The Messiah Channel

Touchestone | Russell D. Moore | July/August 2008

For months, Barack Obama’s pastor lit up the radio and television airwaves with his comments on conspiracy theories about American “state-sponsored terrorism,” his call on God to damn America, his belief that the September 11 terrorist attacks were simply America’s “chickens coming home to roost.”

Some of the talking heads discussed Jeremiah Wright as though his kind of rhetoric were essential to the African-American church, a claim that is patently untrue, and easily verifiable as such. Others seemed to assume that his style of ministry was unique. The truth is, Jeremiah Wright’s name is Legion, and you are just as likely to hear his kind of preaching in a white congregation as in a black one.

Bypassing Jesus
Wright, after all, is not making this stuff up. He is preaching a form of liberation theology. The liberation theologians see the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected, the message of deliverance from the reign of sin and death through repentance and faith, as “pie in the sky.” Liberation theology offers economic and political salvation in the here-and-now, making the Scripture illustrative of how to navigate out of oppression.

This is not the gospel as proclaimed by the prophets and apostles, a gospel that centers on Jesus Christ and him alone. The clips of the Wright sermons should outrage us. But we should be outraged first as Christians. The most egregious aspect of his statements is not what he is saying about America, but what he is not saying about the gospel.

But one does not have to be a political radical to bypass Jesus at church. White, upwardly mobile, pro-America preachers preach liberation theology all the time, with all the fervor of Jeremiah Wright, if not the anger.

Just take a look at the best-selling authors in Christian bookstores. Listen for a minute or two to the parade of preachers on Christian television and radio. What are they promising? Your best life now. What are they preaching about? How to be authentic. How to make good career choices. How Hillary Clinton fits into Bible prophecy.

How many times have we heard conservative preachers use the Bible in exactly the same way that Jeremiah Wright uses it? Wright uses the Scripture as a background to get to what he thinks is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation from American oppression. Others use the Scripture as a background to get to what they think is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation through the American Dream.

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