The Myth of a Christian Nation Ch 6-8

Book Review

In these chapters of his provocative new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, Greg Boyd offers what he calls “five consequences” that have resulted from people believing that America is a Christian Nation.

1. The myth of a Christian nation harms global missions.

“Not only does America represent greed, violence, and sexual immorality to them (people around the globe), but they view America as exploitive and opportunistic…What is a concern…is that this disdain gets associated with Christ when America is identified as a Christian nation.” (p. 110)

This is well articulated. It has been my deepest worry as I watch the events in Iraq—here we are, a “Christian nation,” killing thousands of civilians and injuring even more. Meanwhile, the missionaries on the ground are trying to convince Iraqis and other Middle-Eastern peoples that the actions of America-the-nation do not necessarily reflect the heart of the Jesus Christ. I can see the eyes of these Iraqis rolling and hear their sighs of disbelief.

2. The myth of a Christian nation also harms missionary work in our own country.

“This foundational myth reinforces the pervasive misconception that the civil religion of Christianity in America is real Christianity.” (p. 111)

What Boyd means is that if we equate the “Christian” aspects of American culture (such as our holidays, having “In God We Trust” on our coins, saying “one nation under God” in our pledge, and hearing the religious rhetoric of our politicians) with real Christianity, it damages our evangelistic efforts to those in this culture. Christians may lose their missionary zeal because they assume that most people are already Christian “enough;” whereas if they lived in a Buddhist or Hindu country they would very clearly see the difference. Also, Christians fight the wrong battles—trying to hold fast to American civil religion (like keeping “under God” in the pledge) “as though winning these fights somehow brings America closer to the kingdom of God” (p. 114). Rick Bennett just posted about how the American Family Association is already calling an “alert” to Sam’s Club using “holiday” instead of “Christmas” in their advertising.

3. The myth of a Christian nation tends to commit Christians to trust “power over” rather than “power under.”

We place too much trust in political means to better society. We do not first think to pray, we first think to lobby. Also, becoming involved in power politics causes us to minimize distinctly Christian ways of influencing society, like local churches serving their communities for their good.

4. The myth of a Christian nation leads many Christians to conclude that their job is to protect and advance civil religion and be “moral guardians.”

According to Boyd, when we assume the role of moral guardians we assume a role that even Jesus did not assume. Instead of being a moral guardian, Jesus served and loved people. When we assume the role of moral guardian, we place ourselves in the position as judges over others (which Jesus commands us not to do, see Matt. 7:1-5), and thus our reputation as Christians becomes that of self-righteous judgers instead of self-sacrificing servants.

Besides, evangelicals have proven to be poor moral guardians, for our moral compass points in bizarre directions.

“Issues related to sex get massive amounts of attention while issues related to corporate greed, societal greed, homelessness, poverty, racism, the environment, racial injustice, genocide, war, and the treatment of animals (the original divine mandate given to humans in Gen. 1:28) typically get little attention.” (pp. 140-141)

5. The myth of a Christian nation inclines kingdom people to view America as a theocracy, like Old Testament Israel.

“there is no reason to believe America ever was a theocracy. Unlike Israel, we have no biblical or empirical reason to believe God ever intended to be king over America in any unique sense” (p. 148). Also, “God’s theocratic program in the Old Testament was temporary, conditional—and ultimately abandoned…While God is by no means through with Israel, he is no longer using them or any other nation to grow his kingdom on the earth. The kingdom is now growing through Jesus Christ who lives in and through his corporate body. In this sense, Jesus and the church constitute the new Israel…comprised of people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 21:24-26)…Manifesting this divisionless ‘new humanity’ (Eph. 2:14) lies at the heart of the kingdom commission” (pp. 151, 152).

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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DLW said...

1 and 2. Reminds me of what I posted a good deal of at Boyd's discussion board back when I was living in MX.

3. This would have been a good time to bring up my pragmatic prolife manifesto as how one can prioritize "power under" and alter the means by which "power over" is wielded.

4. I am reminded of my time in Sweden. I learned from a tour gide in Stockholm that it used to be in Sweden that if a couple who were not married were caught sleeping together that they would both face the death penalty.

We can point to such extreme examples and their fruits with the widespread secularization of Sweden and antipathies towards Christianity there.

5. I would go further to say that the OT Mosaic law also accomodated human sinfulness in many ways. The key distinction needs to be made between "God's laws/ideals" and the laws of humankind that inevitably accomodate our fallenness.

One key area for this is with the customs/laws regulating marriage. The term to marry was a non-hebraic term, as shown in the book of Genesis where the patriarchs used the expression to take a wife and others used to marry implying an alliance/joining of families.

The ideal of one man/woman in an enduring relationship is from God, but a whole lot of other stuff, much of it dealing with the implications of our fallenness as humans, is not per se ideal or from God. And yet, we find them oft conflated with Christianity by those captivated by the Myth that Boyd exposes as a myth in his book.


RonMcK said...

Thanks for the thorough summary. This sounds just like the same message as in his sermons. His five points are hard to disagree with.

His final point is interesting. If the Kingdom of God is God's will being done on earth, it is earth being ruled by God. This is theocracy. Kingdom and --cracy are the same thing. So the kingdom of God and theocracy are the same. The thing that people find objectionable is ecclessiology or clergiocracy, not theocracy. So it is quite odd that the kingodm of God is seen as good and theocracy is seen as bad.

Nevertheless, the United States has never been a theocracy, even in this sense.

DLW said...

I'm not convinced that God's will would necessarily mean that rule would descend from on high.

I think that if people internalized the command to love their neighbors as themselves and there were reasonable rules for governance that the net effect would be in alignment with God's will.


RonMcK said...

Our logic is a little twisted and categories are slightly confused, if we think that democracy is consistent with kingdom of God and theocracy is not. Kings rule. Democracy is the people ruling. Can God be king, if the people are king.

DLW said...

If the people are seeking the kingship/rule of God then Democracy will lead to the God's will being done.

This is why part of the changing hearts and discipleship of the Christian walk includes altering people's fallen habits of political deliberation.