July 24, 2008
Will Evangelicals Accept Obama's Vision of Christianity?
I was listening James Dobson's recent radio broadcast in which he announced that he's considering endorsing McCain. The program, a conversation with conservative radio host Al Mohler, focused mostly on Obama's "extreme" positions on abortion and homosexuality.
But the most interesting part was their criticism of Obama's theology. They both recommended that evangelicals should read the recent Newsweek cover story on Obama's faith. Dobson says it shows that Obama believes in "liberation theology."
Mohler summarized it a bit more precisely: "He really believes that Christianity can be a functional impetus towards social change in a liberal direction. I don't think they that's what most evangelical Christians think of when they think of a basic understanding of Chirsitanity."
Fascinating. It may be that part of what determines how many Christians become Obamagelicals is how they interpret Christianity.
Newsweek describes the theological influences on Obama:
In Chicago, Obama found that organizers and activists there (and elsewhere) were employing a progressive theology to motivate faith groups to action. Using the writings of Paul Tillich and, especially, Reinhold Niebuhr--and also King, African-American and Roman Catholic liberation theologians, and Christian fathers like Saint Augustine--local religious leaders emphasized original sin and human imperfection. Christ's gift of salvation was to the community of believers, not to individual people in isolation. It was therefore the responsibility of the faithful to help each other--through deeds--to respond to the call of perfection that will be fully realized only at the end of time. Adherents of this particular theology frequently refer to Matthew 25: "Whatever you neglected to do unto the least of these, you neglected to do unto me." Everyone, in other words, is in this salvation thing together.
Obama's organizing days helped clarify his sense of faith and social action as intertwined. "It's hard for me to imagine being true to my faith--and not thinking beyond myself, and not thinking about what's good for other people, and not acting in a moral and ethical way," he says. When these ideas merged with his more emotional search for belonging, he was able to arrive at the foot of the cross. He "felt God's spirit beckoning me," he writes in "Audacity." "I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."...
At the point of his decision to accept Christ, Obama says, "what was intellectual and what was emotional joined, and the belief in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, that through him we could achieve eternal life--but also that, through good works we could find order and meaning here on Earth and transcend our limits and our flaws and our foibles--I found that powerful."
Obama should have no illusions: his positions on abortion and, to a lesser extent, homosexuality, will make it harder to win over evangelicals. But his ultimate success may come down to whether Mohler is right that evangelicals will reject Obama's theological commitment to viewing salvation in collective rather than only individual terms. In other words, are they wanting to leaven their John 3:16 with a bit of Matthew 25?
This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.