Mark D. Roberts

Part 5 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
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I began this series with the question: Should Rick Warren say “in the name of Jesus” (or something similar) at the end of his invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama? Since I, like many other Christians, including Rick Warren, want my life to be guided by Scripture, I turned to the Bible to see what we could learn about praying in Jesus’ name. We saw that Jesus himself instructed his followers to pray in his name. But we also saw that this did not mean they were necessarily to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers. In my last post, I explained that Christians are free to do this if they wish. In my opinion, there are potential benefits and potential detriments to saying “in Jesus’ name.” Nevertheless, no Christian should feel compelled by Scripture to use this language, though it’s a common practice in certain strains of Christianity.
Therefore, my answer to the question “Should Rick Warren say ‘in the name of Jesus’ at the end of his inaugural prayer?” might at first sound like a cop out. I believe he is free to follow his own conscience in the matter. There isn’t one right answer to this question. It’s the sort of thing Christians can disagree about.
But what would I say if Rick came to me for advice? First of all, I would say, “Why in heaven’s name are you coming to me for advice?” Rick and I are not close friends, though we’ve had several friendly conversations during the past ten years, and Rick was gracious enough to write the foreword for my book, Dare to Be True. I’m sure he has plenty of wise spiritual advisors (as well as millions of who think they know what he should do). Nevertheless, if Rick asked me to advise him on whether or not to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer, I think I’d lay out for him the arguments on either side, and only then tell him what I would do if I were in shoes. So, here’s my best shot at the reasons for and against saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of an inaugural prayer. (Photo: The cover of my book, Dare to Be True.)
First of all, no matter what Rick Warren says, he will in fact be praying in Jesus’ name because that’s how Christians pray. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his authority and according to his agenda. It doesn’t have to do with saying the name of Jesus in the prayer. Therefore, Warren is under no obligation to say “in Jesus’ name.” (If you haven’t read my earlier posts in this series, what I’ve just said might seem odd to you, or even wrong. I’d encourage you to go back and read this post and the following one as well.)
Any Christian who prays in a public, civic event, especially that includes a wide spectrum of participants, should realize that saying “in Jesus’ name” would exclude some people. If Warren chooses to say “in Jesus’ name” in his prayer, he is effectively saying, “I’m not praying here representing the citizens of this country. I’m praying only on behalf of the Christians.” This would not be an especially friendly gesture, nor one that would draw people closer to Christians and their Lord. (Photo: The cover of my book that I proposed to my publisher when I learned that Rick Warren would do the foreword. They didn’t go with my idea, and my book sales were about .02% of The Purpose Driven Life. Oh well, my publisher got a good laugh, anyway.)
I’ve heard people say that not to say “in Jesus’ name” would be to dishonor him. That may be true. But I wonder if it’s possible to leave off Jesus’ name in imitation of his own teaching and example. Jesus talked, for example, about loving our neighbors (and even our enemies). It seems to me it would be more loving of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and other non-Christian folk not to say “in Jesus’ name.” Could this be rather like walking the second mile? Could this be an example of sacrificial servanthood? Don’t we Christians follow a Lord who gave up his rights in order to be our Savior? Mightn’t we do the same in our public prayers?
I’m also impressed by the fact that Jesus seemed to hang out with lots of unsavory kinds of people, you know, tax collectors and sinners. Surely they didn’t enjoy being with Jesus because he continually emphasized the ways in which they disagreed. I don’t mean to suggest that non-Christian folk are unsavory, or any more sinful than I am. My point is that Jesus had a way of welcoming those who were not, at least at first, with him theologically. I wonder if choosing not to mention the name of Jesus in a civic prayer is a Jesus-like gesture of welcome.
If Rick Warren sees his role as representing evangelical Christians in the mix of religious people who are offering inaugural prayers, then he may well want to say “in Jesus’ name.” But if he sees his role as trying to include as many people as possible in prayer, speaking that which is in the hearts of Christians and non-Christian theists, then he would be well-advised not to mention the name of Jesus.
If Warren plans not to say “in Jesus’ name” in his inaugural prayer, I hope he explains his rationale in advance. Otherwise, he’ll have a whole lot of Christians upset. He can explain later, of course. But I think it would be better if he did so in advance. If he plans to say “in Jesus’ name” in his prayer, it might also be best to tell people in advance and explain why. That would, at least, take the focus off of his closing words and, perhaps, allow people to pay more attention to what he is really praying. But it appears, so far, that Warren is not making a widespread statement of his intentions.
I do want to note that one of my faithful blog commentors, Bill Goff, who attends Saddleback Church, where Warren is the senior pastor, said this in a recent comment: “I am confident that Rick Warren will use the name Jesus in his prayer. Why? Because I was present in the congregation last Sunday when I heard him assure us that that is what he intends to do.”
So, I think a strong case can be made for Rick Warren’s not saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer. But I think a strong case can be made for the other side as well. Tomorrow I’ll lay out the argument on the other side, and then explain what I would do if I were in Warren’s shoes.

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