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Gregory Boyd: The Myth of a Christian Nation

 

Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 207 pages.

When you were a child did your mother ever make you take bad tasting medicine? And when you complained about the bad taste did she ever tell you “That’s because it’s good for you”? If so, then you may recognize a similar response to this book by Greg Boyd. At least I did. Gregory A. Boyd is founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills (mega) Church in St Paul, Minnesota, founder and president of Christus Victor Ministries, former professor of theology at Bethel College (St Paul), and author of numerous books, including the international bestseller Letters from a Skeptic. And he is no stranger to controversy. For example, he has been embroiled in the debate over divine omniscience as a proponent of openness theism. Considered by some a post-evangelical liberal, Boyd here bucks the tide and attacks the religious right for over identifying the Kingdom of God with partisan politics. While many Pentecostal/charismatics will undoubtedly disagree with much of what he says about specific issues, perhaps they will intuitively agree that he may be right about his main point: Kingdom-of-God citizens ought to be dramatically different from kingdom-of-the-world citizens in their approach to power.

Boyd begins by explaining how this particular book arose out of a split in his Woodland Hills congregation over a series of sermons he preached about religion and politics. His central thesis is that American Evangelicalism is “guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry.” Then he argues that the kingdom of this world is a “power over” kingdom exercising rule over others as exemplified in human governments and nations, which are to a large extent diabolically backed, while the Kingdom of God is a “power under” kingdom practicing submission as exemplified in the cross. Their stark contrast calls for Christians to make a clear choice. Next he argues that Kingdom-of-God citizens ought to be more concerned with keeping their kingdom holy than gaining political clout. He chides the Church for behaving more like “conquering warlords” than “resident aliens,” that is, for a history of militancy, and insists the “taking America back for God” ideology is misguided and mistaken. For him the country never has been Christian, and probably should not be so anyway. This explains his title and recurring theme on “the myth of a Christian nation.” For him, the idea of America being Christian in anything but the most general sense is a foul fabrication of a national civil religion designed to get the people to do the government’s self-serving will for supposedly altruistic purposes. And he really becomes inflamed on “chief sinners” acting as “moral guardians.” In his judgment the Church has little or no business concerning itself with issues of national morality. Christians who speak out against abortion or gay rights are simply exposing themselves and the Church to charges of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Boyd concludes the book with an argument that under no conditions could a Christian justifiably participate in any form of violence. That would exchange the “power under” Kingdom of God for a “power over” kingdom of this world. Not only does he prohibit participation in war, but also any level of membership in the military or the right to defend one’s own life and family—though he admits to a personal struggle on this last issue.

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Category: Fall 2007, Living the Faith

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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