Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Obama a Christian?

Here’s recent exchange I had at the Secular Outpost:

steve hays

Jeff, that's not mind-reading. That's Driscoll judging Obama both by his theological statements as well as his political policies. Judging Obama by his public persona, not his inaccessible mental states. That would be no different than, say, Albert Mohler denying that John Spong is a genuine Christian.

Jeffery Jay Lowder

I was wondering if I would get this response.

I'll go ahead and bite. Without even asking you to supply any sources (yet :) ), can you summarize the theological statements and political policies which you take to be evidence that Obama is not a Christian?

steve hays

There's his interview with Cathleen Falsani, where he positions himself on the far left of the theological spectrum. There's the fact that he was comfortable with the James Cone brand of theology espoused by Jeremiah Wright. Then you have his position on issues like abortion and homosexuality, which are at odds with Christian ethics. Those are some examples.

steve hays

Jeffery Jay Lowder

“I have some questions. As I write this post, I recognize that these questions may seem stupid to someone who has studied theology as much as you, so I'll understand if you decide that answering them is not worth your time. Or, if you want to provide links for each question, that's fine with me.’

Thanks Jeff. Those are intelligent, reasonable questions. I’m going to answer (3) last because that demands a more detailed answer.

“1. I'm not familiar with the interview with Falsani. Without looking it up, I can't tell why "he positions himself on the far left of the theological spectrum" means (or makes probable) that Obama is not a Christian. Why do you believe that?”

Here’s the interview:

Among other things, Obama says: “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.”

That’s classic religious pluralism. At best, that would make Jesus one Savior among many. Jesus is a Savior, Buddha is a Savior, Krishna is a Savior, &c.

Obama also says: “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.”

i) He says Jesus is a historical figure “for me,” as if historicity is relative. Historical for me, but not for you.

ii) He reduces Jesus to a bridge or means of reaching something higher. But in orthodox Christology, Jesus is God the Son Incarnate. As such, there’s nothing or no one higher than Christ.

Obama also says: “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.”

This puts Jesus on the same level of other spiritual guides. Classic religious syncretism or pluralism.

“2. Why is the James Cone brand of theology incompatible with Christianity?”

Short answer: because it’s Marxism with a Biblical veneer:

“4. Regarding homosexuality, I agree that the Bible, when interpreted literally, condemns homosexuality. Why can't someone be a Christian and not interpret the Bible literally?”

i) What’s the alternative to taking those condemnations literally? Treating them allegorically? Do they stand for something else? What would that be?

Take this passage: 

“9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Logically, we’d interpret the statement about homosexuality the same way we’d interpret the statements about other vices. If we take the other statements literally, why not the statement about homosexuality?

ii) Many atheists take those condemnations literally. They say the Bible is “homophobic,” “transphobic,” &c.

iii) Apropos (ii), one doesn’t have to believe the Bible to believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. For instance, Luke Timothy Johnson is a leading Catholic NT scholar who admits the NT condemns homosexuality, but denies that we are bound by NT teaching. For Johnson, this is not a question of Biblical interpretation, but Biblical authority:

“That challenge is to take our tradition and the Scripture with at least as much seriousness as those who use the Bible as a buttress for rejecting forms of sexual love they fear or cannot understand. The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel. I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority?”

iv) For a detailed defense of the view that Scripture condemns homosexuality, see Robert Gagnon:

“3. I'm well aware that many (most?) Christians believe that human life and personhood begins at conception. What I don't understand is why can't someone consistently believe that Jesus is their lord and savior and believe that personhood begins after conception but before birth? For example, why can't a Christian believe that a soul is "attached" (if that is the right word) to the unborn child once the brain reaches a certain stage of development?”

i) The personhood or cognitive development of the unborn is not a necessary precondition of the Christian prolife argument.

ii) There are exegetical arguments for the prolife position:

iii) There are philosophical arguments for the prolife position:

iv) More generally, Obama’s attitude towards the unborn is antithetical to the Christian principle of neighbor-love. It’s like a man climbing a ladder who kicks someone else off the ladder. The man higher up the ladder kicks a man in the head who’s just below him to knock him off.

Obama’s attitude is murderously ungenerous. Because he got a head start, he doesn’t grant others behind him the same opportunity he had. To take a few comparisons:

a) Suppose you have a race in which one runner prevents the other runner from having a fair chance to win by cheating. Suppose the cheater spikes the drinking water of his competitor, so that his competitor becomes sick. We consider that contemptible, yet that’s trivial compared to abortion, where the baby has far more to lose.

b) Take fictional stories in which a character has discovered the secret of immortality. He regenerates by sapping the youth of teenagers. They die so that he can live. We’d consider that immoral. He had a normal lifespan, yet he denies to others the chance to enjoy what he had.

v) For reasons I’ve given elsewhere, Obama’s position is hypocritical:

vi) He treats children as a burden or “punishment” rather than a blessing or gift, contrary to Biblical values.

vii) He defies the special parental duty that mothers and fathers have to protect and provide for their children. Parents have a Christian obligation to risk their lives to protect their kids, rather than risking their kid’s life to protect themselves.

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