After preaching a six-part series on the message that eventually became the content of this book, Greg Boyd saw 20 percent of his church's membership --- about a thousand people --- head for the doors, never to return. To those who left, Boyd had crossed a seemingly unforgivable line in suggesting that partisan political activism had no place in the church and that Christians on both the right and the left had turned politics into a form of idolatry.
While the 20 percent who left Boyd's conservative Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, are the ones who made the news, a full 80 percent remained, grateful that Boyd had given voice to their own misgivings about the alarming and increasing coziness between conservative Christians and the Republican Party. Those who stayed have continued to wrestle, along with their pastor, with the dilemma of addressing social and moral issues while steering clear of partisan activity.
Throughout THE MYTH OF A CHRISTIAN NATION, Boyd uses two distinct models --- the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus --- to help Christians discover a better way of effecting change and transforming society. Politics, he maintains, depends on a "power over" strategy, one that seeks control of the government in order to accomplish such goals as passing legislation, issuing executive orders, handing down judicial decisions, and taking military action, all according to a particular partisan viewpoint. This kingdom-of-the-world perspective stands in marked contrast to the "power under" kingdom of God concept of servanthood. But that contrast, he writes, is not as simplistic as a mere contrast between good and evil: "The contrast is rather between two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different mindsets and belief systems, two fundamentally different loyalties." The holy calling on our lives is to serve the world by looking like Jesus through replicating His sacrificial love, Boyd believes.
That's something that America as a country has never come close to achieving, he maintains. Hence, to call the U.S. a Christian nation is to promote belief in a myth. To those who argue that Christians need to "take America back for God," Boyd asks what they intend to "take America back" to --- a theocracy that never was? ("'One Nation under God" is not a slogan kingdom people in America should take too seriously," he writes.) The presumption that God raised up America as a most-favored nation is both groundless and an "assault" on the kingdom of God. What he calls our "quasi-Christian civil religion" bears no resemblance to the only theocracy God ever established, the ancient nation of Israel.
Though Boyd clearly opposes the intrusion of political activity into the church, nowhere does he encourage passivity. In a chapter dealing with hot-button moral issues like abortion --- appropriately titled "When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians" --- he reminds us once again of our ultimate model of "power under" living: "As people called to mimic Jesus in every area of our lives, we should find it significant that Jesus never assumed the position of moral guardian over any individual, let alone over the culture at large." Still, Jesus was a radical social activist, loving and serving and transforming the lives of others until He bled and died, and it's to this kind of social activism that Boyd believes we are called. And he provides practical examples of how that kind of activism looks in everyday life.
Those Christians who are thoroughly entrenched in a partisan battle for political power will likely dismiss Boyd's conclusions, despite the abundance of scriptural support, logical reasoning and spiritual wisdom that led to those conclusions. But for those who have grown disenchanted and uneasy with the encroachment of political sermons, rallies, fliers, voter guides and conformity into the life of many evangelical churches, Boyd offers a welcome relief and hope that the church can get back to the business of being the church. "I do not argue that those political positions are either wrong or right. Nor do I argue that Christians shouldn't be involved in politics," he writes. "Rather, I want to challenge the assumption that finding the right political path has anything to do with advancing the kingdom of God."
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on April 18, 2006