Saturday, June 14, 2008

Once Again, People: Barack Obama is a Christian!

I’m not sure who told Cal Thomas he was the arbiter of who is and isn’t a Christian. Thomas is right on one count: “One cannot deny central tenets of the Christian faith… and be a Christian.” But Christians, including Evangelicals and Catholics, do not all agree on what are the central tenets of the Christian faith.

For the record, Obama says in a Christianity Today interview: “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful… Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals."

Barack Obama, too, is right on at least one count: "There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that if people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, they're going to hell."

Obama has proclaimed Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, but he is right to raise this issue, because nowhere is Scripture does it say that that we should embrace Jesus as our personal Savior to avoid hell.

Since we evangelicals are big on testing views against Scripture, there’s this from Paul’s letter to the Romans (10:9): “If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (That means you won’t go to hell). Looks to me as if Obama meets this requirement.

But while we’re talking about hell and how to avoid it, here’s Jesus in Matthew 25:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Barack Obama has devoted his adult life to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, looking after the sick and prisoners. He has done so directly as well as in fighting for public policy.

So Barack Obama testifies to his commitment to Jesus Christ and has lived a life to reflect that commitment, according to the Christian Scriptures. So if I’m going to guess whether he is truly a Christian I will assess according to Jesus and biblical criteria rather than Cal Thomas’s.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I suppose it is easier to delete comments than to reply to them . . . .

tdadpete said...

Dear Anonymous friend,

I will be happy to engage in a fruitful conversation. But when I get anonymous, provoking comments that obviously ignored the content of the original post I will not be responding to them or engaging them. So if you want to talk, please give me the courtesy of taking my post seriously and identifying yourself. Otherwise, expect to be deleted.

Anonymous said...

How can you say I ignored the content of your original post? I referred directly to it. I quoted from the Obama interview that you were discussing. What more could you want?

Obama is free to identify himself as Christian (even market himself as Christian). But it is prudent for us to examine his claims. I am skeptical of someone who says there are many paths to the same place, yet professes to be a Christian. Do I misunderstand what Obama has said?


Your Anonymous Friend

tdadpete said...

Dear Friend,

I questioned whether you read the post because I state very clearly in the post why I believe Obama is a Christian. I use scriptural criteria-- not interpretations, but direct quotes. You are entitled to your opinion, but you asked me a direct question, whose answer was in the very post to which you responded. You obviously have your own opinion, which you have expressed. I'm guessing it is based on some teaching you might have received. I am basing my assessment on whether Obama meets scriptural criteria and how that is lived out in his life. According to Jesus, he does.

tdadpete said...

Dear Friend,

Obama may be mistaken about how many roads lead to God. But the road he is on is the Jesus road. So his Christian confession is invalid because he is mistaken about whether OTHER people can reach God? I believe we should do all we can to assure that our view of God is consistent with the truth. But none of us in our fallen-ness is perfect in our understanding. Not you, not me, not Obama, no-one but Jesus Christ. For that reason, we must be very careful in nit-picking statements from others to determine if they're "in" or "out." So once again you are entitled to your opinion, but that doesn't make you right. And my best judge is Scripture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful replies.

I'm glad you agree that Christ made exclusive claims about salvation. We can disagree about how significant it is that Obama views this differently.

His comment denying exclusivity isn't the only statement by Obama that I found troubling, however. He described sin as violating his own moral code. ("Being out of alignment with my values.") With that definition, there really is no such thing as sin. Any genuine understanding of sin requires a moral code outside oneself. Does he give a more complete answer about sin in some other interview that might add some sophisitication to what he said in the Chicago Sun Times interview?


Anonymous Friend

tdadpete said...

Dear Friend,

First, I don't know of a more extensive discussion of his faith than the Sun-Times interview. I admit that I haven't read it recently. But I would direct you to his Christianity Today interview and the sections in both of his books that regard his conversion and his ongoing faith. I am also a fan of the great speech he made at the Call to Renewal conference in 2006. He does repeat his story in various settings, so where you heard a story and I heard it might not be the same.

I was friends with Barack Obama when he was a 14-year-old. He was not a believer then. I was. I read his first book before he entered politics. I was thrilled to read that my friend had become a Christian brother. And his description of how he came to Jesus rang true to the kid I knew and how God might get ahold of him.

But I am a Christian professional with theological training. I have been a volunteer and paid leader in Christian churches of many denominations and sizes for 35 years. I currently work for one denomination while I worship in a church outside that denomination. I do not agree fully with anyone in the church I work for or the church I attend. I don't expect that I ever will, because all of our understanding is at least somewhat flawed. I believe that God allows for that brokenness for those who claim Jesus. So my assessment of Obama's Christianity is not to say that I agree with him on every point. But he is not theologically trained. He is not a Christian professional. he may be confused or wrong about some things, or he might not express them with the nuance that I might or you might. That doesn't make his Christian confession or his Christian faith invalid.

I don't propose to understand exactly what he meant by a specific statement like "Being out of alignment with my values." I often misunderstand my wife when I think I understand. But I operate with an attitude of charity when trying to understand her. Rather than assume that she is lying or means some evil, I try to understand her meaning and assume that it is something good. Likewise when I here a vague statement like Obama's from a person who professes to be a Christian, I think I'm called to put the best spin on it rather than assume the worst.

What if he meant that sin is "Being out of alignment with my CHRISTIAN values," since he's already talked about those Christian values?

My guess is that when it comes to Constitutional law, he could apply the nuance that you and I apply to theological precision. Theological exactness to some particular system of beliefs, though, is not the measure I use to determine whether someone els is the Christian they say they are. I try to look at what Jesus and the Scriptures say.

Still, it baffles me that so many Christian people are willing to believe Obama is not the Christian he says he is. It's as if they want him NOT to be a Christian. I wish others could feel the joy I felt when my friend became a brother.

Anonymous said...

The two topics we have discussed so far are not questions that should require much nuance to give a sensible answer. Jesus was straightforward about sin, and he was straightforward about being the only means to salvation. Anyone who has attended a Bible-believing church for 20 years should have no difficulty giving an adequate answer.

I think you are being a little too cute when you profess bafflement that Christians are looking beneath the surface of Obama's profession. If I were to meet my neighbor and he said he was a Christian, I would rejoice that he knew the Lord. At that point there would be no reason to inquire of his faith to test its maturity. Nor would there be reason to plumb the depths of his understanding.

If my daughter introduced me to a young man saying she intends to marry him, I would be glad to hear him say he is a Christian. However, I would also ask questions to see how mature his faith is and how closely he aligned his beliefs with Scripture.

Obama (and his supporters) clearly are offering his professed Christian beliefs as a reason to vote for him (or feel comfortable voting for him). Your original post even recognizes the propriety of holding up that profession to scrutiny. I don't think you should now accuse questioners of being killjoys for asking these questions.

Working in the church, I am sure you realize that there is often no correlation between living moral life and being saved. In fact, it seems the ability to navigate life with reasoning can actually be a hinderance to belief. If someone walked into your church who did good works and professed a belief in Jesus, but this belief bore no relationship to the teachings of the Bible (e.g., no concept of sin, no hope in a resurrection, and no reason to distinguish Jesus from other moral teachers), I hope you would counsel that person to consider the possibility that he believed merely in himself, and that he has merely applied a culturally acceptable label to that egocentric belief.

That is why my heart did not overflow with joy when I read this interview about faith with Obama. Does he actually believe anything other than it is important to do good works?

Second, if he doesn't actually believe the Scripture, what is he selling me?


Your anonymous friend

tdadpete said...

Dear Friend,

Barack Obama's profession of faith is not some political ploy. I first read about his faith before he was in politics. Now that he is a political figure and he speaks openly about his faith, his brothers and sisters attack rather than rejoice. It's sad.

I have no problem with Christians holding professing Christians to a standard. And as you indicate this measure becomes more important when we are considering someone close to us or someone in leadership.

My issues are twofold
1) That standard should be biblical. I made the case in my original post that as far as I can see, Barack Obama's profession of faith and life of faith meet biblical standards.

2) It seems to me that some Christian people WANT Barack Obama not to be a Christian. There seems to be an attitude of trying to prove Obama's faith profession false. Honestly, I see no Scriptural justification for trying to prove someone who calls himself a Christian to be a liar. This is not false prophet territory. This is a man who says he's a Christian, who meets biblical criteria, who prays regularly, who reads the Bible to discover God's truth, who lives a life to reflect his relationship to God through Christ, and his brothers and sisters are trying to prove that that he doesn't belong in the family. What household of God do these people belong to?

Cal Thomas is in no position from such a distance to proclaim that Barack Obama is not a Christian when Obama's profession meets a biblical standard. I believe this is where the oft-misused words of Jesus "judge not lest ye be judged" actually does apply. Cal Thomas does not have enough information to decide Obama is NOT a Christian. He can wonder, he can say "looks like he is." He can say "I believe he is." He could theoretically even say "I see no evidence of his Christianity." But he cannot say based on the evidence presented that Barack Obama is not a Christian. His profession meets biblical criteria and his life demonstrates both the change and the continued life of Christian discipleship. As my friend Steve said this weekend, "Short of crawling inside another man's heart, that's all any of us can go on when "judging" another one's relationship to Jesus.

But all of this is independent of whether anyone votes for him. He will be your Christian brother if he becomes President and he will be your Christian brother if he doesn't.

tdadpete said...

More to the point:
He will be your Christian brother if you vote for him, and he will be your brother if you don't. You can choose your President, but don't be confused: your vote cannot keep Barack Obama out of your family.

tdadpete said...

Here’s my third response to the last “Anonymous” post. This time I’d like to address your issues a little more directly
1. What to you would be a “sensible,” “adequate” answer to the question “What is sin.” Where do you find that definition in Scripture? Where is Jesus’ straightforward answer?

I’m not saying I don’t believe there is sin. I even agree with you that the concept of sin is a basic tenet of the Christian faith as recorded in the Bible. What I am questioning is that there is a simple direct definition of sin, which is exclusive of other definitions. The Bible doesn’t even always use the same Greek word for what we translate “sin” in English. So what is your acceptable definition, and where did you get it?

2. I did not say it is unacceptable for Christians to look “beneath the surface of Obama’s (or anyone else’s) profession” of faith. What baffles me and saddens me is that people seem eager to prove that a man who professes to be a Christian and who demonstrates that Christian faith in his life is somehow lying or totally deceived.

I didn’t say (to use a Wesleyan term) that he is near perfection. I said that by all that I can see, using biblical criteria, he is a Christian. I didn’t accuse anyone of being a “killjoy.” I am horrified that it seems there are Christian people who are bent on proving the illegitimacy of Obama’s profession. To what end? You can’t make him a heathen by calling him one any more than I can make him a Christian by calling him one. And you’re not killing my joy regarding his salvation. You are killing my joy regarding your own discipleship. If your life in Christ has brought you to the point where you would rather assume another Christian is a liar than claim him as a brother, then my sadness is for you, my brother or sister. I won’t say you’re not my brother or sister, but I will feel sadness for you.

3. I agree that often there is no correlation between morality and Christian faith, There are moral people in all faiths and moral people with no religious faith at all. But you are using Obama’s morality as an indication of his LACK of Christian faith? And the fact that he uses reasoning in his decisions proves a LACK of Christian faith? Good works becomes a sign of his LACK of Christian faith? What false prophets have you been listening to?

Remember James 2:14-18
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

If Barack Obama were professing faith and had no deeds to demonstrate that faith, I’d have some questions. And if he had good deeds and rejected Jesus, I’d have some questions. But here’s a man who professes faith in Jesus and shows it by his deeds, and his brothers and sisters think they can exclude him, vote him out of the family. Well, fortunately it’s not their call.

So let’s look at your hypothetical about someone walking into my church, (although this is not about some hypothetical someone but about a real live person who I know or at least knew). If that person professed Jesus and didn’t seem to have what I consider the complete truth on sin, the Resurrection, and Jesus, I would welcome them as a brother or sister. I would then ask them lots of questions as I walk with them in their lives to make sure I understand what they really believe. And while in their lives I would try to guide them to the truth. But I do not invalidate their faith because it doesn’t line up exactly the way I think it should.

But from a distance, when I’m not able to be in a person’s life to ask those probing questions, all I can do is what I started this post with. I look at the man, his life, and the Scriptures. Looks to me like Barack Obama is a Christian.