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Force of Freedom: Bush's Political Theology

Pastor and blogger Mark Roberts examines the theology behind the Innaugral Address: This is a long series, and deeply deserves a full read. I'll excerpt here some of the passages specific to the question of Bush's description of the "Force of Freedom" -- but be sure to read the whole thing.

"From a biblical perspective, what the President actually said about freedom was not correct. If one of my associate pastors, in a sermon preached in my church, were to say that the force of freedom is the only power that can overcome hatred, that pastor would be visiting my supervisory woodshed in a jiffy. I’d send that pastor back to do more biblical homework.

I am not doubting the President’s faith or his basic evangelical theology. But I do find his statement about freedom to be inconsistent with biblical theology. It actually sounds a whole lot more like classic theological liberalism. No wonder the President’s evangelical supporters get confused!

Again, I see the President making the kind of religiously generic statement that Presidents of the United States often make. Yet a person would be hard pressed, I think, to defend this viewpoint from Scripture. Again, I’m not suggesting that President Bush should have spouted evangelical theology from his secular pulpit, but I am pointing out that his public proclamations are hard to reconcile with biblical faith.

This is even more evident in the final sentence of the paragraph ...Here the President spoke of “ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In a previous post I mentioned that this last phrase – “the same yesterday, today, and forever” -- is an obvious quotation of Hebrews 13:8. That verse reads: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

I would not expect the President to quote this verse in an inaugural address. Nor would I approve of his doing so. Yet it seems odd to me that he felt comfortable using this distinctive biblical description of the timelessness of Jesus Christ when talking about “ideals of justice and conduct.” Is it really true that such ideals are timeless in the same way that Jesus Christ is timeless? I rather doubt it. The President’s idealism in this instance seems much more Platonic than Christian. (Plato, you may recall from your college philosophy class, believed in the existence of transcendent forms or ideals, which were timeless and independent of human perception.)

Yet some of his rhetorical flourishes make me uncomfortable, not as an American citizen, but as a Christian theologian. I’m not sure that Scripture allows me to share President Bush’s confidence in the power of human freedom. And I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be able to refer to human ideals as “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” From a biblical perspective, this sort of timelessness belongs to Christ alone.

Am I getting too picky? Perhaps. Should I just chalk up the biblical allusions in the Second Inaugural to customary presidential hyperbole? Maybe. But I am concerned that the President’s language will ultimately backfire. No, I do not share the fears of Rolling Stone blogger Tim Dickinson and other secularists that the President will impose Jesus upon the nation. If anything, I think the rhetoric of the Second Inaugural shortchanges Jesus, and not the other way around.

But, even beyond this concern, I am worried that by assigning divine powers to human ideals and aspirations, President Bush is forging impossible expectations. Freedom may well advance throughout the world, and I hope it does. But as long as human beings remain captive to sin, new forms of oppression will emerge. And if we expect human ideals to be universal and timeless, then we’ll be shocked when these ideals crumble beneath the weight of human evil. We won’t know how to respond when human beings callously and joyously murder innocent people. The confidence of the President in freedom and human idealism seems to be inconsistent with the reality of a fallen humanity and a broken world.

This is not to say that Americans should back away from the fight for freedom. Far from it. But our fight often involves far more ambiguity than clarity. Moreover, we do battle for what is right, not because we are certain that right will prevail this side of heaven, but because it is right to seek righteousness and justice now, no matter what the results may be."


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