While working on a talk for a conference last week hosted and attended by academic conservatives, I revisited the Manhattan Declaration. My point was that so many who think themselves conservative think they also take religion seriously by injecting faith into public affairs. But what ends up happening most often is that the complexities and depth of faith are sacrificed for the sake of a common cause, and that commonality is almost exclusively moral and comes from the Second Table of the Decalogue. Listen, for instance, to the way that the Manhattan Declaration’s writers (and the Baylys and Rabbi Bret may well want to follow along) turn the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty into “the Gospel.”
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
Which gospel would that be exactly? The one professed by Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox? J. Gresham Machen, in one of the quotations I used recently, might have a very different understanding of such joint endeavors:
I am bound to say that the kind of discussion which is irritating to me is the discussion which begins by begging the questino and then pretensd to be in the interests of peace. I should be guilty of such a method if I should say to a Roman Catholic, for example, wthat we can come together with him because forms and ceremonies like the mass and membership in a certain definite organization are, of course, matters of secondary importance – if I should say to him that he can go on being a good Cathoilc and I can go on being a good Protestant and yet we can unite on comon Christian basis. If I should talk in that way, I should show myself guilty of the crassest narrowness of mind, for I should be shoing that I had never taken the slightest trouble to understand the Roman Catholic point of view. If I had taken that trouble, I should have come to see plainly that what I should be doing is not to seek common ground between the roman Catholic and myself but simply to ask the Roman Catholic to become a Protestant and give up evertyhing that he holds most dear.
In other words, if Trent still matters, or the the Westminster Confession still matters, the signers of the Manhattan Declaration were in serious denial about the gospel.
What is also important to observe, though, is that they are also in mega-denial. For the law that they affirm, merely calling it the gospel, is only a few brief rules outlined in Scripture. For starters, God’s law also says a fair amount about worship and church polity that again would drive Roman Catholics and Protestants not together but apart — can you say the Mass, or how about apostolic succession? (The same can be asked of the Gospel Coalition — are they ignoring the means of grace, or ecclesiology in order to affirm a meager understanding of the gospel?)
So why is it conservative to affirm the law as revealed in holy writ during public debates if you don’t affirm all of the law? And how conservative can it be to rename the law “gospel”? This is not conservative. It is actually liberal and may border on being modernist.
But saying so makes you an antinomian and a secularist? Shazam!