Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who is a Christian?

A piece written by Chicago Sun-Times writer Carol Falsani explores this question. Entitled "I have faith Obama has faith," it's a response to a piece written by Cal Thomas in response to her own earlier interview with Barack Obama. In that 2004 interview Falsani had talked with Obama about his faith. Thomas says, from reading this, that whatever Obama may claim -- he's not a Christian.
Falsani responds that from what Obama is very sincere about his faith, believes that he has a personal relationship with Jesus, but approaches faith humbly, refraining from questioning the faiths of others. Because Thomas -- like many Fundamentalists (and even atheists like Sam Harris) has a narrow view of Christianity that requires an exclusivist perspective then Obama fails to measure up. Of course, if we insist that our interpretation of Christianity is the only proper one then of course we set ourselves up as judges. Now, it is appropriate to raise questions about faith statements and about behavior -- but when it comes to what is in one's heart, that may be going too far.
Indeed, Falsani suggests with regard to Obama this has gone too far:

But the level of scrutiny of Obama's faith has surpassed what is helpful and veered into dangerous territory. At the end of the day, no one really knows what transpires between a person and his God. We must depend in large part -- trust, really -- what the man says about his beliefs.

I do believe she is right when she concludes:

Obama says he believes, abides and is trying to follow Jesus.

He's a humble believer and doesn't want to give the impression that he has the corner on truth. I respect that, although it makes fielding questions about his faith more complicated and provocative.

It is dangerous to try to judge the quality of a man's faith. That is God's purview, not ours.

So my question remains: What makes one a Christian?


Gary said...

Theological beliefs, personal morality, what one believes is true and false and right and wrong all are indicative of whether or not one is a real believer. If one's beliefs and life are in accord with what the Bible says, AND one claims to be a believer, then there exists the possibiity that one's faith may be real. Obama fails the tests. As do you

John Shuck said...

Holy cow, Bob. Who is a Christian? Not Obama, not Chuck Currie and now thanks to God's wisdom revealed to Gary are you!

It's been a full day.

Anonymous said...

A true believer is marked by their loving acceptance of others, regardless of their faults. Christ calls us to love, forgive, and otherwise be compassionate.

Judging and separating sheep from goats (or the wheat from the weeds) is left for later and is left to someone who is better equipped for the task.

Doesn't the Bible say that theology, morality and even the claim to be a believer, are all are meaningless in the grand scheme of Christianity, if you are without charity.

I am sure that Jesus weeps as much for the misguided 'Christian Soldier/Avenger' as he does for the misguided seeker after the Way.


steph said...

To a non Christian, everyone who says they are Christian, are believed to be Christian. However to many Christians, others calling themselves Christians are all heretics. Perhaps all Christians practise a form of Christian heresy in a way. I think there should be no doubt that Obama is Christian and I also think it shouldn't actually matter if he wasn't.

Travis Stanley said...

It's a sign that Obama is doing something right when the harshest criticisms people can make have little to do with policy but are all about attacking his character, saying that he's 1) a "whining black victim" (as recent McCain campaign statements suggest), and 2) he's not a Christian.

It is absurd to look at Obama and claim that he is not a person of deep faith. But that is not what this is about. It's not about what makes someone a true Christian, because McCain would also, surely, fail the same test of orthodoxy. Instead, it's about discrediting Obama, attacking him at the one place where Democrats have rarely had an advantage over Republicans, and that is the ability to eloquently describe one's faith and how it informs one’s politics.

I know one of the Religious advisors to the Obama Campaign. He tells me that they have a team of about 12 people working hard to build relations with the faith community, something never seen before in any presidential campaign from any party. He says the McCain campaign only has, at most, two people working in this area.

This is not about Obama being a Christian. The attackers could care less about if he is or not. They're just trying to be elected by proving they are the better Christians. Now isn't that Christ-like!

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting for Gary to list, item by item, how McCain passes his Christian litmus test and how Obama fails it.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Steph is right that it shouldn't matter (for the sake of his political campaign) whether Obama is or is not a Christian. After all, article 6 of the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids religious tests for political office. But one cannot stop citizens from applying informal religious tests in the privacy of the voting booth--unfortunately. And, even more unfortunately, others exploit this. This is not new: Thomas Jefferson nearly lost his presidential bid to John Adams because of Adams attacks on Jefferson as an "infidel," --- despite Adams being an open Unitarian!

Likewise, Abraham Lincoln, raised by a Baptist family, but never baptized and never having joined a church, was opposed by Rev. Peter Cartwright, a circuit-riding Methodist preacher and one of the most famous religious leaders of his day.

I wonder whether either Jefferson or Lincoln could be elected in today's USA and fear that I know the answer to be negative.

But a "real Christian" is one who attempts to follow Jesus. In Acts, we see that the believers were originally called "followers in the Way" (i.e., the Way of Jesus) and not "believers in a list of dogmas" or even "those who have had a particular religious experience."

Steph, it should not surprise you that Christians dispute who is genuinely Christian. Muslims dispute who is genuinely Muslim, too. I suppose atheists and agnostics don't dispute who really is among their number? Probably not.

As for heretics, I assume that we all are heretics on some matter. I expect to spend part of eternity learning where I was dead wrong. (Please, God, don't let the Dispensationalists have been right about anything! :-) )

I do find it interesting that so-called conservative Christians in the U.S. had no problem with the claim of Richard Nixon (a Quaker who, nevertheless, joined the army and was pro-war and who had not been to any Quaker Meeting for years--whose only religious observance was occasional attendance at Billy Graham rallies--near election time) to be a Christian or that of Ronald Reagan, who never attended church or showed any remote faith. But they accuse Baptist Sunday School teacher Jimmy Carter of secular humanism(!) and Barack Obama of being a fake Christian and a secret Muslim. Gimme a break.

steph said...

Hi Mike - No of course I'm not surprised - I know all religions have internal disputes about practice. I will always think it is a dreadful shame that some reject others completely from their religion although each member considers themselves a faithful member. For example every person calling themselves Christian, considers themselves to be faithfully following the teachings of Jesus and living according to Christian principles although interpretation of what this is may vary between individuals. I think all are in fact "heretics" in that "heresy" is after all a choice and each has chosen the way to view their religion ... if that makes sense.

Strangely enough, although I have never held any religious beliefs and do not believe in "God", I do not know anything except that I do not "believe" and I refuse to call myself an atheist as most atheists not only think they know there is no God but they despise religion. So I have refused the label others may wish to put upon me. But I am not an atheist and I am not particularly agnostic either...

steph said...

I should emphasise in "heresy" that each has chosen the way because they believe it to be the right way.

Anonymous said...

I agree that to others, we are all likely to appear as heretics. I also think that God cares about our theology. To think God does not care about our theology is to deny entirely the value of religion, or revelation, or even Jesus for that matter.

The problem is that I don't have any idea about the nature of God's concern! Perhaps, as Paul suggests to the Athenians, we were created to grope and strive after the knowledge of God. Groping and striving are by nature imperfect struggles with no clear path to the end. As we continue on our faith journey we become more sure of our steps along the way. And maybe some of those steps are indeed the one's God called us to take. And perhaps God catches his metaphorical breath when we mis-step.


steph said...

I am not suggesting by heretic that you are wrong. I think all heresies are right - it is the intent that makes them right. All "Christians" strive to live the right way. God will care about intent.