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Thursday, December 13, 2012

President Obama–"Why I'm a Christian" (What would Pieper say?)

During a "backyard conversation" with local families, a woman asked President Obama this question in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on September 28, 2010:
Why are you a Christian?
The woman framed the question with her own comment that she loved Mother Teresa's answer to this same question.  This exchange was well reported in the New Mexico Independent newspaper.

President Obama answered this question this way:
I’m a Christian by choice,” the president answered. “My family didn’t — frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn't raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life. And it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead: being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.”
“And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings–that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.  But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.”
After reading the many comments that Prof. Franz Pieper made about the presidents of the United States in his lifetime, I believe he would highlight this weak and flawed confession ... with approval.  Why would he do so?  Even with so many phrases showing weakness?

Oh, there are plenty of portions of his statement that a true Lutheran could find fault with:

1) Such as his opening statement:
I’m a Christian by choice
Actually the disciples of Jesus also needed a lesson on this point, so Jesus said to them
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,... –  John 15:16
2)  And his statement that 
...because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead
is pure works righteousness, if this were all that he said.  It seems the whole world, except the Jews, would accept this statement by Obama.  Those who espouse the phrase "WWJD" or "What Would Jesus Do?" fall into this trap. 
3) Then he comes to his closing sentence:
But what we can do, as flawed as we are, ...
This is not correct because we are more than flawed, we are
dead in trespasses and sins – Ephesians 2:1.
4) And then he makes a statement the world is intrigued with: still see God in other people...
One could say Obama has in mind the story beginning at Matthew 25:34 , especially this:
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. – Matt. 25:40
      But this says nothing about the grace of God.
5) Finally Obama ends with this phrase:
... and do our best to help them find their own grace.
Unfortunately, the emphasis in this sentence is on "doing".  And does he mean other people will find "grace" within themselves?

Yes, there are plenty of works righteousness phrases in Obama's talk...  plenty to condemn the talk as of a worldly religion.  But ...

but...  is his statement the expression of a weak Christian faith that begins to distinguish the Law from Gospel?  In the history of the presidents of the United States, I would be surprised if any other president spoke a similar confession, even a weak one, that spoke these words:
... understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins... that we're sinful... that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.
        – President Barack Obama, September 28, 2010 
Mitt Romney, the Mormon, would never have spoken these words, certainly not from the heart.  And Mother Teresa probably never spoke those words.  Prof. Franz Pieper would never have let pass these words of a President of the United States... he would have called out these words as a thing of beauty... and confirm the President in this faith, albeit a weak and confused faith.

But what about Obama's policies promoting abortion rights, so-called "gay" rights, and others... and his friendliness towards the Muslim religion at times... all harming Christian sensibilities?  That is certainly true, but there are many leaders in so-called "mainline Protestant" camps, even "Lutherans", who hold to many of these same positions.

Jesus continually had to work with those weak in faith, as is spoken of him:
A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench... Matt. 12:20, Isaiah 42:3
Pieper would have corrected the President where his statements were weak, but he would strengthen him where he spoke of a Saviour from sin and of God's grace.  That is what Pieper would say.

Lord, I am that "bruised reed", I am that "smoking flax", have mercy on me, a poor sinful being.  Help thou mine unbelief.  In Jesus name!  Amen.


  1. The verse quoted John 15:6 is not quoted in context. It is not quoted correctly. The passage does not deal with choosing to be a Christian, it deals with the office conferred upon Christ's called apostles. The apostles did not choose Christ, Christ called them. Others wanted to be Christ's followers and go with Him and He declined, such as the man relieved of demons that went into pigs that went into the sea. Jesus sent him back to his home to testify of Christ to his people. Everyone that "believes the gospel" makes a choice either to believe or, as the Formula of Concord states, they "stop their ears" and remain in unbelief. People are enabled by God to believe, unless you are deterministic and a Calvinist, then people must irresistibly believe. John 3 states that people are held accountable for choosing not to believe. Faith is a choice.

    1. Lemuel: "Everyone that "believes the gospel" makes a choice ... to believe or, as the Formula of Concord states, they "stop their ears" and remain in unbelief. ... Faith is a choice."

      You have forced your context on this passage, a context that disallows a general statement. I read the passage just as it reads: "I have chosen you". How can anyone who is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) make a choice to believe? Your contextual limitation goes against the very heart of the Lutheran Church's teaching.

      Even Andrew Pettegree, author of Brand Luther who is no friend of Luther or Lutheranism, called Luther a "master theologian" because of Luther's blast against the humanist Erasmus in his The Bondage of the Will.

      You do violence against the heart of the Formula of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions, the Brief Statement of 1932 (Of Conversion), and indeed all of Christianity with your "Faith is a choice" statement.  Jesus said: "You did not choose me..." John 15:6

    2. The verse is John 15:16, not John 15:6.

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