A Different Kind of Christian

John Blake of CNN recently posted an article about President Obama’s faith.  See http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian/.

I found the post to be balanced, well-written, and thought-provoking.    Evidently, many other people found the article to be “provoking” as well, as Mr. Blake notes in his follow-up post at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/24/look-at-obamas-faith-draws-criticism-praise/.

These posts stand on their own, and I don’t intend to comment on them here.  However, I do want to comment on a quote there from Diana Butler Bass:  “The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath of Christians in the U.S. … He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”

Notice that phrase — “a different kind of Christian”.  It seems that for many believers the phrase is an oxymoron.  For them, there is only kind of Christian and it’s their kind.  It seems important these days for people to be able to identify and defend their Christianity along rigid preset lines.  Is President Obama really a Christian?  Is Mitt Romney?  How about Joe Biden or Paul Ryan?  Each one of these men is a man of faith who professes to be a Christian, but their doctrinal beliefs and spiritual practices are quite different from one another.  In fact, I don’t know that any of them would claim to be “born again”, thus seriously jeopardizing their faith identity in the minds of many.

On further reflection, I actually like the descriptor of “a different kind of Christian”.  It allow us to acknowledge that the Christian community of believers is broad and inclusive, while we also acknowledge that the details of faith and practice can vary among us.  Maybe it will also encourage us to be very careful about judging another person’s relationship with God just because it doesn’t seem to align with our own traditions and understandings.

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This post is somewhat outside of this blog’s History of Christianity theme.  In fact, much of what I am reading and thinking about these days is outside of that theme.  That is why I have launched a new and separate blog:  http://PathsOfChristianity.com.  I am still getting that site polished up, but I encourage you to check it out.

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Politics and Religion

It is often said that one should avoid the subjects of politics and religion in polite conversation.  But one of our most revered founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, certainly didn’t avoid either subject.  He wrote the following letter to Dr. George Logan who was a medical doctor and great friend.  I won’t comment on it at this time, but would certainly welcome any comments that our readers might have.

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To George Logan J. MSS. Poplar Forest Near Lynchburg, Nov. 12. 16.

Dear Sir,

I received your favor of Oct. 16, at this place where I pass much of my time, very distant from Monticello. I am quite astonished at the idea which seems to have got abroad; and this is said to have arisen from a letter of mine to my friend Charles Thompson, in which certainly there is no trace of such an idea. When we see religion split into so many thousand of sects, and I may say Christianity itself divided into it’s thousands also, who are disputing, anathematizing and where the laws permit burning and torturing one another for abstractions which no one of them understand, and which are indeed beyond the comprehension of the human mind, into which of the chambers of this Bedlam would a [torn] man wish to thrust himself. The sum of all religion as expressed by it’s best preacher, ‘fear god and love thy neighbor’ contains no mystery, needs no explanation. But this wont do. It gives no scope to make dupes ; priests could not live by it.

Your idea of the moral obligations of governments are perfectly correct. The man who is dishonest as a statesman would be a dishonest man in any station. It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings collected together are not under the same moral laws which bind each of the separately.

It is a great consolation to me that our government, as it cherishes most it’s duties to its own citizens, so is it the most exact in it’s moral conduct towards other nations. I do not believe that in the four administrations which have taken place, there has been a single instance of departure from good faith towards other nations. We may sometimes have mistaken our rights, or made an erroneous estimate of the actions of others, but no voluntary wrong can be imputed to us.

In this respect England exhibits the most remarkable phaenomenon in the universe in the contrast between the profligacy of it’s government and the probity of it’s citizens. And accordingly it is now exhibiting an example of the truth of the maxim that virtue & interest are inseparable. It ends, as might have been expected, in the ruin of it’s people, but this ruin will fall heaviest, as it ought to fall on it’s people, but this ruin will fall heaviest, as it ought to fall on that hereditary aristocracy which has for generations been preparing the catastrophe. I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country. Present me respectfully to Mrs. Logan and accept yourself my friendly and respectful salutations.

Shopping for God

While I was browsing the religion shelves in our local library, the “Shopping for God” title caught my eye.  But I was even more intrigued when I noticed the book’s subtitle, “How Christianity Went from in Your Heart to In Your Face.”  So of course I checked it out and brought it home to read.

It turned out that the real theme of the book has to do with marketing, and how commerce has come to dominate almost everything in our country — even our religious lives.  The spiritual lessons here are secondary.  Nevertheless, there is much food for thought as the author skillfully analyzes how religion is marketed and advertised much like any other product or service.

I will leave you with one quote from the book.  Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the US Senate, said:  “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ.  Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy.  Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution.  Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture.  And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

If we take an open-minded look around us, we must agree that much of “churchianity” today is market driven.  We can buy almost any consumer product that is branded and advertised as Christian in some way.  Our churches compete for our attendance as well as our tithes and offerings.  I have said many times in the past that Christianity today would be vastly different if there weren’t so many people and businesses that derive their entire livelihoods from it.

“Shopping for God” served as a good reminder to me to remain focused on my relationship with God and with others, and to be ever vigilant regarding the intrusion of religious enterprise into my spiritual life.

Restoring the Great Tradition – Part 2

In my previous post I introduced The Soul of Christianity; Restoring the Great Tradition, by Huston Smith.  Over the years I have read many, many books for Christians, about Christians, or by Christians.  But I believe that this one stands head and shoulders above almost all others.

The book has three main sections.  Part One is The Christian Worldview, which is the best expression of the basic tenets of Christian faith that I have seen.  This is fascinating and illuminating content, but it is definitely not light reading.  I found myself going back over several passages multiple times.  And I took lots of notes as I went.  One profound quote from this section is “For Christians, God is defined by Jesus, but He is not confined to Jesus.”  Another is “Revelation is multiple in scope and degree.”

Part Two is the Christian Story, which captures the life and person of Christ — what He said, what He did, and who He was.  One of my favorite lines in this section is “Instead of telling people what to do or believe, He invited them to see things differently. … He worked with people’s imaginations more than their reason or will”.  This section has encouraged me to reread the gospels and the words of Jesus with an expectation of seeing things differently.  I look forward to gaining a fresh appreciation for His parables and metaphors.

Part Three is The Three Main Branches of Christianity Today.  Smith provides an excellent overview of the differences and similarities between Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.  I expect that few people would agree with every statement, but there is a great deal of meaningful insight captured here.

This book is still available, and can be purchased on Amazon.com.  I believe that this could be the best $6.00 you would ever spend on a book.  It should be on every Christian’s bookshelf, and should be read frequently and devotionally.   For your convenience, there is a direct link to purchase this book on Amazon at

http://pathsofchristianity.com/?p=27