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J Walking

Today, guest blogger Patton Dodd, Beliefnet’s Christianity Editor who is based in Colorado Springs, comments on the reception of “Tempting Faith”:

Though I’ve had the pleasure of working with David Kuo in recent weeks, like most everyone I read his book only after having the media tell me what it was about. From MSNBC I learned that Kuo’s book was a bombshell of revelations on how the Bush White House had absconded its faith-based initiative and mocked religious leaders. From “60 Minutes” I learned that Kuo’s main contention was that compassionate conservativism, the centerpiece of Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign platform (and a primary reason I voted for him the first time around), was never given one iota of the promised funding. From “Good Morning America” and a host of other interviews I learned that Kuo is arguably a bit naive–expecting a politician to live up to their promises is silly (people don’t actually vote based on those promises, do they?)–and that “Tempting Faith” is just the story of a wounded lover.

Then I read “Tempting Faith.”

Bombshell revelations? Almost none.

Account of faith-based initiative? Fascinating insider’s take, but little new news.

Naivete? Kuo says in his prologue that there’s no surprise in politicians being political, but that when Christians vote their faith, they expect something more than mere politics. That’s not naivete: it’s realism.

The big flaw of “Tempting Faith” isn’t naivete; it’s that it doesn’t assume that religious leaders use Bush as much as Bush uses them. They do, as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council acknowledged last week.

But here’s the “Testing Faith” story that everyone seems to be missing: it’s an answer to evangelical prayers.

As the Washington Post reported, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and other religious readers are incensed about Kuo’s book. Instead, they should be thanking God for it. People who care about Jesus should be gladdened by Kuo’s moment in the spotlight. He may be saying harsh things about the Bush White House; he may claim that evangelical leaders are uncricitcal in their support of the Right; but he is also–cleary and repeatedly–testifying about Jesus.

When evangelicals talk about a wanting a godly nation, they aren’t talking about theocracy. What they are talking about is the spread of the gospel–more and more people discovering the good news of Jesus, which is that God loves them and wants to restore them along with the eventual restoration of all things. It’s tough to remember this, and tough to believe it, in a time when evangelicalism has become so tied into the politics of morality and the platform of one party. Even some evangelicals forget that the work of the gospel isn’t a political project. But, media representations to the contrary, many evangelicals don’t forget. And when most evangelicals pray for America or advocate for more Christianity in their nation, what they mean is that they want people to know about Jesus. Not to force Jesus down anyone’s throat, but just to give people a chance to hear good news.

“Tempting Faith” is David Kuo’s story of embracing this good news–then forgetting it, then remembering it, becoming confused about it, and trying again to live by it. That’s the story of every Christian. Kuo’s story takes place in the context of another smaller (not larger) story about contemporary American politics, but the main tale is about one man learning to follow God.

With “Tempting Faith,” we have something evangelicals ask God for all the time: a testimony of faith coming from within mainstream culture. Evangelicals are forever talking about “engaging the culture” and being relevant and making sure that they don’t become so subcultural that no one has a chance to hear about Jesus. Right now, with David Kuo’s book, evangelicals are getting what they hoped for.

In the opening pages, Kuo shares his story of coming to know Jesus. Throughout the book, he writes openly of the very real struggles Christians face in following Jesus. On television and radio last week, Kuo alluded to this story again and again. On “The Colbert Report,” he said the words, “Jesus rose from the dead.”

Christians, take note: David Kuo is telling his story of following Jesus, and he’s been given a huge platform on which to tell it. His testimony isn’t as juicy as his stories about Bush and Beltway politics, but it’s his central story, and–here’s a bit of Christian naivete for you–it’s the story that’ll last.

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