Greg Boyd is building a case for distinguishing between the Kingdom of God and the “kingdom of the world.” Those in the kingdom of the world are characterized by the sword (“power over”), while those in the kingdom of God are characterized by the cross (“power under”).
There is a lot to commend in this chapter. First, Boyd tells us that we should have a “healthy suspicion” of particular governments. “No kingdom-of-God person should ever place undue trust in any political ideology or program.”
Boyd also reminds us that only when every knee bows and every tongue confesses the loving lordship of Christ will all the problems of this world be ultimately solved.
He also points out the problem that exists in some evangelical circles, “taking particular stands on social, ethical, and political issues, and siding with particular political and social ideologies, is the litmus test of one’s orthodoxy…What this suggests is that the church has been co-opted by the world. To a large degree, we’ve lost our distinct kingdom-of-God vision and abandoned our mission. We’ve allowed the world to define us, set our agenda, and define the terms of our engagement with it.”
Chapter 3 is mainly about “Keeping the Kingdom Holy.” By this, Boyd means that the kingdom of the world (which looks like soldiers wielding swords) must never mix with the kingdom of God (which looks like Jesus on the cross of Calvary).
While we can all agree with Boyd’s criticism of allowing worldliness to pollute a pure kingdom-of-God vision for the world, there is a fundamental disagreement about what that kingdom-of-God vision is.
Boyd defines it like this:
“The kingdom of God is not an opaque concept, and when it’s manifested, it’s not an opaque reality. It always looks like Jesus, dying on Calvary for those who crucified him.”
For Boyd, then, the kingdom of God simply looks like the second person of the Trinity dying on the cross. It is about sacrifice and service and laying one’s life down for others. Boyd’s emphasis on the cross is admirable; he is seeking to stop the triumphalism of the Religious Right and their attempts to use power politics to theocratize the nation. This emphasis in Boyd’s book is to be applauded.
But Boyd’s definition of the kingdom of God raises questions for me. Is the kingdom of God just about Jesus on the cross? Does that capture the fullness of the image of the Kingdom of God? What would a fully Trinitarian view of the Kingdom look like?
At the risk of oversimplifying the Trinitarian roles, we can see that a politics based solely on the cross of Christ is not enough.
God the Father is the Creator and giver of Order. He has created a cosmos that is meant to be in Shalom—an orderliness of universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. He has created a cosmos where justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeqah) are the normal way of things; where all beings get their proper due.
“Justice (mishpat) will dwell in the desert
___and righteousness (tsedaqah) live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace (shalom);
___the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.”
Justice and Righteousness, therefore, are key attributes of the Kingdom of God.
God the Spirit administers Common Grace, serving “as the means for the formation of societies that reflect creation ordinances” (as Vince Bacote writes). The Spirit’s dynamic ministry works in the hearts and minds of humans to take the latent potential in Creation to create numerous sociocultural possibilities in various local contexts. The Spirit’s grace moves humanity toward the eschatological fulfillment of our creational purpose as the imago Dei (the purposes being: loving God, loving others, and transforming the world). Therefore, the Spirit is instrumental in the Kingdom of God.
God the Son not only died on the cross as a servant to all but he also raised from the dead. Resurrection Day was the first day of the New Creation, in which God’s original intention for his Creation is being redeemed in and through Christ’s Kingdom. The cross should certainly humble us in our politics, reminding us that we should serve and sacrifice as the primary means to advance the kingdom. But the resurrection should invigorate us that we can indeed make redemptive strides toward God’s eschatological purposes for his Creation. Therefore, the Kingdom is both triumphal (Christ is King, and we are positively doing his Kingdom work) and humble (we need to first seek any subversive means in order to change society [with love, sacrifice, and service], and we must never presume that our political ideas are absolutely correct and perfectly aligned with God’s will [as the Religious Right has been far too guilty of doing]).
It may be best, then, not to narrowly define the kingdom of God by the image of Christ on the cross. It may be better to look at a more Trinitarian view: One that includes the Father’s creation ordinances of Shalom and Justice, the Spirit’s giving of Common Grace, and the Son’s sacrificial dying on the cross for sin and triumphantly raising again for new life.
Posts in this series:
Chapters 4 & 5
Reflection: Boyd and Colossians 1
Chapters 6 - 8
technorati: politics, social action, emerging church