In the first chapter of The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2006), Boyd briefly looks at the most important passage in the New Testament on government, Romans 13:1-4. His interpretation of the passage does not go along with the traditional evangelical interpretation, but rather sides with that of John Howard Yoder (in this book, Boyd cites Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus 12 times, more than any other single source). In Romans 13:1, Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (NRSV). The word “instituted” in the NRSV (the version Boyd uses in this book) and that the NIV and NAS translate “established,” is the Greek word tetagmenai, the perfect passive participle of tasso, which means to be instituted, appointed, or established. Boyd does not see this as God’s providentially choosing who will rule. He says, rather, “This doesn’t mean that worldly governments are created by God or that governments always use their God-given authority as God intended—as though Hitler and Stalin were carrying out God’s will! Paul rather says that God institutes, directs, or stations (tetagmenai) governments. John Howard Yoder’s comment is insightful: ‘God is not said to create or…ordain the powers that be, but only to order them, to put them in order, soveriegnly to tell them where they belong, what is there place…Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does…What the text says is that God orders them, brings them into line, providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purpose.”
In quoting this interpretation from Yoder, I think that Boyd is affirming his "Open Theism" view of how God’s providential hand works in the affairs of humanity. This view is contrary to how a Calvinist like Doug Moo interprets Romans 13:1--as God's providential setting of all governments.
"Playing on the root of the verb ‘submit’ (tag-), he (Paul) reminds us that God himself has ‘established’ or appointed (tetagmenoi) every authority that exists. This point is not a new one. Throughout the Bible, God’s providential rule over everything is specifically applied to the rise and fall of political leaders. As Daniel tells King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men’ (Dan. 4:17).” (Douglas J. Moo, NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Romans. p. 422.)
Why Boyd favors Yoder’s interpretation over against the standard Reformed view is that he sees all kingdoms in the world as agents of the god of this world—Satan. In fact, Boyd’s preferred term for the governments of the world is the singular “kingdom of the world,” which is what Rev. 11:15 calls it. I agree with Boyd’s exegetical work that proves that Satan has somehow been given the authority over the kingdoms of this world. In Luke 4:5-7, Satan tempts Jesus by offering all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus (“I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to”), and Jesus in his response does not refute the fact that Satan does indeed have this authority. Boyd cites other passages that builds the case (1 John 5:19; Rev. 18:23; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2), and this reflects his affinity for the Christus Victor view of the Atonement (InterVarsity will be publishing a "four views" book later this year on the Atonement in which Boyd takes this view).
Having stated that Romans 13 commands Christians to be “subject to the governing authorities,” Boyd writes, “I know of no way to resolve the ambiguity involved in this dual analysis of the kingdom of the world—but simply recognizing that there is, at the very least, a strong demonic presence polluting all versions of the kingdom of the world has to significantly affect how followers of Jesus view earthly governments. Minimally, this recognition implies that we can never assume that any particular nation—including our own—is always, or even usually, aligned with God.”
Those are hard-hitting words for a country like ours. We are convinced that we are the nation that is “good” and “righteous.” We presume that our “war against terrorism” is a war of righteousness versus evil. We believe that our intentions to promote democracy in the former Soviet bloc and the Middle East are part of our God-given mandate (this had been the religious language of the “cold war”—see Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric, and the religious language of the war on terror—see George W. Bush’s rhetoric).
Therefore, Boyd’s point is a striking one. When nations believe that they are on God’s side, they are deceiving themselves. When they go to war for what they have convinced themselves are righteous reasons, they often are simply partaking in the “myth of redemptive violence” (Boyd cites Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers, saying that it is not biblical to believe that violence can redeem us and exterminate evil; rather, violence perpetuates evil).
Boyd says, “The hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that doesn’t participate in tit for tat, a kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power.”
Posts in this series:
Chapters 4 & 5
Reflection: Boyd and Colossians 1
Chapters 6 - 8
technorati: politics, social action, emerging church