I have begun to work my way through Gregory Boyd’s book, The Myth of a Christian Nation. This is not something I would ordinarily do unless I had some higher, selfless, and altruistic reason for it, that reason being an opportunity to fisk it here. So, here we go.
The Introduction tells how the book began in a series of sermons in the context of the 2004 political scrum. Boyd tells how a number of his parishioners thanked him for those messages, some of them weeping with gratitude — they had been given freedom to not toe the conservative party line. But this was not because Boyd wants evangelicals to do the leftist thing either — he is very clear about that early on. So what does he want? Anabaptist confusion would be indicated by the early returns, but we shall see.
The end result of this controversy in Boyd’s Minneapolis church was that about twenty percent of his congregation left, about a thousand people, presumably through an exit somewhere on the right side.
The thesis of his book is this: “a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry” (p. 11). If he had left it there, I would have had to agree with his central thesis, but he doesn’t leave it there. Why are they guilty of this sin?
Boyd argues there is an unbridgable chasm between the kingdom of God in the Church and the kingdom of the world, and that if they are in any way mingled or confused, the result will be spiritual disaster. As his subtitle puts it, the quest for political power is destroying the Church.
Jesus, according to Boyd, “never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day” (p. 11).
And a driving engine in this contemporary idolatry, according to Boyd, is the myth of a “Christian America” somewhere in our past. Boyd maintains, to the contrary, that “America is not now and never was a Christian nation” (p. 13). The direct implication of what he is saying is also that it must never be a Christian nation in the future, and that Christians should insist that it not ever become a Christian nation.
“This nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples” (p. 13).
But notice something here. Why is that bad? Is it bad for the kingdoms of the world to be diametrically opposed to the way of life taught by Jesus? The kingdoms of this world need to either stop it or they need to carry on. Boyd is arguing in this book that Christians must stop trying to get the kingdoms of this world to behave. But if no direction of any kind is forthcoming from the Church, then why can’t the kingdoms of this world do whatever they want? This which would presumably include aping the ways of the Church if it helps keep the populace docile. If they are diametically opposed of necessity, then I can either head out to the commune or I can embrace living with the tension.
“Instead of providing the culture with a radically alternative way of life, we largely present it with a religious version of what it already is” (p. 13).
Comments like that sting, and for good reason. But given Boyd’s assumptions, there is a profound confusion lying behind the comment. Boyd argues for a two kingdoms approach, and he does so with a vengeance. But every form of two kingdom thought inevitably winds up in a tangled mess.
“I’ll suggest that the kingdom Jesus came to establish is ‘not from this world’ (John 18:36), for it operates differently than the governments of the world do” (p. 14).
“Everything the church is about, I argue, hangs on preserving the radical uniqueness of this kingdom in contrast to the kingdom of the world” (p. 14).
But here the confusion enters, naked and unashamed.
“To insist that we keep the kingdom of God radically distinct from all versions of the kingdom of the world does not mean that our faith and moral convictions shouldn’t inform our participation in the political process” (p. 15).
In other words, the kingdoms of this world are an ugly camel, and will always be an ugly camel. Moreover, this dichtomy flattens the world outside the Church, meaning that all camels are more or less camels, and are more or less equally ugly. But Boyd allows that some Christians may want to entertain themselves come election time, some of them putting lipstick on the camel, while others opt for putting on some earrings. At some point, the more insightful among those who buy all the assumptions will slap their foreheads and ask, “Why are we decorating the camels?” And they will then move to Lancaster County, PA and buy a buggy.
“While the way of the kingdom of God is always simple, straightforward, and uncompromising, the way of the kingdom of the world is always complex, ambiguous, and inevitably full of compromises” (p. 15).
Let’s look at this problem from another unsightly angle. As just mentioned, this theology has a consistent outcome, and it is an anabaptist separatism. Any attempt to have citizens of God’s kingdom mingle with the Gentiles is going to necessarily result in one of two things. Either the Christians are going to be pure and uncompromised on Sundays and up to their necks in ambiguous compromises Monday through Saturday, or the Church will give instruction to those Christians on how to exercise dominion in that unbelieving world, bringing it gradually to conform to the will of Christ. If you maintain, as a point of dogma, that the kingdoms of the world can be dressed up but you can’t take them anywhere, then believers who buy this will be consigned to the first option, which is that of living inevitably rancid lives. That will create pressure on the sincere believers who accept the premise to move out to the country with some friends and form a faithful community. Your options are: decorate camels pointlessly, abandon camels, or turn the camels into stallions.
If the kingdoms of this world are hopeless, as a matter of definition, then leave them alone. If they are not hopeless, then tell them what to do – or, as Jesus put it in the Great Commission, “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” If there is a fundamental moral equivalence to all the kingdoms of this world (because they all depend on force), then keep your people out of that corruption. If Boyd is right, then let’s pack and head for tall grass of separated communities. But if for some reason Boyd wants us to keep living our conflicted, ambiguous, and compromised existence out among the Gentiles, knowing that nothing we will do will ever change things, know what I would say to him next week after Sunday service? “Know what we did Tuesday night?” I would say with a chuckle. “We lynched us some homos. Shoulda been there.”
For those visting this blog for the first time, we didn’t really. I would just be curious to see if Pastor Boyd had a word from the Church to the civil magistrate in a case like this, concerning what the magistrate should or should not do. And, like, who says?