Ed Stetzer, President Obama, Gov Romney, and Faith

From CP:

Now, the Presidential race is really on – and down to two candidates, both who identify themselves as “Christians.” But, it appears, that many Americans (and a strong majority of evangelicals) don’t think either of them actually are Christians. In other words, both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney profess to be Christians, but that profession is widely disbelieved. Romney is doubted primarily because he is a Mormon, while President Obama is doubted for a variety of reasons.

The obvious question is: are they Christians? Evangelical Christians see being a Christian as having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ made possible through Christ’s death on the cross, for our sin, and in our place. Through His sacrifice we can receive new life in Christ, a new life that comes through a conversion experience. This inward reality is accompanied by outward signs bearing witness to that fact. In the end, though, only the person (and God) can say with certainty whether he or she has been converted.

Even though about 75% of Americans believe themselves to be Christians, most devout evangelicals do not believe that three of four Americans are “Christian” and would actually seek to share Christ with them so they might become Christians. In other words, for evangelicals being “Christian” is not a demographic category– “I was born in America, am not Jewish, and went to church as a child”– but rather a faith commitment with a conversion when they moved from unbelief to belief. To use Bible terminology, they’ve moved from death to life, and, to use Jesus’ words specifically, they are “born again” (John 3:3).

In a case where someone is within a religious tradition which evangelical Christians consider to be outside of “biblical Christianity,” most evangelicals would believe such a person could be a Christian. For example, if you ask an evangelical, “Could a Mormon be a Christian?” they will generally say “yes” but will follow up stating that as a Christian they should and will eventually leave Mormonism.

In short, I don’t know whether Governor Romney or President Obama is a Christian because God has not granted me the insight to see into a person’s soul, nor have I been invited to have spiritual conversations with either of them to help me understand what they mean when they convey their experiences and beliefs.

So there is much we cannot know with certainty. Yet there are some things we do know: the perceptions of Protestant pastors, evangelical churchgoers, and random Americans on this issue.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • JoeyS

    I’m not sure what he means by spiritual conversations (like telepathy?) but if we base our understanding of their beliefs on what they profess with their mouths, by evangelical standards Obama is a Christian and Romney is a Mormon, holding less than orthodox views on the personhood of Jesus.

  • Kaleb

    I love that there is a promotion video on the side of this page promoting Mormonism. I now need to watch about Nnamdi Okonkwo’s Mormon faith…

  • Kathy

    Who cares about “the perceptions of Protestant pastors, evangelical churchgoers, and random Americans on this issue?” They’re going to vote along straight party lines, anyway –using “religion” to justify whichever way they vote.

  • Adam

    What an interesting discussion with an unhelpful conclusion [we can never know, so oh well]…As a genuine question from a person of Southern Baptist (ie open [to "believers"] Communion), I wonder whether people would happily share Communion with President Obama or Gov. Romney in my church or similar churches? Or be more likely to give Communion to one or the other?

  • http://www.mindfuljustice.com Jim

    Incredible. We know Romney is not a Christian (unless a closet one), because we know that Mormonism does not follow orthodox Christian beliefs. We know Obama is a Christian because he confesses Christ – and has done so for most of his adult life.

    Given Ed Stetzer, in his second to last paragraph, we would have to question the belief of every person we sit with in Church. God certainly hasn’t given me any special insight.

    The real issue here is people like Stetzer hiding behind the guise of intellectural or spiritual objectivity. What he is doing is attacking Obama and his faith, but trying not to sound like the other “evangelical” loonies.

  • unapologetic catholic

    Is Ed Stetzer a Christian? I am really not sure. I do know he asked an irrelevant question.

  • Norman

    A good personal friend of mine was in Washington DC recently and attended church at St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House. He sat down for service and then President Obama, Michelle and Sasha came in and were seated directly behind him. He heard the President singing all the songs and then the family joined in and went forward to receive communion right behind him. He heard the President explaining the meaning of the communion wine and bread to Sasha as they were in line to partake of the communion. It seemed that the President was very comfortable and familiar with the implements of Christian worship. My good friend who is not an Obama supporter was impressed with his familiarity with Christian worship.

    I think if we paid a little more attention to something Jesus said Himself we might be at ease a little more with some of those who might be different from us.

    Matt 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”

    If everything regarding the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets which Christ set about to complete is embodied in those two commandments then perhaps we have our ultimate definition above. How many people might characterize those defining words above?

    Do we live and breathe our relationship with God always recognizing He supplies us with the breath of Life and all our physical needs? Do we treat our neighbors with dignified respect whether they are different from us or not? How do we feel when others Love God the creator and their neighbors as instructed.

  • TJJ

    Stetzer speaks the obvious: We simply cannot know the true salvation/Christianity/Religion of a President. Period.

    We can judge and evaluate a president’s speeches, policies, actions, character, position papers, etc.

    But if a President says thay are a Christian or whatever, well, so be it. But we can never know what is in their heart/soul/mind/spirit or whatever, so I wish this kind of speculation and second guesing would just stop.

    I thought is unseemly when commentators questioned Bush about his Christianity, and I find it equally so about those who question the faith of Obama. Take him at his word, leave it to him and God, and move on. IMHO

  • TJJ

    Same with romney, by the way.

  • Jerry

    Kathy, that’s rather insulting. Christians are hardly monolithic in their voting patterns and many give careful consideration to a variety of issues.

  • RobS

    Sure, we can’t know for sure. Romney and his Mormon faith are more clear — although the Washington Post seemed to think Mormonism and Christianity were the same, it’s a poor source.

    Obama is more confusing, as he seems to champion many elements of Christian faith, but not seem to stand strong on others. This link (below) had an interesting interview, albeit old, it’s interesting to see his response to the question “Who’s Jesus to you?” where he talks about Jesus being a historical figure and a great teacher. Obama also points out facts about Jesus, but does not seem to claim Him as personal savior.

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/11/obamas-interview-with-cathleen.html

    Many of his other statements seem to embrace Christian principles or ways, but at the same time, embrace other religious sources as well — making him seem more like a universalist to me.

    Hopefully he’ll get his thoughts clarified and be confident in only Jesus Christ as the Son of God and no other sources…

  • Jon Altman

    If Ed Stetzer would take the time to read President Obama’s books, he’d easily see that the President qualifies as “Christian,” by Stetzer’s own criteria

  • Norman

    RobS,

    You said … “Hopefully he’ll get his thoughts clarified ….. ”

    since you appear to have the gift of Clairvoyance would you come and lay hands on the rest of us.

    Sorry to jibe at you but your implication just doesn’t rest well somehow.

  • Richard

    I thought “fruit” and “obedience” were the measures of fidelity to Christ… not professions or positions or what their pastor says. He professes it, his personal actions seem to reflect it. I’m tend to agree with Jim earlier that Ed is veiling an attack against Obama by playing the “we just can’t know” card. It’s an implicit endorsement of “the other” attacks that have been played against him since Day 1 in the 2008 campaign. To even equate the two candidate’s “Christian” faith is pretty amazing for someone like Stetzer.

  • Kale

    If Jimmy Carter was president today many would not believe that he is a Christian,.

  • Joshua

    Okay folks, let’s stop ganging up on Ed Stetzer – he’s not saying anything the VAST majority of Evangelicals don’t already believe, and he’s saying it with a little more discernment, I might add. So please, let’s show him a little more charity.

    There’s no need to defend either of the candidates’ faith – it’s not like it’s going to change someone’s vote. Let’s be honest here.

    I have a bigger question: why does anyone care about this, as though the faith of a candidate somehow qualifies of disqualifies them from holding public office. Frankly, I don’t see what difference it makes, and I would be just fine if neither of them were genuine believers in anything, because at least then I wouldn’t have to hear Evangelicals going back and forth about who’s really a Christian when that has little to do with a candidate’s leadership ability, or his/her command of foreign and domestic policy.

  • MattR

    RobS,

    Do a little more research… I’ve seen both in writing (his books, interviews, etc.) and video that Pres Obama identifies Christ as savior and himself as a Christian. Wouldn’t be fair to anyone to base it on one interview out of context.

    I am surprised (maybe I shouldn’t be), to see Stetzer hedge his bets here… of course no one knows another person’s heart! But the record is clear… Romney identifies as a faithful Mormon, and the Pres identifies as a faithful Christian, with a profound conversion experience (he wrote about in his book). The lack of clarity is on Stetzer’s part, and unhelpful.

  • DanS

    I don’t care as much what a Candidate believes about the Creeds as what he believes about the constitution. I want to ask, do you believe in the Declaration of Independence, that men are endowed by the creator with the unalienable rights.

    I know Obama does not respect the right to life, and he seems to not put much stock in property rights. Romney wasn’t my favorite, but I’ll take anybody who can balance a budget over the party that for three years running has refused to pass one in violation of the law and a president who twice proposed a budget his own party wouldn’t vote for.

  • unapologetic catholic

    “Okay folks, let’s stop ganging up on Ed Stetzer – he’s not saying anything the VAST majority of Evangelicals don’t already believe, and he’s saying it with a little more discernment, I might add. So please, let’s show him a little more charity.”

    If what you’re saying is true, then there’s a problem with the vast majority of evangelicals and they should treat the criticism of Stetzer as directed at them.

    I agree with you. The question is irrelevant.

  • Sean P. Nelson

    I think the story is confusing 2 different things as one… Wether someone (in this case Romney & Obama) is “saved”or “going to heaven when they die” and wether they are a disciple of Jesus Christ (aka a Christian). I believe these are 2 different questions.

    We cannot always discern someone’s eternal destiny, but I do believe we can and should be able to discern whether someone is a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    I don’t know whether Ed Stetzer or Rick Warren is a Christian because God has not granted me the insight to see into a person’s soul…

  • scotmcknight

    Naum, I know you mean that as ridicule or even argumentum ad absurdum, but I’m reasonably confident Ed Stetzer would agree that you don’t know his true state before the Lord.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    Scot, not intended as ridicule, perhaps it is tinged with argumentum ad absurdum, but it illustrates my point of what Stetzer is saying in what I see is a weasel like remark — substitute a different name, and do you honestly think Stetzer (or those championing his stance here) would ever utter or remark such a line with *Governor Romney* or *President Obama* substituted with *my wife’s name*, *my pastor’s name*, *my boss’s name*, *Billy Graham*, etc.…

    If the answer would be yes, I shall eat these words. But without being overly presumptive, I think we know what the answer to that riddle is. Is this something you would say about a loved one, or a student, or any public figure that publicly professes Jesus as his/her Lord and savior? I don’t know whether *this person* or *that person* is a Christian…


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