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Obama’s interview with Cathleen Falsani, recently published on Beliefnet, has re-ignited not only some political wars but religious fights that have persisted for almost 2,000 years: what does it mean to be a Christian?
Joe Carter, Rod Dreher, Rick Santorum and several posters in the comment area of the blog post have suggested that Obama can’t call himself a Christian since he seems to reject the idea that acceptance of Christ is required for salvation:
Obama: …There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re going to hell.
FALSANI: You don’t believe that?
OBAMA: I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.
I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.
What’s more, I’m told by people who attended Obama’s meeting earlier this year with several Christian leaders and that Franklin Graham pressed him on this point. His answer was similar: that he had a hard time believing that his mother, who was not Christian, would be burning in hell.
Carter and others argue that Obama therefore cannot call himself a Christian. They note that even Mainline Protestants accept the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, both of which make that same declaration.
But here’s the rub for orthodox Christians: millions and millions of people call themselves Christian, worship at Christian churches and believe that acceptance of Christ is not required for entry into heaven. In a recent Pew poll, 70% said “many religions can lead to eternal life.” 66% of Protestants and 79% of Catholics said they agreed with that idea.
It was also a view shared by many of the Founders.
“I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians,” said John Adams.
Like Obama, Adams doubted that those around the world who hadn’t accepted Christ could be damned. In a letter to Jefferson, he claimed that according to Christian doctrine nine tenths of the population would suffer for eternity as they were not schooled in Christianity. Why, he asked, would God allow “innumerable millions to make them miserable, forever”? The explanation often given, said Adams, was, “For his Own Glory.” This answer disgusted Adams. “Wretch! …Is he vain?” he asked about God. “Tickled with Adulation? Exulting and triumphing in his Power and the Sweetness of his Vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these Aweful Questions. My Answer to them is always ready: I believe no such Things.”
Many liberal Christians argue that Christianity is defined through actions not theology, and some dispute the idea that John 3:16 should define Christianity on this point.
Theologically, I don’t have a dog in this fight but I will merely point out that if Joe Carter, Rick Santorum, Cal Thomas and others drum Obama out of the bugle corps for that reason they will need to expel a sizable percentage of Christiandom.