Some prominent Christian leaders said this week that they will not sign the “An Evangelical Manifesto,” listing reasons such as vague wording and theological differences.
The manifesto’s definition of evangelical itself was among the top concerns for some leaders who refused to sign the document. The document’s description for evangelicals is “Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Several evangelical leaders said that while the definition is true, it is too broad and therefore not a good definition to distinguish who evangelicals are.
“Those are wonderful words filled with Christian content, but they are also words that would be claimed by many who would never claim to be Evangelicals,” wrote Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his blog this week.
“The definition is just not sufficient,” he plainly criticized.
Likewise, fellow Southern Baptist leader Dr. Richard Land, who heads the denomination’s public policy arm, also found the manifesto’s evangelical definition lacking in specificity.
The conservative leaders also questioned why the document left room for inclusivism or universalism. In the manifesto, drafters said there are several beliefs they "consider to be at the heart of the message of Jesus and therefore foundational for us." Both Land and Mohler questioned why the drafters didn't just end at "foundational" but added "for us." That leaves leeway for people who believe there is more than one way to be saved besides belief in the Lord Jesus Christ to be considered evangelicals, the Baptist leaders argued.
“This is one of the most crucial questions for Evangelical identity,” Mohler emphasized, questioning if all the signers affirm that sinners must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved.
Land, who is president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, stated that he fully agrees with at least 90 percent of what the manifesto says but expressed wholehearted disagreement with one statement:
"In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power...."
“I must disagree, and wholeheartedly so,” said Land, according to Baptist Press. “I can't believe that this is what the Manifesto's authors intended to say, but it is what they said. Spiritual power is, and always will be, more important than political power, however noble its motives and causes.
Still, both leaders praised the manifesto for trying to be a prophetic voice and steering the evangelical movement to refocus on its theological roots.
Mohler praised the document for its analysis of the cultural crisis and for challenging Christians and the integrity of Christian faith.
But both leaders in the end decided against signing the document.
Another evangelical heavy-weight who did not sign the document was Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Dobson, said the board agreed that Dobson should not sign the manifesto “due to myriad concerns about the effort,” according to The Associated Press.
"One of the things that disappointed Dr. Dobson was that when the manifesto was initially circulated, no African-American pastors or theologians were on the invite list," Schneeberger said. "His thinking was, 'How can this purport to represent the voice of evangelicals when people so vital to who we are as a movement are excluded from involvement?'"
Schneeberger did not say what else Dobson was disappointed in about the manifesto.
Other well-known leaders who did not sign the evangelical manifesto, for various reasons, include Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr. of High Impact Leadership Coalition, and evangelist Billy Graham.
Last Wednesday, “An Evangelical Manifesto” was released in Washington, D.C. in hopes of redefining the movement’s image as theological, rather than political or social as it has been painted in the media in recent years.
Supporters also declared that the document’s purpose is to call members of the movement to reform their behavior and rededicate themselves to being followers of Jesus Christ.
The manifesto’s steering committee included Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Os Guinness, co-founder of The Trinity Forum; and David Neff, vice president and editor in chief of Christianity Today magazine, among others.