Thinking Out Loud

August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.


An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

March 9, 2012

Eric Metaxas Addresses The National Prayer Breakfast

A most unusual presentation from the author of the current bestseller Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas is a very engaging and humorous speaker, but obviously not the usual pastor-type that gets an invite to speak at these things. If you’ve got 30 minutes…

February 17, 2012

C. S. Lewis, not C. S. Lewis C.B.E.

Across the pond, Tim Chester reported this a few weeks ago:

A freedom of information request has led to the disclosure of people who declined official honours from the Queen as part of the British honour system. I was interested to notice that among them was CS Lewis. Lewis turned down a CBE in 1952…

A reader quickly noted that the story had been shared previously by Lewis’ brother; as relayed by Timothy Keller:

C. S. Lewis' death the same day as John F. Kennedy was so under-reported, some Mere Christianity and Narnia readers believe he is still living.

In his unpublished biography of his brother C. S. Lewis, W. H. “Warnie” Lewis related how in late 1951 his brother received a letter from Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In it, Churchill offered to recommend him for a C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire). 

The C.B.E. is one class in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a chivalric order established to recognize gallantry and service to the Empire, and Lewis was nominated to appear on the last list of honours of King George VI, in December, 1951. It was an extremely coveted honor, and evidently it was offered to Lewis for his public service for writing and broadcasting during the war. 

In a letter to the Prime Minister’s secretary Lewis turned down the offer, which was very unusual. “I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable,” he wrote. However, he added that many people said or believed that Christianity is basically, “covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.” (W. Hooper, ed. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, volume III, p. 147.) 

Over the years some other notable figures have turned down membership in the Order of the British Empire, but usually it was as a political protest against some aspect of British government or policy. In Lewis’ case the reasoning was completely different. He knew that if Churchill, a Conservative politician, recommended him for the order it would only lend credence to what people believed about the Christian faith, namely, that it was not really about truth, but was rather a tool for non-progressive political interests. Lewis refused to let a political entity reward him for Christian service, fearing it would identify Christianity too closely with one political system. 

Keller goes on to say that similar suspicions about Christianity continue to this day. Especially in an election year — Keller was writing in March of 2011 — people want to equate religion and politics, and he notes that there will be times when the “truth claims” of Christianity will intersect with political ideology.  But then they take it a step too far when they believe that upholding a particular position is “doing the will of God.”

C. S.Lewis refused to be a part of that. He was far-sighted.In our country over the last 60 years, alliances between churches and politics have resulted in many people dismissing Christianity as only “the Conservative (or) Liberal party at prayer.” The results have been destructive (as we discussed in last month’s newsletter article on ‘Civility.’)

That doesn’t mean Christ-following is completely apolitical — though it is in its purest form — or that we don’t have an interest in what’s going on in government.  Keller adds,

[W]e believe that the gospel shapes all areas of life. Christians can and should be involved in government, and their Christian faith will be the driving force behind how they engage in politics as well as how they evaluate many policy issues. Also, Redeemer teaches God’s word and often what the Bible says will have public policy implications that are direct and/or indirect. But Christians must not implicitly or explicitly identify their Christianity with political figures and parties.That has always been the balance we have tried to strike in our ministryin the city. It is tempting of course, when the honours of earthly kings are offered to us for doing Christian ministry. C. S. Lewis allowed the honor of the King of Kings to be enough for him.

Got a friend who is an avid Lewis fan?  Send her or him this link to Keller’s article.

August 19, 2010

Now It’s Time to Play, “Name That Religion”

Here’s a fun game to play when you’re small group meets this week, or when you’re sitting around the dinner table with family…

  1. Who is the current President of the United States?
  2. What is his religion?
  3. Does it matter?

According to a Pew Forum survey, the number of people who can’t answer the middle question is growing.   CNN’s Belief Blog looks at this…

“You would think the longer the person is in the White House, the more the ‘don’t knows’ would decline,” said Alan Cooperman, the Pew Forum’s associate director for research. “But the ‘don’t knows’ are higher now than when he came to office.”

Here are the actual stats:

A substantial and growing chunk of the country believes that President Obama, a self-described Christian, is Muslim, while only about a third of Americans are able to correctly identify his religion, according to a survey released Thursday.

Nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from around one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim last year, according to the survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While most of those who think Obama is Muslim are Republicans, the number of independents who believe he is Muslim has expanded significantly, from 10 percent last year to 18 percent now.

The number of Americans who express uncertainly about the president’s religion, meanwhile, is much larger and has also grown, including among Obama’s political base. For instance, fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans now say that Obama is Christian.

In March 2009, 36 percent of African-Americans said they didn’t know what religion Obama practices. Now, 46 percent of African-Americans say they don’t know.

But not everyone is concerned:

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a Florida evangelical who is in frequent touch with Obama, says their relationship belies the findings of the new survey.

“He is very definitely a Christian, but a lot of the things he does to work on spiritual formation are simply not public,” Hunter said.

Continue reading the CNN story at Belief Blog.

Now then, what about the third question, above?   Does it matter?   Should the highest office in the U.S. not come with a fair bit of neutrality?   It certainly doesn’t in terms of politics, especially economic policy.   And you need to know the foreign policy stance of a leader at the time the country is at war.

Maybe a better question three would be, “Isn’t the high percentage of ‘Don’t Know’ a little weird?”

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