Mad over Manhattan

Dr. R. C. Sproul has finally weighed in on The Manhattan Declaration and to no one’s surprise, he’s against signing it while “shar(ing) the document’s concern for defending the unborn, defining heterosexual marriage biblically, and preserving a proper relationship between church and state.” Dr. Sproul opposes the document on the same basis that MacArthur, Begg, and Horton have previously articulated. He makes the following primary points:

  1. “The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.”
  2. “…how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian?”
  3. “Without a clear understanding of sola fide and the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, you do not have the gospel or gospel unity (1 Cor. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:21).”


As to point number one: to conclude that the framers of the Manhattan Declaration are grounding cobelligerency on the assumption that Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Catholics “share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel” is itself an assumption. 

The declaration is clear in the beginning that the drafters/signers have come together across historic lines of ecclesial differences, differences which must include theology. My friends MacArthur, Begg, Horton, and Sproul are working very hard to make a point that “ecclesial differences” cannot include “theological differences,” otherwise the principle point of their argument against signing the document fails.

As to point number two: while the Manhattan Declaration uses the identifier “Christian” to describe those who have come together from differing faith backgrounds, it does so not in the sense of agreement on the nuances of what is or isn’t included in an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Nor is it necessary to do so. When “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch,” it wasn’t a moniker they affixed to themselves. The disciples were called Christians by those outside of the church as a way of describing what they interpreted as a mimicking of Christ on the part of the disciples, not because of some agreement on all of the nuances of what the gospel meant. Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals certainly have fundamental differences on what the gospel is, and not all of the adherents in each particular group are Christians in the gospel sense of that word, but in terms of individual groups they all consider themselves Christians because of their common alligiance to Jesus Christ, even though misunderstandings of how to be in proper spiritual relationship to Jesus Christ persist. Christian is Christ-Follower. While you can argue about what that means in its particulars, no one can deny that in the broad sense of the term, Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox see themselves as uniquely under the authority of Christ. It is in that sense that the term “We Christians” is being used.

As to point number three: the doctrine of imputation and sola fide are certainly mandatory in gospel unity. But once again it must be emphasized that the Manhattan Declaration is not a statement of “gospel unity.” It is a statement of moral clarity on three crucial areas of our culture which, if abandoned to secularism, will result in the collapse of our culture.  If the document went to lengths to define “Gospel” there would be no document, because clearly there is no unity among the signers on that issue – only on the urgency of defending life, marriage, and religious liberty. The documents’ detractors are opposed to it only because they read into it what clearly isn’t there and assume that it is a broader theological statement than it actually is.

In order for MacArthur, Begg, Horton, and Sproul to reach the conclusion that signing the Manhattan Declaration “obscures the gospel,” they must read all of the history behind Evangelicals and Catholics Together into this present document.

This is precisely what Dr. Sproul has done in his statement:

The drafters of the document, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George, used deliberate language that is on par with the ecumenical language of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement that began in the 1990s.

. . . . . .

Though the framers of the Manhattan Declaration declaim any connection to ECT, it appears to me that the Manhattan Declaration is inescapably linked to that initiative, which I have strenuously resisted.

Dr. Sproul is assuming a continuation of ECT in this present document. He cannot reach that conclusion based on anything which is clearly stated in the Manhattan Declaration itself, though he attempts to do so by suggesting the language of MD is “on par” with ECT, referring mainly to ECT’s use of the terms “Gospel” and “Christians,” while ignoring the fact that ECT was clearly a stament of theological unity whereas in no sense can it be said MD is such a statement, if you allow MD to stand in isolation from ECT.

Organizing a rescue effort does not require full agreement on theological nuances. Yet this is precisely the position of those who, on the one hand, are in favor of what the Manhattan Declaration aims to accomplish, while on the other hand refusing to assist in that aim because some on the rescue team aren’t as clear on nuances as they’d prefer they be.

4 Replies to “Mad over Manhattan”

  1. Dear Paul Edwards,

    An exceptionally well-written, well-argued post. I agree with you. Here’s another article that you might find interesting called “Lordship Salvation is Not Enough: A Response to John MacArthur” which addresses MacArthur’s substantive objections to the Manhattan Declaration.

    Another general article that’s worthy reading which predates the MD controversy is Scot Klusendorf’s article titled “Should Christians be Cobelligerents in Ecumenical Coalitions?”

  2. Paul,

    I also comment this article by Dr. Kenneth Samples titled “Is the Catholic Church Christian?”

    Click here.

  3. Even if you agree with Sproul, MacCarther et al theologically, doesn’t it appear that appear their arrogance in this matter is ruining the gospel message they claim to uphold?
    These types of nitpicky things are what make me want to resist being labeled as a “christian”.

  4. We are at a time when we need to focus and unite on the very important issues of morality and marriage and Honoring God that we agree on so that we can fight the moral and marriage battles. We can do this and still leave open to dialogue and even disagree on other issues, including theological ones. But if we wait until people agree on every point, we will lose the war.

    People will become confused and make inaccurate assumptions even when we speak clearly. If we are fearful of joining the moral fight because someone might misinterpret we should just give up now, because we can never get it fool proof in this crazy world.

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