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Book Review: Faith of Barack Obama

A few weeks ago I accepted the opportunity to review the following book. The President & CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, Michael Hyatt made the offer on his blog. They sent me along the book and asked me to post my review; whether positive, negative or somewhere in between. I do not believe that political beliefs are easily defined in black and white terms, and are instead the ultimate greying of the lines. The following is my review:

Book Cover

The Faith of Barack Obama is quite the fascinating read. Let me clearly state that I am not a regular reader of seasonal political books, and have not read much on either Presidential candidate except what I read in magazines, newspapers, and online. I understand that anytime you read a political book you are bringing your own baggage into the read; but I’m trying to have an open mind about these things. At this juncture in time I am confused about my Presidential choice. I’m not real happy about either candidate, and at the same time feel that there are volumes of difference between each of them. You would assume correctly that I am conservative in most of my political leanings, however I also feel slightly abandoned by the Republican party on issues that are important to me. (Which I will decline to go into at this time…)

Some things I picked up from the book that others might find interesting:

  1. Barack Obama could be the first President of the USA to come from a non-Christian upbringing. (Not that Christian upbringing of other Presidents has been of much good…)
  2. Barack Obama could be the first President of the USA to conceivably have a fatwa issued against him from some renegade jurisdiction on the basis that he is an apostate. (On the basis that because he attended Muslim prayers with his step-father as a child, that as a Christian now he as abandoned his previous Muslim faith.)
  3. Obama spent over 20 years of his life associated with a church that is clearly anti-American in both their rhetoric and theology. (Not that he has to feel the same way.)
  4. He is the first Democratic candidate for President that has openly given thoughtful answers to questions regarding civil unions, abortion, and anti-war leanings. By thoughtful I mean not the standard liberal anti-God answers we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Democrats. (Not that I agree with those answers, just that I find them to be thoughtful answers.)

The book is as fair-minded a book as I have ever read. The Author, Stephen Mansfield spends considerable time giving us the faith history of Obama, using visits he must have made to Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; and taking quotes given by Obama in interviews over the years. It is the most clear read I’ve found thus far on the religious journey of Obama. As a Christian pastor I have found it quite fascinating to find out these things about a man that quite honestly intrigues me. I have read some insulting things about this man; regarding his political inexperience, liberal voting record, and the fact that his middle name is Hussein. In spite of these sometimes slanderous accounts of him, I have been drawn to his obvious (IMHO) leadership skills, oratory techniques, and unique ability to tie faith into his political views. I don’t find myself in agreement with him on many issues, but I feel that I can equally say the same about John McCain.

This book follows an interesting trend. Stephen Mansfield has an amazing ability to make me feel sympathetic towards Obama’s faith history, then he transitions towards showing why this history might lead to some disturbing trends, then finalizes every thought with the idea that one’s faith doesn’t necessarily make them a bad politician. He does an excellent job of this in Chapter 5, The Four Faces of Faith. In Chapter 5 he highlights the religious history of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton and compares and contrasts them with what he’s already detailed about Obama up to this point.

I think this book is a great insight into a man that quite possiblly could be our next President. I highly recommend it’s reading, and it might have just encouraged me to read this book next, and then maybe this.

Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.

2 Comments

  1. Nathan · September 4, 2008

    Jonathan. Good review! Thanks.

    I find it interesting that almost every critique I hear or read about Obama regarding his background has a subtext of fear and worry. It’s as if his unknown/unusual background is seen as threatening simply because it isn’t WASPy. I think that said fear says more about those in fear than it does about the Senator himself. Too many years of FOXNews’ color-coded fear charts and innuendo about Islam and violence. Just imagine this for a second: You’re sitting in a middle eastern country and the neighboring town has just been blown to pieces by a bomb dropped from an F-16. That F-16 was sent by George Bush, who everyone knows to be a Christian. Now, aren’t you sitting there thinking that Christianity is a violent religion? So here we are… thinking that Islam is by definition sinister and violent, while the Muslims think the very same thing about us.

    Fear fear fear.

    So, I appreciate the fact that you have read this book and are not acting out of compulsory fear of this perfectly sophisticated man.

    Carry on!
    Grace and peace,
    Nathan

  2. Kyle P. · September 5, 2008

    OK. Your review was better than mine. Maybe I should delete mine and start all over! Just kidding (about deleting mine that is).

    I don’t know how you felt, but reading through the book gave me the impression that Obama doesn’t truly know who he is. He isn’t white, but neither black. He wasn’t raised, for the most part, in America and therefore doesn’t necessarily identify with American culture (4th of July, apple pie, waving the flag, etc.) It’s no wonder his new Presidential “seal” doesn’t include the American flag. I don’t know who will win this November, but this I do know – change is a comin’! One way or the other, America will be better for it.