I do not mean this as a backhanded slap at all. In his next chapter, “The Myth of a Christian Nation,” Boyd says many worthwhile and important things. He talks about the importance of prayer as social activism, and he emphasizes rightly that a power under approach can be used by God to accomplish great things. But however worthwhile, the placement of this chapter in the general argument that Boyd is advancing reduces it to incoherence at the end of the day.
Boyd grants that civil societies can be comparatively just or unjust. But then he simply astonished me.
“It may use this power in just or unjust ways — and we should certainly do all we can do to influence the former and resist the latter — but in neither case can it be said to be acting like Christ” (p. 107).
I simply can’t get this to hang together. To act justly is no more like Jesus Christ than acting unjustly is? And yet, even though we are not getting the society to behave more like Jesus would, we should still try to advance justice? But why? If it is not like Jesus, then who cares?
In another place in this chapter, he gives some of the sexual subtext away. Under the heading of “doing the kingdom,” Boyd says, “What if instead of trying to legally make life more difficult for gays, we worried only about how we could affirm their unsurpassable worth in service to them” (p. 116). Okay, got it. I know where we are now.
Boyd also falls into the common evangelical trap of misapplying Luke 13:1-5.
“According to Jesus, however, the whole business of trying to discern the hand of God in catastrophic events — just as a psychic might read tea leaves — is misguided (Luke 13:1-5).
But of course in that passage, Jesus is not rebuking them for reading the signs of the times. He is rebuking them for not reading the signs of the times rightly. They had taken the collapse of the tower at Siloam as a discrete judgment on those who had fallen, when they ought to have taken it as a foreshadowing of what was going to happen to everybody. This misreading is not unique to Boyd. Luke 13:1-5 ought to be in the running for the gold medal among those passages that are interpreted 180 degrees out from their intended meaning.
But then the central incoherence in this chapter comes out. As mentioned before, Boyd does a good job describing what genuine Christian behavior looks like in private prayer and in public labor. The power under approach frequently does cause the walls to fall down, and Jericho lies open before us. But if we stay out, what was the point? What did we want to go and wreck their walls for? But if we go in, and take the next step, then that is Constantinian. Ick. Poo.
And Boyd has spent a great deal of time telling us that power over societies are always more or less Satanic, and they can never be made to be like Jesus. He grants that some societies can be thought by us (but we could be wrong) to be better than other versions, but all such differences pale in comparison to the difference between all of them clustered together over there and the completely different kingdom of God over here.
But then in this chapter, he cites John Howard Yoder again, saying that “everything about Jesus’ ministry was socially and politically relevant. Precisely because he did not allow the society or the politics of his day to define his ministry, he positioned himself to make a revolutionary prophetic comment, and ultimately have revolutionary impact on the society and politics of his day” (p. 120).
Well, no, not if the first part of this book was right. Making a difference in society either matters or it does not matter. If it matters, then why does Boyd tell us to not get pulled in? And if it does not matter, then who cares if Jesus’ talk had an impact there?
Boyd cites many examples of people who got pulled in wrongly, but that should be the basis for an exhortation to be careful as we go in. It should not be the basis for an exhoration to stay out. But then we are told that Jesus transformed society by abjuring carnal means of transformation, and that society really was transformed at the end of the day.
First, that is the kind of political activism we have been arguing for here in Moscow. Right worship drives and shapes culture, necessarily. But second, this contradicts Boyd’s earlier assertions about the incorrigibility of Satan’s kingdom. Satan can be somewhat mollified in some eras, and on a rampage in others, but in neither case is he “transformed” by the “revolutionary prophetic ministry” of Jesus. How could he be?
In short, Boyd’s political theology is a jumble. And there are some decent things in the jumble, which do not prevent it from being a jumble.