The authority of the church is the power to change people and culture. By contrast, the authority of the government is the authority to punish wrongdoing and restrain evil. But the government has no power to change the hearts of evildoers; it can only incarcerate or execute them.Daroid H. Morgan summarized one of the book's basic points in a review of Blinded by Might in the journal Christian Ethics Today:
The strength of this book is the repeated statement that it is only in the power of the Christian gospel, applied to the human heart, that transformation of people can take place. Legislation and manipulation of political position and power cannot change lives. The preeminent task of the Church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Religious Right people have made a fatal mistake in making political power take precedence over the spiritual power latent in the Christian gospel.Why is it, then, that Cal Thomas is now criticizing presidential candidate Barack Obama for holding non-orthodox theological opinions? Are Obama's personal religious beliefs about eschatology and personal salvation relevant to the office he seeks?
In contrast to his previous opinions on separating theology from politics, this week in his syndicated column, Thomas writes:
Mr. Obama has declared himself a committed Christian. He can call himself anything he likes, but there are certain markers among the evangelicals he is courting that one must meet in order to qualify for that label.If Senator Obama were running for president of the United Church of Christ (the denomination to which he has belonged for the last two decades) rather than of the United States of America, scrutiny of his theological views would be both relevant and appropriate.
Some insight into Mr. Obama's "Christianity" comes from an interview he gave in 2004 to Chicago Sun-Times religion editor Cathleen Falsani for her book, "The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People."
"I'm rooted in the Christian tradition," said Mr. Obama. He then adds something most Christians will see as universalism: "I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people."
Ms. Falsani correctly brings up John 14:6 (and how many journalists would know such a verse, much less ask a question based on it?) in which Jesus says of Himself, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." That sounds exclusive, but Mr. Obama says it depends on how this verse is heard. According to Ms. Falsani, Mr. Obama thinks that "all people of faith - Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, everyone - know the same God." (Her words.)
Evangelicals and serious Catholics might ask if this is so, why did Jesus waste His time coming to Earth, suffering pain, rejection and crucifixion? If there are many ways to God, He might have sent down a spiritual version of table manners and avoided the rest.
Here's Mr. Obama telling Ms. Falsani, "The difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that if people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they're going to hell." Ms. Falsani adds, "Obama doesn't believe he, or anyone else, will go to hell. But he's not sure he'll be going to heaven, either." Again, that is contrary to what evangelicals and most Catholics believe.
Here's Mr. Obama again: "I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven."
Any first-year seminary student could deconstruct such "works salvation" and wishful thinking. Mr. Obama either hasn't read the Bible, or if he has, doesn't believe it if he embraces such thin theological wisps.
Mr. Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Mr. Obama doesn't meet that requirement.
Similarly, it would not be appropriate -- nor would it matter -- what the views of the president of the UCC are with regard to the Hatch Act or who should be appointed as administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.
If the church should avoid being entangled in power politics, so should it avoid enquiries about what presidential candidates think about christology, missiology, and ecclesiology.
And, if Mr. Thomas is insistent on probing Obama's views on these subjects, he should direct his scrutiny equally to John McCain, Bob Barr, and the other presidential candidates. If Christian orthodoxy is a requirement for sitting in the Oval Office, the demand applies to all candidates for that seat, not just the one who has previously laid his heart bare on these topics.