The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 3

Boyd begins Chapter 3 (Keeping the Kingdom Holy) by pointing out that there is no need to be confused: the differences between the Kingdom of the World and the Kingdom of the Cross are so stark that it is perfectly obvious when something is of one or the other. In a world full of violence, it isn’t difficult to identify the people who are constantly working toward peace and redemption and those who are out for themselves. This is, in fact, how God is known in the world: the community that God has called for his purpose manifests his love to others.

It is important, then, to maintain such distinctiveness, Boyd argues. We may deem certain values or goals of the kingdom of the world as laudible (for example, “liberty and justice for all”), but no matter how “comparatively good” it may be, such a kingdom will never go about turning the other cheek, loving others sacrificially, etc. Thus, one should never think that their government, party, political system of choice, etc. is aligned with the kingdom of God.

The appropriate stance for Christians to take with respect to government – any government – is one of distance and suspicion. We never place undue trust in any system of politics or government or in any political party because “the kingdom-of-God citizen knows that the world is not going to be fundamentally transformed by the…use of the sword.” In fact, we should be aware that no matter how good our “version” of the kingdom of the world may be, it is ultimately part of the problem. Why? Because “[e]very version of the kingdom of the world defends itself and advances its causes by rallying the self-interest of its citizens into a collective tribal force that makes each citizen willing to kill and be killed for what it believes to be the good of society.” Thus, it demonizes its enemies to generate motivation for hatred and to convince those who kill that their cause is righteous. Such an “us-them” mentality is, at its core, not of God.

Boyd follows with examples from Jesus’ life in which Jesus refused to be drawn into the “us-them” mentality that characterizes political and social conflict. I was particularly pleased to see the reference to Luke 12 – a text in which Jesus refused to become involved in a civil dispute between brothers – on the grounds that he is not going to be a judge of such matters. This text was an important signpost for me early during my career, and it helped me to put my line of work into good perspective during the embryonic days of my law practice.

The chapter concludes by pointing out that Christians have lost their way when they become overly enthusiastic about political issues. Here, he makes two points:

1. Conservatives and liberals should have no problem co-existing within the church because – while they may hold differing opinions on political issues – those issues should not ultimately be judged as terribly important. He gives the example of Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector – people from opposite political viewpoints – serving together as disciples of Jesus.

2. Perhaps the reason Christians become so enthusiastic about kingdom-of-the-world politics, while remaining apathetic about kingdom-of-the-cross affairs is because the way of the cross is just plain hard:

Its hard to communicate to a prostitute her unsurpassable worth by taking up a cross for her, serving her for years, gradually changing her on the inside, and slowly winning the trust to speak into her life (and letting her speak into our life, for we too are sinners)….It is much easier, and more gratifying, to assume a morally superior stance and feel good about doing our Christian duty to vote against “the sin of prostitution.” Perhaps this explains why many evangelicals spend more time fighting against certain sinners in the political arena than they do sacrificing for those sinners.

Ouch.

Up next: Boyd provides a brief history on how Christianity became corrupted by political power.

Previous Posts:
Introduction
Chapter One: The Kingdom of the Sword
Chapter Two: The Kingdom of the Cross

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3 Responses to The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 3

  1. toby says:

    I can follow Boyd along his path for a while. Through our various governments, whether from the right or the left, we are attempting to take the place of God by leading and managing ourselves. It is wonderful and rare when a government uses Kingdom principals in its process. However, at what point does a government stop “turning the other cheek” and use force? Is a ruler/leader called to a different standard when shepherding a country? What does Boyd do when his path approaches someone like Hitler?

  2. curtis says:

    Toby-
    I want to echo your questions… those are exactly the kinds of things I’m wrestling with, with this line of thinking.

    I really WANT it to work in all cases, but I just don’t know yet HOW it works.

    Matt-
    I’m hoping that as your coverage of this book continues, some of these kinds of questions will get fleshed out.

  3. Mark says:

    The quote about the prostitute typifies what is wrong with this book. It is a political work. Boyd merely repeats the fallacy that to oppose a particular practice of immorality is to devalue the sinner. If we condemn the sin, we suppose *ourselves* to be morally superior to the sinner. This is nonsense and has no basis in scripture whatsever. He has a political agenda here. So we must accept the practice to accept the sinner. Here is an answer I excerpt from a famous Peggy Noonan article that notes the association between political acceptance and close-heartedness.

    —–
    We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”

    The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

    But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

    The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.
    —–

    Elsewhere, Boyd’s stark contrast between the kingdom of God and the world to support his views is simply not the world we know that has God’s gracious measure of common grace. I think the theological assumptions of this book are pretty weak, and its justification on scriptural grounds also weak. Read Dallas Willard or Gilbert Meilaender if you want to see what real (non-political!) accounts of the kingdom of God look like. The difference is stark.

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