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Commander (and Theologian) in Chief?

August 30, 2008

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I came across Dr. Black’s blog which discusses the conclusion Barack Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night. Here was the final paragraph.

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise — that American promise — and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

I understand that not everyone has had a class in hermeneutics (methods of biblical interpretation), but this is just ridiculous. What upsets me is not just that Obama’s speech writers didn’t have any regard for biblical context or that the verse being referenced is talking about Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, not “the American promise.” What is frustrating is that this comments on the indifference and naievety of culture in regards to Biblical truth. Look at the real passage from Hebrews 10:19-23:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

I’ve come to expect politicians on all sides to use Scripture as a way to grab a few votes and make a speech seem to have more authority. But what does it say about our “Christian country” that someone can specifically reference the Bible in such a way? Here’s just three observations:

1. It shows how few care about context, authorial intent, or faithfully presenting the biblical text (or any text for that matter) to mean what it really means

I have no doubt that many who will read this will probably say, “so what’s the big deal?” What if I wrote this: “and in the words that Obama spoke clearly, we will have no hope or change for America without McCain’s leadership as we march towards the future.” You would probably say, “hey, he was talking about his own leadership, not McCain’s, that’s just deceptive.” Exactly. The Bible here is talking about Jesus’ saving hope, not the American dream led by any politician. The passage isn’t in anyway talking about politics, so don’t make it seem that way.

2. It shows the lack of critical thinking in Americans

I’m sure most didn’t think twice when hearing Obama’s conclusion because it sounded so good. We are a people of style, not substance. Why don’t we think critically and feel misled when there’s such a clear twisting of words to fit one’s agenda. Does it matter to you (especially if you’re a Christian) that a politician quotes a verse about the saving work of Christ to be about himself and his future plans for America? This isn’t saying Obama is the anti-christ or anything like that, but just shows that we as Americans typically just smile, nod, and accept whatever messages come our way on TV.

3. It shows that many try to find redemption in the political process

As I watched the DNC and saw people tearing up, yearning for a savior to redeem a broken society with all sorts of problems, I have no doubt that even with knowing that this verse was misquoted many are okay with that because it accurately portrays their excitement about the prospect of a future of “hope” and “change” under the Obama administration. Will any political leader ever bring the sort of redemption that is described in this speech? I would give a resounding, “no.” Not because I’m a pessimist, but because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and God didn’t intend for us to “fix” society through the electoral college.

That means Barack Obama, John McCain, and whoever else is not going to perfect society in such a way that we finally find true peace and satisfaction in all things.  To put your hope in the process is only setting yourself up for dissapointment and failure. Many long for this through politics: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” But these are not words about any politician, but instead about Jesus (Rev. 21:4). History is full of story after story of people putting their hope in great men who ultimately never live up to their promises and expectations.

Politics are important, but not of salvific importance. The hope that we confess is not that of new schools, more jobs, better pay, or world peace. While those can be great oppurtunities, they are certainly not replacements for the love, work, sacrifice, and joy of Christ-so let’s not present them as though they are.

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