This declaration continues this tendency to define “the gospel” as something other than the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits.
The Manhattan Declaration, released November 20, 2009, firmly yet winsomely takes the stand in defense of truths that are increasingly undermined in contemporary Western societies, including our own. Drafted by Princeton law professor Robert George and evangelical leaders Chuck Colson and Timothy George, this declaration focuses on three issues: (1) the inherent dignity and rights of each human life (including the unborn) by virtue of being created in God’s image; (2) the integrity of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and (3) religious liberty, also anchored in the image of God.
There is a lot of wisdom in this document. For one, it does not breathe the vitriol that is often too common on the religious right and left. In this declaration one will find more light than heat, yet a sense of personal concern for the humaneness of the common culture, even for those who are pursuing antithetical agendas. May this more thoughtful approach to public engagement become more characteristic!
The framers wisely appeal to natural law as well as to Scripture and its revealed doctrines. After all, these three issues are grounded in creation. They are deliverances of the law that God inscribed on every human conscience, not of the gospel that God announced beforehand through his prophets and fulfilled in his incarnate Son’s life, death, and resurrection.
However, it is just for that reason that I stumbled over a few references to the gospel in this declaration. It took me back to the old days of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” when I joined others in raising concerns with Chuck Colson, Richard John Neuhaus, J. I. Packer, and others that this 1996 document announced agreement on the gospel while recognizing remaining disagreement over justification, merit, and the like. Many true and wonderful things were affirmed in that ECT document, but the gospel without “justification through faith alone apart from works” is, as I said then, like chocolate chip cookies without the chips.
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