Monday, November 23, 2009

Answering some critics about signing the Manhattan Declaration

Reading around the internet both on web sites and comments on other’s blogs, I have found several specific complaints about the Manhattan Declaration. The document, produced by orthodox Christians of various communities of faith, including the Reformed, Catholic and Orthodox, upholds the sanctity of life, the importance of biblical marriage, and religious freedom.

These are what I see as some of the main complaints:

· Its acceptance by those reformed who place reason beneath revelation. That one was aimed at me but at others also.

· That it does not address Christology or soteriology.

· That there are too many writers and signers who are Southern Baptist.

· That too many Evangelicals are involved with it.

· That too many Catholics are involved in it. (Hey-what happened to the Orthodox and the Methodist and Presbyterians?)

· That it is badly written. (I won't even answer that)

· That the producers of the document are doing that old thing of likening our government to Nazi Germany.

· And finally a crazy one or two- like the conservatives have already written so many declarations so this one won’t count anymore than the others-or they are all just busybodies sticking their noses in other people’s business. (In other words it isn’t any of their business.)

Now I know that is not all but it’s a good start. Also some of those complaints are more important than others.

For instance the first and second complaints are very important. But first it should be said that the complainers weren’t necessarily arguing that what they believed about revelation and reason, or Christology and salvation were something they were bothered about by this document but that those who signed, like me, didn’t agree with the views they signed on to. So let’s look at that.

The writers stated, “We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person.”

Is that placing reason and nature on a par with God’s revelation. Can I still hold to that statement and at the same time believe that Jesus Christ as he is revealed in Holy Scripture is above reason and human experience? Can I hold to that statement and believe that reason has fallen under sin as well as human nature.

Of course, the statement does not say that the “truth” is made known by reason or the human person but is grounded in them. And given that Catholics were involved in the document that is amazing. There is room here for those reformed, like myself, who wade or swim in Barth’s theology. Remember it was Anselm, Barth’s, so to speak mentor, who wrote:

"I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,but I believe so that I may understand; and what is more,I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand." (But the understanding does follow)

The second complaint that the document does not address Christology or soteriology is meaningless because this is not a confession nor is any person suggesting that it be entered into a book of confessions. A Confession should, of course, first of all confess the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what a confession is about. I think that this declaration is more or less like the declaration declared by the Pastor’s Emergency League in Germany during the Nazi era. It stated:

1. I engage to execute my office as minster of the Word, holding myself bound solely to Holy Scripture and to the Confessions of the Reformation as the true expositions of Holy Scripture.

2. I engage to protest, regardless of the cost, against every violation of this confessional stand.

3. I hold myself responsible to the utmost of my ability for those who are persecuted on account of this confessional stand.

4. In making this pledge, I testify that the application of the Aryan paragraph within the Church of Christ has violated the confessional stand.[1]

And so of course my above statement about the Pastor’s Emergency League leads into another complaint. That the writers of the Declaration should not have appealed to the Confessing Church of Germany.

The closest wording I can find in the document that comes near to such an accusation is, “Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”) were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of ‘liberty,’ ‘autonomy,’ and ‘choice.’”

This coupled with the general push by President Obama and others to advance further the availability of abortion including partial birth abortion ties the whole scenario together. The writers are not suggesting that our government is nazified or even near it. But they are pointing out a real truth. We are heading down a road that others before us have traveled. And, in fact, it was from the United States that the doctors of Nazi Germany learned to value eugenics.[2]

The next few complaints should instead be reasons to rejoice. We are all one body. It is the Lord that makes it so. And He knows who is His and who is not. Our unity is connected to His Lordship, that is comforting. And this is also an answer to that last complaint. We all belong to a King. He rules the whole universe. His subjects are called to go where he sends them-and that might mean nosing into business that someone thinks is theirs when it actually belongs to a King. The King.

Oh and it doesn’t matter if the Declaration falls by the wayside what matters is faithfulness.

[1] The Aryan paragraph was a statement saying that any non-Aryan (Jewish person) could not be a member of the Church.
[2] See Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement, Oxford University Press 2004, and Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Basic Books 1986 paper edition 2000.


Dave Moody said...

Like, thumbs up, and all that.

Presbyman said...

Thank you, Viola, for taking the time and effort to answer the nattering nabobs of negativism ... particularly the pedantic proclaimers of progressivism.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Kattie W. Coon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kattie W. Coon said...

Here's what Ben Glaser said about it on Toby Brown's blog:

"I do find this document trite and frankly fraught with historical inaccuracies in its preamble and major theological problems in its body. The most glaring examples being the "shout out" to suffrage in the preamble and the atrocious use of John 10:10 in the "Life" section. On top of all of it the document woefully misunderstands the Reformation doctrine of Religious Liberty. It certainly looks nothing like the 20th Chapter of the WCF. "

How do you respond to that criticism?

I wonder, will you allow Alan K. to join in this discussion, considering he is one of the primary motivators behind criticism #1?

Huntsville, Al

Viola Larson said...

Dave I am so glad you gave the thumbs up, I know what happens to Christians who get the thumbs down: ) John, thanks and I love your alliteration.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Viola Larson said...

Kattie-Did you really think that all of the Consistory members agreed with each other on everything? That is a myth that someone started I don't know who.

But unless Ben comes on my blog and argues with me in public we will not be doing it behind his back.

# 1 on my post has nothing to do with anything Alan K said but with Aric Clark both on his blog and in the comment section of Toby's blog. He wrote, " Or read Viola's blog most days of the week to hear a rehearsal of the usual Barthian line contra natural theology."

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Viola Larson said...

By the way I take what Aric said as a compliment whether he meant it that way or not.

backwoodspresbyterian said...

I am kind of interested to hear what some have to say about my criticisms.

Benjamin P. Glaser
Sarver, PA

Kattie W. Coon said...

"Did you really think that all of the Consistory members agreed with each other on everything?"

Viola, it's truly amazing the things you imagine and atribute to others.

BTW, what is your response to Ben's criticism now that he has chimed in?

Huntsville, Al

Viola Larson said...

Kattie and Ben,
I will get back to this but right now I am very upset-read my last posting.

Ben, sometimes we just need to stick together because we love Jesus. So see above.

Viola Larson said...

First of all the Declaration does not pretend to be a Reformed document, but is instead a catholic (with a small c) document; it stands to reason it will not sound like the WCF. It was after all written about issues that are of concern to all who are orthodox Christians, meaning all who adhere to the Ecumenical Confessions of the Church.

Those Confessions are included in a Reformed Confession-see- 5.078-079 in the Second Helvetic Confession in the PCUSA Book of Confessions.

I cannot answer your accusation about trite seeing as how you have not explained how it is trite. While it is true that it does not live up to the great Puritan writers or reformed theologians of past centuries-I don’t think anyone meant it to do so. I am not sure how or why that should keep any one from signing it.

As for “historical inaccuracies in its preamble” I think perhaps you might want to take a second or third look. You mention suffrage. They write, “And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement.” Ben that is true, and it is part of what I wrote my Master’s thesis on. Yes there were those who were not Christian, but Christian women played a great part in getting women the vote. Here is a link to the first chapter of my thesis which will explain about the three kinds of thinking that gave women the right to vote. (And a few other things also, like the right to higher education.) (And a warning, I know you don’t believe in women pastors, but yes that was a part also) you do believe in the right of women to vote and be educated-I think?

I know you have some problems with the slavery part, however that is a long and complicated history that cannot really fit into a declaration. There were edicts against the slavery of those who were Christians, The movie Mission is a part of the history. The Catholic Church did fail and so did the Reformed Churches. We have all failed but at least there was an attempt to move forward. If it was a history text I might understand your problem.

And John 10:10-doesn’t the abundant life that Jesus gives include body and soul? And isn’t a baby both a soul and body- so as he gives life it has to be more than simply salvation of the soul-which is the wonderful gift to Christians alone, but it does not negate his gift of bodily life which we are called to protect.
In Hendrickson’s commentary he writes, “The exact opposite of killing and destroying is making alive. And the exact opposite of the thief is the good shepherd, Christ. So Jesus says, ‘I came in order that they (i.E., people; here the sheep) may have life (see 3:16) and may have abundance (of grace, 1:16; cf. Rom.5:17, 20; Eph. 1:7, 8; IiCor. 8:2; of peace, Jer 33:6). See also 2:6, 7; 4:14; 6:13, 35. These passages show that Jesus always provides an overflowing measure, a surplus.” I don’t see how that doesn’t feed into the work of those who strife for the right to live for the unborn. But maybe I just don’t understand what you are saying.

John said...

I prefer The Confession of 1967 and The Declaration of Faith of the PC(USA).

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” – Mohandas Gandhi