Reflections on the Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration

It seems that in these days Christians of all traditions feel an increasing need to clarify and articulate core beliefs. A slew of books have been published within the last ten years in an effort to do that very thing. Just a few are Chuck Colson's, The Faith; Luke Timothy Johnson's, The Creed; and J.I. Packer and Thomas C. Oden, eds., One Faith: the Evangelical Consensus. Some leaders from within Churches of Christ even took a swing at a statement with a more limited scope, see, "a Christian Affirmation," printed fairly recently in the Christian Chronicle.

The latest effort to do such is the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, released on November 20, 2009. The drafting committee of the document was Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Chuck Colson, and Robert George (Princeton University). The list of religious leader signatories is impressive. Among them–Tim Keller, J.I. Packer, Cornelius Plantinga, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Oden, Richard Mouw, and a host of other church leaders and scholars. One striking characteristic of  the Declaration is that it's inclusive of Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians.

Doctrinal statements of faith have a long and rich history. I see no problem with them, though I personally don't find them particularly helpful—as they tend to state simply the most mainstream ideas of a movement or belief system. Thus I find myself reading creedal statements and thinking, "and?" I also object to binding human-created creeds to people. 

Having said that, I welcome the Manhattan Declaration. It addresses three primary issues: Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.

I'll offer some thoughts on the document's substance in tomorrow's post. Hear are some things I appreciate about the Manhattan Declaration:

  • It is signed by both scholars and practicioners. Many doctrinal statements of this kind have relied solely on the academy or clergy for both composition and endorsement. This document was drafted and signed by a mixture of "clergy" and scholars. This is a positive trend.
  • The authors state, "…we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities." They do not presume to speak for everyone.
  • The document is well-worded and stays focused on a few large ethical concerns, rather than offering us 99 things we must believe in. To use Robert Wuthnow's language, the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration stay "thick," rather than "thin" in their ideology. For the objective they are seeking, this is good. It shouldn't be thought that all who sign the document or agree with the personal doctrinal convictions of each signer. This is also good.
  • The content of the arguments themselves is compelling.
  • The section on life is marvelous. 
  • The section on religious liberty is also outstanding. 
  • It's actually a notice of intent to engage in civil disobedience, if necessary. It's been a long time since Christians were willing to go there for good reasons. The authors end the document with, "We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's."

I hear no call for Christian morality to become law of the United States. In fact, the authors seem to go out of their way to make that point. The intent of the Manhattan Declaration seems to be somewhat the opposite. As the author's see it, the Manhattan Declaration is a call for government to cease coercing/forcing Christian participation in things they find morally objectionable.

Tomorrow, the comments on the substance of the document.

Have you read the Manhattan Declaration? If so, what'd you think?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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