The Faith of Barack Obama

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.


Slate article on “Christian culture”

This article about “Christian culture” is worth reading in my opinion. Some might take offense and some might agree with many of the sentiments. Regardless, it is a worthwhile read. Here are some of the more thought-provoking quotes:

A Christian can now buy books, movies, music—and anything else lowbrow to middlebrow—tailor-made for his or her sensibilities.”

“The problem is that purity boundaries are hard to police in the Internet age. Show a kid a Christian comedian, and soon he’s likely to discover that the guy is a pale imitation of this much funnier guy…”

“At a Christian retail show…there are rip-off trinkets of every kind—a Christian version of My Little Pony and the mood ring and the boardwalk T-shirt (“Friends don’t let friends go to hell”). There is Christian Harlequin and Christian chick lit and Bibleman, hero of spiritual warfare. There are Christian raves and Christian rappers and Christian techno, which is somehow more Christian even though there are no words.”

“Didn’t Jesus chase the money changers out of the temple? In other words, isn’t there something wrong with so thoroughly commercializing all aspects of faith?”

The article in its entirety:

A funny thing happened to me this morning…

I got into my truck to go to work this morning. The radio volume was turned way down and I could barely hear it so I turned it up. It was set to XM and Chris Tomlin’s rendition of Amazing Grace was playing, which was odd. Why was it odd? I have to admit that I do not have a single one of XM’s Christian stations programmed into my presets. When I’m in my car I’m usually listening to CNN, classic rock or rap with some classical music thrown in periodically. I just don’t listen to much popular Christian music.

Anyway, so I’m thinking that this song must be playing on some non-Christian station which I think is odd. It isn’t the kind of Christian song I would expect to be a “crossover”. So I push a button and see that my XM radio is tuned to The Message (one of the Christian Stations). Like I said, I never tune to it. Ever. 99.9% of the time I listen to what I have on my presets. I know that I was listening to CNN when I turned off my truck the previous day.

At this point I’m starting to think I’d better listen to this station this morning. I even called Amy just to make sure she hadn’t been in my truck and changed the channel. To be honest, that would have been an even greater miracle–she has no clue how to work my radio, let alone change it to an XM station not on my presets. So yeh, I’m saying I think God tuned my XM radio to a particular station this morning so that I could hear some of the songs–and they were all awesome and really spoke some truth to me. Can I prove it? No. Do I believe it? Yeh, I do.

So if there is a moral to this story, I guess it is this: when God changes the channel, you’d better listen.

I guess this is also the point where I should wrap up this post with something corny like: “we should all add God to our presets.” Well…that does sound a little goofy and contrived, but that doesn’t change that fact that we DO need to spend time with God daily. I’m going to make more of an effort. He got my attention. How much does He love me if He’ll go to the trouble to hack my XM radio? 🙂

Mike Paschall Podcast

Some of you may have noticed the Mike Paschall Podcast RSS Feed in the lower right side of my webpage. I just wanted to give a little background for anyone who might be considering a listen. Mike is a good friend of mine that I’ve known for about 3 years. He’s an amazing guy, a local businessman, and he just started preaching at a small church here in town. If you are curious, check it out.