It is probably not a book I would have purchased myself, but a co-worker told me about an offer in which the publisher would send a complimentary copy of The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield to any blogger willing to write about it. I don’t really consider myself a blogger per se, but I do have a blog so I figured I’d give it a shot. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is the same publisher that puts out my favorite Bible (The New Spirit-Filled Life Bible) so I had a good impression of them already.
I am an independent voter who tends to lean to the right. I am a Christian, but I don’t consider myself a Republican. Of course, I do not consider myself a Democrat either. I really enjoy looking at both candidates and at both sides of the issues. In fact, the only thing that really upsets me with respect to politics are those people who steadfastly refuse to even educate themselves on the different sides of an issue. Reading books you know you will agree with is somewhat pointless. To truly challenge your assumptions and ideas you need to look at the beliefs held by people who come from different backgrounds and have differing perspectives. You need to try to see the world through their eyes and then draw your conclusions. You still may not agree with them, but the exercise of stepping into their shoes is never wasted effort.
Having said that, I went into this book expecting either a left-wing apologetic or a right-wing hatchet job. What I got was a seemingly balanced book that raised more questions in my mind than it answered. It collected and presented lots of existing information on Obama’s faith and organized it in one place. However, it did not seem to dig any deeper. It appears that the author had little or no personal access to Obama so was unable to go beyond what was already written about him.
I want to pick out some of the highlights that I took away from the book. They are highlights for me because as someone who is undecided in the upcoming presidential election, I really want to know about Obama’s faith.
When he burst onto the scene during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he made no secret of his Christian faith saying “We worship an awesome God in the Blue States.” But what brought him to that point?
The book talks about his upbringing in a non-Christian home and how he eventually–as an adult–gave his life to the Lord. He describes his conversion as “a choice and not an epiphany.” He goes on to say: “the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.” In other interviews he refers to his “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” and he believes “in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Some may point to a quote in which he states that he did not “fall out”. By this, he means that he wasn’t so overcome by the power of God that he could not stand. People may point to this as him making light of the experience, but I have no issue with this. My initial conversion experience was much the same.
One thing that really troubles me–and that I have a hard time reconciling–is Obama’s view on abortion. This will be a make-or-break issue for many voters. I’m not quite sure why he votes the way he does given his professed beliefs, but he doesn’t back away from the issue and does go to great lengths to explain himself. He has recently said that “I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.” He then goes on to say that “I don’t know anybody who is pro-abortion.” From this explanation it seems that he has faith, but I’m not entirely certain that he believes he has the one true faith. I can appreciate not wanting to force your views on someone else, but to not let your beliefs shape your policy is something I cannot understand.
In summary, the book gives a balanced view but leaves many questions unanswered. Of course, who really CAN answer all the questions about another man’s faith? That is a pretty tall order. In fact, as I said above the book raised at least as many questions in my mind as it answered. Nevertheless, I feel that reading this book was worthwhile for me. It challenged some of my assumptions about Barack Obama and did so in a way that was forthright and honest. It did not gloss over the difficult inconsistencies (or at last what I would consider inconsistencies) between his professed faith and his poltical agenda. I can recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about the man and about his faith, but I cannot guarantee that it will answer all of your questions.