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« Sunday Inspiration from The High Calling | Home | Should Rick Warren Say “In the Name of Jesus” at the End of His Inaugural Prayer? Section 2 »

Should Rick Warren Say “In the Name of Jesus” at the End of His Inaugural Prayer?

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, January 19, 2009

Part 5 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

I began this series with the question: Should Rick Warren say “in the name of Jesus” (or something similar) at the end of his invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama? Since I, like many other Christians, including Rick Warren, want my life to be guided by Scripture, I turned to the Bible to see what we could learn about praying in Jesus’ name. We saw that Jesus himself instructed his followers to pray in his name. But we also saw that this did not mean they were necessarily to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers. In my last post, I explained that Christians are free to do this if they wish. In my opinion, there are potential benefits and potential detriments to saying “in Jesus’ name.” Nevertheless, no Christian should feel compelled by Scripture to use this language, though it’s a common practice in certain strains of Christianity.

Therefore, my answer to the question “Should Rick Warren say ‘in the name of Jesus’ at the end of his inaugural prayer?” might at first sound like a cop out. I believe he is free to follow his own conscience in the matter. There isn’t one right answer to this question. It’s the sort of thing Christians can disagree about.

But what would I say if Rick came to me for advice? First of all, I would say, “Why in heaven’s name are you coming to me for advice?” Rick and I are not close friends, though we’ve had several friendly conversations during the past ten years, and Rick was gracious enough to write the foreword for my book, Dare to Be True. I’m sure he has plenty of wise spiritual advisors (as well as millions of who think they know what he should do). Nevertheless, if Rick asked me to advise him on whether or not to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer, I think I’d lay out for him the arguments on either side, and only then tell him what I would do if I were in shoes. So, here’s my best shot at the reasons for and against saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of an inaugural prayer. (Photo: The cover of my book, Dare to Be True.)

First of all, no matter what Rick Warren says, he will in fact be praying in Jesus’ name because that’s how Christians pray. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his authority and according to his agenda. It doesn’t have to do with saying the name of Jesus in the prayer. Therefore, Warren is under no obligation to say “in Jesus’ name.” (If you haven’t read my earlier posts in this series, what I’ve just said might seem odd to you, or even wrong. I’d encourage you to go back and read this post and the following one as well.)

Any Christian who prays in a public, civic event, especially that includes a wide spectrum of participants, should realize that saying “in Jesus’ name” would exclude some people. If Warren chooses to say “in Jesus’ name” in his prayer, he is effectively saying, “I’m not praying here representing the citizens of this country. I’m praying only on behalf of the Christians.” This would not be an especially friendly gesture, nor one that would draw people closer to Christians and their Lord. (Photo: The cover of my book that I proposed to my publisher when I learned that Rick Warren would do the foreword. They didn’t go with my idea, and my book sales were about .02% of The Purpose Driven Life. Oh well, my publisher got a good laugh, anyway.)

I’ve heard people say that not to say “in Jesus’ name” would be to dishonor him. That may be true. But I wonder if it’s possible to leave off Jesus’ name in imitation of his own teaching and example. Jesus talked, for example, about loving our neighbors (and even our enemies). It seems to me it would be more loving of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and other non-Christian folk not to say “in Jesus’ name.” Could this be rather like walking the second mile? Could this be an example of sacrificial servanthood? Don’t we Christians follow a Lord who gave up his rights in order to be our Savior? Mightn’t we do the same in our public prayers?

I’m also impressed by the fact that Jesus seemed to hang out with lots of unsavory kinds of people, you know, tax collectors and sinners. Surely they didn’t enjoy being with Jesus because he continually emphasized the ways in which they disagreed. I don’t mean to suggest that non-Christian folk are unsavory, or any more sinful than I am. My point is that Jesus had a way of welcoming those who were not, at least at first, with him theologically. I wonder if choosing not to mention the name of Jesus in a civic prayer is a Jesus-like gesture of welcome.

If Rick Warren sees his role as representing evangelical Christians in the mix of religious people who are offering inaugural prayers, then he may well want to say “in Jesus’ name.” But if he sees his role as trying to include as many people as possible in prayer, speaking that which is in the hearts of Christians and non-Christian theists, then he would be well-advised not to mention the name of Jesus.

If Warren plans not to say “in Jesus’ name” in his inaugural prayer, I hope he explains his rationale in advance. Otherwise, he’ll have a whole lot of Christians upset. He can explain later, of course. But I think it would be better if he did so in advance. If he plans to say “in Jesus’ name” in his prayer, it might also be best to tell people in advance and explain why. That would, at least, take the focus off of his closing words and, perhaps, allow people to pay more attention to what he is really praying. But it appears, so far, that Warren is not making a widespread statement of his intentions.

I do want to note that one of my faithful blog commentors, Bill Goff, who attends Saddleback Church, where Warren is the senior pastor, said this in a recent comment: “I am confident that Rick Warren will use the name Jesus in his prayer. Why? Because I was present in the congregation last Sunday when I heard him assure us that that is what he intends to do.”

So, I think a strong case can be made for Rick Warren’s not saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his inaugural prayer. But I think a strong case can be made for the other side as well. Tomorrow I’ll lay out the argument on the other side, and then explain what I would do if I were in Warren’s shoes.

Topics: Praying in Jesus's Name |

12 Responses to “Should Rick Warren Say “In the Name of Jesus” at the End of His Inaugural Prayer?”

  1. Thomas Buck Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 3:51 am

    Dear Rev. Roberts:

    “Any Christian who prays in a public, civic event, especially that includes a wide spectrum of participants, should realize that saying ‘in Jesus’ name’ would exclude some people.”

    Wouldn’t those same people feel excluded by the very fact that Warren is a Christian? If people are looking for a reason to be excluded, they pretty much can find one.

    Yet, a person can pray in Jesus’ name, and the prayer can include a wish for blessings for all present.

    Good series! Nice “almost” book cover!


  2. Evan Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 7:11 am

    This is a very thoughtful series, and touches upon several points that I had not considered before. I think there must be a sensitivity to “not denying Me before men,” and this drives many to want the Name included. I think you have addressed the Scriptural aspect and relieved any concern there.

    You also have, properly in my view, touched upon the “civic” nature of such prayers. If a prayer is being offered for a large group to participate in, is it proper to make such a prayer explicitly sectarian? Put another way, if the prayer leader began, “O (fill in name of non-Christian god), giver of all life,” etc., would that be considered proper? Would Christians want to bow their heads and participate in that? (Personally, I would opt out, not bow my head and not participate, but I would not be disruptive, either.) So I think I agree with you that explicitly praying “in the Name” is not required, and I think I would avoid it as well.

    To jump the gun yet again, do you think concluding with “…in Your name we pray” a suitable alternative for Christians who are antsy about the issue?

  3. Bonnie Durland Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Why are we talking about Rick Warren and focusing on his “choice” or “power” … when one is fully surrendered to the Lord then the lips reveal what God wants said for His purposes alone … not for civic, political or personal. It is God we serve and not our interpretation of Him. We might do well to recall Isaiah in chapter 6, “Woe is me …” Let’s put aside our divisive mindsets and sit in wonder upon what God will be delivering. Is this possible?

  4. Mark Roberts Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Tom: Yes, non-Christian folk may feel (and be) excluded. But I expect some might feel included in their non-Christian status were not emphasized.

    Even: “In Your name we pray” could be a good solution, especially for someone who regularly says “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer. The recipient of the prayer knows who “Your” is, to be sure.

    Bonnie: I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. When one is fully surrendered to the Lord, one needs still to discern God’s will by a prayerful, careful study of Scripture. Yes? We don’t automatically speak what God wants when we’re surrendered to him. We need discernment.

  5. ChrisB Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I’m still mixed on the topic, but one thing that comes to mind is, if you normally say the name of Jesus, the only reason to do otherwise in a public prayer is so that some listeners can pretend you’re praying, not the God and Father of Jesus Christ, but to the generic American God who excludes none based on little things like your beliefs about Jesus (or anything else) or your behavior (short of murder or extreme wealth).

    Does that involve you in their idolatry?

  6. Bonnie Durland Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Ah, Mark, discernment that is a delicate, deliberate, and often determined matter which the Bible makes definite reference (Job 12:20, Isa 27:11, Isa 29:14, Isa 44:19 and in the NT Heb 5:14, Phil 1:9 and ICr 1:19) and requires ardent listening when reading and meditating upon God’s Word and then bringing it to bear on a daily concern. Who among us can be certain 100% that we are without human/personal motive, unswayed by public or private opinion, totally at the will of God and being used by the Holy Spirit unabashedly? Who among us can “know” that we are completely faithful instruments of God? Yes, we read the Word, we pray, we surrender, we humble ourselves … is it even in our “power” to do so … isn’t it Christ who reveals the Father? (This is in Matthew … don’t have chapter/verse.) So, what is being said is that there is a “not knowing” quality to humility and we, including Rick Warren, are subject to the infilling and outflowing of the Holy Spirit. Have you not been amazed at what God says through you? Do you really think/feel that discernment is within the human mind’s capabilities to know God’s will 100%? That would be a “slippery slope” for me to tread. That’s all that’s being said … it is the Cross of Christ that must be heard and not Rick Warren’s discernment.

  7. libhomo Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    A dangerous, anti-American religious extremist like Warren shouldn’t be involved at all.

  8. Mark Roberts Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Well, we do have a breadth of opinion on this matter, don’t we?

  9. Ray Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I think it woulda been more fun if he had invited Jeremiah Wright to pray.

  10. Claude Mariottini Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 6:54 pm


    I think Rick Warren would honor Christ by praying in Jesus’ name. After all, Jesus taught his disciples to ask in His name.

    Claude Mariottini

  11. Matt Ferguson Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 7:09 pm


    I really liked your suggested book cover. I think many people would have enjoyed the humor and picked the book up to flip through it and, thus, given consideration to purchasing it.

    I don’t know if you covered this as I didn’t read all your posts in this series but it would be good to consider what has been done over the years. Did Billy and then Franklin end with “in Jesus’ name”? If so, making a choice not to include what has long been included would be making a bigger point than simply not doing it.

    I would be surprised if Warren doesn’t speak the name of Jesus in his prayer. If Obama had decided to invite a Muslim to pray I wouldn’t object, but I also wouldn’t join in the Muslim’s prayer as he wouldn’t be praying to God.

  12. jbogart Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    No wonder we Christians are so ineffectual and marginalized. We have to propose argument and counter argument on the acceptance of prayer in the name of Jesus. Sad indeed!


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