It's fairly common news at this point that the President opined on his faith yesterday. First, I'd like to state that the conservative talk radio I listened to selected a narrow portion of the President's response and not the full-text. I felt this was unfair. Second, I'd like to state that I do, in fact, believe the President is sincere in his remarks and that he tries to follow Jesus. I have no reason to believe that he's not a Christian. I believe he is.
Irrespective of those things, when the President says something about Jesus, people pay more attention to it than if I said it, so I wanted to analyze his comments from a theological perspective. Among many things he said yesterday, here are his explicit comments on his own faith:
“I’m a Christian by choice,” the president said. “My family didn’t -- frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church.”
The president said he “came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead -- being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me. And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God. But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.”
There are some beautiful truths in here that make me proud he said them, and there are some misleading statements in here that I'd like to address.
What was well-said? The President says he's a Christian by choice, as are all Christians. The President is right to assert that following Jesus is not an ethnic or socioeconomic enterprise. It's an enterprise of belief, and he affirmed that. The President also admitted that his family didn't raise him in church- that's bold and frank and takes guts in our hyper-crazed fundamentalism that we see so often on TV. The President is also correct in noting that Jesus is the best model of a human life ever lived. Jesus is the sacrificial and loving person of all humankind. The President also nailed it when he said that Jesus died for his sins. He affirms total depravity when he says that human beings are sinful (note: not that they sin, but that they're sinful). The President thus implies that humanity is in a condition of sin that needs a savior. Off the top of his head, he did admirable on these accounts.
What wasn't well-said? Whether the President realized it or not, he was obfuscating between two popular views on the atonement of Jesus. The atonement answers a simple question: what did Jesus actually accomplish on the cross? There are many answers, but Obama gives two: that Jesus set the most prime example for moral living and he indicates that Jesus died for his sins. While both are true, Jesus dying for our sins (and our resulting restored relationship to him) is primary and most essential. And while Obama affirms that, he also conflates the views of the atonement again as he says, "Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings..." Is this a humility that can be exemplified by all humans or is it unique to Jesus? In other words, could someone else have died for the President's sins? Because I think the answer is no, I think he misleads with the second portion of the phrase "...spoke to the humility we all have to have...". The President could have given a more "Christian" answer in these regards.
What was missed? At some basic point, if we can't say that we're Christians because Jesus was real, he lived, and he was in fact God, then we contravene 2000 years of Christian history and the entire New Testament. I'll forgive the President for not addressing this, because he got the question on the spot and most Christians wouldn't have the clarity to answer on the divinity of Christ. But the divinity of Christ is essential to the question, "Why are you a Christian?"
In all, I trust that the President is a Christian because he says Jesus died for my sins. There are many people in churches across America that aren't truly Christians because they'll say that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and they've never understood that that metaphysical truth needs to be personally accepted. Jesus died for my sins, and the President seems to get that for himself.