Scriptural allusions in American public discourse date back to perhaps the most beloved allusion by the Puritan John Winthrop when he spoke of the American settlement being a "city on a hill", which to his listeners obviously alluded to Christ telling his disciples, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." The implication was that what was happening there in the New World was being watched by all in the Old World and that their Christian society should be a model to the world.
Winthrop's listeners knew their Scriptures. Do Barack Obama's?
Last night in his acceptance speech, Barack Obama alluded to Scripture at least twice.
Instead, it is that American spirit -- that American promise -- that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.
This came near the end of his remarks. He clearly borrows from I Corinthians 4:18: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." But it also calls to mind Hebrews 12:2: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (A little different than "that better place around the bend"!)
And Barack Obama concluded with:
We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise -- that American promise -- and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.
This conclusion takes biblical language from Hebrews 10:23: "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Of course, the author of Hebrews was clearly speaking of hope in Christ and Barack is applying the language to "the American promise."
For listeners who don't know their Scripture, it is a beautiful literary reference. And why not borrow the masterful language of Scripture to make a point, right? And yet, for those of us who believe that Scripture is the inspired word of God, Mr. Obama's allusion is a misappropriation of God's Word.
This illustrates why Edwards Academy kids are being homeschooled. How can we analyze and think about the soaring rhetoric of this speech if we do not put it into context spiritually? And what is that spiritual context? What exactly does Barack Obama mean when he (or his writers) run and grab these phrases from their Bibles?
The whole of Mr. Obama's speech stressed over and over what he believes a good American government should deliver to its citizens: jobs, equality, health care, prosperity, help, help, and more help. He even scorned the American idea of pulling yourself up "by your bootstraps" as the attitude of Republicans intent on abandoning the impoverished. In Barack Obama's world, being "on your own" is unbearable. (The rest of us call that freedom and liberty!)
Is this the hope we profess? I think it is a terrible misappropriation of Scripture to suggest that the American promise (which used to be liberty but Mr. Obama has redefined as government help) is anywhere on the level of the hope and faith we have in Christ.
This is heresy.
The transcript of Barack Obama's prepared remarks is found here.