The Myth of a Christian Nation – Wrap Up Review

Greg Boyd is a breath of fresh air in a Christian milieu that has become active in political issues from mostly a conservative, Republican vantage point. In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2006), Boyd takes on the Christian Right with dogged determination.

I agree with Boyd when he says,

"A significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry… 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." (p. 11)

However, his theological solution is to say that since there is "the kingdom of God" and there is the "kingdom of the world," all government is in the latter category and not in the former category. Not only that, but…

"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) "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)

While there is no doubt that there is a battle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan, Boyd mistakenly places all government into the realm of the Kingdom of Satan. This dichotomy is the basic premise of the entire book. There are two kingdoms, one of God, one of the world, and all governments are a part of the kingdom of the world—all governments are ruled by Satan.

Boyd often cites Jesus’ words in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight.” He therefore makes the connection that since governments fight and force “power over” others with the “sword” (see Romans 13), then government is not of God’s kingdom, it is “of this world.” He furthers this assessment by pointing out that when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert ( Luke 4:5-6), he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” and said, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” He links this to Revelation 11:15, where he sees a future in which the kingdom of the world (that is, all the governments of the world that are ruled by Satan will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”) In other words, all governments are actually under one authority, Satan, and Christ’s authority as the King is delayed until that time.

“The kingdom person is to remember that it’s still a 'Good Friday' world. We are to have faith that things will look different when Easter morning arrives. The ultimate hope if the world is not found in achieving victory now. The ultimate hope of the world is the resurrection, when all things shall be reconciled to God (Col. 1:20)." (p. 186)

Therefore, Boyd insists that kingdom people are to live in light of Calvary. He says that kingdom love always looks like Christ, suffering on the cross for sinners. There is certainly truth in that. Christians are to first seek to serve the people of this world, loving them as Christ did.

While I whole-heartedly agree that the Christian life must be shaped by Calvary love, Calvary is not the end of the story.

We are not living in pre-resurrection times, as Boyd puts it. We live in light of the fact that the resurrection has already occurred and that Christ has indeed triumphed over Satan. Satan is certainly still active in this world, but he is a defeated foe. The resurrection represents the dawn of the New Creation, and Christians are empowered by that resurrection God to be the very agents of redemption in this world. After the resurrection, Jesus told his disciples,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:18-19). The shift in authority from Satan to Christ does not wait for the future; it is already accomplished through the resurrection. Contrary to Boyd’s words, we are living in an “Easter morning world.”

In that last quote from Boyd, he cites Colossians 1:20. If we read that verse in context, it’s clear that the hope of the death and resurrection of Christ is the redemption of all things.

16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:16-20)

Boyd seems to think that these verses refer only to a time in the future, when reconciliation will ultimately be accomplished. Granted, we cannot say that ultimately all things are already reconciled through Christians engaging in political processes. But the emphasis of the passage is not merely on that future ultimate reconciliation but rather on the fact that Christ not only created all things (including, Boyd should note, the “thrones, powers, rulers and authorities”), all things were created “for him.” All these things, including the “powers” that Boyd insists are a part of Satan’s “kingdom of the world,” are meant to be a reconciled back to God, for “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things.”

Therefore, I applaud Boyd’s arguments that the rise of the Religious Right does not best represent this Christian vision of reconciliation and I also agree that the myth of America being a Christian nation does more harm than good.

However, Boyd’s solution to the problem is to hand over the government to Satan by saying it is his for the having. According to Boyd, government is evil because it is ontologically evil; government itself is a fallen power (not just an institution that is under the influence of evil powers).

Boyd attempts at times to hedge his words by saying that its okay for Christians to participate in the political process of the kingdom of the world (as long as they know that this is not a uniquely “kingdom of God” endeavor). However, the dualism of saying that the Kingdom of God does not include political engagement in this world keeps Christians from being the fully redemptive body of Christ we are called to be in this world.

Christ is King of all things, and he is reconciling to himself all things that are not ontologically evil through his kingdom people.

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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scott m said...

I've read your review with interest and I've also listened to the sermon series from a couple of years ago from which this book seems to be drawn. Have listened to and read a number of approaches to this question, it seems to me that N.T. Wright's is probably the best. He makes the point (which I really can't judge, but which after reading many English translations seems valid) is that the best understanding of John 18:36 is that which is the literal translation of the last phrase. In other words, Jesus Kingdom is not "from" this world (well, clearly it isn't). But it is certainly for this world. You can't even make sense of the Lord's prayer if you don't believe that. And then, of course, the rest flows. We live in a post-Easter world. All of creation already knows somehow that something fundamental has changed (Colossians), but, probably due to that mysterious element we call 'free will', humans must hear the news proclaimed and must choose whether or not they will bend that will with a knee and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. As such, our God certainly reigns today, but his kingdom is obviously not yet fully realized on earth. And our task is to bring that kingdom to bear in every human endeavour, including government. Sometimes that means working with a government. Other times it means standing against them. With that said, Satan certainly wields considerable influence in the sphere of the earth yet today and I think it is safe to say there is no earthly kingdom untainted by that influence.

Enjoyed the series.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Scott M, for the insights. I, too, think that NT Wright gets it right, especially his emphasis on the resurrection being the New Creation. We certainly live in the "Already/Not Yet" (to borrow a term from George Eldon Ladd), which makes the victory of the resurrection still not completely fulfilled. But reconciliation is an on-going thing - as you say, Jesus' kingdom is not "from" this world, but it is certainly for this world!

miche said...

Hey Bob,

Good stuff. Here is my dilemma after reading this post. Why is it easier for me to make sense out of history in general, and church history specifically, with Boyd’s views than with the ideas you are proposing? I prefer what you are saying to be true, but I can think of no examples where the church has come close to living it out in the past 2000 years. Am I missing something?



Anonymous said...

Good summary and a good conclusion, Bob.

I hope that after you have had your operation, you will post some more how we can work with the king of kings to redeem the political sphere.

Ted Gossard said...

Amen to what Ron says here. Good series, Bob. Thanks.

Bob Robinson said...

Miche (and everyone reading this blog):

The problem with church history not living out this vision is specifically the very mistake that Boyd is making here! Boyd's solution (thinking dualistically about the world - that there is a “secular” sphere [governments] and a “sacred” sphere [the “Kingdom”]) is the very reason why we have not seen the Kingdom make the kind of impact that we should have expected.

The idea of "that's your religious viewpoint, so keep it private" did not begin in the pagan world but in the Church. The Church allowed Greek Platonic philosophy to trump Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is supposed to transform all structures, spheres, and institutions as well as individuals, but Platonism said that there is a sacred/secular divide. This divide created by the Church kept the Kingdom from having the influence in all aspects of life the way it ought to have had, since “Kingdom Work” is only to be done by the church, and by those ordained by the church. Everything else (i.e., business, arts, manual labor, sex, politics) are parts of the “secular” sphere and therefore can be allowed to be “worldly.”

Today, we are reaping what we have sown. When the Religious Right tries to “take America back for God,” they are perpetuating the dualism: Those “secularists” have taken our “sacred” country away from us, and we have to “get it back!” A better way to transform our country is to see all things being from Christ, for Christ, and being redeemed by Christ.

For an insightful book to read on “dualism,” I recommend The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton. The authors explain the ugly history of false dichotomies in the history of Christianity (i.e. sacred vs. secular, nature vs. grace, soul vs. body, eternal vs. temporal) and the damage it has caused. The authors argue for a radical discipleship that would cut through this dualism and offer an uncompromising Christian response to all areas of life.

Ted Gossard said...


Yes. I want to avoid dualism myself, in any view. And I do think the salt and light we are, in Jesus, as well as the kingdom being a leaven filling the earth, must be taken more into account among so many of us. We can effect change and different points of view, and even a different standard, in the way of thinking of the nations in the world- at least in influence and impact.

I agree that we live in Easter. We are resurrection people. But we're thus empowered to live here on earth, in the way, no less, of our Lord. And this continues to be the way of taking up our cross, and becoming like Jesus in his death. We are his Body here on earth. Though our Head- Christ, is glorified, we his Body, are not. We still live here, in the days of our humiliation.

So the way we affect change is certainly subversive, as did our Lord. We reject political power play. We tell the truth, in love. We would reject the practices coming from the philosophy of fallen humanity.

Surely God's kingdom work extends beyond us, as his people, no doubt, even through people who may not know him. But the kingdom coming in Jesus, already making its impact on this earth, though thus worldly, as in "down to earth", is still fundamentally, in my view, from another place. But, as you so well point out, it is to impact this place and this world.

Yes Bob. Your thoughts are challenging me. And helping me seek to grapple with what impact we are to have across the board in the here and now. Thanks brother.

And I look forward to more. (where's dlw?)

Bob Robinson said...


Thanks for the excellent comment. You balance it out perfectly.

While we are resurrection people, we also live in between Christ's resurrection and our own. Thus the resurrection empowers our Kingdom work of redemption in this world, and that Kingdom work looks like Christ's work on the cross. "We still live here, in the days of our humiliation."

This reminder keeps us from becoming too triumphalistic in our approach to politics - thus contra the Religious Right (who have created a Republican Party who at election times says what they want to hear but does little about it) and also contra the Christian Left (who have been guilty of trusting that a social gospel can ultimately heal the countries woes).

The Bose said...

After waiting for over a month, I've finally begun reading Boyd's book. I've only gotten through the first three chapters, and so far I generally agree with what he preaches. One thing I think he fails to note -- and I believe you pointed this out, Bob -- is that when Jesus rose he laid claim to authority on Earth as well as in Heaven.

So far, he has a very solid argument which I readily embrace. The only thing I haven't quite wrapped my head around, however, is how he can make the claim that in some sense government is good because it keeps order among fallen man even though it is ultimately under the dominion of Satan. This seems practical, but illogical and inconsistent to me. Still I like his observation that, though some governments may be better than others, they can never equal or even fall in alignment with the Kingdom of God.

I like his explanation of the "visible" and "invisibile" church. I can't quote it without the book in front of me, but he said something to the effect that it's valid to say that being part of the "visible" church. (going to worship services, getting baptized, etc.) does not equal being part of the "invisible" church. However, the "invisible" church isn't really invisible because by exercising its "power under" other people it has an effect on them. He does well to equate this with Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha.

I agree with Boyd that this is the way in which Jesus calls us to minister to others. Effective, heart-changing ministry comes through loving, selfless service and not through the weilding of fearsome authority.

One of my favorite lines from the movie "Gandhi" is where Gandhi is portrayed giving a speech to fellow Indians in South Africa. It's something to the effect of "they can kill me, and if they do they will have my dead body, not my cooperation."

Thus, my argument in defense of Boyd is this: Yes, we are Christ's body on earth and are called to reconcile all things to him. However, the Kingdom of God cannot reconcile the kingdoms of this world to Christ by becoming a new worldly kingdom and weilding power over people. This is impossible because of the inherent tribal-ness of earthly kingdoms -- they are naturally set against each other, each looking out for their own interests. To be a part of the Kingdom of God one must be universal, showing equal Christ-like love to all of God's creation. How can a person do this fully when in a position of protecting one man against another? one people against another?

Does this mean that we should remove ourselves from politics completley? Surely not, for as the Roman Catholic church has long observed, voting with a selfless, surrendered-to-Christ conscience is a great service to one's fellow man. It's not hard to find a government-related or government-funded career that serves people. Government can be a very good (Godly) thing when it renounces the claim that it weilds the power of the sword in the name of God. Similarly, our participation in government should not claim ordination from God. This is because, as Boyd clearly states, Christ did not come to reform the way the kingdoms of the world operated but rather to introduce a different type of kingdom; His Kingdom of power through humble, loving service as exemplified in his life and death. "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (Romans 6:5)

Ted Gossard said...


Here's an interview I thought you'd find interesting, from another book that helps demythologize the United States, as well, I think. (Don't know your e-mail, so I stick it here).

Ted Gossard said...

Just like me. Forgot to give you the link: http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/2006/10/united-states-dangerous-nation_23.html

paulxb said...

Judge not that ye be not judged... The liberals favorit verse. Dont judge abotrion, adultery, gay marriage, or the ACLU but if you are patriotic you are a servant of Satan, according to Greg Boyd.

Anonymous said...

In the bibliography of Boyd's book, some very impressive names are mentioned, not of which Gandhi is the least. It would've been nice if Boyd had included the writings of John Paul II when doing research for his book. The late pope was one of the greatest advocates for building the Kingdom through peaceful means; but Boyd, a former Catholic (and perhaps anti-Catholic), gives no credence to this most formidable servant-leader.