This is a video of the National Prayer Breakfast of February 2. First is a message by biographer, apologist, and erstwhile VeggieTales collaborator Eric Metaxas. It is an incisive, passionate, challenging, and surprisingly hilarious speech that winsomely but boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have been reading The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys by Mark A. Noll. Most of the themes Noll cites that were woven into the core of modern evangelicalism in the English world 270 years ago—the distinction between religious performance and a supernaturally personal encounter with God, the persistent depravity of human nature overcome solely by Jesus Christ, and genuine faith necessarily stimulating countercultural action—are all on brilliant display in Metaxas’s speech. If this message can still be delivered and received by a room of some of the most powerful people in this nation, we still have a lot to rejoice about.
Though that’s the main thing I want you to see, it is interesting to me that as faithful as Metaxas’s message is to the roots of evangelicalism 270 years ago, President Obama’s comments following Metaxas’s are almost as reflective of the Social Gospel of 100 years ago. The President speaks surprisingly candidly of his daily spiritual routine and some of his spiritual journey to date, and what is striking to me is the persistent ethical bent in what he says. He speaks very much as a Christian and quotes the New Testament repeatedly, but all of the content is God’s law, and since that is his focus he readily acknowledges the reflection of that law naturally revealed in other religions. I have no doubt of the President’s sincerity as a Christian, including his undetailed report of how he met Christ and his life was changed. But I can’t help but wonder if the content of his spirituality is far more what humans ought to do for God than what God has done for them. Ethics are great, and I agree with every ethical principle the President gives his faith-driven rationale for in his remarks. But ethics are no gospel, no good news, to a person constituted to break them—a person like you and me. Without the gospel, the promise of the Christian ethical ideal remains permanently unfulfilled in the world and in my actions. With the gospel only, all things are possible.