A New Evangelical Manifesto: a book review

A Manifesto is a public declaration of intent, a call to arms. The most well known manifesto is of course Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto, but there have been several manifestos published by evangelical Christians. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola published the Jesus Manifesto(2010), a good if apolitical book arguing that we recover our Christian focus.  The New Christian Manifesto(2008) by Bob Ekblad laid out a liberationist/charismatic critique on nationalism (particularily the confusion USAmericans have between church and state). An Emergent Manifesto of Hope(2007) edited by Tony Jones and Doug Paggit provided an overview of the varying  views of emergent church leaders. But the grand daddy of them all was Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto(1982) which in many ways set the trajectory of the Religious Right, especially in championing the rights of the unborn.

The work of the New Evangelical Partnership  for the Common Good (NEP) exists to  ‘advance human well being as an expression of our love for Jesus Christ, which is itself a grateful response to his love for us and for a Good but suffering world. In A  Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good, David Gushee edits together  their work and touches on a range of issues which cry out for a robust Christian engagement.  This is a collection of essays from Christian spokespersons, scholars, ethicists and activists. They do not agree with each other

The essays in this book are divided into three sections. In part one, the agenda for a new kind of evangelicalism is laid out and the alliance between the old Religious Right with Conservative Hegemony is strongly critiqued. The opening chapter of this section is by Brian Mclaren, surverying the landscape and the diversity of the contemporary evangelical movementSteven Martin critiques the Christian relationship with the state, providing examples from history where German Church leaders willingly were complicit with the agenda of National Socialism. Cheryl Bridges Johns critiques the older propositional approach to Scripture but warns that we must move beyond a post-foundationalist to hear these word of the Bible as Holy Scripture again. Richard Cizik’s chapter is a personal recounting of his being asked to resign from his position with the National Association of Evangelicals when he admitted on a radio broadcast  that his views of same-sex marriage and civil unions were changing. Paul Markham, Glenn Harold Stassen, and Steven Martin (again) each analyze where the evangelical movement is, the new expressions that are coming about and call us into faithfulness, ‘thick discipleship’, and to form communities which love our enemies.

In the second section of this book are collected essays about loving those on the margins. There are chapters here on an evangelical response to sex trafficking, those suffering preventable diseases, loving our Muslim neighbors, racism, sexism, our inclusion (and protection) of children, our response to the dying and the global poor. Contributors to this section include Jennifer Crumpton, Thomas Sullivan, Rick Love, Lisa Sharon Harper, Laura Rector, Scott Clayborn, and Adam Phillips.

In section three the essays center around the Christian approaches to public life and addresses specific issues of debate and urges Christians to take a stand on these issues.  Timothy Floyd critiques the death penalty and the unjust way it has been implemented.  Paul Alexander urges us to work for peace in a world which loves war. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson argues for a Christian stand against nuclear armament.  Jim Ball calls us to take seriously global warming and creation care.  Charlie Camosy urges us to work for reducing the number of abortions and David Gushee calls us to stand fast against torture (or enhanced interrogation techniques).

With the exception of Brian Mclaren’s chapter, I found each of these essays challenging (not that McLaren’s essay was bad, it is just too similar to everything he’s written for the past fifteen years to really excite my interest).  I am sure that the contributors would have disagreements with one another, if each addressed every topic covered here, but there is a remarkable cohesiveness to the vision they cast. The NEP calls us to a faithful witness to Jesus and  an embrace of the Kingdom of God which doesn’t reduce  Christian witness to a few issues (like abortion, and same-sex unions) but seeks to think comprehensively about the total Christian witness. Are there blind spots? Sure. Do I agree with everything written here? hardly. But in a world where Evangelical is sometimes understood as denoting one’s political affiliation, this collection opens up new possibilities.

I think this book provides a nice introduction to the NEP and issues a good challenge to all of us who care about the Bible and holistic mission.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Hometown Prophet: a book review

While I have had opportunity to review Christian fiction in the past, I haven’t until now. I have my reasons.  I don’t think that all Christian fiction is bad, I sort of put it in the category of ‘church coffee.’ You might get a decent cup of coffee after a church service, but you can’t expect it and the odds are your next couple will be god-awful (that is the technical term).  I also am just not that into Amish Romance or whatever the kids are reading these days.

Why I am I so biased against religious fiction? Well I think the problem is that the genre category means that it is usually written with either didactic or apologetic intent (to teach you something or to stylistically vomit the gospel on you). This sometimes means that there is a compromise in  the artistic integrity of Christian novels (but yes there are also good ones).

But despite my biases and suspicions I liked Hometown Prophet a lot. The premise behind the story is this: Thirty-something Peter Quill moves back home to Nashville to live with his mom. He begins receiving prophetic dreams where he correctly predicts the future. Soon the visions he has put him at enmity with the Christian community in Nashville, especially when he calls into question people’s economic and  ecological commitments and challenges them to regard Muslims as their neighbors.

Author Jeff Fulmer describes how he grew up in a conservative, charismatic household but became increasingly ill-at-ease with how Christianity was misrepresented ‘for personal and political gain.’ He wrote Hometown Prophet out of that frustration. But while this book is a book with a message, it doesn’t strike me as overly preachy. The main character, Peter Quill becomes increasingly confrontational in his prophecies and says a lot of things really strongly. Fulmer balances this by describing Peter’s inadequacies and shortcomings.  He is a complex character, and the story is well crafted.

In this book Fulmer challenges us to pay attention to those around us, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to look for creative ways for God to use us (even if we never hear a prophetic word).  People on the far right may be challenged and offended by elements of this story, but I think challenge is good. This is a fun read which I recommend. Now if I could just get some decent church coffee.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.