The Myth of a Christian Nation, Ch 3

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.”

___(Isaiah 32:16-17)
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:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 & 5
Reflection: Boyd and Colossians 1
Chapters 6 - 8
Chapter 9
Wrap-up Review

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RonMcK said...

I agree with your conclusion here. After listening to Greg's sermons,I felt that his description of the KOG was beautiful and good, but rather narrow.

If the Kingdom is God's will being done on earth, then the Kingdom must eventually touch the whole of life, including the political space (even if this is the last part to be changed). Greg seems to be saying that because we do not know God's will for the political dimensions, Christians can go whichever way they like on politics. He is right in saying that we have tended to take over the world's categories and solutions in this area, but the correct solution is not to define politics out of the Kingdom, but to find God's will for the poltical space.

I agree with you that justice will be an important part of the answer. I believe that the church has struggled to find God's will for the political space, because it hates the law. This prevents us from finding God's standard of justice, which is contained in the law. We do not like God's law, so we are forced to choose some human system of justice. This is where we get into the disunity that worries Greg. Instead of seeking human justice, we should be looking harder at God's system of justice.

BTW When I think of vanguard, I always think of the first new car my father ever bought, a standard vanguard. Not a great car, but maybe a sign of things to come. Here is a Picture for you to enjoy. :-)

Tony Myles said...

Quite meaty!

Bob Robinson said...

Meaty, but with a nice mango salsa.

I hope you saved room for dessert.

Ted Gossard said...

Great thoughts here, and critique. I think bringing in the Trinity with our view of the kingdom of God as you have here, is certainly helpful. I have to wonder if Gregory would be thinking of the means of bringing in that kingdom of God, that it be cross-shaped in our following of Jesus to do so.

I agree that the picture of the kingdom of God revealed in Scripture and in Jesus is more than he is saying. I think of the Sermon on the Mount alone.

Have to hurry off. But thanks, and I look forward to more of your review.

Anonymous said...

dlw here.

I agree with brother ron that Jesus' life/teachings, death and resurrection matter. I think Boyd and others tend to focus on the Cross because that is something we Christians all agree and are humbled by, whereas we may exegete his teachings somewhat differently and disagree on what sorts of transformations Jesus' resurrection implies for our lives.

I think the big issue here is the ease of imposing closure on our determinations of what we should do. I think that we tend too much towards perfectionism, particularly in political activism after all the solidarity over the cultural wars issues typically reflects a view that they are "a-political" or that there is certainty on them unlike with other issues, and that desire reflects less a desire to be cruciformlike and more a desire for godlike infallibility.

The way I see it, it boils down to what sorts of disciplines or habits we shd inculcate among Christians as we seek to follow Christ in discipline. I think habits of political deliberation and activism are mong those habits and part of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We don't have to agree on what exactly shd be done or know for certain the consequences of our actions to have such deliberations/actions cumulatively improve our witness as Christians and the vitality of our democracies/political systems.

I do think we need to care for the latter, as a failure to do so undoubtedly led to the rise of Communism in Russia and did much harm to Christianity and so many people's lives....


CharlesD said...

I am the Christian Right Boyd's writes about. However, we are not entirley as he describes. He relies upon sterotypes, and in doing so, commits the same error he chatizes the right - demonizing.

Many in my circle agree with Boyd that we must avoid tying our faith to any political party. In fact, as I have worked on passing a marriage amendment, I have found the political to be a dirty, ugly business.

Politics is about power.

However, protecting marriage or the unborn is separate from politics. The two have come under attack in the public square, and people of orthodox faith have a duty - to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's - and participate in the debate.

More later.
Good blog.

Scot McKnight said...

Very good thoughts, and a thoughtful, theological, penetrating critique. I agree, "kingdom" means nothing if it doesn't have some kind of political implication -- even if it means letting that whole "politic" be formed in the ecclesial community.

CharlesD said...

There are undertones in Boyd's assertions that I find disturbing. Maybe some of you can shed light: If government is KOS, and KOS is controlled by Satan, then are those who participate in government a tool or under the influence of Satan?

caucazhin said...

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.

The above is only possible when someone is born of the spirit and has a desire to know God.So your constant intellectualizing of the gospel and that some how if we could only get politicians and people in government to (see the light)is a waist of time and a crock of --it!

DLW said...

CharlesD, I am for the use of political activism (and local self-sacrificial acts of love) to effectively prevent abortions, however I fail to see sufficient warrant from scripture and science to justify trying to make all elective abortions illegal. Please read my "pragmatic prolife manifesto" that Bob needs to review sometime....

Likewise, I have nothing against opposing having our cultures sliding into a neo-paganism, with its tolerant "metrosexuality", that is daily becoming stronger in Europe and parts of the US. However, there is some scientific referent for us having non-chosen and not easily changeable sexual orientations and we must never conflate God's ideals with human customs that inevitably accomodate the fallen state of humanity. I don't support legal marriages for LGBTs, but I don't see pressing for heterosexual marriage amendments as doing anything to strengthen families. There are a number of alternative courses for legal change that would do the job better in that regard.

Boyd's dualism between the Kingdom of God and "political stuff" dismisses the extent these sorts of dialogues impact our witness as Christians.

The Bose said...


After seeing these interviews, I have a strong desire to read Boyd's book. I'd never heard of him or the book before, but I was enthralled listening to him speak about it. I believe he sends a very important message, especially to Americans, that we should not presume that our political views are in line with God's will.

I like the statements made by RonMCK. I haven't read the book, so I can't be sure, but I would hesitate to think that Boyd is suggesting that God's Kingdom should be apolicital or that we should define politics as separate from the Kingdom of God. As to finding God's will for the political space, I again want to point to the arguments made by Thomas Paine. It is my belief that God does not ultimately intend for us to have any earthly government at all. Like the Israelites in 1 Samuel 8, we have chosen an earthly government to rule over us instead of simply having God as our ruler. Before his death, Jesus taught his disciples how to live in a world that would persecute them; give to Caesar what is Caesar's but give to God what is God's. Jesus' only words to Pilate are that he has no power but that which has been given to him, but given by whom? By God or by Man? It is these sort of arguments which were the basis for the Declaration of Independence.

It seems to me that God's will for the political space is that he should fill it, and that is precisely what is prophesied to happen in the New Jerusalem of Revelation. In the meantime, as Christians we live in an imperfect world with imperfect government. However good or bad the government may be, ultimately is is the people who give it its power. Thomas Paine, other thinkers of the Enlightenment period, and several of the founding fathers of this country believed that, and I tend to agree with them on that point.

Is the Kingdom of God meant to be apolitical? I don't think so. I do believe, however, that it is meant to be transcendant of earthly kingdoms. Jesus never gave instructions on how Christians should act as leaders in government apart from how Christians should act as everyday people. That's because the Kingdom of God is not meant to act through the kingdoms of this world. I think that's probably the point that Boyd is trying to make. As heirs with Christ and members of the kingdom, we remember that ultimately we answer to God as our leader and we live in a world as servants to all. That's precisely why it's fine to peacefully refrain from cooperation with an unjust government because as the Kingdom of God we are called to do certain things (love others, worship, etc.) which may or may not fall in line with what an earthly government may allow us.

The only God-endorsed government is God himself. Any earthly government that claims to be mandated by God will only use His name in vain by its imperfection.

The Bose said...

After more thurough reading of the original thread, I also agree, Bob, with your trinitarian view. I haven't read any of the book, but I will speculate that what Boyd means by the kingdom-of-God-vision being Christ on the Cross is more like a metaphor of God's people on earth reflecting the love of Christ (made perfectly evident in his sacrifice on the Cross).