I received a message from an old friend asking for my thoughts on this article by Rev. Emily Heath. As I began to write, it struck me that it might be worth sharing here. In the interests of transparency, Mark Driscoll is a man I respect. He is a man who has had an impact on my life. Sometimes, he makes waves and recently he did so with this tweet concerning the faith of US President Barack Obama. Anyways, here’s my response in a nutshell to the whole hoopla…
The first thing I’ll say is this: as President Obama claims to be a Christian, then by definition he is called to account for how he lives and practices his faith in light of God’s word. Heath is mistaken to say that the conversation should stop with Barack Obama’s confession of faith, though it is clever rhetoric. By stopping the conversation at a confession of faith, Heath – and all who follow her in this logic – are able to keep at arms length both the Bible and anyone who dare question the validity of another’s faith in light of their actions. When you take such logic to its conclusion, what this effectively means is that a believer can do whatever they want and no one can can dare hold them to account because its between the individual and God.
This is not how the Bible sees it. The Christian is called to a life of walking in the light with a community of fellow believers who have the responsibility to ask hard questions about a person’s life of faith, to call sin for what it is, and to gently and humbly seek repentance in one another. Paul talks about this Gal 6:1-5 in reference to Christians holding each other to account showing that Christians are called to make judgments on each other light of their faith lining up with their actions (see also 1 Cor 5). We are also told to test our own faith to make sure it is genuine in 2 Cor 13:5-10. So there is both personal responsibility and communal accountability in the life of faith. In the last line of her article, Heath removes the role of the faith community in a believer’s life completely. This is a fatal move that does not stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture.
So when you get down to the nitty-gritty, in all honesty, how does Pres. Obama’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage stance really line up with the Bible? Can one claim to be a Christian and affirm something the Bible clearly condemns as sin? I don’t think so. And if one does claim to be a Christian and affirm something the Bible clearly condemns as sin, should they not be held to account by fellow believers? I would hope so. Now the question then is should Driscoll be the guy to do this through a Twitter update? I’d say probably not. But I would hope that someone in Barack Obama’s own church – a pastor, a friend, an advisor – would have the spine to challenge him about such things, but then again, to use Heath’s own rhetoric, “In the end, the only two authorities on Barack Obama’s relationship with God are Barack Obama and God. I’m not either of the two. And so that’s where the discussion ends.” Or in other words, Who are we to judge if its between the individual and God?
In sum, should Driscoll have posted what he did? Perhaps not. But Emily Heath is also off base with her radical individualizing of the faith. The community of faith does have a role to play in the life and faith of the believer. Barack Obama, Mark Driscoll, Emily Heath, myself, and all who would lay claim to being Christians would do well to both test their own faith in light of 2 Cor 13:5 and allow other believers to test our faith to hold us to account as per Gal 6:1-5 with the goal of repenting from sin, walking in holiness, and bringing glory to God.