Friday, October 08, 2004

 

"The Theology of George W. Bush"

See "The Theology of G.W. Bush" by Bruce Lincoln

I found this article to be very insightful and a full work in an area where most people are only offering half assed assesments. Instead of simply saying that he thinks Bush invokes religious rhetoric in troubling ways, Bruce Lincoln goes through the more difficult task of assembling a structure to Bush's beliefs and providing a charitable interpretation of Bush's relationship to these beliefs, while clearly coming from a vantage point that sees Bush's language as a mistake. One thing I found curious is Bush's 5 main theological presuppositions and wondered how many American Christians would share these presuppositions. While many people want to say that Bush's random use of religious language is a signal to evangelical Christians that they thoughtlessly agree with, I think that this systematic approach to Bush's theology makes it possible to see real, deep links between the President and his constituency.

Here is what Lincoln summarizes:
"All of these texts convey a sophisticated theology of history that rests on five propositions: 1) God desires freedom for all humanity; 2) This desire manifests itself in history; 3) America is called by history (and thus, implicitly by God) to take action on behalf of this cause; 4) Insofar as America responds with courage and determination, God’s purpose is served and freedom’s advance is inevitable; 5) With the triumph of freedom, God’s will is accomplished and history comes to an end."

He goes on to say:
"As we have seen, it follows several earlier systems, each of which had its own force, rationale, and moment. These include an Evangelical theology of “born again” conversion; a theology of American exceptionalism as grounded in the virtue of compassion; a Calvinist theology of vocation; and a Manichaean dualism of good and evil in conflict. "

He goes on to identify the conflict between evangelical freedom for salvation theology and calvanist determinism:
"Thus, in his theology of history, salvation is an impersonal and inevitable process of gradual world-perfection, in which the Creator’s goals are achieved through the collective actions of a chosen nation. In the sharpest possible contrast, his evangelical faith makes salvation individual and by no means inevitable. Rather, it comes in a blazing moment of faith and decision, when a lost soul accepts Jesus as personal savior. If the theology of the early Bush is Pauline, his more recent stance is Hegelian, but without the dialectic and with America, not Prussia, in history’s starring role. It is hard to imagine how one man can hold both doctrines."

Yet this conflict is common experience for those of us familiar with evangelical theology in the last 25 years! It is in this moment where I see the necessity of those on the left to acknowledge the deep similarities that Bush and the conservative evangelical church share, whether they are right are wrong. Conservative evangelicals are not simply following they person that sounds the most like them in a stupid manner, but rather are following their deepest theological commitments. The reason that so many main-line liberal Christians hate Bush more than any politician in recent memory may have less to do with his foreign policy, as bad as it is, and may rather have more to do with his theology that is the very thing that makes evangelical Christianity so abhorant to most liberal Christians.

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