Saturday, December 27, 2008

Theologically robust civility

I don't recall who first introduced me to Albert Mohler a few weeks ago.

Mohler is a prolific and brilliant, theologically conservative writer and radio commentator. I wish I had half his spiritual and intellectual firepower.

But ignoring my wishes, I would like to call your attention to his analysis of An Evangelical Manifesto, written back in May. His conclusion:
Issues such as abortion and marriage are not only important, but urgent. One gains the impression that the civility so prized in this document can only take the form of endless talk and dialogue. That may fit the culture of Washington think tanks, but it does not fit the culture of public policy or the lives most of us lead. The Manifesto is wonderfully prophetic in calling for civility, but it never explains how civility can survive a policy conclusion -- or how civil parties to a conversation about ultimate things can speak the truth and always be considered civil.

When the document correctly states, "In a society as religiously diverse as America today, no one faith should be normative for the entire society, yet there should be room for the free expression of faith in the public square," does it mean that there can or should be no normative morality for the public square? Or, one might wonder, would this normative morality (without which no society can survive) be as secularized as the framers of the Manifesto eloquently fear?

Where does a commitment to civility meet its limits? Can one speak truthfully of the Gospel, and of the fact that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and be considered civil?

In the end, I must judge "An Evangelical Manifesto" to be too expansive in terms of public relations and too thin in terms of theology. I admire so much of what this document states and represents, but I cannot accept it as a whole. I want it to be even more theological, and to be far more specific about the Gospel, I agree with the framers that Evangelicals should be defined theologically, rather than politically, culturally, or socially. This document will have to be much more theological for it to accomplish its own stated purpose.

Now, perhaps we Evangelicals will all gain by a civil conversation about this Manifesto that calls for civility. That at least would be a good place to start.

Someone has to speak up for final legal and policy conclusions. And when it comes to making final decisions, it seems few evangelical leaders are willing and able to "stand up and be counted" for their considered and absolute positions. They (we) seem willing to speak up for absolute truth. But when push comes to shove, our range of absolute statements is mighty thin!

Perhaps I should speak for myself: When push comes to shove, I find it difficult to make "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!" kinds of statements. I am happy to present my reasons for believing one way or another. I am happy to "argue" my position with passion. But to pretend I can make a definitive, "Thus says the Lord" statement beyond the specific words of Scripture (words that are open to potential different interpretations) . . . --I have a hard time with that.

And so I will continue to read Mr. Mohler to learn how he is able to conduct himself with grace and truth . . . a balancing act he seems perfectly able to perform. (Check out his Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth? message from December 23.)
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