During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama successfully portrayed the Bush administration as “out of touch…idealogical…and in bed with big business.” He, in contrast, was “down-to-earth…practical…and on the same side as ordinary Americans.”What a difference 18 months makes. In an article for the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Peggy Noonan offers advice to new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, as he prepared to visit President Obama in Washington. The sum and substance of the article can be captured by the title: “David Cameron, don’t follow Barack Obama.” There was a common thread to Noonan’s criticisms of President Obama’s first 18 months:
He came across as a detached academic who believed in abstract notions he’d picked up in the faculty lounge.…It’s the faculty-lounge problem again: people in business deal with real things, people in faculty lounges deal with ideas, abstractions, theories; they’re swayed by this school of thought and that; they’re macro. Businessmen must be micro: “Hey buddy, I’m trying to open a dry cleaners over here!” He tries, but he can’t get it right because it’s all so abstract to him.
The dictionary defines abstract as:”theoretical, conceptual, hypothetical, unreal.”It’s antonyms are “actual, concrete, factual, real.” As I read this I wondered how often I had fallen into this trap myself. Are my sermons theoretical or actual, conceptual or concrete, hypothetical or factual, unreal or real? It is so easy for us preachers to get so enamored with an abstract point of theology, or a system of theology, that we lose all touch with reality, or the desire and ability to apply that theology to people’s lives (and our own). Noonan had previously held high hopes for President Obama, but as she looks back on various pivotal points, she says: “He simply wasn’t thinking about what they [the American people] were thinking about.” Noonan’s last piece of advice to Prime Minister Cameron is: “…and care what is on the people’s minds, as much as what’s on your own.” Noted.