Yes, Rod, Barack Obama Is a Christian!

My soon-to-be-blogalogue partner, Rod Dreher, has today questioned Barack Obama’s profession of Christian faith based on a snippet of a 2004 interview in which BO refers to Jesus as a “bridge between God and man.”  Of course, BO is not a trained theologian, so we might wish he would have chosen words that more precisely articulated the role of Jesus Christ in redemption, the equality of the second person of the Trinity with the Father and the Spirit, etc.

But it seems that this language has been interpreted by Rod and Joe Carter as code for a liberal Christianity that denies aspects of the Nicene — even the Apostles’ — Creed.  What I find troubling, however, is all of the assumptions laden in both Rod’s and Joe’s posts.  BO was never asked to affirm the Nicene Creed or the Chalcedonian definition of Jesus Christ.  Instead, they are reading between the lines of his comments and, by extension, assuming that he would deny the Nicene Creed.  Further, they are ignoring his very clear statement to Christianity Today, “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. 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.”

It may also be guilt-by-association since some persons in the United Church of Christ, the denomination of BO’s former church, do deny the Trinity or the divinity of Christ.  The UCC is known to be a denomination somewhat lenient toward such things.  But just because BO worshiped in a church that is by definition Congregational and therefore non-creedal does not mean that BO himself would deny any of the “orthodox” definitions of Christ or the Trinity.

(BTW, I am very likely one of the postmodern believers that Rod chastises in his final paragraph.  I presented a somewhat controversial paper at Wheaton a couple years ago, and I wrote about it first here, and then when it was rejected for publication in a book on the conference here.  (In a little turnabout-is-fair-play, the rejected essay, which you can find on that latter post, has been downloaded over 3,000 times, which I’m guessing is more than that book will ever sell.)  I’m also friends with and a great admirer of Christian Smith, who coined the phrase “moralistic, therapeutic deism,” and I’ve thoroughly digested the book in which he explicates that idea.  And, let me tell you, Chris doesn’t mean what Rod thinks he means.  MTD is not characteristic of teenagers who make up their own religion, but is instead indicative of the lack of precision and passion with which teenagers can articulate the faith that they claim to hold.)

Well, the comment section to Rod’s post pretty much already holds all of the theological counterpoints that I’d make to his statement, “I can’t agree that [Barack Obama is] a Christian.”  So I’ll end with this: It seems that there is one sine qua non for Christianity, and it was articulated by St. Paul in Romans 10:9,

That 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.

And it is abundantly clear that Barack Obama has, on many occasions, affirmed that Jesus is Lord.

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  • god, I truly was hoping this debate was over. When I opened up Rod’s blog this afternoon I wanted to scream. I work at an evangelical mission’s agency so you can imagine the hell I get put through for voting for Obama and how he is a closet Muslim. I was hoping after the election that my coworkers would stop giving me hell about Obama…it didn’t.

  • Funny you should mention your Wheaton paper. It’s one of the first things I thought of when I read that you are about to do a blogalogue on homosexuality. Your take on revelation is one of several resources that has led me to a) acknowledge Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality as we know it (contra Boswell, Scroggs, et al) and yet b) not find Paul’s comments normative for the church today. So I’m looking forward to your conversation with Rod.

  • Tucker

    my two cents . . .
    Language is a funny thing. Obama’s comment on Christ as a bridge is a perfectly “orthodox” statement in ordinary, conversational language. So is Christ as lord, as savior, as mediator, as priest, as hero, as rabbi, as guide, as example, as…, as…. In a theological debate the term “bridge” might be deeply unpacked and found wanting (or found to be excellent), but we did not elect a theologian to the white house, which I see as a good thing.
    The idea of Jesus being a bridge is a good idea. So is the idea of the cross being a bridge. (see Could someone say one and mean the other? Does it matter? Some would say yes, but neither idea is compete or precise – like so many theological concepts both implied and articulated in the Bible. We have to dig into such statements, turn them over, wonder about them, and then articulate them to ourselves and others and see if they hold up. The knowledge of truth is an ongoing process because we are finite and we use language. Why would we expect Obama to be any different than the rest of us?
    I also have to say that I have yet to see much evidence that G. W. Bush is a Christian in light of Jesus’ teachings. Though he has said he’s a Christian many times. Many voted for Bush because they think he is “a good Christian man.” Just like with most people I have to take him at his word – as I do with Obama.
    Honestly, in general would rather have a president that claims no religion, but who is an excellent president, than one who claims deep faith but behaves in ways contrary to the law of love.
    It is no mean feat to say to a nation: “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. 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.” If one wants to take the idea of “path” and morph it into “way” then “tao” and then “may the force be with you” go ahead. And may the force be with you. But, in context, it seems Obama is just saying he is a Christian.
    Regardless, Obama needs our prayers and the world needs the love of Christ, bridge or no.

  • So Tony, does that means that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians in your view?

  • agreed.

  • Yes, even Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christian.

  • This kind of finger pointing has contributed to my leaving the church. Not my faith in GOD and Christ, but the building and other followers. Many have their beliefs so set in stone that you can dialogue ’til you are blue in the face, but nothing ever gets anywhere except circular discussions. They feel the need to’evangelize’ us instead of furthering along their own evangelism. Let’s see, isn’t there something in the Bible about looking at the plank in your own eye b4 looking at the speck in another’s eye? Maybe i am wrong.

  • bob c

    thanks for posting this tony
    i was saddened by joe’s post – shocked by rod’s
    i just finished reading
    The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God
    by Jonathan Kirsch
    this type of purity testing seems part of our story as Jesus followers – especially in the cyclical periods that Phyllis Tickle writes about
    I would not venture a guess at the motives of Joe or Rod – I would say that the knives they are fighting with are slippery and sharp – too often they cut at the life blood of our faith
    When you & Rod break bread later this week, try not to (a) eat shell fish (b) interact with un-circumcised men (c) attribute any teaching to women or (c) discuss any aspects of Eastern Orthodox faith that do not slavishly follow the path that Paul defined.
    This standard Rod sets must be adhered to, mustn’t it ?

  • cp

    I don’t see 1) why it is of anyone’s concern what faith Obama (or anyone else for that matter) professes and 2) why we can’t just believe what the man says?
    So much of mainstream American Christianity has become obsessed with defining everyone (especially the “other”) instead of looking inward and pursuing a way/life of faith and love. This is why I find myself embarrassed to call myself a Christian. Of course, no one would believe me anyway, it seems.

  • Forgive me for being so overwhelmed by this but….
    HOLY CRAP! Tony just quoted Romans 10:9!
    There have been so many times people have asked what it takes to be saved that I have seen Tony skip around or turn it around to be against “saying a little prayer”. So to see this define how you are saved in defense of Obama (which don’t beat me up on that, I agree with that point), BLOWS ME AWAY!
    Thank you Tony for quoting this verse. I hope you use it more often in your communications.

  • CAG

    I would like Mr Dreher and his ilk to delve into the history of McCain and his (lack of) church activities and beliefs with the zeal they have torn into, propagandized, slandered Obama’s beliefs.

  • Jason

    “I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that 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.”
    –Barack Obama, April 5, 2004
    Tony, here’s some more Christian sina qua non for you:
    “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).
    “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24 ESV).
    Explicit belief that Christ is the exclusive way to salvation from sin and eternal punishment is indispensible to being born again. It seems that if Obama were really a Christian, he would understand that simple belief.

  • Jason, et. al.:
    Was Jesus “REALLY” a Christian?
    Being a Christian is about much more than acknowledging certain “simple” beliefs. It is a path. We are not perfect people, so we stumble and struggle and fall. Our “status” as Christians is not stripped from us when we misstep, nor is it given back to us when we get something correctly. We are Christians in the walking.
    No person’s Christianity should be questioned so rudely, especially with the infallible, “simple belief,” litmus test you’ve come up with. Romans 10:9 is much more sublime.

  • Just because a person may confess with his mouth doesn’t make him a believer in Jesus Christ. As a Christian, it is my duty to ‘judge’ (1 Corithians 2:15) what a professing believer says and compare that to his actions. Barack Obama may confess Christ, but it is obvious to me that he may not believe in Christ. Redemption doesn’t come from an act of confession….redemption comes from the act of belief and confession of Christ is a result.
    From Obama’s own mouth, we have heard that he doesn’t know if he is going to Heaven….henceforth, he probably doesn’t believe in the true Christ, Lord and Savior of the world.
    This fact alone should give all Christian’s serious pause when Obama claims Christian as his faith. His action of not protecting the innocent (votes for abortion) are also very telling of his true faith….he doesn’t know what he believes.

  • I think David D is possibly on to something.
    Was Jesus actually a Christian ? So much of what Jesus said was from Jewish Scripture – on the cross, Jesus seemed to doubt God – Jesus invested a lot of power in women – he hung around with people who were the outliers of his time (tax collectors, prostitutes). Nowadays, even gay people are more respected that the folks around Jesus.
    It seems that maybe Paul was the only true Christian – Paul, Joe Carter, Rod Dreher, Jason & Eric.
    Man there is gonna be a LOT of room in heaven.

  • Mike

    Jason, do you really expect Obama or any serious candidate for office to say publicly that all non-Christians (i.e. Jews, Muslims, and members of every other religion) are going to Hell?

  • I read that interview and wondered what people would take away from it. Is he a Christian if he believes there are many ways? Is he a Christian if he has a works based theology? I think the simple question is what is a Christian? What is necessary?
    I see lots of people who have once prayed a prayer to ask Jesus “into their heart” but wouldn’t understand any of these ideas. Also, I see lots of people who are very devote but seem to not have any fruit in their lives that support a Christian faith. Does that make either of them a Christian/not a Christian?
    I don’t really have an answer, but I think it is really dangerous for anyone to blatantly say that anyone is or is not a Christian.

  • Dave

    The man spent a considerable amount of time during his run for office saying what people wanted to hear in order for him to get elected. He was amazingly elusive on various facts that some searched diligently for while many others worked overtime ignoring. The standard for anyone who claims to be a true believer, is to reflect the utmost honesty in their speech and actions. With that in mind, Barack may possibly be a believer, but (barring other issues that could be raised) he’s got some serious repenting and apologizing ahead of him if he wants a clear conscience before God and the American people he was elected to serve.

  • Jasonq

    He doesn’t have to directly contradict Christ when he speaks, either.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Well, this whole debate has managed to prove something I heard many years ago. “Never underestimate the ability of Christians to make themselves look ridiculous.”

  • Rod is really the pot calling the kettle black.
    He’s a Catholic who thinks that anyone who does not memorize and obey every last line of the Catechism is a false Catholic and yet … what’s that? Rod’s NOT A CATHOLIC? He’s converted to Orthodoxy?
    And he’s entitled to that personal choice. But he’s not entitled to excoriate individual Catholics for disobeying the very prelates he says drove him out of the Church due to his disgust over the sex abuse scandal.

  • john

    Obama is pro-abortion. This is a huge problem. He supports the murder of innnocent people, he is pro-homicide. You might be able to find some statments of Hitler that seem to be Christian, but based on his actions you could not say he is Christian. The same is true for Obama. He has voted to maintain abortion rights many times, he himself is guilty of mass murder.

  • Anyone interested in this subject would do well to read Steve Camp’s post where he quotes, verbatim, an interview between Obama and Cathleen Falsani:
    An excerpt:
    Do you believe in heaven?
    Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?
    A place spiritually you go to after you die?
    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.
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that comes off as works-righteousness to me; does it really sound like the kind of thing a believer in Christ would espouse? Tony and some of his emergent buds want to be tolerant, apparently, but it really comes off as naive from where I sit.

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