Posted by: Billy Marsh | June 13, 2009

Obama’s Vocal Support for Jesus Christ: What Should We Make Of It?

I couldn’t pass up a news article I saw the other day entitled, “Obama Invokes Jesus More Than Bush” by Eamon Javers. I wanted to know more about the times that President Obama had given credence to Jesus Christ in his public speeches in light of his recent alignment with Christianity in his graduation address at Notre Dame. According to the article, to everyone’s surprise, Obama already has invoked “Jesus Christ” more than former President Bush ever did in the public eye. This contrast is further amplified in view of how open Bush was about his personal commitment to the Christian faith and its role and authority in his life, including his presidency, while Obama remains under constant suspicion regarding whether or not underneath it all he is truly a Muslim.

First let me make it clear that this post is not an attempt to criticize Obama, nor is it a chance to praise Bush. I’m not even wanting to come across as passing definitive judgment on the state of Obama’s personal spirituality; I simply wish to interact with the evidence presented in this article and to evaluate the manner in which the president has publicly affirmed Jesus. That being said, what are we to make of how Obama has invoked Jesus Christ in his speeches? Should conservative evangelicals be relieved, or is there cause for concern?

Although one of the commentators in Javers’ article believes that Obama’s “overtly Christian rhetoric” is more political than spiritual, there may be another issue involved. I can’t say that I’m not suspicious of Obama’s vocal support of Christianity as driven by ulterior political motives, such as using it as Tony Perkins points out in this article in order to “cover over a lot of policies that are anti-Christian,” which he cites Obama’s approval of abortion as the key example; however, what may lie more at the heart of Obama’s seemingly free-spirited invoking of “Jesus Christ” in the public square may come from a deficient view of the gospel and ultimately of the identity of the Son of God himself that allows him to have this liberty.

The impetus for writing this post is coming off the heels of my previous one where I explained how Luther saw Christ as Gift and Christ as Example as an answer to the moralization of the gospel. After reading the sampling of the excerpts revealed in Javers’ article, it became clear how Jesus and Christianity were being used. From the first instance taken from Obama’s speech at Cairo, he noted that he was a Christian, and later he referenced “the Islamic story of Isra, in which Moses, Jesus and Mohammed joined in prayer.” It is no secret that Muslims do not view Jesus as God and the only Savior of mankind. Yes, Jesus is respected, but he is seen as a highly moral figure and great teacher. In essence, the Jesus understood by Muslims is not the same Jesus of the Bible. If Obama is true to Christianity on its own terms, then it could never serve as a bridge between Islam. If Christ was only a great thinker and teacher who lived an exemplary life, then this would be no problem. Christianity, however, is an exclusive faith; one in which it claims that all other religions and systems of belief are false and have eternal consequences.

Next, Javers’ article mentions the instance in a speech at Georgetown University where he drew upon the Sermon on the Mount and utilized the section pertaining to the two men who built their houses upon either the sand or a rock. In the address, Obama said, “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock.” As before, it seems as if President Obama is extracting only the moralistic nature of Jesus’ teaching from this passage. The Sermon on the Mount is prone to such a fallacy, but nevertheless, a proper reading of its content and context both in Matthew’s and Luke’s account would be unable to reduce its message to moralism. The story of the two men who built their houses on two different foundations comes at the very end of Christ’s sermon and it begins with, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matt 7:24).” When Jesus says “these words,” he is referring to everything that preceded. The Sermon on the Mount is explicitly and exclusively Christian, going beyond ethics and into the realm of spirituality and living rightly with the God of the Bible. Obama’s rhetoric points to his intentionally vague use of this passage when he says “a rock” whereas the text says “the rock“. He leaves the identity of the rock indefinite while Jesus is clear that “the rock” on which a wise man builds his house is none other than his message of the gospel and the preaching of kingdom of God, and this by no means can be summed up as only morals and values. It doesn’t even take a Bible scholar to read Matthew 5-7 just briefly to realize that more is going here than ethics. Not to mention that taking Jesus’ teaching this way completely violates the positioning of the Sermon of the Mount in the entire Gospel of Matthew and how it serves to further reveal Christ’s divine identity and the specific content of the gospel of the kingdom of heaven.

In his article, Javer’s wonders if Obama’s “regular invoking of Jesus” is an attempt to satisfy the 83% of Americans who still believe in God. This point may indeed be true to a certain extent, and it returns us to suspecting Obama’s association with Christianity as motivated by a political initiative. However, I am in more agreement with a later insight that the article raises, namely, that Obama wishes to see a “resurrection of the largely dormant Christian Left.” The type of social gospel message that appears to be flowing from Obama’s lips is identical to liberal Christianity. At Notre Dame, Obama gave somewhat of a personal testimony when he reflected upon the “good works” that he observed being done by Christian community groups in Chicago, saying, “I found myself drawn–not just to work with the church but to be in the church . . . . It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.” As you can see, his being “brought to Christ” is attributed to ethics, not the gospel. Don’t get me wrong, the gospel includes an ethical system, but it is much more than that. The gospel left to ethics only is not the gospel. It is the gospel defanged so to speak; weak and powerless, and unable to save.

The revival of the social gospel and the Christian Left has been on the rise long before Obama entered the White House. I’ve tried to address it from various angles in my warnings against the Emergent church movement and books such as The Shack. The Christian Left are usually Democrats and attempt to associate themselves with Christianity and Jesus while supporting abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and other familiar hot-topics. The attraction to Jesus is directed towards his humanity and “philosophy” often to the exclusion of his divinity and the truly spiritual nature of his work and words. Now that this mode of thought has the President of the United States as its foremost proponent, conservative evangelicals must not be comforted by the fact that Obama’s invoking of the words “Jesus Christ” outnumber those of Bush. In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, we must “recognize them by their fruits (Matt 7:20).” Fruit that honors God and his gospel; Fruit that proclaims the cross of Christ; Fruit of repentance and holiness; Fruit that bears witness to the reality that Jesus is God and is the only Redeemer for this fallen world; Fruit that shows that Christ has not been invoked simply because he provides the best ethical system, which of course, he most certainly does. We must be prepared to fight for the integrity of the gospel in the days and years ahead like never before.

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Responses

  1. You bring up the “L” word (liberal) in your post. I would like to suggest another one – Laodicea. The liberal Christian movement has all of the earmarks of a luke-warm form of Christianity. God’s opinion of that was to vomit them out. That being said, we must be careful to not ignore the works of the social gospel while keeping our faith true. If Pres. Obama was drawn into the church through the work being done by a church we consider liberal, where were the other churches at.
    I am gravely concerned for our freedoms in this country. The true gospel is under attack like never before. We have no margin for error in this time. We must proclaim the full gospel of Christ and do the works of righteousness( see parable of the sheep and goats ).
    Thanks for your post, Glenn

  2. Glenn,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that liberal Christianity does seem to bear the qualities of luke-warm Chrisitianity. But even in this regard, it isn’t just that their lifestyles are complacent, but instead, it’s the theology that is in error. I agree that the gospel includes social righteousness such as looking after widows, taking care of orphans, ministry to the poor, and so forth. Conservative churches, though they have dropped the ball in these areas in the past, are trying to renew these type of ministries, however, these aspects of church life are subordinate to the primary message of the gospel, namely, repent and believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. You are right in that we need to preach the full gospel and to live it out wholly. As Paul said to the Ephesian elders, we must preach and uphold the whole counsel of God.

  3. Good one son. Many of today’s public “servants” have the ability to speak out of both sides of their mouth at the same time. Our way of life as intended by the founding fathers as well as our faith is under attack like never before. In the near future if not already, as true believers we are probably becoming viewed as “extremist”. Every other car in our area has a “coexist” bumper sticker on the back.

  4. Hay Billy,

    I think your post is NOt accurate. You have looked at obama’s statements only from an ethical standpoint.

    I believe that through acts of charity that most churches do, people can be drawn to the church and in the Church find Christ. And I think this is exactly what happened to Obama. This is a point you have misrepresented as you quote Obama in his Notre Dome speech.
    I hope now you get it right. Don’t be too judgmental as only God can judge fairly!

  5. Like it or not, Obama’s affiliation with Christianity is with the liberal wing of Christian churches. This is undeniable just based upon the church he most recently left that merited so much attention from the media during his campaign. That church along with its pastor were extremely liberal and stand in the vein of the social gospel movement which had its most prominent rise at the turn of the twentieth century.

    What I’m saying is that based upon Obama’s comments, the core of what he designates as Christianity show signs that he takes his cues from liberal Christianity that is a product of the social gospel. I think it would take very little further research to state my point even more definitively, but it’s not something I’m bent on doing. The point of this post was just to analyze the numerous references from Obama about Christianity in order to determine what is the nature of his faith (meaning his Christian worldview).

    As typical, you end your response with the cliche rebuke about not being judgmental. You must recognize that Christ distinguishes between making well-grounded and reasonable judgments and being judgmental. This post did the former and your objections would have been much more persuasive if you would have interacted with the details of my post rather than setting up a hypothetical situation that still doesn’t address the larger issue of the “fruit” that Obama has given us to assess.


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