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Gregory Boyd: The Myth of a Christian Nation

Boyd skillfully employs everything from the Bible, the Church Fathers, and ancient Greek literature and philosophy to world history and contemporary economics, political science, and personal anecdotes to prove his points. However, he shows an inordinate dependence on certain thinkers, for example, John Howard Yoder especially, and Stanley Hauerwas also, widely noted for radical and liberal ideas on religion and politics. He does not refute in any depth expert opposing viewpoints. For example, Boyd doesn’t at all touch much less discuss well known and widely acclaimed Christian political theologies such as Abraham Kuyper’s “sphere sovereignty,” Richard Niebuhr’s classic study Christ and Culture, or Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of hope and liberation. And on Augustine’s “just war” theory, he employs more irony than argumentation. Admirably, Greg Boyd shares his heart in honesty and humility, but he has a tendency to overstate his case. For example, he emphatically and repeatedly argues that John 18:36 shows Christians should be absolute pacifists, that is, total non-combatants in any kind of military conflict between earthly nations. Yet even a cursory glance at that text reveals Jesus only stated that his kingdom has heavenly origins and is not advanced or defended by earthly force (cf. J. Ramsey Michaels, New International Biblical Commentary). All that can be conscientiously gleaned from this verse is that Christianity is not sustained or spread by the sword. I often felt Boyd’s biblical, theological, and logical arguments fell into this same kind of category: they made good points but he pushed them beyond their proper boundaries.

I must mention what to me are two important points, one positive and the other negative. First, Boyd is not improbably performing an important service simply by pushing Evangelicals to examine underlying assumptions and presuppositions about religion and politics in the USA. That’s a good thing, a healthy thing, for all of us. And I’m sure he’s right about our often going overboard. Second, sometimes Boyd’s approach sounds suspiciously like a more sophisticated version of the old liberal attempt to drive religion into the closet, making it a private affair bracketed out of the public square. And that’s not a good thing, or a healthy thing, for any of us. I seem to recall Daniel was both a saint and a statesman (Dan 1:17-21; 5:10-12; 6:1-3). And, as Boyd candidly confesses, he definitely focuses on debunking the Christian religious right with all its perceived failings but doesn’t bother to address failings of the religious left. My own committee experience suggests radical religious leftists are at least as fatally flawed as radical religious rightists. But then that’s three things.

This is a disturbing book. And probably for that reason, like bad tasting medicine, it is a needed book. It’s written on a generally readable level but the endnotes are overdone and there is no index. For stalwart citizens really willing to work through their presuppositions and responsibilities regarding their dual roles as Christians and Americans, I recommend it. But remember: unlike your mother’s medicine, you don’t have to swallow it all for it to help.

Reviewed by Tony Richie

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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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