The term "evangelical" has been bandied about for years by politicians, the media and the general public. But what does it mean to be an "evangelical"? The term has long been cloaked with ambiguity. One of the primary problems is that it is used to signify both a religious group and a political group, yet neither group has any official identity. The public has only some vague idea that evangelicals are "the Jesus people."
A group of prominent, self-proclaimed evangelicals, including Os Guinness, Dallas Willard and John Huffman, is attempting to clear up this ambiguity with the recently released "Evangelical Manifesto." They argue that evangelicals need to define themselves for themselves, rather than letting the media or politicians define them. They then go on to provide a definition of what it means, in their collective opinion, to be an evangelical, and they invite all evangelicals who agree to sign the Manifesto.
The document seems to have two primary purposes: to define evangelicals theologically and to call us to retake our proper place in the public sphere. The three-year effort that went into the Manifesto should be an encouragement to all evangelicals, even those who disagree with the stance of these writers. They are seeking to set theological limits on evangelicalism, and they are trying to correct the sometimes harsh voices of the culture wars by urging evangelicals to present their arguments civilly.
Rather than spending time finding nits to pick with the lengthy document, it would be better for evangelicals to think long and hard about our relationship to culture. Most of us would admit that evangelicals on both the conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum sometimes fail to maintain the proper relationship to culture. Conservatives often err by rejecting culture and trying to isolate themselves from it rather than putting in the effort to reform culture from the inside. Liberals, on the other hand, often err by embracing culture to the point where they "politely" hide their beliefs.