Archive - March, 2008

Book Review – A Bound Man – Shelby Steele – II

[This is the conclusion of a two-part review of Dr. Shelby Steele’s latest book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. Part 1 can be found here.]
Steele traces portions of Obama’s history (as described in the latter’s best-selling Dreams from My Father) that unpack how Obama has painfully come to terms with his identity as a bi-racial man who never knew his father. Firstly, Steele (himself bi-racial) explains that being racially mixed resulted in Obama experiencing a greater drive to connect with fellow African Americans. This was no doubt exacerbated by Obama never knowing his black father. In Dreams, Obama recounts meeting a black nationalist named Rafiq while performing community development work in Chicago. Rather than refuting Rafiq (from the vantage point of a strong personal responsibility ethic learned from his white mother), Obama rationalizes his way toward tolerating Rafiq’s anger, even though he recognizes Rafiq is gaming the system.
Obama later recounts a more painful and more personal account. There is a one-year long romantic relationship with a white woman. Although there is clear marriage potential, Obama is afraid of losing his perceived black identity. While visiting her family’s country house, Obama has an epiphany in her grandfather’s study: she inhabits a different world then his. Obama reflects, “And I knew that if we stayed together I’d eventually live in her [world]. After all, I’d been doing it most of my life. Between the two of us, I was the one who knew how to live as an outsider.”
If Steele is right, this need to be “black” (and reading Steele makes me want to read Dreams from My Father) helps explain why Obama would choose a deeply racialist church–and stay in that church for twenty years, even as his political visibility rose, and even though he knew his pastor regularly expounded a highly exclusive black liberation theology.
So Obama walks a tightrope. On the one hand, he retains his “blackness” (his church affiliation, his liberal policy perspectives that imply (white) institutional responsibility to rectify achievement gaps along racial lines, his not letting whites “off the hook”). On the other hand, he mutes these themes as he appeals to whites as a symbol of redemption: a chance to finally move beyond our nation’s racist past. Steele notes that Obama must win sufficient white support in order to be taken seriously by African Americans as a viable candidate, but yet if he wins too much white support, African Americans become suspicious. Hence his speech. He cannot repudiate Wright, lest he lose black support. Yet he must deplore the vacuous, inflammatory comments by Wright, lest he lose white support.
I think Steele’s book helpfully explains why Obama is doing so well, even though he is only a few years out from being a mere state senator. Obama’s campaign began with a wonkish flavor; the constitutional law professor delving into details at town hall meetings. That didn’t engage voters, and Hillary stayed 20 points ahead. Then Obama changed his game: less focus on specifics and policy proposals and more on the “aura” or “mood” he elicits on the basis of who he is (coupled with a strong rhetorical eloquence and repeated, albeit content-less, calls for “change”). Obama’s support skyrocketed and remained strong as he dominated state after state (until recently). Steele’s argument is consistent with this observation. Obama is popular because of what he represents. His appeal is largely symbolic.
Much more can be said, but this shall have to suffice. All in all, an absolutely fantastic read. I find Steele engaging, clear-headed, and very compelling. If there is one weakness with this book, it is that I found it hard to see where Steele fits into all this. Like Obama, Steele is an African American with a white mother. Steele is clearly not a “challenger” (as he defines the term). But I could not help wondering as I read: “Is he a ‘bargainer’?” After all, he assumes that whites are innocent. He gives them the benefit of the doubt. He gives whites moral authority. He doesn’t forcefully remind whites of their racist past. In return, he receives ample generosity and goodwill.
In the final analysis, I do not think Steele is a bargainer. I would have loved for Steele to contrast himself more from Obama, particularly with regard to “the audacity of hope” for a post-racialist future. One might say that both Obama and Steele convey such “hope”–Obama because of his rhetorical style and politically correct ideology, and Steele because of the raw substance of his message: that our freedom and dignity is based on our universal humanity (I would add “under God”), not the color of our skin or our ancestry. You decide which hope is built on a more solid foundation.

Book Review – A Bound Man – Shelby Steele – I

In the wake of Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory sermons and Senator Obama electing to make a major speech on the topic of race, I read with great interest Shelby Steele’s new book A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. Steele’s thesis is that Obama is “bound” between two competing political needs. On the one hand, he must appeal to whites by symbolizing the promise of a new, more hopeful form of interracial relations. To that end, Obama offers an attractive alternative to the polarizing demeanor of men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — black leaders who ran for President primarily to promote racial agendas and never achieved significant appeal among whites.
Steele classifies Jackson and Sharpton as “challengers.” Challengers operate on the assumption that “whites are incorrigibly racist until they do something to prove otherwise.” Their power in mainstream society comes from being able to absolve whites (and institutions primarily led by whites) of the (presumed) guilt of racism. Challengers put whites in the position of having to earn racial innocence by supporting certain public policies and adhering to politically correct language and customs. In essence, they employ white guilt in one of three forms:

(1) “white people did x and therefore black people should have y”;
(2) “white people are guilty of x and therefore they cannot say or do y”; or
(3) “white people bear ultimately responsibility for black uplift” (i.e. achievement gains).

Though perhaps able to secure some concessions for African Americans, challengers tend to fall short in national campaigns because they have no positive bridge to mainstream Americans.
By contrast, Steele classifies Senator Obama as a “bargainer.” What bargainers do, says Steele, is offer whites immediate innocence and moral authority (which they naturally lack given the history of racism toward blacks) in return for goodwill and generosity. In Dreams from My Father, Obama recounts learning, as a teenager, that people were generally relieved “to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.” Obama often reminds audiences that he has a white mother and grandmother. He represents for whites a chance to move forward — beyond the painful reminders with which Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton regularly confront them (which, says Steele, makes them uncomfortable and detracts from the coalescence of political alliances).
Steele maintains (and I agree) that Obama has the temperament, intelligence, and background to guide America beyond the racial identity politics of the past. And yet — Obama is “bound” by his need to “be black” in a racialist sense. This is the most fascinating part of the book, and I suspect the most controversial as well. I’ll tackle this theme in part II of this review.

Proclaiming Christ, Not Ourselves

This great quote from James Denny (an old Scottish minister) is a particularly good word for pastors, but it applies to all of us to some degree:

“No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.” (Quoted in John Stott, Between Two Worlds, 325)

(HT: John Piper)

Sixteen Lessons from David and Bathsheba

Pastor Mickey Connolly at CrossWay Community Church in Charlotte, NC gave a recent message on the fall of David with Bathsheba (II Sam 11-12). He lists 16 lessons from this God-breathed account which are quite relevant in our battle against sexual temptation:
1. Temptation can come when I least expect it. I must always be on my guard.
2. Sin often happens when I am not positively engaged in godly activities (when I’m not doing what I am supposed to be doing).
3. I usually have a chance to stop myself if I would only take it (1 Cor. 10:12).
4. Sin has a way of finding me out… it will be brought to the light.
5. Trying to cover up my sin only makes things worse.
6. One sin often leads to another.
7. Sin tends to harden my heart.
8. Even if no one else is aware, God is aware.
9. It is easier to be outraged at someone else’s sin than my own.
10. To sin is to look for good outside of God’s perfect provision.
11. Sin never satisfies.
12. Sin always has consequences.
13. Heartfelt repentance is the only appropriate response to sin.
14. While my sin has many manifestations it has only one root — a heart that craves something more than God.
15. Because of the cross, God does not treat me as my sins deserve.
16. While sin affects my life, it need not ruin my life.
(HT: CBMW via Lydia Brownback)

Do Hard Things – Chuch Norris Foreword

My copy arrived today, and boy did Multnomah do a great job with it. The cover art is outstanding. Crisp, clear, and catchy. The back cover reads:

“Most people don’t expect you to understand what we’re going to tell you in this book. And even if you understand, they don’t expect you to care. And even if you care, they don’t expect you to do anything about it. And even if you do something about it, they don’t expect it to last. We do.”

The jacket includes a great photograph and overview of the book. On the inside, I was intrigued that the foreword was supplied by Chuck Norris. He writes:

“Today we live in a culture that promotes comfort, not challenges. Everything is about finding ways to escape hardship, avoid pain, and dodge duty. In the past, young people were expected to make significant contributions to society. Today, our culture expects very little from teens–not much more than staying in school and doing a few chores. A sad consequence of such low expectations is that life-changing lessons go unlearned.
To whom can we turn to motivate a new generation of giants? I’ve found the answer. Alex and Brett Harris and their new book, Do Hard Things.”

Update: Here’s a link from which you can read the Table of Contents and Chapter 4.
Related: My endorsement; #6 on Amazon.

Interview of Tom Schreiner

Andy Cheung interviews Tom Schreiner about his forthcoming volume, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, which will be released on June 1. For now, this 46-page excerpt (the table of contents, preface, the introduction, and chapter 9 on Jesus’ Saving Work in Acts) is available.
(HT: Jim Hamilton)

Simeon Trust Workshop on Preaching Christ from Exodus

The Simeon Trust, an organization dedicated to equipping pastors for biblically faithful, expository preaching, is hosting a workshop in Corona, CA on May 14-16. Speakers include David Short, Rector of St. John’s (Shaughnessy) Anglican Church in Vancouver, David Hegg, pastor of Northpoint Evangelical Free Church in Corona, and Paul Winters, Pastor of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Roselle, Illinois.
The theme of the workshop is preaching Christ from the book of Exodus.

California Homeschooling Ruling to Be Reconsidered

The California Court of Appeal granted a motion on March 25 to re-hear the Rachel L. case. The granting of this motion means that the controversial February 28 ruling has been “vacated.” In other words, it has been rendered no longer binding. In that ruling, Justice H. Walter Croskey had written:

“California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children.”

This resulted in widespread outrage in the homeschooling movement and assurances from Governor Schwarzenegger that homeschooling privileges would not be comprised. The re-hearing of the case will occur in June, and written arguments from state and local education officials as well as teachers’ unions have been invited.
The news report from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Related: My previous post on this topic.

Assessing the Emerging Church

This looks like a great new book on the emergent church. In Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck explain that “You can be young, passionate about Jesus Christ, surrounded by diversity, engaged in a postmodern world, reared in evangelicalism and not be an emergent Christian. In fact, we want to argue that it would be better if you weren’t.” The foreword is written by David Wells. The blurbs:
“This book is a pleasure to read, not least because it pricks so many pretensions. While it deals with an important subject, it manages to sustain a breezy style that draws you in. The subtitle tells you the stance of the authors: the emerging church movement, which taught an entire generation to rebel, is now old enough to find growing numbers of people learning to rebel against the rebellion.”
~ D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Why We’re Not Emergent crashes into the emerging conversation in a voice which hears “them” and talks back! This is a book we’ve been waiting for. With careful observation, faithful handling of Scripture, and an eye for the ironic and absurd, DeYoung and Kluck have given us a feel for what attracts some to emerging churches and thoughts about why that’s sometimes a very bad thing. Buy and read this book. You’ll enjoy it. And it could help you and the people you’ll tell about it.”
~Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
“Two thoughtful young guys with different styles, Kevin DeYoung (the pastor-theologian) and Ted Kluck (the journalist), have teamed up to write Why We’re Not Emergent. The result is a fair-minded, biblically grounded, insightful book. It’s clear that DeYoung and Kluck are not motivated by the desire to criticize, but rather by their love of the church as the body of Christ. This is now the first book I’d give someone who asks the question, “What is the emerging church?” Highly recommended!”
~Justin Taylor, Project Director, ESV Study Bible; blogger (Between Two Worlds)
Speaking of the emerging church, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason interviews Dave Horner on the topic “Assessing the Emerging Church.” Horner is the senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.

Presidential Politics: Republicans Down But Not Out

John Mark Reynolds pens an insightful post on the state of the three-way race for the White House. Its entitled, “The Democrats are Blowing It: Three Reasons the Republican Party Might Survive November.” In this lengthy post, Reynolds makes several excellent points. In short: odds favor a Democratic victory in November, but the negativity in the Democratic primary will leave their winner crippled, and a short two-way race diminishes the Dems’ financial advantage. Furthermore, McCain currently leads both Clinton and Obama in most polls, and his competitiveness will increase his ability to raise money.
Along the way, Reynolds makes a number of astute observations about all three candidates. I agree with him that Obama has by no means wrapped up his party’s nomination.

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