Are Megachurches Wrong? Analysis of David Wells’ Critique

Scot McKnight has posted about David Wells’ critique of megachurches. Wells writes in his new book, Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2005),

“Did the early church separate itself out into units of the like-minded in terms of ethnicity, class, and language as these megachurches have done?... when we set out with a methodology which we know will create churches that will be culturally, generationally, economically, and racially monolithic and monochromatic, something is amiss.”

To this, Scot writes, “Do we really know that the early Christians didn’t have some niche ministries? In fact, we don’t. We don’t know how they did lots of what they did. I suspect they preached to anyone who would listen — if it was all men, they’d preach to men; if it was all women, they’d preach to women; if it was mixed, they’d preach to mixed crowds; if it was a bunch of philosophical types at the Areopagus, they’d tailor the message to them.”

A commenter (Craig O’Brien) offered this interesting study from Hartford Seminary's Institute for Religion Research (article found at Leadership Network):

The wide-ranging survey includes data on the many attributes that together define the nature and impact of megachurches in our society. Collectively, the results debunk 11 of the most common beliefs about megachurches, namely:

MYTH #1: All megachurches are alike.
REALITY: They differ in growth rates, size and emphasis.

MYTH #2: All megachurches are equally good at being big.
REALITY: Some clearly understand how to function as a large institution, but others flounder.

MYTH #3: There is an over-emphasis on money in the megachurches.
REALITY: The data disputes this.

MYTH #4: Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about Christianity.
REALITY: Megachurches generally have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs.

MYTH #5: Megachurches are not deeply involved in social ministry.
REALITY: Considerable ministry is taking place at and through these churches.

MYTH #6: All megachurches are pawns of or powerbrokers to George Bush and the Republican Party.
REALITY: The vast majority of megachurches are not politically active.

MYTH #7: All megachurches have huge sanctuaries and enormous campuses.
REALITY: Megachurches make widespread use of multiple worship services over several days, multiple venues and even multiple campuses.

MYTH #8: All megachurches are nondenominational.
REALITY: The vast majority belong to some denomination.

MYTH #9: All megachurches are homogeneous congregations with little diversity.
REALITY: A large and growing number are multi-ethnic and intentionally so.

MYTH #10: Megachurches grow primarily because of great programming.
REALITY: Megachurches grow because excited attendees tell their friends.

MYTH #11: The megachurch phenomenon is on the decline.
REALITY: The data suggests that many more megachurches are on the way.
Having been involved in a number of mega-churches in my time in ministry, I must say that to lump all megachurches into one big boat of unbiblical ecclesiology is too simplistic. It is not good exegesis on Wells' part to read back into the fledgling church of the First Century some sort of utopian ideal of diversity and smallness, as if niche ministry is unbiblical and largeness is evil. I seem to remember Peter preaching to over three thousand at Pentecost (no, I wasn't there, I read about it in Acts!). This may not directly represent ecclesiology, but it certainly minimizes the arguments in the Emerging Church that megachurch preachers are somehow less effective.

I have seen good megachurches and bad megachurches. I’ve seen some match the stereotypical trappings of the megachurch “show” with little depth and little true community. I’ve seen others that are constantly seeking to change and innovate and truly disciple and serve in order to be Christ to their community.

I cannot see how “Niche Ministry” is ontologically evil. Paul said "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." What is wrong with churches doing the same? Megachurches have the ability to offer a variety of niche ministries.

I also know of smaller churches that had realized that they themselves had “niched” themselves, and therefore they intentionally planted a church in a neighborhood nearby so that they could reach a different demographic. I applaud this kind of church planting strategy.

We have to face the reality that local churches proclaim Christ in local contexts by people who can reach that particularity. And that’s okay.

Sidebar: What's fascinating about Wells' critique of megachurches is that this is what the emerging church has been saying all along. Yet, Wells' critique is in a book that is subtitled, "Christ in a Postmodern World," and we have already witnessed that Wells has not warmed to many of the EC's ideas for proclaiming Christ in this Postmodern World. It seems, however, that there is more in common here. The EC needs to be fair in its critique of megachurches the same as Wells does!

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Barack Obama and Christianity Today

The Editors of Christianity Today "Get it Mostly Right"

In this month’s issue of Christianity Today ("God's Will in the Public Square: Democratic Senator Barack Obama gets it mostly right") the editors of CT praised Barack Obama’s recent address about religion and politics (“Obama's humility cuts through the cynicism many Americans feel when politicians begin talking about religion. He speaks about his faith and religious values with earnestness and with ease.”). They loved it when he said, “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

They quote Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn when he “balked” at this Obama sound bite: “Speaking as a secularist…what we ask of believers—all we ask—is that they not enter the public square using ‘because God says so’ as a reason to advance or attack any political position.”

The editors of CT seem to believe that Christians should enter into political debate with their faith on their sleeves, as if everyone should believe the same as Christians should. Much in the same way Zorn “balked” at the idea that believers not use the “because God says so” ploy, they “balked” at what Obama later said is the proper way believers should enter into public discourse about political issues.

Obama said, “I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or [invoke] God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

The CT editors write, “Unfortunately, later in this otherwise exemplary speech, Obama ended up agreeing with Zorn, and this suggests a continuing blind spot for many in their understanding of how religion relates to politics.” Citing Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., they go on to say that Christians should use Christian rhetoric in their political pleas in the public discourse.

I think that a balance needs to be found here. While Christians should engage with social issues based on their faith and should never be afraid to articulate their faith-based understanding on the issues, they cannot presume that people who do not share their faith will want to hear or will even understand these kinds of arguments. They must be willing to speak to both people of their own faith and people of other faiths and of no faith at all, just as Obama says.

The doctrine of Common Grace tells us that nonbelievers have been given the special grace from God in order to understand that which is needed for the common good. Government officials do not need to be Christian in order to run the government well. (Sorry, Katherine Harris, but you are wrong to say, “If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.” You need a little Christian lesson on the meaning of Common Grace.)

Therefore, if Christians cannot articulate our opinions on today’s issues in more than “because God says so” language, then we have failed to be good Christians in the public square. While politicians should not fear using religious words to describe their views (as has been the case with Democrats), they should not use religious words as a manipulative code-language to garner approval from a certain group of voters (as has been the case with Republicans). Religious words in political discourse is appropriate for one of faith who is seeking public office if it flows out of who that person genuinely is. However, religious arguments can only go so far in public discourse in a pluralistic society.

For a Christian in politics, the Common Good should be explained from a perspective of a Christian Worldview. But political arguments for the Common Good cannot be exclusively debated from a religious perspective. The terms and arguments used must reflect God’s General Revelation, that which all humans can understand.

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Top 10 Signs That You're Obsessed with Bible Prophecy

(HT: Matt Stone at Eclectic Itchings,
originally from Christian Encourager)

10. You use the Left Behind books as devotional reading.

9. You get goose bumps when you hear a trumpet.

8. You believe the term "Church Fathers" refers to Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.

7. You believe there is an original Greek and Hebrew text with Scofield's notes.

6. You can name more signs of the times than Commandments.

5. You refuse a tax refund check because the amount comes to $666.

4. Barcode scanners make you nervous.

3. You talk your church into adapting the '60s pop song, "Up, Up, and Away" as a Christian hymn.

2. You never buy green bananas.

1. You always leave the top down on your convertible (or your sunroof open) in case the rapture happens.


Growing up, my phone number was 666-5920. I knew what the 666 meant (that the rapture would start in my town), but I had trouble with the rest of the number. The best I came up with is "KYB0" from the corresponding letters on a phone's number pad. According to answers.com, it means "Keep Your Bowels Open."

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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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Would You Have Left Boyd’s Church?

reflection on The Myth of a Christian Nation and Colossians 1

Why did so many people leave Woodland Hills Church when Boyd preached his original message series?

Boyd says, in an interview with Charlie Rose, that he thinks 1,000 people left because “Some people didn’t understand what I was saying…some, their mindset is so politicized that if you are not supporting the right-wing political cause, you must be a ‘liberal’ and so they assumed that I was sneaking in liberal politics when I am actually saying the kingdom of God is beautiful and it transcends this partisan political stuff…and then others just flatly disagree: their faith is so strongly wedded to American nationalism and to right-wing politics that for their pastor to say that this is not what we’re about is to go AWOL, so in anger or in frustration, they left.”

I think Boyd needs to consider yet another possibility: That there may have been a significant number who do agree with him about the inappropriate power-grabs of the Religious Right, but that they found his solution to be unsatisfying.

I am one who would LOVE to go to a church that explicitly states that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, a church that never hands out “voter guides” published by the Christian Coalition, a church that does not perpetuate the myth that America is a Christian nation, etc.

I have left congregations that have done this, for I feel this kind of politicizing of Christianity is not aligned with the will of God.

But I do not agree with Boyd’s solution to the problem. I do not agree with his labeling government as a satanic evil and destructive power. I think that there are other solutions to the problem than to simply chalk up all government as evil and “power over.”

So, I wonder…
Since I have left other congregations because of what I listed above, if I were in Greg Boyd’s congregation, would I have left?

Maybe. But for different reasons.

I sincerely believe that Christ seeks to redeem everything. I believe what is written in Colossians“For by him (Christ) 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…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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." (Col 1:16, 19-20).

If all things (including “thrones, powers, rulers, authorities”) were created by Christ and for Christ, and are being reconciled back to Christ (whether things on earth or things in heaven), then I don’t know if I would remain under a pastor that seemingly denies this. I'd have to sit down and talk with Pastor Greg and hear his thoughts on this passage. I deeply respect Greg Boyd (I have read a number of his books and have found much of this book on politics to be intriguing), and I'd hate to have to leave the church he pastors over something like this. He seems to be a reasonable and articulate Christian who passionately loves the Lord and wants the church to be what it should be, and that has a lot going for it!

Posts in this series:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 & 5
Reflection: Boyd and Colossians 1
Chapters 6 - 8
Chapter 9

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Calvin and Hobbes: A Unique Mix of Modernistic Philosophies

Click on image to enlarge.

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Emerging in Pittsburgh?

B J Woodworth, pastor of The Open Door, an Emerging Church in Pittsburgh, just sent me an e-mail announcing an emerging church gathering there.

The Heart of the Missional Church is a three day gathering for people engaged in missional church life and those interested in learning more about the emerging missional conversation. The experience is designed to encourage, connect, catalyze, facilitate, empower, and resource the church in the greater Pittsburgh region and beyond.

The gathering will feature conversations (see conversation descriptions) facilitated by local missional leaders on Thursday and Friday nights. On Thursday night we will gather at The Union Project in Pittsburgh's East End and on Friday evening and Saturday we will gather at Fountain Park Church in Cranberry.

Saturday will feature Doug Pagitt of Minneapolis, MN who is the Pastor of Solomon's Porch and noted author and speaker in the emerging/missional conversation.

The cost of the event is only $16 and includes all admission for all three days as well as lunch on Saturday, provided by Hot Dogma. For more information, including a complete schedule, description of the evening conversations, information about Doug Pagitt, and to register go to http://www.emergentpittsburgh.org/hmc/.



The Myth of a Christian Nation, Ch 4 & 5

Greg Boyd’s new book is very much a plea for Christians to make a sober assessment of their political aspirations. While many Christians will take issue with Boyd’s flat-out demonization of all government, we all should agree whole-heartedly that what we’ve seen recently from the Religious Right is not the way of Jesus. It is, in Boyd’s words, the way of Constantine.

In chapters 4 and 5 of his new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Boyd looks at the history of Christianity’s involvement in politics and responds that when the church gets too involved in power politics, it damages both the church and politics. He not only points to Constantine’s Holy Roman Empire and the Crusades, but every time in history when the church saw itself as “The Church Militant and Triumphant.” The Reformers were just as guilty of this, martyring what they called “heretics” through a warped sense of fulfilling God’s call of the Kingdom.

America, in its founding, was often seen as the New Israel, a “promised land” for European Christians. But this thinking allowed them to conquer native Americans through bloodshed in the “name of Christ.” This history of oppression of peoples continued when Christians reasoned that the enslavement of Africans was a means of establishing this new land for Jesus.
“This tragic history has to be considered one of Satan’s greatest victories, and the demonic ironies abound. In the name of the one who taught us not to lord it over others but rather serve them (Matt. 20:25-28), the church often lorded it over others with a vengeance as ruthless as any version of the kingdom of the world ever has. In the name of the one who taught us to turn the other cheek, the church often cut off people’s heads. In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church often burned its enemies alive. In the name of the one who taught us to bless those who persecute us, the church often became a ruthless persecutor. In the name of the one who taught us to take up the cross, the church often took up the sword and nailed others to the cross. Hence, in the name of winning the world for Jesus Christ, the church often became the main obstacle to believing in Jesus Christ."


So it is also true for those who say they want to “take America back for God.” There is a myth in evangelical circles that this nation was once a nation founded for Christ by those who followed Christ for the purpose of being a beacon of light of Christian righteousness.

To this, Boyd asks some disconcerting questions:

“Were these God-glorifying years before, during, or after Europeans ‘discovered’ Ameica and carried out the doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’—the belief that God (or, for some, nature) had destined white Christians to conquer the native inhabitants and steal their land? Were the God-glorifying years the ones in which the whites massacred these natives by the millions, broke just about every covenant they ever made with them, and then forced survivors onto isolated reservations? Was the golden age before, during, or after white Christians loaded five to six million Africans on cargo ships to bring them to their newfound country, enslaving the three million or so who actually survived the brutal trip? Was it during the two centuries when Americans acquired remarkable wealth by the sweat and blood of their slaves? Was this the time when we were truly ‘one nation under God,’ the blessed time that so many evangelicals seem to want to take our nation back to?"

Whether or not you agree with Boyd’s view of the Kingdom of God, we must affirm his contention that the Great Commission is never fulfilled through political means. When church leaders forget this and proclaim that they want to take America back for God, they are severely misled by the Devil.

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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Kingdom Tension and Paradox: Loving the Kingdom more than the World, but Allowing the Kingdom to Transform the World

In two parables set in juxtaposition, Jesus teaches us how to be Kingdom people: loving the Kingdom for the sake of transforming the world.

But this is a tension for us. How can we do this? We are to love God and His kingdom while, at the same time, love God’s creation. In our enjoyment of the creation, we very often forget about the Creator. We have a tendency to take created things and transform them into idols, replacing our love and devotion for God. But we are not supposed to despise the creation—God has deemed it “very good.” It is fallen, but it is not totally evil. We, as Kingdom People, are to be transformation agents in the creation. We are bringing new-creation redemption into the world, used by God to bring some of that “very goodness” back.

So, the Kingdom is more valuable than anything in this world, but we are supposed to be in the world and transform it for God’s glory.

Jesus, in these two parables, gives us a way to negotiate this tension:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46)

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matt 13:33)

The gospel seen as a pearl is the same gospel seen as yeast. The gospel that is of ultimate value (worthy of giving up everything for) is the same gospel that is meant to act as leaven that mixes throughout the entire world. We are to see the Kingdom as more valuable than anything, but we are not to shun the world for the sake of the gospel. The Kingdom Person is to do both at the same time: Love God more than anything in the world AND also love the world for the sake of the gospel.

“The God who is more important than anything in the world sends us into the world to transform it for him. God’s preeminence means that nothing can be elevated to his level. But his preeminence also means that nothing can be dismissed. Nothing is as valuable as God, but because of God, everything is now valuable.”

(Mike Wittmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth [Zondervan, 2004], p. 100, emphasis added)

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Christian + University = ?

For those of you who are entering college or returning back again this semester (or have children or friends who are doing so), this classic article from Brian Walsh is a must-read!

Here's an excerpt:

What happens when we take a Christian and add him or her to the secular university? We'll end up with at least four possible equations.

1. Christian + University = Christian + University
This equation could be called the isolationist option. Most Christian students see no real connection between their studies in anthropology or engineering and their faith in Christ. They isolate their faith from their studies, and their Christian presence on campus is limited to attendance at a VCF chapter meeting, personal Bible study and maybe a little evangelism. They may find opportunities to share their faith with a non-Christian classmate. but they write their papers on Hopi Indians or their engineering exams without a Christian approach to anthropology or technology.

2. Christian + University = A Bit of Both
Some Christians feel uncomfortable with an isolationist approach. University studies cause them to rethink their faith, and they begin to modify their beliefs. Although this can be a healthy experience (we must all be open to correction in our beliefs so that they become more and more biblically accurate), there is a danger to be avoided here: in its extreme, this position leads to an accommodationist stance. Christians accommodate their faith whenever it is seriously challenged by their studies. For example, the study of psychology could lead them to view conversion as a merely psychological event in which God has no real impact. Studies in commerce could lead them to spiritualize Jesus' concrete teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, which fly in the face of economic practices rooted in self-centered greed (Matt. 6:19-34). Or a comparative religions course could result in watering down Jesus' claim to be the way, the truth and the life.

An accommodationist approach to university studies could well be the first step to the third possible equation:

3. Christian + University = Non-Christian
Sometimes the first two options--isolation and accommodation--become unbearable and Christian students respond by giving up their faith. Although this option is clearly the saddest and most drastic, it may have more integrity than either accommodation or isolation. At least such people have the courage to say that their faith cannot be sustained in the face of academic studies, so it must be abandoned.

They read Freud's The Future of An Illusion (Norton); they are convinced that religion is an infantile projection. So they decide to grow up and leave childish things behind. Or the accommodation of historical Christianity to unjust and oppressive economic patterns becomes too much for their conscience. And they reject Christ and embrace Marx.

Perhaps fewer students would abandon their faith if they opted for the fourth equation:

4. Christian + University = Christian University Student
This option of integration, from a biblical point of view, is the only valid option. Rejecting the irrelevance of an isolationist perspective, the impotence of accommodationism and the death of abandonment, the students who opt for integration strive to think Christianly, to be Christian university students.

This option takes Jesus Christ seriously as both Creator and Redeemer. Listen to Paul's portrait of Christ: "For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions--or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together ... For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross'' (Col. 1:16-17, 19-20).

Do you notice that the words all things recur throughout these verses? Jesus is the Creator of all things, he is before, all things, and all things are reconciled to him. In short, because he is both the Creator and Redeemer of all things, he alone is the rightful Lord of all things. And the passage is clear in its all-inclusiveness. Nothing lies outside the scope of Christ's lordship. He has jurisdiction over all existence. As Lord of all creation, he needs to be accommodated to nothing--everything is subject to him. Perhaps if more Christian students lived as if they really believed this, we'd see fewer people abandon their faith on our campuses.

Read the whole article here.

Another excellent resource is the recent volume of Comment Magazine, "Making the Most of College."

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Witherington Review of "Faiths of the Founding Fathers"

Ben Witherington III (Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary) has a blog, and he just reviewed David Holmes new book, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Here's a provocative quote from his review:

"The upshot of all this is of course that America's leadership at its inception was religiously pluralistic (in a Judeo-Christian kind of way; not like modern world religions kind of pluralism). In short there is no encouragement here either for the secular humanist theory of America's origins or for that matter for the 'our first leaders were mostly orthodox Christians' theory either. Sorry Timothy La Haye, and other Evangelical revisionist historians, but you need fact check as bad as Dan Brown did."

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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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How Am I Doing?

My friend Byron Borger (the owner of the greatest bookstore on the planet - Hearts & Minds Books) asked me in an e-mail concerning the latest news about my heart and the looming surgery:

"I guess I was asking, if you care to share, how you're doing with all of that, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, your family. I hope you're hanging in there, and feeling okay about your lot in life, hard as it is....."

What a caring e-mail. It is representative of what many have written me and have expressed in person and on their blogs.

Well, here's the answer. For those of you who hate blog posts that talk too much about a person's life and woes, you can hurry and just move on to another post further down the page.

It has been quite difficult. I fear that I may die. And it isn't about me that I fear. It is for my children, and in particular, my little 8-yr old boy Trey. He is at this stage in life where he needs me--he needs a man to direct his ornery nature in the right direction. He and his mom are always going at it (he is not very respectful of her these days), but he looks up to me and listens intently to my direction. He is struggling with figuring out how to yield to the Lordship of Christ...he is very selfish by nature but wants desperately not to be that way.
What if I am not here?

I also worry tremendously about my wife raising three children alone. She is a remarkable woman. What she has been through would break others, and yet she has remained strong and steadfast (glory be to God!). But that does not mean that she wouldn't struggle if I were not to survive this coming surgery.

Lastly (and I know cognitively that this least important, but emotionally it has been a great burden), I am struggling with feelings of, for a lack of a better term, directlessness. Before this happened, my life seemed going in a wonderful direction:
  • I had found a ministry in the CCO as Area Director that matched my gifts and passions (I got to lead, manage, develop, train, and mentor campus ministers as they are reaching the current college generation with the gospel of the Kingdom of God).
  • This ministry had opened an opportunity to teach at a local Christian college (where I could use the gifts God's Spirit has given me to teach, mentor, and engage in critical thinking in order to shape a group of young people).
  • I saw my role on the web grow and expand as I was having about 2,000 - 3,000 readers a month here at the blog.
  • I thought we could find a local church in which I could help in local ministry with a holistic gospel message.

Fortunately, I can still sit here and read and study and write my thoughts about stuff on the blog. It has been a wonderful thing to dialogue with you folks about very interesting topics. Thanks for your friendship (people who don't blog don't get it--but it's a whole lot of fun to create these friendships with people in the blog world. It's like a coffee shop where everybody sits and thinks deeply about things and talks. My favorite thing to do!)

But since my heart problems, all the other things have suffered greatly. I have not been able to develop my CCO ministry like I have wanted (not even close!), I have given up two semesters of teaching (and wonder if the window of opportunity at the college has closed), and my family has been unsuccessful in finding a local church.

But God is good.

Linda and I remember and repeat the favorite passages that got us through the first time. Here's one:

Have no fear of sudden disaster
__or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the LORD will be your confidence
__and will keep your foot from being snared.
(Prov 3:25-26)


Christians in the Public Square

I just found out what the theme is for this year's meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

"Christians in the Public Square"
Washington D.C.
November 15-17, 2006

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.

ETS website.

I've been "Tagged" about my favorite books

I’ve been tagged by Scot McKnight, who was tagged by Steve McCoy.

So, here goes:
1. One book that changed your life:
John Piper, Desiring God. Introduced to me while in seminary, Piper moved me out of a strictly “DO” Christianity toward a “LOVE” Christianity. The idea that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him still haunts me.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Mike Wittmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth. I’ve read it several times already in one year. We are reading through it in my small group experience, Oasis, and it will be the main textbook for my class on worldview at Malone College.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
I presume that we can't say "The Bible," because all of us would probably say that. So, assuming that I'm allowed a Bible and just one more book, I think I'd take the New Bible Commentary (21st Century Edition). My passion is Bible commentaries: I own at least a couple commentaries on each book of the Bible. And since I can't take my entire library, at least I can take one concise, albeit abbreviated, commentary that features many of today's best evangelical scholars giving their two cents on the text. I love wrestling with the Bible, and love (maybe as much, if not more!) wrestling with biblical scholars. You see, the Bible usually pins me down, but I like the thought of pinning a scholar down every now and then! And while all alone on that desert island, I'd be able to spend my time with 66 commentators, "talking and debating" about the most important of subjects!

4. One book that made you laugh:
William Goldman, The Princess Bride. The author of the book was also the writer of the screenplay for the movie, and he offers one laugh after another. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” If you liked the movie, you'll love the book.

5. One book that made you cry:
Jeffrey Archer, The Eleventh Commandment. This has nothing to do with the Bible. It is the best thriller/espionage novel I’ve ever read. When the protaginist, CIA assassin Connor Fitzgerald, is marked for death by the head of the CIA, he must somehow escape a Russian execution. What happens in that made me cry—it was quite moving.

6. One book you wish had been written:
HT to Michael Kruse on this: We need a four views book on Christian approaches to politics. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve ordered a book that may be what the doctor ordered! J. Budziszewski’s new book Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action. (It covers the views of Carl F. H. Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder)

7. One book you wish had never been written:
The Scofield Reference Bible.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Stan Grenz, The Social God and Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei.

10. Tag 5 others:
Byron Borger, Rick Bennett, Byron Harvey, dlw, Brother Maynard

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Bad News about my Heart

To catch people up:
Back in February, I suffered an aortic dissection, a tearing of the major artery that comes out of the heart (it's the big red thing in the middle of the illustration). Most people do not survive this, but God blessed me and my family by allowing me to survive.

Today, I went to the cardiac surgeon and had a cardiac MRI done. It takes detailed cross-section pictures of my heart and aorta. It was presumed going in that the aorta between the graft that replaced the torn part and my heart was a certain size (below 5 cm) that would indicate that we can delay surgical intervention to fix it and to replace my bad valve that leads into the aorta (it is bicuspid, only having two flaps instead of three).

However, the MRI determined that that part of my aorta is 5.8 cm, which is an aneurysm. I will have tests done the first week of September to determine if my lungs can handle surgery at this time. If so, I will have surgery in October at the latest.

While I knew surgery was looming, I didn’t expect it so soon. This will keep me from teaching college this semester and will knock me out of my ministry with the CCO for at least a month if not more. There is a 2-4% mortality rate for this surgery, so keep my family in your prayers.

"Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."

Zephaniah 3:16-17


The Myth of a Christian Nation, Ch 2

Chapter 2 is entitled, “The Kingdom of the Cross,” and in it, Boyd lays out a very biblical description of the Kingdom of God, which he says is “the heart of Jesus’ teaching.”

Boyd’s interpretation of the Kingdom of God reflects a Christus Victor view of the Atonement (Boyd’s ministry beyond his pastoring Woodland Hills Church is called "Christus Victor Ministries"). Here's an excerpt:
“Though the world as a whole was and remains part of the domain in which Satan is king, in Jesus the domain in which God is king has been introduced into the world. The central goal of Jesus’ life was to plant the seed of this new kingdom so that, like a mustard seed, it would gradually expand. Eventually that kingdom would end the rule of Satan and reestablish God, the Creator of the world, as its rightful ruler (Matt. 13:31-31). In other words, Jesus came to destroy the cosmic “power over” lord and establish the kingdom of God upon the earth (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Jesus planted the seed of the kingdom of God with his ministry, death, and resurrection and then gave to the church, the body of all who submit to his lordship, the task of embodying and living out this distinct kingdom…We collectively are his “second” body, as it were, through which he continues to do what he did in his “first” body…As we allow Christ’s character to be formed in us—as we think and act like Jesus—others come under the loving influence of the kingdom and eventually their own hearts are won over to the King of Kings. The reign of God is thus established in their hearts, and the kingdom of God expands. That process…will culminate in the return of the King accompanied by legions of angels, at which time Satan’s rule will end, the earth will be purged of all that is inconsistent with God’s rule, and his kingdom of love will be established once and for all.”

The rest of the chapter looks at Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God—that it is for those who are like little children, not seeking power, money, or social respect (Matt 18:3-4), that it washes people’s feet in service (John 13:3-11), that it does not retaliate with power but heals those who threaten (as in when Jesus healed the ear of the man struck by the sword in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:50-51), that it loves neighbors (Matt 22:36-40), that it prays for those who persecute (Matt 5:43-44), and that it even does good to those who seek to do harm (Luke 6:29; 6:34-35).

There is little to criticize in Boyd’s description of the Kingdom of God—it is indeed the subversive kingdom that overthrows the kingdom of Satan by love and sacrifice, for this is what the King did on the cross (and which was vindicated in the resurrection). Our mandate is indeed to seek first this Kingdom and to become kingdom people. If Christ is King, he must be King of all. And we live in the tension of the time in which there is a cosmic battle between these two kingdoms.

However, Boyd goes one step further (following John Howard Yoder), saying that all governments are a part of the kingdom of the world—ruled, therefore, by Satan.

And that is the problem. If each government is itself a “power” that is fallen and under the control of Satan, then this leaves little room for Christians to be a subversive, redeeming force for and in the government. According to Boyd, government is evil because it is ontologically evil doing the will of Satan; government itself is a fallen power (not just an institution that is under the influence of evil powers, it itself is an evil power).

But this does not seem to be the teaching of Scripture, which says that the governing authorities have no authority “except that which God has established…Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong” (Romans 13:1-3). Paul’s language does not sound like he is condemning governmental authority because it is demonic; rather it seems to be the exact opposite: “God has established” rulers, and therefore they “hold no terror for those who do right.”

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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The Middle East, Jon Stewart, and Armageddon

Jon Stewart, the quintessential satirist of our day, had a lot of fun the other day with CNN, ABC and Fox as they covered the Middle East with stories relating to Christian fears that this could be the End Times.

In and interview by ABC’s Robin Roberts, Tim LaHaye said, “All across America, in fact, around the world, many people are calling on the name of the Lord and being saved. Because there is no alternative; you either accept Jesus or you will go through terrible times.”

Isn’t that a wonderful sample of the “good news”?

Paula Zahn even showed the “Rapture Index,” which calculates mathematically how close we Christians are to being whooshed out of here before the Tribulation. (The website actually says, “You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity.”)

Jon Stewart’s line is priceless: “The Rapture Index is at 156! My God! That's arbitrarily terrifying!”

And then, he does the most insightful thing: He shows clips from 1999: NBC’s Jane Pauley reporting on how Y2K was also supposed to be the end of the world.

(see the Stewart video at Comedy Central's website)
(see the Stewart video at YouTube)

I'm astonished that so many American churches make the Rapture a center-point in their teaching. The people eat up the Left Behind series like school children reading Harry Potter books.

The world looks at us and laughs. Jon Stewart rightfully satires the networks as they pander to this demographic with these kinds of stories.

What can we do, as the emerging church, to overcome this kind of laughable (and sad) cultural perception of biblical Christianity that is perpetuated by this kind of media attention?

(BTW, Aren’t these networks [especially CNN and ABC] supposed to be the “liberal media” that never covers the news from the evangelical Christians’ viewpoint? How is it that a clear-cut liberal like Jon Stewart can so easily satirize them?)

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Randall Balmer Review at Scot McKnight's "Jesus Creed"

Scot McKnight has done a series reviewing the new book by Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come, An Evangelical's Lament: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. Between this book and the book I'm reviewing here at my blog (Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, see my posts below), we have two new polemics against the Religious Right from those inside the evangelical camp.

Scot McKnight's posts have been excellent, and the comments have been incredible. Lots of interaction there; well worth the read.

Here's a summary with links to Scot McKnight's blog:

Chapter 1 is about abortion, homosexuality, and the ruse of selective literalism.
McKnight says, "What I’ve seen in this book makes me think the conservative evangelical will be offended, the emerging Christian who leans left will love the book, but the most important group that needs to read this book may not read it: the Democratic Party."

Chapter 2 asks the question, “Where have all the Baptists Gone?” and looks at the First Amendment.
Here’s the overall thesis of the chapter: “America needs more Baptists — real Baptists, not counterfeit Baptists like Roy Moore or Rick Scarborough or Richard Land or Jerry Falwell, all whom are Baptists in name only”...
McKnight writes, "Here’s a major point he is making, and I’m not sure there is enough discussion of this point. Is it true or is it not? 'We must recognize that religion flourishes best at the margins and not at the centers of power.'"

Chapter 3 is on education.
Balmer writes, “Whatever common culture we have attained in this country has come about largely though the agency of public education. At the risk of sounding mawkish, I truly believe that public schools served to make America what it is by helping us forge a mutual understanding of one another as Americans...Homeschooling, school vouchers, and charter schools all diminish the possibilities for such understanding”

Chapter 4 asks the questions, "Evolution or intelligent design, science or faith?"
According to Balmer, Intelligent Design “is religion, not science, and the proper venue for the propagation of faith is the home or the church, not the university...As a believer, I have no problem accepting that God, in some way that I cannot fully explain, is responsible for the created order, but that is an assertion of faith, not a conclusion vindicated by scientific inquiry, for I know of no experiment to test empirically for the presence of God.”

Chapter 5 is about environmentalism.
Balmer writes,
“Care for the earth, God’s creation, should be an instinctive response on the part of those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus — and even more so for those who insist that an intelligent designer fahsioned the natural world. The Religious Right, however, conjuring the goblins of neopaganism, have cast their lot with corporate and business interests, distorting the faith with a narrow, pinched reading of Genesis. This theology of dominion, coupled with the wise use ideology of corporate interests, places humanity in the role of exploiter and justifies the plundering of natural resources.”

Chapter 6, according to McKnight, "is both a jeremiad and a plea — a critique of the Religious Right and a basket of suggestions of how evangelicals can move forward."
Balmer asks, what would America look like if the RR had its way? They would “take the country back to the seventeenth century” and “impose their vision of a moral order on all of society” (181). In other words, Balmer sees the RR to be the 21st Century’s embodiment of American Puritanism. Both groups are frightened by pluralism.

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The Myth of a Christian Nation, Ch 1

Boyd’s first premise is this: Whereas the kingdom of the world is one that exercises power over others, the Kingdom of God exercises power under others.

In the first chapter of The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2006), Boyd briefly looks at the most important passage in the New Testament on government, Romans 13:1-4. His interpretation of the passage does not go along with the traditional evangelical interpretation, but rather sides with that of John Howard Yoder (in this book, Boyd cites Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus 12 times, more than any other single source). In Romans 13:1, Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (NRSV). The word “instituted” in the NRSV (the version Boyd uses in this book) and that the NIV and NAS translate “established,” is the Greek word tetagmenai, the perfect passive participle of tasso, which means to be instituted, appointed, or established. Boyd does not see this as God’s providentially choosing who will rule. He says, rather, “This doesn’t mean that worldly governments are created by God or that governments always use their God-given authority as God intended—as though Hitler and Stalin were carrying out God’s will! Paul rather says that God institutes, directs, or stations (tetagmenai) governments. John Howard Yoder’s comment is insightful: ‘God is not said to create or…ordain the powers that be, but only to order them, to put them in order, soveriegnly to tell them where they belong, what is there place…Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does…What the text says is that God orders them, brings them into line, providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purpose.”

In quoting this interpretation from Yoder, I think that Boyd is affirming his "Open Theism" view of how God’s providential hand works in the affairs of humanity. This view is contrary to how a Calvinist like Doug Moo interprets Romans 13:1--as God's providential setting of all governments.

"Playing on the root of the verb ‘submit’ (tag-), he (Paul) reminds us that God himself has ‘established’ or appointed (tetagmenoi) every authority that exists. This point is not a new one. Throughout the Bible, God’s providential rule over everything is specifically applied to the rise and fall of political leaders. As Daniel tells King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men’ (Dan. 4:17).” (Douglas J. Moo, NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Romans. p. 422.)

Why Boyd favors Yoder’s interpretation over against the standard Reformed view is that he sees all kingdoms in the world as agents of the god of this world—Satan. In fact, Boyd’s preferred term for the governments of the world is the singular “kingdom of the world,” which is what Rev. 11:15 calls it. I agree with Boyd’s exegetical work that proves that Satan has somehow been given the authority over the kingdoms of this world. In Luke 4:5-7, Satan tempts Jesus by offering all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus (“I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to”), and Jesus in his response does not refute the fact that Satan does indeed have this authority. Boyd cites other passages that builds the case (1 John 5:19; Rev. 18:23; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2), and this reflects his affinity for the Christus Victor view of the Atonement (InterVarsity will be publishing a "four views" book later this year on the Atonement in which Boyd takes this view).

Having stated that Romans 13 commands Christians to be “subject to the governing authorities,” Boyd writes, “I know of no way to resolve the ambiguity involved in this dual analysis of the kingdom of the world—but simply recognizing that there is, at the very least, a strong demonic presence polluting all versions of the kingdom of the world has to significantly affect how followers of Jesus view earthly governments. Minimally, this recognition implies that we can never assume that any particular nation—including our own—is always, or even usually, aligned with God.”

Those are hard-hitting words for a country like ours. We are convinced that we are the nation that is “good” and “righteous.” We presume that our “war against terrorism” is a war of righteousness versus evil. We believe that our intentions to promote democracy in the former Soviet bloc and the Middle East are part of our God-given mandate (this had been the religious language of the “cold war”—see Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric, and the religious language of the war on terror—see George W. Bush’s rhetoric).

Therefore, Boyd’s point is a striking one. When nations believe that they are on God’s side, they are deceiving themselves. When they go to war for what they have convinced themselves are righteous reasons, they often are simply partaking in the “myth of redemptive violence” (Boyd cites Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers, saying that it is not biblical to believe that violence can redeem us and exterminate evil; rather, violence perpetuates evil).

Boyd says, “The hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that doesn’t participate in tit for tat, a kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power.”

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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