Well, ok. So maybe I wasn't as "back" as I thought; but here we go again making an effort to blog more consistently. What better way to jump back in than to discuss fellow Nashvillian and CPA dad, Stephen Mansfield's new book "The Faith of Barack Obama".
Friday, August 29, 2008
A few weeks ago, Thomas Nelson Publishers made an offer of a free book to the first 100 bloggers who responded with a promise to write a blog report on Mansfield's work. I was one of the fortunate few.
I wanted to wait until after the convention, and especially until after SEN Obama's acceptance speech to post my thoughts. Not that it affected my review, but I wanted to gain a better appreciation for the man, the message, and the motivation behind his campaign. I also wanted to ride the crest of the wave of excitement about the Democrats' inspiring and eloquent candidate.
Mansfield's is a rather short book as books go, and is easily readable in a single day. Though he makes it clear on his blog that he will not be voting for SEN Obama, his treatise is well written and unbiased.
Since you can find a horde of other reviews of the book that pretty much analyze the entire book from a literary and technical standpoint, I want to take a different approach. I want to address what the book says about what Obama's faith is and what it is not. Actually, all I really want to do is answer one simple question - "Is Obama a Christian?"
Last New Year's, I attended the Lader's Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, SC. One of the panels I was asked to serve on was the panel on "Living our Faith". There were several other distinguished guests on the panel - a couple of professors from Harvard and Yale, a couple of published authors, and others who were involved in the ministry in one capacity or another. All claimed to be Christians save one who said he was an Athiest Jew (his rationale on acceptance of others in Christian love was incredibly compelling - I loved the way he thought. In fact he was more of a Christian in how he lived his life than any of us were).
When asked to speak, I tried to set the foundation on what I thought would be safe and basic ground - "What does it mean to be a Christian?". I found out very quickly that very few agreed on what exactly a Christian is.
Just to be clear, I firmly believe that Scripture leaves no room for debate about the five essentials of the Gospel - the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, Christ's literal death/burial/resurrection, the second coming of Christ, and the inspiration/inerrancy/infallibility of scripture. Everything else is debatable (baptism, sacraments, gifts of the spirit, music, prophecy, etc...). Without the essentials, one can say he or she is a Christian all they want, but that doesn't make it true. It's sort of like a pig saying he's a horse - it just ain't so.
Back to Mansfield's book - Obama says, "The Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology. On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites." [She tried to embed in me] "a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people and how you aspire to act, not just for yourself, but also for the greater good."
Mansfield goes on to show that Obama believes that "Christianity is but one religious tree rooted in the common ethical soil of all human experience". He believes that there are many paths to God (as do 57% of evangelicals according to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life). He believes prayer is a way to check one's ego, take stock of oneself, and maintain one's moral compass. Regarding a conversation he had with his daughter about the afterlife, Obama states, "I wasn't sure what happens when we die, anymore than I was sure of where the soul resides or what existed before the Big Bang." When asked about eternal punishment, he said, "I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell."
Though Obama says he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for his sins and rose again, belief is not enough. His doubts about the exclusivity of Christ, original sin, eternal punishment and reward, inspiration and infallibility of scripture, ethical standards founded on the scripture, etc... make us question the genuineness of his belief and faith. The scriptures tell us that the devil believes - and trembles. Belief must take root in faith which then reveals itself in fruit as both Christ and the apostle Paul tell us.
So, after analyzing Obama's beliefs and background, though he may say that he is a Christian (as do upwards of 70% of Americans), he is not a follower of Christ in all that Christ is and teaches. He picks and chooses what he believes. In fact, he has done what many in our day do - he has created God in his own image returning the favor of God creating us in His. SEN Obama's belief system proves to be rather pluralistic and pragmatic. In essence he is a humanist, but he is not truly a Christian. I am not trying to judge his heart, but I am looking at his fruit and making a general assessment based on what he says and how he lives his life. This is not saying he isn't a good man. I believe he is a very good man (though with a depraved and dark heart like the rest of us). I also believe he is a great leader with great vision. However, his words and life indicate that he does not know the Creator of the universe, our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ.
How does this play out in his electablity? You tell me.