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FIRST-PERSON: Wright, others cloud Obama theology

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Several years ago, when we began to plant Evanston Baptist Church, we knocked on doors throughout the city, asking people what they thought the Gospel was. And then we gave them a card with the answer. Their initial responses to the question were all over the map, from “love people” to “a kind of music” to “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Very few mentioned the atoning death of Jesus Christ or the necessity of repentance.

Most understand that the word “Gospel” somehow connects to Jesus, but the multiple, conflicting takes on Jesus are notorious. Some books portray Him as a savvy CEO or salesman, others as a Che Guevara fan. Some would have Him to be nurse, others a general. The options are limitless, as with a Rorschach Test. Everybody can like Jesus since He’s so malleable in the human understanding. I suppose that’s one reason it’s easy for lost musicians to record Christmas songs.

Which brings me to our president-elect, Barack Obama. Certainly, his parents were in no position to share the Gospel. Indeed, his father made sure he was tutored in the anti-Gospel of Islam. Then, by his own account, Obama did not discover the Lord until he met pastor Jeremiah Wright. But what sort of Jesus was that?

It proved to be a Jesus from which candidate Obama ran headlong in the midst of the campaign. Wright is a proud disciple of James Cone and other “black liberation” theologians, and, thus, his ministry centers on sectarian longing and grievance. He knows the same eisegetical maneuvers familiar in feminist and homosexual pulpits.

Yes, Obama professed Jesus to be his savior during the Saddleback forum, but one has to wonder whether he sees this salvation as exclusively Christian. A few years ago, while a member of Wright’s church, he told a Sun-Times religion reporter that there were “many paths to the same place.” I’m reminded of our Christmas trip to Arkansas to see our parents. We thank God for the Budget rental car, a Toyota Camry, which carried us to Little Rock and Arkadelphia. But we could have taken the Amtrak, or flown Southwest or American, or crammed everything into our Corolla, or rented a Malibu or Taurus through Enterprise or Hertz.

And what shall we make of the homosexual Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, asked to pray at the “opening inaugural event” at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday? Robinson’s participation was announced after the withering fire Obama received from homosexuals for asking Rick Warren to pray at the inauguration proper. Actually, it may be that the homosexuals have a point, for Robinson began his prayer with the words, “O God of our many understandings.” That sounds a lot like “O God of our many paths to the same place.”

When Wright and Robinson talk of salvation, you have to ask not only what we’re saved from, but what we’re saved to. Surely, the latter means a growing appreciation of and conformity with the whole counsel with God. But when I examine the Wright and Robinson agendas, I’m more likely to think of the “deadly sins” of lust, envy and pride. (Preaching through Proverbs this winter, I’m constantly coming across these concepts.)

So I hope that Warren and other evangelicals who might have Obama’s ear could help him see the Gospel clearly. It could make a huge difference to his administration.

I was doing army reserve duty in the Pentagon when, across the river at Ft. McNair, President Clinton announced his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuals in the military. It was his fallback position, for his earlier to attempt to open the floodgates was a political disaster. Now, by all accounts, Obama will give it another go. Pressured by his homosexual constituency and their enablers, hopeful that Americans have “matured” sufficiently to let him do it, he seems eager to normalize homosexuality at every turn, whether in the wedding chapel or the infantry battalion.

A president infused with the true Gospel, the biblical Gospel, might well be able to make out the voice of God in the midst of political clamor. A voice reminding him that we live under both a created order and a tragic fall, and that only fools ignore them.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Mark Coppenger