Boyd’s third chapter is on “Keeping the Kingdom Holy.” The wrong note is struck right at the beginning with a quotation from Bonhoeffer, who says “Jesus concerns Himself hardly at all with the solution to worldly problems . . .” (p. 51). Hardly at all? How could a mission to save the world not involve the solution of worldly problems?
It would be far better to say that Jesus came to solve all our worldly problems. The difference is that He does not do it the same way we do, which is to say, ineffectively. He really will save the world, and all our tinpot messiahs won’t. Salvation is only through Jesus, but it really is salvation that will be manifested in this world. Related to this, salvation from our worldly problems won’t come from conservative armies or from liberal nannies.
Boyd begins, rightly, by emphasizing that being a Christian involves imitation of Christ right at the center. “Thus, as disciples of Jesus we are to do what we see God doing in Jesus, just as our shadow does everything we do” (p. 51). This is right — discipleship is imitation of Christ. So Boyd states the principle rightly, but then applies it wrongly. This discipleship “doesn’t look like a group using swords, however righteous they believe their sword-wielding to be. It rather looks like people individually and collectively God. It looks like Calvary” (p. 52).
Okay. Imitate this.
“And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15).
And we can’t just hand this one over to Jesus to handle by Himself — because it contains a quotation from the second psalm which is cited here, applied to Christ, and is also applied in the second chapter of Revelation with reference to the Church. And yes, I know the sword is a metaphor referring to the preaching and declaration of God’s gospel authority in this world. My only point here is that it is not a metaphor for bean bag or for group hugs. The Church rules, in the name of Christ, and does so with a rod of iron. It does not rule by creating a cozy spot for everybody to hide in. The nations are smitten by it. And when the nations are smitten, they then submit. And when a nation submits to the authority of Christ, what do you have? You have a Christian nation.
But Boyd doesn’t want this metaphorical sword to have any potency whatever. He wants the nations to be smitten, and he wants the result of this to be that they take no notice whatever. Read through this string of quotes.
“Which is to say, nothing is more important than that we keep the kingdom of God distinct from the kingdom of the world, both in our thought and in our actions” (pp. 53-54).
“By definition, therefore, you can no more have a Christian worldly government than you can have a Christian petunia or aardvark” (p. 54).
“The all-important distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world entails that a kingdom-of-God citizen must take care never to align any particular version of the kingdom of the world with the kingdom of God. We may firmly believe one version to be better than another, but we must not conclude that this better version is therefore closer to the kingdom of God than the worse version” (p. 54).
In the second psalm, the rod of iron wielded by Christ and His people smashes the pottery of nations to bits. But in Boyd’s world, the pots don’t ever find out that they have been shattered. They continue on, just as powerful as ever. Boyd wants to keep the kingdom of God separate from the kingdom of the world, because if they come into contact, there might be a battle, and if there were to be a battle, who knows? We might win it. And because we can’t have that, we withdraw. In Boyd’s scheme, we are to whack the nations for their insolent ways, but we are to do it with nerf rods.
Returning to the matter of discipleship and imitation, when you first set yourself to imitating Jesus seriously, you have to look at Him. And when you look at Him carefully, you see more than a Yoder usually can see. You not only see Him forgiving prostitutes, you also see Him praise centurions. But Boyd can’t see this — once again he leaves out the centurions. “Once we understand that the kingdom looks like Jesus, attracting tax collectors and prostitutes, serving the sick, the poor, and the oppressed, it is as obvious when it is present as it is when it is absent” (p. 53). But Boyd is just using words for effect here without thinking about what he is actually saying. For Jesus to associate with the tax collectors was not an association with the oppressed. It was an association with the despised, all right, but with despised oppressors. The tax collectors were the guys who could send a SWAT team to your house, for Pete’s sake. The people who despised the tax collectors were actually the ones taking the side of the oppressed. The prostitutes really were a rejected and oppressed class, and Jesus associated with them also. And then, busting all of Boyd’s paradigms, Jesus would also go have dinner with centurions at the Officer’s Club. He would eat with prostitutes and with Pharisees. And with a captain in the Marine Corps.
There was one odd concession in this chapter, and I cannot figure out how Boyd can fit it into his larger scheme of things.
“To be sure, a version of the kingdom of the world that effectively carries out law, order, and justice is indeed closer to God’s will for the kingdom of the world. Decent, moral people should certainly encourage this as much as possible, whatever their religious faith might be” (p. 55).
This is good because it means that Boyd is rejecting the absurd doctrine of moral equivalence — a doctrine which would equate the ravaging genocides of Stalin with topless sunbathing in France. So that’s good, so far as it goes. But what on earth could he mean — God’s will for the kingdom of the world? Is it really God’s will that nations continue to disbelieve in His Son (note Boyd’s phrase here “whatever their religious faith might be”)? Is it comparatively God’s will for nations to be secular states? Is God mandating that our laws be based on something other than His revealed will? And so if we institute the Ten Commandments into our law, we are disobeying Him? And if we implement “law, order, and justice” defined in a secular way without reference to Him, we are obeying Him kind of? This is deep theology and it’s no wonder I’m lost.
One other point, which may be just a quibble really.
“Jesus would simply not allow the world to set the terms of his engagement with the world. This explains how (and perhaps why) he could call Matthew, a tax-collector, as well as Simon, a zealot, to be his disciples (Matt. 10:3-4). Tax collectors were on the farthest right wing of Jewish politics, zealots on the farthest left wing” (p. 62).
I appreciated the central point Boyd was making here with this (i.e. that Jesus called disciples from all over), but the way he put it reveals something about Boyd’s perception of the political landscape. Leftists the world over are collaborators with the established powers. They are consolidators, masters of aggrandizement. And they never saw a tax that they didn’t think needed collecting right now. And the zealots were part of the nationalist black heliocopter crowd. Putting this into our contemporary setting, I would reverse Boyd’s assignment completely, pointing to Matthew as an establishment man of empire and Simon as the nationalist extremist. I mean, Matthew collected taxes. How many more clues do you need?