Obama to receive a CEV Bible

As the Church Times blog has reported, the Evangelical Alliance here in the UK, noticing that no Bible could be found for President Barack Obama’s second swearing in, decided to send him one. And they didn’t just send him any old (or new) Bible; they sent him a copy of The Poverty and Justice Bible, of which they also write:

Recently Prime Minister Gordon Brown was presented with The Poverty and Justice Bible at Downing Street. And in July last year, hundreds of Bishops carried The Poverty and Justice Bible as they marched across Westminster in a campaign against world poverty.

As a (former, more or less) Bible translator I was interested to find out what translation is used in this Bible. The answer is at this Bible’s own website: the text is that of the Contemporary English Version (CEV):

Almost every page of the Bible speaks of God’s heart for the poor. His concern for the marginalised. His compassion for the oppressed. His call for justice.

The Poverty and Justice Bible megaphones his voice as never before.

Using the clear Contemporary English Version (CEV) text, it highlights more than 2,000 verses that spell out God’s attitude to poverty and justice.

But the blessed Barack needs to be careful with his gift. I presume that this particular text is the British edition of CEV, which actually differs quite substantially from the US and “Global Standard” editions of this version, as I documented here. So if, as I would consider appropriate, he gets copies of CEV for his daughters, and if he ever finds time to have family devotions with them and uses The Poverty and Justice Bible, there is some danger of confusion.

I can’t help thinking that there would have been more of an outcry in some quarters if Obama had been sworn in on The Poverty and Justice Bible than if no Bible was used at all!

Can Christians fall away? The examples of Bentley and Obama

Every time I write about Todd Bentley, as I did on Monday, there is a huge jump in traffic to this blog. So I feel justified in writing on a subject in which there is a lot of interest. Or is this just tickling my ego? Whichever may be true, here is another post about him, and about Barack Obama. To be more precise, it is about the way we evangelical Christians react to people like these two.

What do these two have in common? It is that they were both at one time doing what good evangelical Christians should do, and now neither of them is doing. Obama responded to an altar call and had what I have called “a clear evangelical conversion experience”. Bentley started with this and went on to become an international evangelist with a major (but controversial) healing ministry. Obama, at least to some extent, rejected evangelical theology and became something of a universalist. Bentley’s rejection was in a different direction, a fall into sin from which he has not yet repented.

As an evangelical I might say that these two have fallen away from the true faith, in very different ways. But can a true Christian do this? Jeremy Pierce seems to deny it, when he writes, in a comment here concerning what I called Obama’s conversion experience, that

Obama seems to me not to have had such an experience, and if he had then I think he would have a very different attitude toward scripture (for one thing, actually believing it and following it when his inclination is to reject it as making God too cruel).

In other words, Jeremy seems to be claiming that Obama’s low view of Scripture and generally liberal theology is proof that he never had been a genuine evangelical Christian. I find this an astonishing claim, in the light of the evidence that many former evangelicals have drifted into liberal theology.

Let’s first detach this claim from the issue of whether such people will ultimately be saved, which I have discussed here before – something which cannot be known in the present, especially as there presumably remains a possibility of them repenting of liberal ideas and fully returning to the evangelical fold.

But what are the implications of Jeremy’s claim? If tomorrow the pastor under whose ministry I was converted, or who baptised me, or from whom I regularly receive communion, turns away from his faith and professes liberal ideas, where does that leave me?

I can’t help wondering if Jeremy would also hold that Bentley’s persistence, for the moment, in sin is proof that he too never had been a genuine evangelical Christian. There are certainly plenty of people around who cite this sin as evidence that his ministry was never genuine and the whole Lakeland outpouring was some kind of fraud. But does such reasoning make sense? I don’t think so.

Let’s remind ourselves that the church rejected Donatism, the sectarian teaching that ministers of the gospel who denied the faith could not be restored, that their repentance could not be accepted. My own Church of England clearly teaches, in Article XXVI, that the ministry of even the most sinful ministers is valid. This article directly contradicts any suggestion that baptism by an apostate or backsliding pastor or exercise of spiritual gifts by a sinning Todd Bentley is invalid. It even more clearly rules out any conclusion that baptism by a pastor who later becomes an apostate or backslider or exercise of spiritual gifts by Todd Bentley before he fell into sin is invalid.

So how should we relate to a Bentley or an Obama? Both apparently started well but then went astray. There are plenty of biblical examples of this, such as: King David, at the time of his adultery; King Solomon; the Galatians as addressed in Galatians 3:1-5; Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:19-20. In none of these cases is there any suggestion that these people were not at first genuinely following God’s way. Now I admit that that suggestion is made about the “antichrists” of 1 John 2:18-19; but I hope no one is going to suggest that either Obama or Bentley is the Antichrist! The biblical response to such people is not to condemn them or write them off. It is, as demonstrated by Nathan and by Paul, to call the backslider to repentance, which may involve what Paul calls being “handed over to Satan”.

At least in the case of King David this process actually led to repentance. So this can happen. My pastor told a story of how he was visited by a pastor who had been suspended from ministry for an adulterous relationship, together with his lady friend, also a Christian. They maintained to my pastor that their relationship felt so right that it must be good and holy. He asked them if they prayed together. They, with some embarrassment, said “no”, exposing to themselves that they still felt shame about their relationship. He suggested they should pray together. Shortly afterwards they realised that their relationship was wrong and repented, and the man was eventually restored to ministry.

So this restoration can happen. Let’s continue to pray that it happens with Todd Bentley, and quickly. As for Barack Obama, we can pray that his eyes will be opened to more of the truth of the gospel, and of course, in line with the verses immediately following the ones about Hymenaeus and Alexander, that he will turn out to be a good President who will make it possible for his nation and the world to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”.

Obama: not a matter of "once evangelical, always evangelical"

The usually meticulously logical philosopher Jeremy Pierce (whose blog is very hard to comment on, so I am bringing the discussion back here) seems to have got his logic seriously confused, in his comments on my post about Barack Obama’s faith and in his own post on the matter. The problem came when I wrote that Obama

had a clear evangelical conversion experience

and Jeremy understood me to be claiming thereby that Obama is an evangelical. But Jeremy seems confused about how to define who is an evangelical.

In his post Jeremy offers an outline of what it means to be an evangelical based on a set of theological views, mentioning some doctrines held by conservative evangelicals but questioned by some who he would consider to be on the fringes of evangelicalism. I would not agree with all the details, but that is not my point in this post. But I note that the definition given is entirely in terms of views on theological and moral issues. There is nothing here about giving one’s life to Christ or having an ongoing relationship with him, nor even about faith except in the sense of intellectual assent. Well, perhaps that is a reasonable way to define “evangelical” as the word is generally understood.

The problem only arises when in a comment Jeremy implies a totally different definition:

Conversion experiences are nearly definitional for most evangelicals. A genuine conversion experience, to most evangelicals, means that God has initiated a work in your heart, replacing a heart of stone with a heart of flesh and transforming you into Christ’s likeness. A genuinely evangelical conversion experience produces a genuine evangelical.

So, Jeremy, which is it? Is an evangelical defined by intellectual assent to a set of doctrines, or by the fact that “God has initiated a work in your heart”? The only way to rescue any kind of consistency in your definitions is by making an assertion that any person in whose heart God has initiated a work therefore necessarily believes for all eternity in the full set of evangelical doctrines. It also implies concerning any person who has apparently undergone a conversion experience but after that even temporarily wavers in their intellectual assent to evangelical doctrines, that God has not even initiated a work in their heart. That would actually include myself as I went through a period of serious doubt after my conversion experience. It further denies the possibility that people like Obama, apparently, can undergo some kind of genuine conversion experience if they do not then become fully theologically committed evangelicals.

Jeremy, is this what you intend to teach? Should we believe “once evangelical, always evangelical”, which implies “if not now evangelical, then never has been evangelical”? Or are you just being completely inconsistent? Or have I somewhere missed the point?

Here is a fuller record of our conversation. Continue reading

Obama's faith and prophecy

I thank John Meunier for giving me a link to and extracts from the full text of a 2004 newspaper interview with Barack Obama about his faith.

This full text seems to me the very genuine testimony of a man who was brought up as a nominal Christian, had a clear evangelical conversion experience, and has an ongoing relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but is also wary of some the certainties and arrogance of many evangelical and other Christians. In fact very like me in these ways. But I would express myself with more certainty than he does on some matters, such as that there really is a future hope for Christians.

I was struck most strongly by this part:

Do you pray often?

Uh, yeah, I guess I do.

Its’ not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it. …

It’s interesting, the most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I’m talking to a group and I’m saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I’m just being glib or clever.

What’s that power? Is it the holy spirit? God?

Well, I think it’s the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and an audience.

That’s something you learn watching ministers, quite a bit. What they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down before they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it but what I see is there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a deeper source. And it’s powerful.

There are also times when you can see the ego getting in the way. Where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an Amen. And those are distinct moments. I think those former moments are sacred.

It seems here that Obama is attributing the power in his speeches, when he is not “just being glib or clever”, to the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the Holy Spirit is behind powerful sermons. In other words, he is claiming that his speeches are prophetic – not in the predictive sense underlying what I wrote concerning the prophecy about Sarah Palin, but in the more fundamental sense that prophecy is the Holy Spirit speaking through human beings.

The USA and the world certainly needs a prophetic President, one who spends time regularly in “an ongoing conversation with God” and follows the leading of the Holy Spirit not just in speeches but also in every decision and action. It seems that in Barack Obama we have the genuine article in these respects. Let’s hope and pray that he is able to keep this up through all the pressures of the post he is about to take up.

When Barack met Gene

Ruth Gledhill has an interesting report (see also her newspaper article) of three meetings between now President-Elect Barack Obama and the controversial Bishop Gene Robinson. Apparently Obama sought out Robinson – but I think only as one of a series of meetings with many religious leaders, so this should not be taken as an endorsement. Ruth writes that these meetings took place “in May and June last year”, but I think she means this year, although pre-Lambeth and pre-US election campaign May and June 2008 must seem at least a year ago!

Ruth’s account is taken from an interview she had with Robinson. Here are some extracts from Gene’s words about Barack:

I must say I don’t know if it is an expression here in England or not but he is the genuine article. I think he is exactly who he says he is. …

He is impressive, he’s smart, he is an amazing listener. For someone who’s called on to speak all the time when he asks you a question it is not for show, he is actually wanting to know what you think and listens, or at least gives you that impression. I think we’ve had eight years of someone who has listened to almost no-one. …

He certainly indicated his broad and deep support for the full civil rights for gay and lesbian people but frankly we talked more about – I pressed him on the Millennium Development Goals. …

The thing that I liked about him and what he said on this issue is that he and I would agree about the rightful place of religion vis-a-vis the secular state. That is to say, we don’t impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them based on the constitution. You don’t say to someone, you must believe this because this is what God believes. I think God gives us our values and then we argue for those on the basis of the constitution and care of our neighbour. …

He has no hesitation whatsoever to talk about his faith. I find that remarkable not only in a politician but also in a Democrat. For years it’s only been Republicans who wanted to talk about religion. …

One of the things Barack and I did talk about when we were together was just  the experience of being first and the danger of that and we talked about being demonised by one side and, I don’t know if the word is angelicised, by the other. Expectations are laid on you both negative and positive and neither are true. And the importance of remaining centred and grounded in the middle of that so that you don’t begin to believe either your negative press or your positive press.

Good material which, I must say, raises both Barack and Gene in my estimation, although I continue to believe that practising homosexuals should not be in positions of leadership in the church. I particularly like this:

we don’t impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them …

But of course I differ from Robinson, and perhaps Obama, in believing that among the values which should be informed by faith are recognition that homosexual practice and abortion are not God’s will for his people.

So let’s avoid demonising or angelicising either Barack or Gene but let them “remain[] centred and grounded in the middle”.

UPDATE: It’s only an hour since I posted this, but I have more good news about Barack Obama. Ruth Gledhill reported Gene Robinson “was guarded” about Obama’s attitude to the Millennium Development Goals. But Dave Warnock pointed me to Obama and Biden’s new “Change” website, where, on this page, I read:

Fight Global Poverty: Obama and Biden will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and they will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal. They will help the world’s weakest states to build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.

Halving extreme poverty is in fact only one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, but it is surely the most significant, and probably the most expensive. It would be good to see if Obama and Biden have declared policies relating to the other seven goals, but their foreign policy agenda document is incomplete on the web page.

Congratulations, Obama!

Congratulations to Barack Obama on his convincing win! The people of the USA have spoken, and the peoples of the world will be glad, because Obama promises to seek peace and reconciliation worldwide, and to act on climate change. Here are some of his international and environmental policies as summarised by Avaaz.org (in an e-mail I received):

  • Reduce the US’s carbon emissions 80% by 2050 and play a strong positive role in negotiating a binding global treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol
  • Withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and keep no permanent bases in the country
  • Establish a clear goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons across the globe
  • Close the Guantanamo Bay detention center
  • Double US aid to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 and accelerate the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculoses and Malaria
  • Open diplomatic talks with countries like Iran and Syria, to pursue peaceful resolution of tensions
  • De-politicize military intelligence to avoid ever repeating the kind of manipulation that led the US into Iraq
  • Launch a major diplomatic effort to stop the killings in Darfur
  • Only negotiate new trade agreements that contain labor and environmental protections
  • Invest $150 billion over ten years to support renewable energy and get 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015

Now I don’t agree with Obama on abortion. However, abortion was not a real issue in this election, but the matters above were real issues, and ones about which Christians should be just as concerned as they are about abortion. Let’s pray for Obama and press him to put into practice policies like the ones listed above which will make our world a better place.

Mark Strauss on Obama and Palin

I have just discovered the Zondervan blog koinōnia: biblical-theological conversations for the community of Christ. This is where the quiz I just took on the NT use of the OT was posted. And it seems to be bursting with interesting posts, especially this one: Obama, Palin, and the Complementarian-Egalitarian Debate by Mark L. Strauss. It is not only the bloggers at koinōnia who are heavyweights: the first commenter on this post is none other than Craig Blomberg. I won’t say much about this post (as I am trying not to spend much time blogging!) except that it is an excellent take on the issues I raised here and here. Read Strauss’ post!

Obama the Hindu?

US Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama calls himself a Christian. He has long been a member of Rev Jeremiah Wright‘s church, and although he has now left this church he has been attending other churches. And only in the last few days he has been “making a full-throttle push for centrist evangelicals and Catholics”.

Obama has often been accused of being a Muslim. There is no truth in this allegation if you accept the definition of a person’s religion as their personally accepted set of beliefs, faith commitments and practices. But there is another definition of religion which is held to by Muslims (and, in effect, Jews) as well as by some in the West who call themselves Christians, which is that religion is passed on by inheritance from parents to children. According to these people, because Obama’s father was a Muslim (although non-practising), Obama himself counts as a Muslim. But even they can hardly claim this after he has publicly renounced Islam, although they might consider him an apostate.

But now comes a new claim that Obama is in effect a Hindu. The evidence for this seems to be that he carries about in his pocket “a tiny monkey god”, as well as “a tiny Madonna and child”. This is reported by Time Magazine, with photographic evidence. According to Visi Tilak of the Christian blog Casting Stones (which lists Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren among its contributors), this monkey god is “none other than the Hindu god Hanuman”, and indeed Visi reports that “over the last couple of days every Indian newspaper has carried this story and photograph, with “Hanuman” and “Obama” on practically every headline.” The BBC reports that a group of Indians are planning to present to Obama a “two-foot tall, 15kg gold-polished, brass idol” of Hanuman.

It might be suggested that by carrying both Christian and Hindu lucky charms Obama is trying to be both Hindu and Christian. But polytheistic Hinduism has long accepted that Christian images can be used alongside originally Hindu ones, and I think that carrying lucky charms is accepted. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, has always condemned any kind of devotion to idols of non-Christian divinities, and has not approved of lucky charms. So by carrying this Hindu idol in his pocket, as well as a Christian one, Obama is showing himself to be either a good Hindu or a very bad Christian.

Obama is already facing an uphill challenge in his drive to win Christians over to support him, because of his positions on abortion and gay “marriage”. He may be able to win them over if he holds to a consistent Christian position on other matters of public and private morality, and promises to turn America away from the cult of self which has been promoted during the Bush administration towards caring properly for the poor and needy in America and worldwide. But this whole drive is endangered if Obama becomes seen as an inconsistent and compromising Christian, and especially if he is seen as trusting in evil demon gods (Hanuman is considered an incarnation of Shiva the destroyer) rather than in the true God and Jesus Christ.

Neither the prophet Jeremiah nor the prophetic preacher Jeremiah Wright would let Obama get away with this. He needs to read what the prophet had to say about idols in Jeremiah 10:1-16, and then publicly repent and get rid of his idol – and reject the gift from India. This may not win him immediate friends in India, but in the long run they and religious people of any faith will respect him more if he is consistent in his professed faith. Anyway, the Hindu vote in America is tiny, so this move would make electoral sense for him. More importantly, it makes sense for his own destiny and for the destiny of the country which he hopes to lead. For what God said to Israel in the past can apply also to America now:

“If you, Israel, will return,
then return to me,”
declares the LORD.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray,
2 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast.”

Jeremiah 4:1-2 (TNIV)

For too long the name of America has been considered a curse throughout much of the world, not just in countries which it has invaded and otherwise bossed around but also in countries which have been reduced to poverty while America enriches itself. If Obama repents of his idolatry and trusts only in the true God, then not only is he in a good position to win the election but he will also have the opportunity to restore to his own country the blessing of God and respect among the nations.

Still more on "God damn America"

Since I posted about “God damn America” in context, I chanced upon a blog, with the possibly presumptuous name The Church of Jesus Christ, on which the anonymous blogger “Polycarp” has posted a transcription of much of Rev Jeremiah Wright’s controversial “God damn America” sermon. In fact the transcription was taken from another blog, The Roland Report.

Here are some of Wright’s words following on, not quite immediately, from the words “God damn America”:

The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.

Tell your neighbor he’s (going to) help us one last time. Turn back and say forgive him for the God Damn, that’s in the Bible though. Blessings and curses is in the Bible. It’s in the Bible.

Where government fail, God never fails. When God says it, it’s done. God never fails. When God wills it, you better get out the way, ‘cause God never fails. When God fixes it, oh believe me it’s fixed. God never fails. Somebody right now, you think you can’t make it, but I want you to know that you are more than a conqueror through Christ. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

I take Wright’s words “he’s (going to) help us one last time … forgive him for the God Damn”, although confusing without more verbal and visual clues, to indicate that Wright is partly retracting his earlier words and instead asking God to turn and help America “one last time”. So “God damn America” can be understood as a rhetorical flourish to get his listeners’ attention to what follows, and was never intended as a serious imprecation. It certainly succeeded in getting attention, but unfortunately the following words were cut off, even in the rather longer video to which I previously posted a link.

I largely agree with Polycarp’s appraisal:

First, what Rev. Wright said was not that far off. …

Why is what he said so offensive? He told the absolute truth and pointed out that in the end governments fail, but God does not. Anything wrong with that? Did he not point out the list of offenses that the government has made? God did the same thing to Israel. The problem that I think that many people have, is that they view what he said as racist. He is not. He said that Egypt has done the same thing. But why focus on another country where the people could not have connected to? Why speak about the horrors of Czarist Russia? No one would have connected. So, like most speakers trying to get a point across, he did his best to connect the audience to the topic.

Another thing, is that he ‘attacked’ the U.S. I hate to tell you this, but everything he said was correct. And another thing, this country is not divine, so stop saying that it is. Stop pretending that Christ died that the Declaration of Independence might be written!

"God damn America" in context

I may have upset some people with my post “God damn America”?, despite the quotes and the question mark in the post title. After all, the soundbite quotes in the video of Rev Jeremiah Wright are indeed rather shocking. But JR Woodward, in a thoughtful post (thanks to Pam BG for the link), has shown how the quotes from Wright’s sermons were taken completely out of context.

The example given in the Youtube video embedded by Woodward shows how Wright’s supposedly offensive words in the aftermath of 9/11:

America’s chickens are coming home to roost

are in fact a quotation of the words of a white ambassador. The video is well worth watching for the insight it gives into the real Jeremiah Wright, who is not at all the monster depicted by the original compilation of soundbites.

A search of Youtube found me this video giving the actual context of the words “God damn America”. Here is a transcription of a small part of this, from the very end of the video – of course I can’t imitate Wright’s style of preaching:

No, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America (that’s in the Bible) for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.

Watch more of this, and decide for yourselves whether in fact Wright’s sentiments were (in Jeremy Pierce’s words) “I want you to be damned, and I don’t want you to repent”, or “repent, America, or you will be judged”.