In speaking to many Christians, Greg Boyd misses a few

I wrote this brief review of Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian for a denominational Core Course. I thought I’d share it here too.

Greg Boyd, a pastor of Woodlands Church in St. Paul, writes Myth of Christian Nation within the context of the push-back he received when he offered a sermon series called “The Cross and The Sword.”[1] The book is an expansion of that series and seeks to undo the myth that the United States of America is a Christian nation. He fundamentalizes his argument when he states that in the new covenant under Jesus there is no such thing as a Christian nation, or a chosen nation, but the new body of Christ transcends national boundaries altogether.[2]

Boyd admits that people of both right-wing and left-wing are guilty of such a conflation,[3] but he notes that the “political right [which] has far more religious and political clout… warrants more attention.”[4] That is a good disclaimer to offer, because Boyd uses the rest of the book deconstructing typical conservative causes.

Boyd spends the first two chapters of the text discussing two Kingdoms, which is a very Anabaptist idea—“The Kingdom of the Sword” and “The Kingdom of the Cross.” In broad strokes, he lays out the tendencies of the former: control through power (which, he in part, justifies as not “altogether bad” considering the “fallen” nature of the world),[5] its “tit-for-tat” nature (rooted in vengeance and one’s intrinsic yearning for justice quenched through retribution),[6] and so on. He contrasts this worldly kingdom with one rooted in Jesus and the cross. One that exercises humble power, one that seeks to transform instead of control behavior and people, one that is not bound by national boundaries, but rather is unbound by the endless and freeing love of God, one that responds to evil with turning the other cheek, one whose battle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers.”[7]

One of the most important points in Boyd’s thesis is how Christians should participate in the world. He notes that Jesus did not come to answer the world’s sociological and political problems, he did not come to overthrow the Jews’ Roman oppressors, he did not come to simple usher in a new kind, to use his term, “Kingdom of the Sword.” Rather he came to usher in an alternative kingdom, one that invites others to join in and create something new.[8] Boyd continues his theological basis for his argument, one that he firmly plants in Scripture (which I suspect he emphasizes because many of his detractors require such a biblical justification), when he speaks about the true home and calling for us, as resident aliens of this world. We are set apart then to help transform others and even other nations.

Boyd wrote his text and gave his sermon series in the middle of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the height of a culture war that many view as being waged by George W. Bush’s White House. So his chapters deconstructing how Christians approach politics are relevant, especially for his time. He criticizes individuals who want to get God back into the U.S. by lobbying for school prayers, public display of the Ten Commandments, keeping “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and so on.[9] He proceeds to explain why Jesus himself is not interested in such actions and why the scripture hardly has support for it. He mainly seems to focus on conservative issues that for which the religious right in the U.S. advocates. I am particularly sympathetic to him and his cause. I grew up in a conservative area and felt isolated as a believer who did not espouse the typical G.O.P. viewpoints. So, from me, it is well-taken.

But as he deconstructs the myth of a Christian nation, as he deconstructs whether the U.S. is even fit for this kind of Christian reform, whether it is indeed a light on the hill or not, I think he misses a major and important perspective.

Obviously, who Boyd attracts in his St. Paul megachurch is much different than the kinds of people who live in urban, postmodern Philadelphia. This is made clear to me by the fact that he needs to elaborate and criticize how judgmental the anti-gay marriage movement in the U.S. is and how removed it is from Christ.[10] He also hits the hot-button issue of abortion, articulating what it truly means to be “pro-life.”[11]

To be frank, such arguments are unimportant to many of the bleeding hearts that make up most of Philadelphia’s decidedly “blue state” population. They are not tempted to be that judgmental, and are rather holistic with how they view life. But that is generally because they are “liberal.” Again, Boyd’s church may attract conservatives whose loyalty to the U.S. needs to be questioned, but what about those who think that the state itself is the ultimate provider of love and salvation. Those who think that the right legislation, the right social constructions, the right distribution of human rights is salvific in and of itself.

Our people who have been indoctrinated by postmodern social construction need a text that deconstructs their perverted world view, not just one that explains why the laundry list of conservative issues are not necessarily God’s priority.

Certainly, there is a time and place for this kind of thinking, and Boyd’s target, Zondervan’s typically Evangelical audience, and all the “red states,” may need to read this text and be enlightened by Boyd’s wisdom. His final chapter that answers tough questions, in my view, is required reading for many Evangelical American Christians. Truly, as Evangelical Americans continue to lose their culture war, the church may be lost too if it does not heed Boyd’s warning.

But I am struck by his lack of focus on left-wing issues and left-of-center thinkers who are guilty, also, of sanctioning the state to God’s bidding, who believe their own kind of myths about this so-called Christian nation. When they, too, eventually lose the culture war, they may be in the same position as their conservative counterparts.

The subject of how the state can advocate for the oppressed and do good is one for another essay, to be sure. And perhaps a subject of another text. And maybe even another author. However, I believe I would have left reading his good and necessary text more satisfied if he spent a bit more time deconstructing the nation-state as the chief agent of change and meaning (consider David Bell’s Economy of Desire or William Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy). The church through the Holy Spirit is the creator of meaning, not the state; the government has stolen that responsibility and even compartmentalized the church into its own limited meaning (perhaps given us freedom, but irrelevance too). From my perspective, he simply undid the fact that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that the right-wing Evangelical Christians in the U.S. are advocating incorrectly for their issues. I do not fault him too much for such a bias, considering the context in which he wrote this book and offered the sermons, but I am afraid he may be simply forming something of a “Christian left,” that will eventually need to be deconstructed on its own. I am unsure if this is truly a criticism of Boyd’s text, which I found agreeable (nearly on every issue). It may simply be my desire for another book altogether that stands besides this one, and not instead of it.

[1] Gregory Boyd, “The Myth of a Chrisitan Nation,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p. 9.

[2] Ibid., 151.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Ibid., 19

[6] Ibid., 25.

[7] Ibid., 48-49.

[8] Ibid., 59.

[9] Ibid., 91

[10] Ibid., 136.

[11] Ibid., 144.

One Reply to “In speaking to many Christians, Greg Boyd misses a few”

  1. thanks for this post, I’m am glad that we as circle of hope can do more than just deconstruct the “Christian right” and become the “Christian left”. we’re working with Jesus’ third way and getting beyond those political affiliations altogether!

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