The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 1

Chapter 1 in The Myth of a Christian Nation is entitled “The Kingdom of the Sword.” In this chapter, Boyd points out that nation-states may serve God’s purposes from time-to-time, and that we are encouraged to be good citizens of the nations in which we find ourselves. However, he also reminds us that nation states, which depend on force and violence to impose their will on their citizens and on other nation-states, are ultimately evil in nature. And, yes, such this truth applies even, maybe even especially (it seems to me), to our own nation, which enjoys unprecedented power on the stage of world history.

Boyd does not go quite so far as to call all governments “Satanic.” However, true to his conservative evangelical roots, Boyd is not afraid to bring a strong sense of spiritual warfare and even demonology to the table. He points out that the New Testament writers consistently characterize governments as being tools of Satan, and that Satan himself is called the “ruler” of the world, a term that refers to political authority. Indeed, when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, Satan claims that the authority of all of the kingdoms of the world has been given to him.

This rather dark view of government, while juxtaposed somewhat awkwardly with other calls to be good citizens who “honor” our leaders, means – at a minimum that “we can never assume that any particular nation – including our own – is always, or even usually, aligned with God.” Instead, we must remember that fallen principalities and powers strongly influence all governments, regardless of whether they seem relatively “good” compared to others.

At the heart of the problem, argues Boyd, is a “tit-for-tat” use of violence that has always been characteristic of national rivalries. Everyone likes their belief system, their government, their homeland, even their religious systems – and violence erupts when people try to defend the things they claim as their own. This leads to an endless cycle of “vengeance” in which each party claims they are evening out a score that the other started. 

This, Boyd points out, is not the way of Jesus. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them,” Jesus said to his followers, “but not so with you.”

Up next: Boyd contrasts the kingdom of the sword with the “kingdom of the cross.”

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5 Responses to The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 1

  1. GKB says:

    Does Boyd reference Walter Wink’s “Powers” work at all?

    If he doesn’t I think you’d enjoy Wink’s ‘The Powers that Be’ (a sort of condensed version of his thick trilogy on the subject) as a sidebar or companion to this text. He doesn’t use the term Satanic, but often uses “demonic” to describe any sort of power/institution/corporation/nation that turns away from God’s purposes to pursue their own. It is an easy read, but very worthwhile.

  2. Matt says:

    Yes, he references both Yoder and Wink in his footnotes, though – as you might suspect from a more traditional evangelical – he is a little critical of the way Yoder tries to demythologize references to Satan and demons.

  3. curtis says:

    This reminds me of conversations I’ve had with my dad…

    He thinks that the instructions that Jesus gave (love neighbors, turn the other cheek, etc.) do not apply to governments, only to each of us personally. He backs it up with Romans 13 where it talks about submitting to authorities because there “is no authority except that which God has established”… so in light of that, he thinks that war, and answering violence with violence, etc. is perfectly acceptable in God’s eyes, when it comes to a government…

    His line of thinking REALLY makes me uncomfortable, but I honestly can’t fight it too much because I don’t see anything anywhere that expressly contradicts that passage in Romans.

    Any thoughts on that passage in light of Boyd’s book? I’d love to hear them…

  4. Matt says:


    Keep watching the posts here. I’m reading this book as I write about it, so I can’t say exactly where Boyd will go with all of this. However, I think he’s going to propose an answer to most of your questions.

  5. curtis says:

    Sounds good. I’ll absolutely stay tuned, and will most likely read it myself afterwards… at some point 🙂

    Thanks for your desire to share what you’re reading and learning!

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