"Years ago, when Falwell autographed the Bible, it was pretty normal for pastors and evangelical leaders to do so — in parts of the south, it still is pretty commonplace," Goins-Phillips explains. In fact, scads of social media users have corroborated this fact in defense of the president, noting that they own bibles signed by pastors, evangelists, and more.
You guys... He...he signed *the covers* pic.twitter.com/bLQzVN9vcB— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) March 8, 2019
"While plenty have criticized the president for autographing the Bibles (on the front covers, no less)," Goins-Phillips continues, "the real concern might be what it says about those who wanted Trump to sign them in the first place."
"We so often hear criticisms of cultural Christianity — a cherry-picked understanding of Scripture often espoused by a secular culture — that accepts God’s love and commands for decency, but casts aside his unflinching rebuke of sin," Goins-Phillips explains. "But we don’t often hear about a cultural Christianity that mixes and mingles secular and sacred morality so long as the two share common interests."
"Seeking a president’s signature on a Bible is a hint of that cultural religion," he boldly declares.
While being careful not to ascribe sinful hearts and motives to the people who asked President Trump to sign their bibles, Goins-Phillips refuses to ignore the blatant "theological tension between Trump’s name on the Bible covers and what the pages inside suggest about Christians’ allegiances."
Although Goins-Phillips expresses his feeling, which I share, that it is "kind of odd and a little tacky for anyone, much less a non-pastor, to autograph a Bible," he is careful to note that Trump is not the first secular figure, let alone the first president, to do so. In fact, according to the Washington Post, Peter Manseau, the Smithsonian’s curator of religion, reminded readers that Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and other past presidents have signed copies of the bible.
Former President Barack Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, Goins-Phillips adds, were asked by the family of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to sign a bible that once belonged to the legendary civil rights leader, although I doubt that incident received as much furor.
"Regardless of who signs the Bibles," Goins-Phillips continued, "the truth of the matter is this: it’s a bizarre practice rooted more in tradition and culture than in faith and theology. In fact, it’s somewhat out of sync with the latter two."
The Faithwire editor cited Philippians 3:20-21, in which Paul states, "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."
The problem, Goins-Phillips explains, isn't that the bibles we're asking various and sundry people to sign are themselves holy or deified, and we must be careful not to ascribe an intrinsic value, almost a sacramental value, to the physical book that Scripture itself does not command us to.
Rather, he continues, "the concern is that a president’s signature on one of those Bibles could step on what is holy. It could directly or indirectly come up against the biblical dissonance between earth and eternity."
Bravely treading into eschatological territory to prove his point, Goins-Phillips explains that we are living in a unique time in which Christ's church has been established through the cross, yet the kingdom to be established by his second coming is not yet reality. Because of this, Christians are forever in a position to be wary of taking their earthly ciizenship too seriously, especially to the detriment of their allegiance to their heavenly King.
"Our citizenship is in heaven alone," Goins-Phillips firmly states. "While we can take pride in our heritage, there is no space for what the Moody Bible Commentary describes as 'nationalistic arrogance' in the Christian heart."
"While the true battle is against evil spiritual forces at work around us, there’s no doubt earthly kingdoms are imperfect and are, by nature, in opposition to God’s heavenly kingdom," he concludes. "It’s best to just keep the two separate."