to repentance.

This may be a legitimate view, though it was neither shared by many Christians over the centuries nor obviously favored by the prophets. Jonah, for instance, preached judgment—not repentance—at Nineveh, nor did his proclamation include one syllable of Good News. If this was true of Jonah, what shall we say of Nahum, whose own message to the Ninevites was just an expansion of Jonah’s meager half-verse?

Respectfully, these objections to the Manhattan Declaration (including its rhetoric) could easily have been made against any one—and perhaps all—of the biblical prophets. Our modest Declaration, as a statement of social concern, invites the endorsement of Christians who share that concern. The matter is truly as plain as that.

You can read his article here. I think Reardon is right, and I think the document is helpful in what it articulates and how it is drawing together Christians from different traditions. I do not have to deny the gospel in order to affirm the document, and I am a “catholic” Christian who believes we should seek common ground with others who identify themselves as Christians around the world. This document is a good way to do it. I disagree with what I would consider a sectarian view of Christianity that would require me to never agree on these issues with Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I had no problem signing it. I would encourage you to to read it and sign it as well.

15 thoughts on “The Manhattan Declaration and the Gospel”

  1. MacArthur’s point, along with James White and others, is that the gospel defines what Christianity is.

    Rome and EO do not teach the gospel, therefore…

  2. I understand that. Do you think I missed their point? On the contrary. I understand their point and disagree with them. I disagree that we have to agree on the specific nature of the gospel in order to agree on the content of what is trying to be affirmed. I do not have to deny the gospel in order to affirm the document. And on top of that, I am one of those “catholic” Christians who really do believe we should seek common ground with others who identify themselves as Christians around the world. This document is a good way to do it. I disagree with what I would consider a sectarian view of Christianity that would require me to *never* agree on these issues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians and affirm these truths alongside Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

  3. Thank you for stating so well what I’ve been trying to articulate. I have been uncomfortable with the some of the louder evangelical voices that criticize other evangelical signers.

    The Manhattan Declaration read to me an as an issue of social justice. I have much respect for my Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters who were fighting the battle on social justice issues long before evangelicals took up the call. I am grateful that we can unite on these critical fronts and in this way be a light in darkness. This does change the imperative of pushing forward the true gospel. our differences remain. But on these issues we can unite with a whole heart. I can tell the difference.

    Thanks for speaking up.

  4. I signed it too. Even though I would categorically deny that the EOs and the RCs embrace the biblical gospel (as would Dr. Mohler, Lig Duncan, and many others who signed the document), the unbelieving world imprecisely sees those groups as under the category of “Christian.” I’m okay with that and don’t think this social document needs to be the place where that fight is picked. Frankly, I’m happy to support life, marriage, and liberty not only alongside RCs and EOs, but also Mormons, JW’s, Jews, and whoever else would agree to support those three biblical principles.

    I would never want to go arm in arm with RCs or EOs in church work. But in politics on ethical issues? No problem.

    MacArthur seems to be operating out of his fundamentalist separatism. Horton seems to be operating out of his Klinean dichotomy. I’m not persuaded of either. I think the Word of God applies to the public square, and if folks who deny the biblical gospel want to affirm politically what the Bible affirms, then I’m happy to vote and fight with them.

  5. James Grant: “I disagree with what I would consider a sectarian view of Christianity that would require me to never agree on these issues with Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I had no problem signing it. I would encourage you to to read it and sign it as well.”

    James, I fully agree with you. Great post!

  6. Gay Activists Target Signers Of The Manhattan Declaration

    By Susan Brinkmann, For The Bulletin

    Monday, December 07, 2009

    Same-sex marriage proponents are threatening to cause disruptions in the diocese of every bishop who signed the Manhattan Declaration, a statement calling on Christians to stand up for their belief in the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.

    A post appearing on GayBuzz.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.”

    From here.

  7. The problem with signing this document as a evangelical is that this document in itself assumes all the signers to be Christians. This is not the case! If you have Catholics or EO’s signing this while holding to the beliefs of their respective churches they are not Christians. I can not give them that fellowship of calling them a Christian by signing this and will not. That is why people such as MacArthur didn’t sign. It confuses the Gospel! If this were a group of people not “Christians” signing I think he would be more likely to sign

  8. Would you ever see a point that would be necessary for those who go by the name of Christ to unite in defense of our beliefs? Is there room for something like that?

  9. I should add that my main concern is the issue of what it would take to get those who are evangelicals who would not sign this document to a point at which they would sign something similar to this, but not something that could be signed by Jews and Muslims. In other words, something that would be limited to those who embrace the Christian tradition. I have read through other stuff online, but haven’t received clarity on this issue. My concern is that I fear many evangelicals would never considered signing their name to a document as long as Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox are on it, or would sign it only if explicit non-Christians were part of it.

  10. Absolutely not! If it is under the name Christian and talking about common beliefs then no these conservative evangelicals will not sign and rightfully so. If you want to unite these conservatives would be much more willing to work as long as they don’t grant that you are united under Christ. The catholic church believes a completely different gospel then these men and that is the point. It must be about morals and not uniting with catholics or orthodox. That is where the problem is! Saying there is something in common where there is not.

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