The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 6

Chapter 6 in Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, which mirrors the title of the book itself, explores the impact of a church which has sold itself out to the civil religion that marries America with God’s will and interest.

Boyd’s point is simple: by associating America with Christianity, Christians do harm to global and local missions, while simultaneoulsy creating the false impression that we are “doing” Christianity by maintaining the civil religion.

First, when Christians come to affiliate America with Christianity, tremendous harm has been and continues to be done to global missions. There has been much talk about this lately among missionaries, and – as usual – Boyd pulls no punches when it comes to conveying this problem. When Christians come out in support of American policies – even calling them “Christian” in nature – people around the world resent it, especially when the policies we support result in bombs being dropped on large populations and the systematic torture of suspected terrorists.

Boyd warns us that nations will always try to associate themselves with “God’s causes” to justify their policies, but Christians should never go along with this. Likewise, in other countries, America is routinely viewed as an exploitative, greedy, violent, and morally decadent. When foreigners notice that American Christians think of America as “Christian,” they lose respect for the message of the gospel.  

Similarly, Boyd points out, when Christians falsely think of America as a “Christian nation,” they neglect local missions based on the assumption that everyone here is “okay” with God.

Finally, Boyd makes an argument that I have been hoping someone would articulate for a long time. Specifically, he argues that maintaining a civil religion is a distraction. Christians come to think that they are “advancing God’s causes” by supporting or opposing particular policies, be they causes involving abortion, homosexual marriage, school prayer, or even aid to the poor. When we are consumed by political discourse and lobbying, he says, we lose sight of our capacity to actually do the things Jesus called us to do.

I can’t overemphasize this point: A lot of people think they are doing God’s work by forwarding politically charged emails, placing signs in their yards, and displaying bumper stickers for their particular angle (right or left-leaning) on what God wants to happen in our government. This leads to a sort-of complacency that says “I’m doing my part,” when – in actuality – nothing is really being done that imitates Jesus’ life.

As an example of the type-of activity that imitates Jesus, Boyd talks about an occasion where a church decided to do an “extreme makeover” on an inner city school that was in a very poor condition. The project became so popular in the community that many others joined in the effort, and the entire process took only about ten hours. It was highly publicized. And after the project was completed, there was considerable media attention to the question of why the school had been so neglected, and why more resources seemed to be flowing into predominantly white schools. Boyd points out that the church in this case had a political impact, but they accomplished it by doing what Jesus would do, rather than by using political force to achieve its ends.

Previous Posts:
Chapter One: The Kingdom of the Sword
Chapter Two: The Kingdom of the Cross
Chapter Three: Keeping the Kingdom Holy
Chapter Four: From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords
Chapter Five: Taking America Back for God


3 Responses to The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 6

  1. Jonathan Sharp says:

    I have to say, that is a stunning G.I. Jesus. Is that a holy hand grenade he’s holding?

    Boyd certainly makes some good points in his book, and I agree that some (Christians) have gone too far in wielding power for its own sake rather than for the cause of Jesus. I fear, however, that it can be inferred that the proper response of Christians would be to eschew politics altogether. I do not think that is the proper response (nor am I saying that Boyd is advocating this). Hypothetically, could an elder at a church also be the mayor of a mid-sized town in Texas and still honor and model Jesus in both roles? And if so, is he “using political force to achieve his goals?”

  2. Matt says:

    For those who aren’t from Abilene – you probably didn’t pick up on the friendly sarcasm in Jonahtan’s last couple of sentences. In fact, Jonathan and I both attend a church where several members play prominent roles in city government.

    I’m not sure exactly what Boyd would say to those guys, for whom – by the way – I have a lot of respect. But I THINK he would say it is a good thing for them to be involved in city government, so long as they do not claim that their decisions as political leaders are actions that are being taken in God’s name.

    In other words, its a commendable thing to help your community by serving in government, but you should always be vigilant to avoid confusing the civil kingdom in which you participate with God’s kingdom.

  3. Matt says:

    ….and, yeah, I really think the Jesus action figure is a hoot.

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