Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Review: The Faith of Barack Obama

In this short, accessible book, Stephen Mansfield explores the religious beliefs, commitments and convictions of Barack Obama. Additionally, Mansfield supplies a short Spiritual biography for Obama and explores the theology that underlies his faith. Some might assume that Mansfield’s book is an attempt to “Christianize” Obama in order to make him more palatable to Evangelicals. Others might assume that it is a thinly disguised hatchet-job expose’, written with the intention of showing Obama’s supposed Christianity to be a politically expedient prop. Both of these assumptions are incorrect. For starters, Mansfield is also the author of “The Faith of George W. Bush”, and “The Faith of the American Soldier”. He approaches the subject as an investigative journalist, with neither rose-colored glasses or an ax to grind.

Mansfield offers us profiles of both Barack Obama and his controversial former pastor Jeremiah Wright. In this context, he also offers a brief, but accurate explanation of “Black Theology”. Mansfield has also really done his homework here, as he correctly points to the influential work of James Cone. Crucial to this theological perspective is the recognition that the Bible is primarily written by oppressed people to/for oppressed people. The assumption is that the experience of African Americans, with their history of slavery and oppression, are in a unique position to hear and understand the message of Scripture. Thus, a major focus of this theology is justice (with all of its social implications) for the poor and the oppressed. Even a casual reading of the Prophets, and the words of Jesus will prevent you from simply dismissing such a reading as completely ridiculous. This is the theological framework that underlies both Wright’s comments and Obama’s application and understanding of Christianity. While Wright is apparently a bit of an attention junkie, and I still find his comments to be inappropriate, the proper theological context certainly casts all of this in a somewhat different light. Mansfield also gives an insightful account of actually attending a service at Trinity United Church of Christ, which in some ways defied his expectations. As an interesting exercise in contrast and comparison, Mansfield offers one chapter comprised of short spiritual biographies/profiles of John McCain, Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush. Some may see this chapter as extraneous, but others may find the thought exercise helpful.

Mansfield does not shy away from posing difficult questions for Obama, particularly when it comes to difficult issues such as his position on the question of abortion. He examines several areas of Obama’s faith and its application that may be at least uncomfortable for may Evangelical Christians. However, he does not succumb to “Secret Muslim” conspiracy theories or wild sensationalism. His investigation is fair, and leaves it to the reader to make his or her own decisions and evaluations based on a reasonably non-biased and accurate account of Obama’s apparently sincere faith. Some Christians may find their fears or misconceptions dispelled. Others may be deeply troubled by what they read. However you react, you will at least be making an evaluation from a place of understanding rather than speculation or unsubstantiated rumor.

CLICK HERE to go to Thomas Nelson's Page for this book.


Phil said...

Good review, Adam. And good to see an author dealing fairly and even-handedly with this issue and not succumbing to sensationalism.

Mike L. said...

That's crap! I am positive he is Muslim. I got an email that proves it.

Brenda Collins said...

I read Fait of the American Soldier (not sure how to underline). I was surprised by the direction the book took, however, I was impressed with the author and what he wrote. I will look for this book also. I am one of those uncertain about Obama, but willing to read and learn more.