Although comparisons between Obama and Lincoln are surely overstated—our current president has not yet shown either the rhetorical or intellectual brilliance of Lincoln—they both stand in a long and distinguished tradition of public theology. President Obama seems acutely aware of this tradition in his own Inaugural Address. Like Lincoln he uses theological discourse to gesture toward our common hopes and aspirations, and he invokes the divine not as the one who charts our “manifest destiny,” but as the one “who calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.” Obama’s public theology combines a sense of cautious realism with measured hope, as he calls the nation to greater maturity (“the time has come to set aside childish things”) and to a renewal of “the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” Biblical cadences and theological arguments are used not to advance American exceptionalism but to sketch an America in which “the old hatreds shall someday pass…and our common humanity shall reveal itself.”Read the rest of Obama as public theologian: Old wine in new wineskins.
Ronald F. Thiemann
Ronald F. Thiemann holds the Benjamin Bussey Professorship of Theology at Harvard University. An ordained Lutheran and a specialist on the role of religion in public life, Professor Thiemann is the author of Revelation and Theology: The Gospel as Narrated Promise, Constructing a Public Theology: The Church in a Pluralistic Culture, and Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy; he is also an editor and author of Who Will Provide: The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare. He is currently working on a book-length project entitled Sacramental Realism: Literary Art as Social Criticism.