D. G. Hart on the Manhattan Declaration

Darryl Hart has raised some outstanding points with regard to the nature of the language of the Manhattan Declaration. You can read them here. Here is one such helpful point:

My last and biggest reservation is related to the Social Gospel aspects of the Declaration – that is, the idea that Christianity leads to and promotes a just society. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be heard to be saying that Christianity promotes injustice, though, of course, Christianity’s record in human history has not been free from embracing tyranny and injustice (at least as defined by the likes of Kant). But do the authors of the Declaration believe that Jesus and the apostles would have signed a Rome Declaration if one were available to them? In other words, is the purpose of Christianity to progress this world or is it to prepare believers for the next? Is the purpose of the gospel to yield the common good or eternal salvation? I understand that Protestants and Roman Catholics (I have interacted less with Orthodox about this) differ on questions of continuity and discontinuity between temporal and eternal goods. Will truth and justice and prosperity in this world be like the truth and justice and prosperity that believers will experience in the new heavens and new earth?

If it is legitimate to raise this question, then the Manhattan Declaration needs to address the concerns of those Christians who believe that the gospel has a higher aim than simply the right ordering of this world. This doesn’t mean that necessarily that the Christianity of which I speak is opposed in fundamentalist, docetist, or gnostic fashion to a good society, or to ordered liberty. But I do worry that by directing so much attention in the name of Christ to the great moral concerns of this age, Christians will lose sight of the eternal truths that older professions of the church recognized (and encourage non-Christians to look to the church for solutions to society’s problems. Older expressions of Christianity put the problems and even the evils of this life into a perspective that saw them as not ultimate but temporary.

4 Responses

  1. James Henrich

    Must the choice be either proclaim the gospel or promote a just society? Must advocacy for social justice be a deviation or straying from the gospel? The dangers of falling into a social gospel are real and should be recognized, but are those concerns best addressed by shying away from the ethical issues of the day that cry out for a biblical response? Was the gospel adorned or discredited in the eyes of unbelievers by the silence of some Christians during the worst abuses of racial segregation in our country? Is the bravery of those German pastors who spoke publicly against Hitler’s evil regime tarnished because they dared to risk their lives for the common good? Let’s be always vigilent to proclaim the gospel, while not neglecting the implications of the gospel for the just ordering of our lives together in this world. In this way both love of God and love of neighbor is made evident.

  2. James,

    I want states’ rights restored. Why doesn’t that ever make it onto the declarative lists of what makes a better society but is always squeezed out with talk about the unborn, civil rights and sufferage, along with references to the Third Reich?

    But much as I have a notion of what might make the world a better place, I’m not quite as willing to link up states’ rights to the cause of Christianity. To the extent that it obscures the gospel, the slouching toward social gospel, whatever the cause, is a far worse propsect than me not getting the sort of social order I like. Do MDers have even the slightest clue what I mean?

  3. Truth Unites... and Divides

    I commend this article by Dr. Niel Nielson, President of Covenant College, titled “Why I Almost Didn’t Sign the Manhattan Declaration.”

    Here are some excerpts, but do read the entire article:

    “I realized as well that the Declaration, while implying that the signers may agree on the nature and meaning of the gospel, does not define the gospel in any way that I find objectionable, i.e. by signing I was not affirming any heterodox, unbiblical view of the gospel. My signature – and this is important – signals my agreement with the Declaration as it explicitly and specifically stands, and nothing more.

    To critics of the Declaration who say that it implies agreement with Catholics and Orthodox on the nature and meaning of the biblical gospel, I say that such implication is possible but certainly not necessary. To critics of the Declaration who say that it commits the signers to agreement with Catholics and Orthodox on the nature and meaning of the biblical gospel, I say strongly, “No, it does not.” I disagree with official Catholic and Orthodox understandings of the gospel, and embrace wholeheartedly our Protestant Reformation theology, grounded in the Scriptures and summarized most beautifully and convincingly in the Westminster Standards. The Declaration not only does not in any way violate those Standards, but in fact flows from them.”

    I heartily commend Dr. Nielson’s thoughtful article.

  4. dgh

    Mr. Heinrich: the question is whether the church must proclaim the gospel 0R promote a just society if that’s what the Bible says the question is. In other words, if the church is to add social justice to proclaiming the gospel, the church must have a warrant from Scripture. Given the silence of Jesus and the apostles to great injustices in their day and society, it sure would be interesting to see a biblical case for social justice.

Leave a Reply