The Myth of a Christian Nation

Review of Greg Boyd’s new book – part 1

As regular readers of VanguardChurch know, one of my pet peeves is the evangelical perpetuation of the myth that USAmerica is a Christian nation. I’ve cited the best evangelicals historians, Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, who have unequivocally stated that historically speaking, this nation was not founded by Christians nor was it founded as a Christian nation (see The Myth We've Been Told About the Faith of Our Founding Fathers, in which I offer some very insightful excerpts from their book, The Search for Christian America). I’ve applauded the recent book by Newsweek’s Jon Meachum (American Gospel) that also squarely looks at the historical beginnings of our country and in which Meachum says that the best way for healing in our current cultural battles lies “in recovering the true sense and spirit of the Founding era and its leaders” (see The Supposed Faith of our Founding Fathers and Tolerance in the Age of Ann Coulter).

Now Greg Boyd, senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church in suburban St. Paul, Minn. has written a provocative book on the subject, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2006). Greg Boyd is already seen as a maverick by many evangelical Christians for his advocacy of “Open Theism.” Now he is ruffling feathers by saying,

"I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world…For some evangelicals, the kingdom of God is largely about, if not centered on, ‘taking America back for God,' voting for the Christian candidate, outlawing abortion, outlawing gay marriage, winning the culture war, defending political freedom at home and abroad, keeping the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, fighting for prayer in the public schools and at public events, and fighting to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings…Fusing together the kingdom of God with…the kingdom of the world is idolatrous…This fusion is having serious consequences for Christ’s church and for the advancement of God’s kingdom." (p. 11)

When he originally preached on this subject at his church in April and May of 2004, about 1,000 people left his church (you can download podcasts of the series here). This is certainly an issue we evangelicals had better be discussing if it is causing this much division in our fellowship.

In my review and critique of Boyd’s book, I will be interested in his definition of “the kingdom of God” and how our being in this kingdom relates to our political involvement in any way.

Here’s how Boyd broaches the subject in the introduction:

Two Contrasting Kingdoms
The kingdom Jesus came to establish is ‘not from this world’ (John 18:36), for it operates differently than the governments of the world do. While all the versions of the kingdom of the world acquire and exercise power over others, the kingdom of God, incarnated and modeled in the person of Jesus Christ, advances only by exercising power under others. It expands by manifesting the power of self-sacrificial, Calvary-like love.” (p. 14)

  • Is Boyd going to super-spiritualize and Platonize the Kingdom of God so that it does not have enough impact on our physical existence?
  • Is he going to advocate a separation of "Christian vocation" (in church-related functions) from "secular vocation" (in things like the government)?
  • Is he going to so demonize human government that he will see no goodness in it at all, and thus imply that Christians cannot be involved in the political process?

We will see.

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

technorati: , ,


caucazhin said...

Was America destined to become the New Atlantis AKA The New Jeru-salem as in New Salem Massachusetts?Francis Bacon though it was the New Atlantis and the Puritans thought it was the New Jerusalem.Both where ultimately wrong.America has become the driving force for (BUZZ WORD)-Global governance,One World government and a New World Order "The New Order Of the Ages" as sHRUB put it in his 2005 inaugural speech.Yes America is fullfilling her destiny all right and the New Tower of Babel will be her child.




Scot McKnight said...

I'm counting on you to read this one for me; so I'll be reading along. Let me know when you get up new posts so I see them right away.

RonMcK said...

I am looking forward to your review.

I believe the basic problem is that we do not have a clear conceptual framework for applying biblical issues to the the political space. We have not clearly thought through the impact of the Kingdom of God on the political dimension of life. Until that ground work is done, there will just be a great clamour of personal views based on our different life experience.

I will be interested to see if Greg Boyd provides a step forward in this area.

Marc said...

Hi Bob,

I will be waiting with baited breath to read your thoughts on Greg's book. I already have a sense that we have a similar take on things by reading some of your other posts on your site. Plus, I certainly think that you are asking all of the right questions that will help frame your review of the book


bachob said...

what do you think about Boyd's view on openness of God? This has to come into play, I think. Can there be a formulated picture of the Kingdom in God's mind if the future is open? Just wondering...

DLW said...

Hi Bob, I'm glad you're reviewing Boyd's book.

I was a student of Boyd's as an undergrad and used to be a OVTheist, now I'm a Swedish Baptist Pietist/Pragmaticist...

I already sent a response to Boyd. Here's a little behind the scenes background. Boyd is a bit of a cross between a libertarian and an anabaptist. He has also tended to go a bit further than Yoder in drawing a contrast between the Sword and the Cross.

His sermon series initially was geared more at shielding his church from the acrimony from the cultural wars during the election and a reaction to the misleading language used by some to try to rally the religious vote in MN on the behalf of the Republicans.

This is why I'd say he is more reactive than proactive. I'd also say Boyd is somewhat outside his area of expertise in dealing with the political ontotheological concepts. He has a Spiritual Warfare Worldview that tends to be somewhat manicheistic and since politics doesn't fit terribly well into that view, has tended in the past to deemphasize the political. However, his voice is one that will likely resonate with a good deal of the white USEvangelical world that doesn't care for recent political developments and how they have impacted our witness to others, but don't buy into the Jim Wallis political activism models either...


Bob Robinson said...


It will be interesting to me to see how he develops this in the book. Is it all going to be "reactive," as you say? If so, that could skew the book.


Bob Robinson said...


Thanks for the encouragement!

Bob Robinson said...


This is a good question you ask concerning Boyd's view on the openness of God. This does, I think, come into play (see today's post, where I mention this).

I haven't taken the time to deeply study Boyd's view on God's openness. I think that it certainly has some exegetical creedance and should not be simply dismissed as heresy. Whether or not I agree with it, I don't know yet.

imagination_buster said...

On it's face, to me, this topic appears wide open and complex. When I take the topic and examine using what I learned about two years back, the complexity evaportates and simplifies.

To begin to understand what I learned two years back, you can read it in detail in my blog. I invite you to do so. Moreover, there is little importance in "I learned". What matters is the contents of what I learned and where it all points.

That being said ...

I think reality speaks rather clearly: All human words and actions are based on the choices of reality or the choices of the thoughts and fantasies we make up for ourselves in our own minds. Since government is a human thing made up of people exercising choices by spirit, thoughts, emotions, words and actions, it is practically, pragmatically and realistically impossible to remove what a person believes from human government.

I now see more clearly how the source of human sin is human imagination (i.e., the capacity of my mind to invent for myself what is not truly there and from it comes my emotions, words and actions -- feeding in an endless cycle of self-destruction).

People are ruled by one of two things: their own imagination (linked then as a group to others of like imagination) or people are ruled by seeking out the truth of God in reality, the present moment and walking according to the choices they find there.

In the end, I see only these two segments of humanity. Imagination disguised as religion is just as evil and sinful as imagination of any other ilk. Even Christians suffer greatly from their own imaginations. I know this for sure of myself and I know that I am not alone. I see the evidence of it all around me, expressing itself in other people.

Again, I invite you to read and discover and give me your feedback. I am very aware how I do not see perfectly, but this one thing I do know for sure: Where my feet were on the path downward into my own imagination for 41 years (20 as a "Christian"), my feet are now on a path out of my own imagination and into the wonderful light of what is real.

Thank you in advanace for reading, considering and reasoning together with me.

Much love in Christ,

Tim said...

Boyd is right in the purest sense that NO nation/state is "christian". Only individuals are/can be. The point of New testament Christianity is that God has suspended "nation-buliding" IE as with Isreal and with the NT. began a new, more international, borderless approach for building His Kingdom by taking up residence in individual believers.

Butthere is still however an extent to which all nations/states are judged based on a corporate righteousness in a general sense(Proverbs- "righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people") To the degree that any group of people/ citizens of a particular country/ ..to the degree that their corporate acts are in the "right" is to the general degree that they will be blessed( in a general sense even though many of the people may not personally be believers.)

To this degree a nation/state, (while it is impossible for it to be identified as a "Christian" nation)- comprised of Chistian individuals and church bodies that can and should be employed in activites that bring about blessing within that realm of influence. ie nation/state.

As far as the argument that the founding of america was by a bunch of card carrying secularists..nothing is further from the truth. America was founded by INDIVIDUALS who were not in agreement in many ways and yet in so many ways were as opposed to modern day american individuals in relation to their acknoweledgement of a supreme being. The main difference was some people believed you could not know this supreme being(Deists) and the others believed that you could know him as reperesented the incarnation- Jesus.

While in the technical sense we cannot claim to be a Chritian nation we CAN claim and SHOULD acknowledge the lives of exemplary Chritians in our nations past that have used their freedoms to promote Christian principles and ideologies... while simultaneously identifying and ackowledging areas where the invidual church can provide a clearer representation of Christ and His borderless mission that is much greater than Americanism.