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Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part I

Greg Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1988), his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School (1982) and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota (1979). He was a professor of theology for 16 years at Bethel University (St. Paul, MN).

In 1992, Greg co-founded Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical fellowship in St. Paul. He is also president of ReKnew.org. Greg is a pastor, theologian, and author of more than a dozen academic and popular books.

Some of his books include, Letters From a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about ChristianityThe Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus TraditionIs God to Blame?: Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Evil, and the best-selling book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, which led to a New York Times front-page article and several television interviews.

In 2010, Greg was listed as one of the twenty most influential Christian scholars alive today. He continues to challenge evangelicals with his theological ideas and Kingdom vision. His work is an inspiration to those evangelicals that believe a revolution is needed in the church.

Greg is a pioneering Christian intellectual and church practitioner. He is helping to bridge the gaps between the church & academy, faith & reason, theology & science, as well as confession & mission.

I asked Greg if he would be willing to share his Kingdom vision with my readers. He was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about his ministry at Woodland Hills and talk about his upcoming books.

The Q&A will come in three parts. Enjoy!
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Hey Greg, thank you for taking time out to talk about your ministry at Woodland Hills, and to give us a sneak peak of your two upcoming books.

I must say that I’ve been personally impacted by the work you’re doing in the church today, and I think many evangelicals need to hear and understand your vision for the Kingdom of God.

I recently featured your book The Myth of a Christian Nation in a blog series of five books offering a new Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism. Your 2004 sermon series The Cross & the Sword was the foundation for this book.

What is the core message you set forth in your sermons and in your book? 

Greg Boyd: Thanks for the invitation to dialogue, David. I appreciate your passion for the Kingdom and your desire to see Evangelicalism freed from its cultural imprisonment.

Well, the core message of my sermon series and book is simply that the Kingdom of God is not merely the best version of the kingdoms of this world. It’s a Kingdom that is “not of this world,” as Jesus said (Jn 18:36).

As the incarnation of God, Jesus perfectly modeled what it looks like for God to reign over a person’s life. So you can always tell where the Kingdom is present, because it always looks like Jesus.

Individuals and groups under the reign of God manifest the kind of humble, self-sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated in his life, and especially in his death, when he freely offered himself up on behalf of the very people who crucified him, praying for their forgiveness with his last breath.

To the extent that individuals and groups lovingly sacrifice for others the way Jesus did, the Kingdom is present. To the extent that they don’t, it’s not. It’s really that simple.

Obviously, no nation, government and political party has ever looked anything like this. Indeed, given the power-dynamics of our fallen world, I don’t believe any nation, government or political party ever COULD look like this. And this is why we should never identify any nation, government or political party as being the kingdom of God, or even as a means of bringing about the Kingdom of God.

It’s also why we should never think any nation, government or political party is more “Christian” than another.

The Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated is altogether unique, and I believe that everything hangs upon God’s people keeping it unique, set apart, or “holy.”  The minute we start associating the Kingdom with nations, governments or politics, we water it down and compromise its distinctive beauty.

It’s my conviction that the job of Kingdom people is to live a Jesus-looking life that CONTRASTS with the world and thereby offers people who have open hearts an ALTERNATIVE to all the kingdoms of this world.

How has Woodland Hills Church changed as a result of this message? 

Greg Boyd: It seems to me that Woodland Hills turned a corner when I first preached the “Cross and the Sword” series.

While we lost around a thousand people as a result of this series, it helped us acquire a sharper vision of the Jesus-looking Kingdom we are called to be citizens and ambassadors of.

We’ve thus grown increasingly aware of how thoroughly American Christianity has been co-opted by American culture and how radically different the Kingdom is from what most Americans identify as the “Church.” Along the same lines…

we’ve come to a greater realization of how challenging it is to make authentic disciples out of American church attenders. 

This has in turn motivated us to explore strategies to help people wake up to the way they’ve been conditioned by things such as the individualism, consumerism, materialism, hedonism and triumphalism of American culture.

And its motivated us to put in place courses to walk people through this process and eventually get them plugged into missional Kingdom communities in which they worship, minister and share life with others in meaningful ways.

I’d also add that over the last five years Woodland Hills has increasingly come to see itself as a resource center for individuals and groups around the world who are waking up to this distinctive vision of the Kingdom.

So what would you say to those who are worried about the outcome of the presidential election?

Greg Boyd: I’d simply encourage them to place their trust where their trust ought to be: in JESUS. He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all Lords, and his Kingdom will last forever and ever!

Presidents, political parties, governments and nations come and go, but Jesus “is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”

While we should expect pagans to think that the future of the world is in their hands — this is why they seize whatever power they can to try to control how things unfold — children of God are called to place their trust completely in him and to aspire to be faithful to his call.

We are called to crucify ourselves, which means we are to die to living out of our own self-interest, and instead seek only to love, serve, and bless all people, including our enemies.

So long as we think it is UP TO US to fix the world, we can never love and bless those who oppose us.

Only when we realize that we are called to be faithful in living a Jesus-looking life while leaving all outcomes to God can love our enemies and refrain from violence the way Jesus commanded us to (Lk 6:27-35).

Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part II

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

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Greg Boyd on Faith & Politics

Greg Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1988), his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School (1982) and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota (1979). He was a professor of theology for 16 years at Bethel University (St. Paul, MN).

He is the founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical church in St. Paul.

In 2004, Boyd preached a seriers of sermons called the Cross & the Sword that resulted in his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Politics is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2006).

Woodland Hills lost about 1,000 members due to Boyd’s sermon series. But Boyd’s vision for the Kingdom of God has since gained an even larger audience. Here is Boyd in a CNN interview explaining his views.

Do you agree or disagree with Boyd? Do you see a problem with how the church has fused her faith with politics? What sort of changes does the church need to make in the future if she is to remain faithful to Jesus’ vision for the Kingdom of God?

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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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