I received a copy of Stephen Mansfield’s “The Faith of Barack Obama” last month because I asked for one. Thomas Nelson provided free copies to a bunch of bloggers who promised to review it, whether the review be a positive or negative one. I like reading, I like free books, and I wanted to know more about Obama, so it was a win-win-win.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed the book. It was well-written, it provided lots of great insight into Obama, and at 144 pages it felt like just the right length.
Here’s some of the notes I took as I read the book, with little editing:
+ I like how Mansfield opened the book with Obama’s quote, “We worship an awesome God in the Blue States.” (page xiv) I think I’ve met some Christians who don’t think it’s possible for Blue Staters (aka democrats) to worship God, but it was great to hear that come out of Obama’s mouth.
+ Mansfield writes, “Religiously, the majority of America’s young are postmodern, which means they do faith like jazz: informal, eclectic, and often without theme.” I mean, if you’re going to invoke “jazz Christianity” you have to at least mention Don Miller, don’t you?
+ Mansfield notes that Obama would be the first president not raised in a Christian home if he wins this election. (p. 3). Thought that was fascinating. Does it scare me? Honestly, not really. Being raised in a Christian home doesn’t make anyone a Christian. And while I believe the values that Jesus taught help us to live better, these values are not exclusive to Christianity. (Faith in Christ is, but that is something different than being raised by Christian parents.)
+ Obama believes that the doubts one has in regards to his faith is a form of testimony. “In fact, it’s not faith if you’re absolutely certain,” he said. (p 54) I kinda liked that.
+ Mansfield notes that as Obama’s political career began he was “not very religious” and he was told it would be a barrier between himself and the people (p 23). Do what you will with that statement. I found it a bit troubling, myself, but only a bit.
+ On page 55 Mansfield quotes Obama as saying, “I am rooted in Christian tradition,” nevertheless he asserts, “I believe that there are many paths to the same place and that is a belief in a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.” Some might read that statement and immediately think “heresy!” Others might think there’s a lot of truth in it. I’ll leave that to you to discern for yourself.
+ I really enjoyed learning about Obama’s life as a child. Growing up being reared by his mom, living in Hawaii, and his eventual move back to the contiguous 48. It was information that helped me to understand him better, and helped me to appreciate the path he’s taken to be so successful.
+ Obama’s thoughts on the Bible: “When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must be continually open to new revelations – whether they come from a lesbian friend or a doctor opposed to abortion.” (make sure you read that carefully before you cast judgment either way) (p 58)
+ Mansfield spent a lot of time talking about Jeremiah Wright and Trinity Church, and how their take on Christianity was permeated by a “defining, if understandable, spirit of anger…” toward white America, the history of black suffering, and the U.S. government. He notes that even if Obama “refused to drink from this bitter stream, he was mentored by those who did.” I think he makes a valid point here. Do I think Obama hates his government? No, not at all. Do I think some of what Reverend Wright taught was true and beneficial? Absolutely. It’s just easy to wonder what types of negative seeds were planted, if any, while Barack sat under Wright’s teaching. (and to be fair, I have no idea whose teaching, if any, John McCain has ever sat under.)
So, here’s a little Q&A to wrap up this review:
Was I glad I read the book? Absolutely. It gave me insight into Obama’s personal life that I might not have otherwise had. As Mansfield himself says in the book, whether or not Obama wins the presidency in 08, he is going to be an influential figure in our country for years to come, so it’s good to know about where he came from and what shapes his worldview.
Did it feel weird reading a book about another guy’s spirituality? Yeah, it sort of did. It’s hard to read a book like this and not be judgmental. I mean, I don’t normally walk around evaluating other people’s quotes and thoughts on God. So that part of this felt strange. I tried to just take it all in and process it as a whole instead of picking apart every quote.
Will this book affect who I vote for in November? Yeah, I think it will. Because I’ve been given more information about Obama…information that has to factor in, if even only a little bit.
Do I know who I’m voting for now? No, Can’t say that I do. Lots of debates left between the candidates. Lots of info I still need to learn about the issues and the candidates stances. Even a few other candidates I need to learn more about.
Do I think Barack Obama is a Christian? I don’t know. He says he is, so why wouldn’t I believe him? I realize that he is not affiliated with the traditional “Christian” party, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with his faith in Christ. He also might have differing views than I do on some issues, but again, I don’t know what he truly believes, other than what he says. (and honestly, I’m not too concerned with whether or not a candidate is a Christian or not. That’s a heart/faith issue. If I want to know how it affects his politics, I’ll just evaluate his politics without trying to evaluate the state of his soul. But that’s just me.)
Do I think it’s important that our President is a Christian? Honestly, not really. Do I want a man running the country with good values, morals, and ethics? Absolutely. But these things are not exclusive to Christianity. And as we all know, many Christians fail in these areas from time to time, myself included. All other things being equal, yes I’d rather have a man/woman in office who shared the same beliefs I do, but all other things are not equal. I can expound upon that more if I need to, but for now I’ll leave it at that.
Do I recommend the book? Absolutely. It’s an objectively written, well-crafted book. If you’re looking for more info on Barack Obama, specifically with regards to his spirituality, then go ahead and pick it up.