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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barack Obama, Rick Warren, and Who's Going to Hell

For those of you who couldn't snowshoe to church today, here's some very loose Sunday morning theology... all prefaced with the clear acknowledgment that I could be wrong...

Pastor Rick Warren will deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. Pastor Joseph E. Lowery will deliver the benediction.

I suppose I could get irate about all this mingling of church and state. I could demand both preachers be replaced by secular humanist voices at the inaugural podium. But I won't. I can wish our new President well regardless of who's standing next to him on the Capitol steps or which deity those people invoke in their good wishes. We already know the words on which history will turn that day; the rest is dressing.

While I have little interest in contriving kerfufflery over Warren's invocation, I find something thought-worthy in Professor Blanchard's commentary on the matter. Blanchard views Obama's pick as "brilliant and courageous politics," but I am more interested in the good professor's brief digression on salvation. Blanchard says liberals are all a-fluster in part because Warren holds the unsurprising position that only Christians get salvation. The surprising position comes from Blanchard:

I don't believe it. In fact, I think that the idea that a perfectly loving, wise, and powerful Creator could allow a single soul to end up in Hell is logically self-refuting. For then He would have done something that turned out badly. That means, of course, that God has to obey the rules of logic. But Thomas Aquinas says the does, and I'm with Tom [Ken Blanchard, "Guess Who's Giving the Blessing?" South Dakota Politics, 2008.12.20].

Not a single soul ending up in Hell? Looks like it'll be Bob Ellis, not me, making the next declaration that a nocturnal Blanchard post has gone off the rails.

Blanchard's position on salvation resembles Obama's (cf. comments on his mother and the other four-fifths of the world). I mention this not to tease the good professor or indict his conservative credentials. It seems worth noting, though, that this lack of preoccupation with salvation and an exclusive heaven appears to incline both Blanchard and Obama to concentrate on understanding and solving the practical problems of this world. Maybe that's why I like both of them.

I skipped church again this Sunday... and it wasn't just because of the two feet of new snow in front of the door I shoveled last night. If I were a believer, though, I still wouldn't be worrying much about salvation. I've osmosed enough Lutheranism to dig that salvation, if there is such a thing, is beyond our efforts. There is nothing we do—no good deed, no ritual, no magic profession of faith—to earn salvation. We don't choose God; God chooses us (or so I hear). "Saved?" He/She/It/They chuckle. "Already got it covered. Get to work."

Get to work. There is work to do in Creation, and we ought to do it... not because we get a reward if we do it or lose that reward if we don't, but simply because that work is good.

Obama gets that. Revs. Warren and Lowery both appear to get that, too. On January 20, they will all three stand before us to remind us that, whatever we believe about salvation, we all live in this world, and we all have work to do to make it better.


  1. Salvation is an individual thing. It doesn't matter what church we do to or what we've done. It only matters that we've asked for forgiveness through faith.

    It is your choice whether you accept Christ or reject him.

  2. This isn't kerfufflery. I'm not calling for Warren to not speak, but his selection is disturbing. For a much thoughtful explanation why, check out Susan Russell's.

  3. I commented on that blog of Susan Russell's website, cp. You are invited to view my comment.

  4. Honestly, Conrad, you scare the hell out of me. In your post on Susan's site, you commented:

    So may the unity be found when weakness is found. Then the strong ones who know the problems of our day help the weak ones. Rick Warren knows how to give strength.

    Sure sounds like fascism to me.

  5. In my opinion, this is a political move on Barack Obama's part. If he were to have secular humanists speak at his inauguration and leave preachers out altogether, the "culture warriors" would scream, "See? What did we tell you? We have elected an agnostic as the President of the United States! God help us all ..."

    I believe that Barack Obama is a Christian and, in fact, a better one than many "Bible thumpers." He's a Christian in deed as well as in word. He's also a shrewd politician. (No one gets as far as he has without that quality.) I don't see any evil agendas here, but only another example of Barack Obama's intention to make it clear that everyone is welcome at his table.

  6. I have noticed a funny correlation in my life. Anytime one of my female friends goes to Europe, she comes home hating America and refuses to shave her legs. It also seems that a good number of folks who earn their Doctorate or start to do so, quit believing. In addition, their favorite word becomes dogmatic. I wonder if these folks still believe in love. If so, I wonder why? Love is intangible. There really is no proof that it exists. Yet we say we love our spouse our kids our families. Cory, do you love these things, of so, Why? Love is based on faith. Is love too, dogmatic?

  7. (off-topic, but mildly amusing) Gee, Searaven, you really think you've got something with this love "argument," don't you?

    I've been to Europe (Communist Russia!), I'm getting my doctorate, I don't shave my legs, and dogmatic is part of my vocabulary. Draw what conclusions you will. (And my wife and I would love to meet your female friends... if they're still your friends.)

    Correlate this: When I say "I love you," that's not a fact; that's a promise. Love is a choice...

    ...kind of like the choice God made before any silly little things we did (or so I hear from Luther... who was European... and whose wife Katherine probably didn't shave her legs).

  8. Searaven, you say that as if females refusing to shave their legs is a bad thing.

  9. Man your awesome. That was really intellectual.

  10. Thanks for the kind words, Cory. I like you too. My views on theology and Christian doctrine, I would warn, are influenced far more by philosophy than scripture. Nor am I contemptuous of those who take a different view of original sin.


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