My Review of The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield

Thomas Nelson recently published “The Faith of Barack Obama” by Stephen
Mansfield. The CEO, Michael
Hyatt
, made a very interesting offer to bloggers: Thomas Nelson would provide a
free copy to the first 100 bloggers willing to write a minimum 200 word review
of the book. Michael Hyatt had been linking to promotional videos by the author
in his Twitter feed, and those videos got me very interested in the book. Though
I am hardly a supporter of Obama, the promotional videos piqued my interest. A
comment by the author stating that “Even if he loses this election, Barack Obama
can run for President every four years for the next 24, and he will still be
younger than John McCain is now. He’s going to be around for a long time” really
gave me a desire to understand the man.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened the book. Thomas Nelson
emailed me the introduction and the first two chapters to get started, and they
only made me want to finish the book, which arrived about a week later. This is
not a very long book, but I found it to be packed with interesting information.
I can’t say I’ve ever gone out of my way to read a book about a candidate in an
election year, but I find that most fall into one of two categories: the
puff-piece and the hatchet job. This book was neither. I found it to be an
honest attempt to understand a prominent man in our politics who will likely be
a fixture on the public scene for many years.

“The Faith of Barack Obama” contains 144 pages of content, plus
acknowledgements, references, and a bibliography and index in the back. It
totals 164 pages with the “back matter.” Keep in mind that the definition of
“content” in this review is my own, and I do count the endnotes and bibliography
as valuable. The book is organized into an introduction and 6 chapters.

Chapter 1, “To Walk Between Worlds,” is about the man: his background and
upbringing. It traces the formation of Barack Obama’s background through his
grandparents, his mother, his father, and stepfather. It deals with the “urban
legend” that Obama was raised as a Muslim. I do personally know Christians who
believe that because Obama has a school document from Indonesia declaring his
religion as “Muslim,” then obviously he must be part of some Islamic plot to
take over America from the inside. I’m all for a good conspiracy theory, and I
do believe several that are very well documented, but this one is easily handled
by Mansfield in this chapter. Barack Obama also attended a Catholic school, but
does that make him part of a plot to take over America for the pope? His mom was
an Atheist, does that mean Christopher Hitchens will be Secretary of State?
Anyway, I’m getting off base here. This chapter also traces Obama’s growing up
and going to college, trying to find his way between worlds of black and white.
What was his identity? The chapter ends with Obama sitting in Trinity United
Church of Christ listening to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Chapter 2, “My House Too,” speaks about Obama’s longtime church, his pastor’s
background, and black liberation theology. The concept of Black Liberation
Theology is not new to me. I have heard and read of it in the past. This is
a key to understanding Barack Obama.

Chapter 3, “Faith Fit for the Age,” speaks about Obama’s conversion and his
beliefs and politics. Obama clearly does claim that he believes the Gospel of
Jesus Christ, and his words to me as an “Evangelical” clearly do indicate an
honest belief and conversion. Obama also seems to subscribe to a postmodern
philosophy, and claims to believe that there are other paths to God. This
chapter examines these issues, as well as the issue of why Obama remained at
Trinity when some of his former pastor’s statements made it out into the media.
I must admit, Stephen Mansfield’s explanation of this made my ears pick up. I
came to realize that I could not make the same claims currently about my church.
Stephen Mansfield says that Obama stayed at Trinity because the church met his
needs. The church was his family, and it fed him intellectually and in other
areas. My wife and I are struggling with an issue at our church with whether it
is meeting our needs or making us feel like we truly belong to the group, and
when I read those paragraphs to my wife, we were about ready to just not go back
to our church. I even wrote a note in the book “If only our church met our needs
like that.” That has no bearing on the review; I just can’t help but adding TMI
(Too Much Information) every time I open my mouth or start pounding on a
keyboard. Our personal reasons for our reaction go very deep and I have no idea
if I will blog about it or not, ever.

Between Chapters 3 and 4 are a series of pictures from Obama’s life, from
childhood to present.

Chapter 4, “The Altars of State,” explores the formation of Obama’s political
career and how he had to reconcile his Christian faith with his politics in the
Democratic party, which has been secular for a long time. Even men such as Jimmy
Carter and Bill Clinton, with claims of being “born again,” have tried to push
faith and politics far apart. This chapter explores Obama’s race against Alan
Keys, a man I have supported in the past, for the Senate seat from Illinois.
Obama did win, but the race against Keys, a very eloquent and well spoken man,
left him shaken. This chapter examines that.

Chapter 5, “The Four Faces of Faith,” contrasts the faith of Obama against
John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush. I found this chapter
particularly fascinating, though I think I’d rather open another discussion on
them rather than sidetracking this review.

The final Chapter, 6, “A Time To Heal,” speaks of the issue of healing and
Obama’s desire to help with some of that healing in our culture and our
politics.

All told, I thought this was a very good book. It did not inflate Obama, nor
did it skewer him. I took it as an honest attempt to understand the man and the
issues surrounding him, and to pass that understanding to others. To me, this is
what journalism should be. This book did help me to better understand Barack
Obama. It challenges the seeming notion that Christianity in American politics
belongs to the “Religious Right,” and that Democrats can’t be Christian and
Christians can’t be Democrats. (I dropped my normal facetious “Demoncrats” for
this review.)

This book did not in any way give me a desire to support or vote for Obama,
but I believe it gave me something much better: it gave me the idea that I could
like him. It even gave me the thought that perhaps I could like Hillary Clinton.
Yikes! Our two party political system (I currently support neither, though I
once considered myself part of one of them, you guess) seems to encourage
demonization of the “other side.” I can’t say I haven’t fallen prey to that idea
in the past myself. I’m finding it to be liberating that I can disagree with
somebody and still like them, that disagreement does not need to mean lack of
association. This is something I have been thinking through on my own prior to
this book.

My final comment about the book itself is the price. During one of my
discussions with my wife about my use of time during the evenings, as in, should
I be reading a book or doing something she prefers, I said “Look, Thomas Nelson
GAVE me this book on the promise to write a review. This book would have cost
me…” I looked at the back and saw the price listed as $19.99. This is the MSRP,
but my eyes must have popped out of my head and I had to restrain my urge to
make a comment about some variation of “sacred fecal matter” in front of the
kids. I’ll be honest; I have absolutely no idea what goes in to the pricing of a
book, but I have bought thousands of books in my life so I can only go on the
relative cost of them. $20 for a 6 chapter, total of 164 page book does sound
kind of high. It is listed for $13.59 on Amazon with “39 new and used from
$9.25.” Maybe some fellow Michael Hyatt readers can join me to ask him for a
primer on how books get priced one of these days. I find him to be a very open
CEO and I believe he would respond if we asked him. His blog has been a
tremendous source of inspiration and advice to me over the years.

I would like to make one final comment on our political system. I’m not sure
why, but so many people seem to treat the Presidential election as if we’re
choosing our Messiah (already got one, thanks.) It’s as if we put the right man
in and he’ll save us all, and the wrong man will destroy our country, ruin our
lives, and make George Orwell’s 1984 sound like the recounting of a stay at a
vacation resort. Please, people, read our Constitution and keep this all in
perspective. Don’t look to the President to save you. He’s only the head of one
branch of government. You still have one Representative and two Senators that
you can call or write or email about any issue you wish.

If you’d like to read The Faith of Barack Obama, I highly recommend it. You
can buy it from the Amazon affiliate link in my sidebar on the left under
“Books I’m currently reading.” I’ll probably move it to the “Books I’ve recently
read” sidebar at some point. I know, that’s a shameless plug, but if you buy
enough of them from my affiliation, maybe you can help feed my gadget habit.

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