Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Faith of Obama (in His Own Words)

"I'm a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he's also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell. I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"Let's make clear what the facts are: I am a Christian. I have been sworn in with a Bible. I pledge allegiance [to the American flag] and lead the pledge of allegiance sometimes in the United States Senate when I'm presiding."
Times Online
January 2008

"It is a precept of my Christian faith that my redemption comes through Christ, but I am also a big believer in the Golden Rule, which I think is an essential pillar not only of my faith but of my values and my ideals and my experience here on Earth. I've said this before, and I know this raises questions in the minds of some evangelicals. I do not believe that my mother, who never formally embraced Christianity as far as I know…I do not believe she went to hell. My particular set of beliefs may not be perfectly consistent with the beliefs of other Christians."
July 2008


Evonne said...

Thank you for this blog, Mike. It helps clarify the quintessential delusion many have of their participation in the Christian faith. It clarifies how to pray for President-elect Obama and helps to explain the fruit of his past voting record. The deceitful religion of secular humanism has its blood sacrifice in abortion and its twisted compassion in failing to protect the most vulnerable while "knowing" what is "best" for us all. May we all have "camel-knees" if we do not already. May we demonstrate in fruit all the facets of what it means to truly identify as Christ's own. May our love abound and may it go far beyond the foolishness of hand-wringing compassion. May we pray and care for those caught in the sticky web of self-delusion and its attending tragedies. May we kindly bring truth and genuine healing as instruments of His love. As we live for Christ, may we be willing to share in His sufferings.

Jesse said...

Sadly this truly represents our post-modern culture. We stand before the buffet line of religious belief and experience, picking and choosing what we like and rejecting those with which we disagree.
This ought to drive us to compassionate, intense, and unceasing prayer for not only Obama but the western world of which he is such a legitimate representative.
It also increases the desire to preach and teach the defining clarity of the Gospel in order to save it from the ambiguity and relativism of our culture. Obama and others are entitled to their beliefs, but, they ought not call themselves "Christian" and in fact cannot according to an orthodox understanding of our faith.
Perhaps it has gotten to the point where we should abandon the term Christian as this term has lost its meaning around the world and is terribly misunderstood to be representative of Western/American culture.

Matthew Valdiviez said...

First off, let's see if we can't hold off on determining exactly who gets to call himself a Christian and who doesn't. I'm sure we'll all be quite shocked to discover at the last judgment just who the the legitmate followers of Jesus really were.

And these jeremiads against "post-modernity" and "secular humanism" are ringing pretty hollow. The fact that someone differs from you, or the doctrinal authorities under whom you've placed yourself, on one ore two articles of the creed doesn't necessarily make him a post-modernist, a relativist, a humanist, or even a heretic. Our orthodoxy didn't come to us on the wings of a dove or on stone tablets, nor was it scrawled upon the walls of King Belshazar's banquet hall. It was the labor of centuries of interpretive scholarly (and not-so-scholarly)dissent, and so there's always a good chance we got some things wrong. There's a difference between having a theology and being a theologian. Everyone (including the militant atheist) has a theology, but becoming a theologian means relinquishing the intoxicated certainty of one's catechism, asking why the other guy believes what he believes, and welcoming the possibility that he may have his reasons and they may not all be bad ones.

Finally, there are many thoughtful Christians, including myself and a number of major theologians, who've had doubts about the doctrine of the eternal damnation of the infidel (Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar are among the first to spring to mind). And what sort of monster, do you suppose, could actually think that his own beloved mother is in hell?

Jesse said...

To question whether someone holds to orthodox christian doctrine and whether they can make a legitmate claim to label themselves subservient to that doctrine, is not the same as saying someone is or is not, in fact, a christian (true follower of Christ), it just means that their particular beliefs do not line up with an historical orthodox understanding of the faith.
I'm not ready to say that one's eternal fate rests in their ability to know, understand, or even agree with every detail of orthodox christianity. Mankind is fallible. Our hermenuetic is often flawed, and our presuppositions often get in the way.
However, God does seem to be pretty clear throughout Scripture that He indeed does require recognition as the One True God. He does not seem fond of people, ideas, or things sharing His throne in the human heart. In fact, people who reject God as He has clearly revealed Himself are not considered part of the community of faith. And, what's more, the NT documents seem to elevate Jesus as the One in whom one must believe for their salvation. "there is no other name by which men can be saved" "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me"
I agree very much that we will be shocked at who is and who is not present in eternal glory. I do not presume to limit the grace of God and I believe it is more profound and limitless than I can imagine, however, I also do not presume to limit His Holiness or Justice. No one will be in Hell that does not deserve it and none will be in Heaven that do.
May we be humble and grow in our knowledge and understanding of God's Character, Will, and Love as revealed in His Word.

Jesse said...

May I also say that I am going to incorporate the coolest word of the year into my regular vocabulary: jeremiad!
Awesome! I had to look it up and it's even biblical!
Thanks Matt! Seriously though, thank you for your very well thought out and provocative comment. Well said my friend.

Matthew Valdiviez said...

Is there a Christian thinker of enduring interest whose beliefs do line up with the received orthodox articles? Luther and Tyndale were mortalists, Origen of Alexandria and Sir Thomas Browne were universalists, Milton denied the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. (I could go on, but I won't.) And every one of these men, none of whom was exactly a bum, believed that his credo was supported both by the evidence of the scriptures and by his own rational critical faculties and conscience. The theologians to whom the contemporary Baptist church characteristically appeals to support its canon of orthodox articles is a dull portrait-gallery of second-raters, with the exception of the brutal Calvin. When I suggest that one ought not to be made to surrender the name of Christian simply because one cannot digest the thought of one's mother burning in hell, I do so with a recognition of the immense diversity of orientations that the historical church has encompassed, and with a suspicion about the answer to the question "Whose orthodoxy?"

The answer, by the way, is not "God's." Orthodoxy means literally "straight opinion." God has no opinions, and no opinion of man can ever be adequate to correspond to the mind of God. Doxa, as those who've read their Plato know, ranks rather low on the scale of degrees of knowledge. No matter how straight one's theological opinons are, no matter how many councils or conventions have voted in their favor, they are still opinions and are, as such, subject to the endless critique of close reading and the interminable self-defilements of the signifier. At our theology's core is not a set of first principles but a set of stories and poems. They themselves cannot constitute an orthodoxy and have no such ambition. There is, thus, something incoherent about the phrase "biblical orthodoxy." The authorities who arbitrate the articles of our creed are never unassailable.

Jesse said...

Luther being a mortalist, and Obama questioning the primacy and centrality of the cross are not the same kind of doctrinal difference. When talking about the sufficiency of Jesus' work on the cross and the God of the Old and New Testament's being the one true God deserving all worship there is not a lot of room for ambuiguity. There may even be points of departure regarding minute details surrounding soteriology, but not on the main emphasis of Scripture that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah ushering in the Kingdom of God and is to be believed as the object of our faith as the basis for our salvation as children of God. I believe we could align very many "first-rate" thinkers from different backgrounds under this belief throughout history.

Also, while I agree you cannot read poetry and narrative as you would a more propositional genre of literature, I do believe that, if read correctly, keeping in mind certain limits and elements of the specific literary genres of Scripture, one can arrive at a propositional truth. I must believe that Scripture as inspired by God is meant to communicate truth about God and the human condition. These poems, narrative accounts, parables, and visionary prophecies, were written with a purpose. This purpose is not merely to entertain or stimulate thought to no purpose, it is to change who I am, how I think, and how I behave. God's Word is to be read as the living Word of God which is intended to communicate objective truth to its audience. We can discern the intended meaning as we understand the orginal culture, language, setting, literary genre and geography in which it was written. Scripture is more than a mere witness to revelation as some would say. It is revelation intended to be understood, experienced, and obeyed.

I agree also that we cannot approach the mind of God and that man's opinion cannot approach it. However, one of the foundational beliefs concerning Scripture is that of Accomodation of Revelation(that is that God has chosen to reveal Himself by using human thought forms, terms, analogies, anthropomorphisms etc. understandable to humanity that make up for our limited ability to comprehend Him). Alongside of this I would place our protestant belief in the perspicuity of Scripture.

Is it sometimes difficult to arrive at the intended meaning of God's Word? Yes, sometimes it is. Is mankind fallible in his approach and interpretation? Often times, yes. However, on central themes surrounding the Gospel and main points of doctrine I believe that we must conclude that Scripture can be understood and that, after putting in the necessary scholarly work, acknowledging our presuppositions, and submitting to the authority of Scripture, we can arrive at an authoritative consensus to which we can call people to as the Truth demanding our lives in humble service.

Matthew Valdiviez said...

But even the primacy and centrality of the cross has come under scrutiny by many who have called themselves Christians. The natural theology tradition, originating in the apologetic programs of seventeenth-century post-Prostestant thinkers and carried on today with the "intelligent design" enthusiasts, is essentially a denial of the primacy of the Christ-event. If, after all, a legitimate and universal knowledge of God may be derived from the testimony of the creation, then the eventful self-disclosure of God in Jesus Christ is not strictly necessary or, at most, only an addendum to the foundation of divine knowledge supplied by purely rational or scientific inquiry. My impression is that most of the members of foothills endorse this tradition without being fully aware of its implications. But they are not, for that reason, fake Christians.

As far as the literary theoretical issue of the ability of narratives and poems to yield a propositional truth, it would require a great deal more space than we have here to sort through the problem. Let me just say, then, that as a person who teaches about poems and novels and wisdom literature for a living, I've come to find the historically contingent consensus of interpretive communities rather an unreliable mooring and that I'm generally suspicious of the ideological legitimations of material practice that doctrinal orthodoxies tend to conceal. In the wake of the theory revolution with its endless variations on formalism, new historicism, psychoanalysis, marxism, deconstruction, and phenomenological hermeneutics, the notion of a stable, isolatable meaning of any text of a significant aesthetic interest is no longer tenable by way of a speculative determination of an author's intention or originary milieu. This does not, of course, mean that a text can mean anything the reader wants it to, but that one must be perpetually vigilant over the text's appropriation by the powers that be. There is always a danger in eliciting a propositional content from a story, song, or proverb; propositional contents are more easily skewed in the interests of political and social agendas than are songs and stories.

My broader point, incidentally, was not to defend the faith of Obama. I have no idea what he really believes and have little doubt that every word of those posted soundbytes had been discussed, revised, and approved by a host of handlers.

Anonymous said...

I think the quotes are very informative, and do indeed give us a window into how to pray for him.

It may, however, have very little bearing on what quality of president he will be. President Bush has a much more orthodox theology (as far as I know), but many of the fruits we have seen in him are a very poor reflection on the Body, and the Name of Christ.

I hope and pray that Christians around the U.S. and the world will, with gentleness and respect, urge President Obama to change his mind about the inconsistencies of his statements of faith, and his denial of the unborn as people etc...

But whether he is orthodox in the Faith does not determine what kind of president he will be.