Author Gregory Boyd takes readers on a journey through scriptures and history to show that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world are two separate entities that cannot be reconciled with one another. Therefore, there can be no such thing as a genuine Christian nation. Jesus offered Christians a vision where greatness is determined not by "power-over" authority like what is seen in government, but through a "power-under" approach in which we must give of ourselves to serve others. The author also shows how throughout history, when the church becomes too tightly enmeshed in politics, Christians are viewed as judgmental rather than loving, which seriously undermines the power of Christian witness to the good news. Because of this, we must model our lives on the radical love of Jesus in which he gave his life for the sins of all mankind, rather than engaging in an us-versus-them mentality. In doing so, this book challenges all Christians to ask themselves whether it's worth aligning ourselves with a political cause if it's going to damage the true purpose God has for us here on Earth.
As I believe I've mentioned in previous reviews of books that were chosen as our church book club reads, I feel like I've been on a spiritual journey for the last fifteen or so years. Part of that journey has included wrestling with the role of my Christian faith in government and politics. If only I'd known of the existence of The Myth of a Christian Nation ten years ago, I might have come to some of the same conclusions much faster than I did without reading it ... until now. Author Gregory Boyd is obviously a very intelligent and scholarly man who, based on the topic of this book and the descriptions of others he's written, has struggled with some of the same issues I have. This is one reason I very much appreciated the topic of this book and the author's handling of it. I also liked it because I felt that Rev. Boyd took a balanced approach to the subject matter, using language that will be familiar to most Christians, particularly those of the conservative persuasion, while presenting a viewpoint that challenges much of conservative Christianity's way of thinking on the subject. He also, IMHO, strongly backed up that viewpoint with numerous scripture citations (If I hadn't been in a hurry to finish the book in time for my book club meeting, I might have read it with my Bible open, referring to each of the passages as he cited them.), as well as the works of many other learned men throughout history (I hope to check out many of these other books at some point, too.), so in my estimation, he did an excellent job of defending his position, even though I know many still won't agree.
The basic thesis of this book is rooted in Rev. Boyd's belief that "a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry," a position I agree with wholeheartedly, but one that I couldn't necessarily defend with my meager knowledge of the scriptures and church history. It's just something that I've felt in my gut and an opinion I've formed based on what I've seen over the past forty+ years of my life. Now I have a much better understanding of where that gut feeling came from. Rev. Boyd scripturally points out that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world are two separate entities and that no matter how "good" any kingdom of the world may seem, it's still deeply flawed by comparison to the kingdom of God. Also, the Bible clearly states that the kingdom of the world is Satan's domain, which is why it's so flawed. Therefore there is no such thing as a Christian nation, America or otherwise. To try to comingle the two only taints the church and hinders the advancement of God's kingdom, which is what I've seen playing out in the church for these past years that I've been on this journey. Also in looking much further back at history, I can see this as well, in such things as the Crusades, the widespread corruption in the Catholic church of the Middle Ages and beyond that led to the Protestant Reformation, and other key points of church history. In fact, the author takes a historical look all the way back to the early church immediately following Christ's resurrection, how it was growing by leaps and bounds and how the apostles counted it a privilege to die as martyrs for their faith. But when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he began this melding of church and state (or church and the power of the sword) that has lasted into modern times and that has slowly deteriorated the loving and peaceful message of Christ.
Another thing that I very much appreciated about this book is how the author contrasted "power over" with "power under." He argues that "power over" is the way of the kingdom of the world, in which power must be exerted over people in order to retain some semblance of law and order. It's more or less a necessary "evil" to maintain civility in a fallen world. However, Jesus never exercised "power over" authority with people. Instead he always practiced "power under," placing himself under others in loving service to them, eventually paying the ultimate price of his life for all mankind, even though he could have called upon the power of heaven to save himself. It's this example that we should follow and emulate, sacrificially giving of ourselves to others and always interacting with them with their best interests at heart. Therefore, we shouldn't view those on the opposite end of the political spectrum or those who hold different social values than we do as the "enemy." Instead we should refrain from judgment and let go of our anger, finding ways to "come under" one another in loving service.
Rev. Boyd goes on to expound upon many other important points such as how even among Jesus' disciples there were those from opposing political viewpoints and yet they ministered alongside Jesus for three years with no recorded episodes of extreme discord. He also discusses the history of America and whether it was founded as an explicitly "Christian nation," as well as whether the church and any militaristic pursuits can ever genuinely live side by side. In addition, he also explores the idea that since we're all sinners, Christian or not, we can't possibly set ourselves up as the moral guardians of the world, so rather than passing judgment on others or trying to impose our beliefs on them via political means, we should instead find ways to show them their unsurpassed worth in the eyes of God. I could go on with all the many things the author discusses, but these are some of the standouts.
I admire and respect Rev. Boyd for standing up for what he believes and for taking the time to write about it, even though his views may not be popular. He is the pastor of a mega-church in Minnesota, who lost about twenty percent of his congregation when he preached the sermon series that became this book. He said that he has been variously described as "liberal, a compromiser, wishy-washy, unpatriotic, afraid to take a stand, or on the side of Satan," even though he doesn't feel any of those labels accurately describe him. From my point of view, however, he's a much-need prophetic voice in a church that has in many ways, lost its way by becoming too caught up in politics and the quest for political power to see where they are failing to spread the good news, both at home and abroad. I know many people, Christians especially, will turn away in disgust simply at the title of this book, but I urge those people to take a closer look. What Rev. Boyd posits isn't anything outrageous or radical, except in the sense that Jesus himself expressed an outrageous and radical love for all humankind. From my perspective, The Myth of a Christian Nation is a book that every Christian should take the time to read, even though I know most won't. It is one of those books that contains a great deal of food for thought for anyone who is willing to go into reading it with an open mind and heart. For me, even though I'd already come to the same conclusions as the author before reading it, I still found it to be an eye-opener in the sense that I learned several new things about church history, as well as a stronger Biblical basis for my beliefs. Therefore, I highly recommend it, especially for those who might be struggling with the role Christianity should play in government.
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