Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Four

Gregory Boyd is the founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is also the founder and president of Christus Victor Ministries, currently undergoing a transformation.

ReKnew.org will be launched on June 30th.

For sixteen years Boyd taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He has authored or coauthored over twenty books.

In 2010, Boyd was listed as one of the twenty most influential Christian scholars alive today.

In April 2004—an election year—Boyd preached a sermon series entitled The Cross and the Sword, which addressed the Christian’s call to love one’s enemies and to give exclusive allegiance to Christ and his kingdom.

As a consequence of challenging the highly politicized American evangelicalism, refusing to promote certain political agendas from the pulpit, and for preaching a radical non-violent commitment to Christ, Boyd lost about 20% of his congregation. Those who left Woodland Hills were later replaced with others who agreed with his vision.

From Boyd’s controversial sermon series came the book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan 2006). This book got Boyd a front-page New York Times profile in July 2006. He was also featured in CNN’s 2007 religious special, “God’s Warriors.” And an interview with Charlie Rose about the book.

I read the book when it was first published. It has not only been one of the most influential books in my life, a milestone in my personal thought, I believe it offers the clarity of vision evangelicalism needs right now—especially this election year.

Here are the contents of the book:

  1. The Kingdom of the Sword
  2. The Kingdom of the Cross
  3. Keeping the Kingdom Holy
  4. From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords
  5. Taking America Back for God
  6. The Myth of a Christian Nation
  7. When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians
  8. One Nation Under God?
  9. Christians and Violence: Confronting the Tough Questions

Boyd says, “My Thesis, which caused such an uproar, is this: I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry.” Boyd believes evangelicals have fused their faith with certain political ideologies. Something Jesus never did.

“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).

Boyd dismantles the myth that America is a Christian nation, claiming that the myth “blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples.”

He says that this myth “clouds our vision of God’s distinctly beautiful kingdom” and “harms the church’s primary mission” in the world. He believes that the American flag has “smothered the glory of the cross.”

Boyd contrasts the different versions of the “power over” kingdom of the world with that of the “power under” kingdom of God. “Allegiance to the kingdom of God,” Boyd says, “ is confused with allegiance to America, and lives that are called to be spent serving others are spent trying to gain power over others.”

What is the role of the government until Christ comes? How ought the Christian relate to politics and still carry out Christ’s commission? Boyd persuasively addresses these questions and much more—expositing the words of Christ and the teachings of the apostles in fresh relevant ways.

He even deals with common objections: “What about self-defense?” and “What about Christians in the military?” or “Don’t your views lead to passivity?”

Boyd writes, “Jesus’ teachings aren’t a set of pacifistic laws people are to merely obey, however unnatural and immoral they seem. Rather, his teachings are descriptions of what life in God’s domain looks like and prescriptions for how we are to cultivate this alternative form of life.”

While Jesus acknowledged political realities, he refused to invest his hopes and energies in politics as a solution to the world’s problems. In an examination of moments drawn from history and our own day, Boyd shows that whenever the church is co-opted by politics, we are seen as self-righteous jerks rather than God’s loving servants.

This needlessly turns people away from Christ.

Boyd is tirelessly working to cast a new vision, which is really an old vision, for evangelical Christians who have lost sight of the gospel. It’s time to abandon the quest for political power and begin living out the beautiful kingdom that Christ began with his life and ministry.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

* Read the final post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Five

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

5 responses to “Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Four

  • phdavids

    From how your describe Boyd’s work, I certainly agree with him. I noted one of my students with a book, The Patriot’s Bible, that was a textbook for a course. I was, well, shocked. It was not that I was ignorant of such things, but that I was surprised to see something that would be similar to me to The Prostitute’s Bible in the classroom. There is a failure to see that the salute to the flag of the US is not dissimilar to burning a pinch of incense to the emperor in ancient Rome. Not just evangelicals, but followers of Jesus in general fail to see that they have joined another kingdom, sworn allegiance to another king. Now that king does not use the methods of violence, but that does not make his kingdom any less real. Rather than trying to force the nations/kingdoms of this world to follow “Christian values” (not all of which, I suspect, are Christian), we should rather live our allegiance to our king. Well, I could go on, but I applaud what Boyd has done. It was a courageous stance. He may not be rewarded in this age, but the kingdom is coming.

  • Dan Martin

    Thanks for this excellent review, David. I agree with you that “Myth” is one of the most important books American Evangelicals need to read. I’ve been recommending it for several years myself. Boyd has been unjustly vilified in many Evangelical circles; I find his writing and podcasts to be quite refreshing.

  • jhopping

    While this may be a tough too hard, I honestly think that everyone who had anything do to with the “Patriot’s Bible” is going to have to answer some tough questions to King Jesus! That is one translation that I don’t think He is happy about… =?

    As far as the Boyd’s book in general, I don’t know much about it as I have never read or heard anything about him. I do, however, agree with his thesis that most Christians in the USA are more concerned about forcing the government to behave a certain way then they are with obeying Jesus’s direct commands to love and bless their neighbors and enemies as themselves.

    BTW – does anyone know how many copies it has sold? Out of curiosity, I am wondering how many folks followed up on his interviews and bought the book… If I had to guess, I would assume that most folks would have just yelled at the TV and went on about their lives….

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