Some unknown author once said, "Everybody should believe in something; I believe I'll have another drink."
Democratic senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a less cynical and more substantive approach to faith in a recent interview with The New York Times. The quality and depth of one's relationship with God should be personal and beyond the judgment of others, unless one is running for president and chooses to talk about it as part of a campaign plan to win the election.
Democrats have been encouraged and coached by liberal evangelical Christian Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine to talk about their faith in an attempt to capture a small slice of the religious vote that has mostly gone to conservative Republicans in the last several election cycles.
In a Times' front-page story about Sen. Clinton's Methodist faith, there are pictures of her in Sunday school as a young girl, pictures of two ministers who "influenced Hillary Rodham on faith and social responsibility," and two pictures of her praying.
One of the ministers from her youth, Rev. Donald Jones, says of his messages then, "I wouldn't have focused so much on personal salvation. I would have focused more on social responsibility." In theological circles this is known as "works salvation," the notion that one can do enough good deeds to earn God's approval and enter Heaven. While James, the Apostle, writes "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20), he means that works done as a result of saving faith for the purpose of leading others to that same faith - not for the sole objective of improving one's own circumstances on earth - find approval in God's sight, while works that are separated from a saving faith message are, as the prophet Isaiah says about such human righteousness, like "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
Even the Times suggests the destination of a strictly "social gospel": "Mrs. Clinton sometimes was a guest speaker at an adult Sunday school class, a class that some members complained normally resembled Rotary Club lectures because it often addressed nonreligious topics." To paraphrase James, if faith without works is dead, so also are works without faith.
Liberal faith, which is to say a faith that discounts the authority of Scripture in favor of a constantly evolving, poll-tested relevancy to modern concerns - such as the environment, what kind of SUV Jesus would drive, larger government programs and other "do-good" pursuits - ultimately morphs into societal and self-improvement efforts and jettisons the life-changing message of salvation, forgiveness of sins and a transformed life.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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