Part 7 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
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Ya gotta hand it to Rick Warren. He always seems to have a surprise or two up his sleeve. Iâ??ve been following his ministry for almost twenty years, most of which I served as a pastor in a church fourteen miles away from Warrenâ??s Saddleback Church, and Iâ??ve always been impressed with Warrenâ??s ability to be unpredictable. Sure, in some ways he is utterly predictable. Chances are pretty good that youâ??ll hear him use the phrase â??purpose-drivenâ? for example (though not in his prayer!). But Warren is a creative and innovative leader, who canâ??t be put neatly into a box.
Iâ??ll bet almost nobody in the whole world predicted that Warren would pray not only in the name of Jesus, but â??in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus (hay-SOOS), Jesus.â? (You can find the AP text of the prayer here. But they got the placement of (hay-SOOS) wrong. For a video of the prayer, check this link, or click the image to the right.)
Warren did not say â??we pray in the name of Jesus,â? but “I pray.” This was right on target. Many who prayed along with him did not actually pray in the name (authority) of Jesus, and would not have been able to join Warren in saying so. It was interesting to me that Warren made his use of Jesus even more personal, saying, â??I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus . . . .â? I like this, because it makes clear why Warren used the name(s) of Jesus. For him, itâ??s a matter of deep personal faith.
Of course the biggest surprise was the way Warren referred to Jesus, not just as â??Jesusâ? in English, but as â??Yeshuaâ? (Aramaic, what Jesus was actually called), Isa (what Muslims and Hindus call Jesus), Jesus (hay-SOOS) in Spanish, and Jesus. Iâ??d love to know exactly what Warren was intending here. Was he wanting to say: â??Jesus changed my life, but heâ??s not just for me, but for everybodyâ?? Or was he trying hard to include the major religious traditions? If so, why did he use Spanish? Was this an effort to be inclusive, even as Warren was praying in an exclusively Christian manner? Or . . . ?
What I like about Warrenâ??s four-fold reference to Jesus is its boldness. If youâ??re going to pray using Jesusâ?? name, might as well just say it. Iâ??ve heard preachers in civic settings say things that try to get around the problem, like, â??I pray in the name of the teacher from Nazareth,â? but this always impressed me as rather wimpy. Besides, do you actually think those who would be put off by a prayer that mentions Jesus would somehow be fine with a clever circumlocution? Not!
I thought the rest of Warrenâ??s prayer was solid. His use of biblical themes and theology was excellent. His language was reconciling rather than divisive. Contrast what Warren said with the invocation given a couple of days earlier by the Episcopal Bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson, and youâ??ll see what I mean. I found Warrenâ??s specific prayers for President Obama and his family to be touching, though I donâ??t understand his peculiar way of saying the names of the Presidentâ??s daughters. Perhaps this is a personal matter.
Iâ??ve heard several commentators criticize Warren for being too casual, or for looking awkward in such a setting as a presidential inauguration. I, on the contrary, appreciate his willingness to be himself. Praying in front of a nation, Warren didnâ??t sound any different from when he prays in front of his own church family.
Rick Warren may or may not be â??the next Billy Graham,â? whatever that means. But I believe he offered a sincere, thoughtful, truthful prayer today, one that reflected well on the evangelical Christian community, even as it articulated the prayers of the nation. In the days ahead, Iâ??m going to analyze some similar prayers, including the one by Bishop Robinson, as well as several inaugural prayers by Billy Graham. I find the contrasts to be fascinating.
But before I get to this analysis, I want to talk about another kind of prayer related to President Obama. Stay tuned . . . .