Monthly Archives: June 2012

Greg Boyd’s, Myth of a Christian Nation Pt. 7

 I’m starting chapter 1 of Myth and while I will make a general assessment about the chapter (by the end of the review of the chapter) I will look at various things Boyd says in the mean time.

On page 18 under the heading, “The Power Over Kingdom” Boyd speaks about how the power over kingdom of the world seek to influence by way of threatening.  This is the essence of the power over kingdom.  Boyd says:

“Though all versions of the kingdom of the world try to influence how their subjects think and fell, their power resides in their ability to control behavior.  As effective as a raised sword is in producing conformity, it cannot bring about an internal change.  A kingdom can stipulate that murder will be punished, for example, but it can’t change a person’s desire to murder.  It may be that the only reason a person refrains from killing is because he or she doesn’t want to be imprisoned or executed.  Their motives may be entirely self-serving.  The kingdom of the world doesn’t care, so long as the person conforms to the law.  Laws, enforce by the sword, control behavior but cannot change hearts.”

Now here are some issues with this.

  1. Given a sphere sovereignty view of things, then laws are good as they will ensure that one sphere does not overstep its boundaries to control and manipulate other areas.  Think again, of a library system and how the system contributes to human flourishing.  You have “rules” (laws) that will “coerce” via fines (threats) to patrons that they will have to  have their books back on time.  This is level of coercion is not a bad thing given human finitude.  It keeps “order” but for the greater purpose of human flourishing–not merely to “power over” or RULE over others.
  2. It is possible to show that societies can exist where everything is not run via “power over” but as voluntary.  A “mini-society” such as a symphony is one such society in which the members voluntarily submit to the authority of the conductor, so when Boyd says, “In some versions–such as America–subjects have a say in who their rulers will be…”  it is therefore not entirely accurate to say that coercion is going on.
  3. It is not entirely accurate to say that laws don’t change people.   Laws originating from the state or government come from a complex differeniated society (sphere society).  This means that many of the impacts on laws come from businesses, universities, interest groups, labor organizations, churches, etc.  That is, laws are shaped very much by those NOT in government.  But likewise, once laws come into force, they definitely shape what other organizations and institutions do and how people think and behave. So the movement goes both ways.  So it seems, to this blogger, that Boyd has a rather simplistic view of how law works. 

Greg Boyd’s, Myth of a Christian Nation Pt. 6

If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that I have not been on it for the last few days.  I’ve been working quite a bit lately as well as being in another conversation on facebook with Robert A. J. Gagnon, a professor who teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  A may post what that conversation was about in the future.  Anyhoo…more on Boyd’s book.

Under the heading of “Three Preliminary Words” on pg 14 Boyd says this on page 15:

“Second, to insist that we keep the kingdom of God radically distinct from all versions of the kingdom of the world does not mean that our faith and moral convictions shouldn’t inform our participation in the political process.  Of course they should—but that is true of all citizens in a free country.  Whether we’re aware of it or not, all of us, whether religious or not, vote our faith and values.”

Now there are a couple of things that need to be said here that I don’t know if Boyd is fully aware of. 

First.  He says, “Whether they are aware of it or not, all of us, whether religious or not, vote our faith and values.”  I think he is right on here, but I would say that those who are not religious in the liturgical sense vote THEIR FAITH as well.  They definitely vote their values, but many “secular” folk don’t think that they are religious but in fact their irreligion or no religion acts, at a fundamental level as something very religious.  It fundamentally informs their voting habits as anything religious would.  See Robert Joustra in Canada’s Globe and Mail.  As Skillen says:

“But law and politics arise from and are shaped by the deepest presuppostions on which people depend in various communities of faith regardless of whether those faiths are oriented to a transcendent diety….One worldview might, according to its self-interpretation, be completely unreligious, nonreligious, or antireligious because it is organized around the assumption that human life is part of a self-contained, natural evolution process unrelated to anything beyond the visible universe before us.  But from our point of view such a comprehensive doctrine of reality is as religiously controlling (even though radically different in content) as a Christian or Jewish view of life, which is grounded ultimately in God and the creation order.”

Second, I wonder how Boyd proposes to keep the Kingdom of God radically distinct from all versions of the kingdom of the world in the political process?  I mean, if we are to be involved in politics via “power under” how exactly would this work out?  For example, if my Christian conviction leads me to be involved in politics, say,  just as far as voting for a particular politician who will help the poor become independent and gain human dignity via certain policies and laws which ends up  coercing other citizens to support, through taxes, those policies and laws, how is that “power under” to those other citizens?  How is forcing them–“You have to pay taxes to support our policy or else!” power under? 

It seems to me that at the end of the day, one will be involved in the political structures and systems of their day (something that is not so radical because there is not much difference between this and the Christian going to work at the office or on the factory line, for example, that is that radically different from the non-Christian) but in such a way that it is informed by their faith (which is radical ie., doing justice and not for self-serving ends).


Greg Boyd’s, Myth of a Christian Nation Pt. 5

Page 14 of Myth:

“…the governments of the world seek to establish, protect, and advance their ideals and agendas. It’s in the fallen nature of all those governments to want to “win.” By contrast, the kingdom Jesus established and modeled with his life, death, and resurrection doesn’t seek to “win” by any criteria the world would use.”

This is a part of the problem of Boyd’s analysis of politics. Again, it’s that, “Jesus’ kingdom is pure” vs. the “worldly” system. Now we are talking about how that translates into the Church’s life. Would keeping the Church out of politics on all levels mean that the Church would be spotless? What would a “kingdom of Jesus is pure” look like translated in a Church not involved in politics? Has that EVER happened? Does Boyd believe that if we follow what he is saying that the Church will be spotless? Besides this, why does Boyd draw such a sharp line? On page 19 under the heading of “God and the kingdom of the world” Boyd says,

“The ’power over’ that all versions of the kingdom of the world exercise is NOT ALTOGETHER BAD.”

This just seems like convoluted thinking here. Either “power over” is inherently evil or it isn’t even if it is used for good.

Either way, a few things need to be said about this.

  1. Boyd confuses “power over” with simply having power. THAT power can be used for good or evil. And this is something that I find missing in most if not all discussions by those on the left and especially those within the Anabaptist tradition. Under a sphere sovereignty position, it is God and then everything else. It is God and then underneath God is government and the rest of civil society. God grants or DISTRIBUTES to all of these some power, some authority. So when God grants power to government it isn’t simply to “power over” others ie., the rest of creation in a negative sense. That power or authority is good. And it is given so that creation can fulfill it’s creational/cultural mandate.
  2. Because it is God and then everything else, this means that no other entity in civil society, including government, should act in an omni-competent manner. That is reserved only for God. That is to say, that the government is not this or that and this or that is not government. Which is to say, for example, that government is not a parent and its children are not the rest of civil society. Government is not a university, a hospital, a business, a bank, etc. It doesn’t play those roles. That’s not it’s job. And a hospital, for example is not a government or a police agency or a bank, etc. However, there are ways that government can expedite or impede human flourishing or expedite or impede all of these entities God-given rights and responsibilities. Which is to say…
  3. That government’s God-given responsibility is to act JUDICIALLY with regard to all the other areas of civil society. That is, if government is under God then it is not to act LIKE God–omni-competently–but is to be subservient to God and what God wills.

Either way, the line doesn’t need to be drawn so sharply–it seems like a false dichotomy is made as not only pertaining to my three points above, but as I said yesterday, with my example of the library system. Government power doesn’t necessarily have to be “power over” but can, in legitimate ways, UNDER GIRD and SERVE AND MINISTER to the other areas of society.

Boyd is for government serving but for him it is serving with the sword. Government is to punish evil, ie., punishing a crime. But it is so much more than that. Government can serve in a judicial manner by ensuring that one sphere of authority doesn’t take over the responsibilities of another sphere of authority.  If it can do this, then it is ABLE to serve in “power UNDER” modes of operation (Boyd Pg 15).


Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation Pt. 4

On page 13 of “Myth” Boyd says,

“The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be, damaging both to the church and to the advancement of God’s kingdom.”

No doubt this is true. However, I tend to think that there is something of a false dichotomy here. This goes with what I said in the last post using the Matt 13 passage of letting the weeds and tares co-exist. Even where there is a legitimate understanding of faith and politics, meaning where they legitimately overlap, it would seem that Boyd would like to keep both sphere’s from doing so. In one sense this is a noble desire as Boyd seems to seek to keep the purity of Christ’s Bride, the church, but in another sense, because he doesn’t seem to see that there is this overlapping, it seems to me that justice, will in the end, be what suffers. Boyd goes on to say:

“Even more fundamentally, because this myth links the kingdom of God with certain political stances within American politics, it has greatly compromised the holy beauty of the kingdom of God to non-Christians.”

Right. This is where the issue lies. It lies with Christians saying, that THIS particular policy or THAT particular policy will be THE CHRISTIAN ONE. Especially if a particular policy is very complex. For example, take the issue of the poor. One Christian may address the poor by helping them out with government assistance. Another Christian may disagree and say that we should leave that to the private sector alone. Even WITHIN these views there will be specific ways to go about helping the poor. Now, coming from a sphere sovereignty position, I tend to see government having a role in alleviating both the conditions that put the poor in those positions as well as helping them get out of those conditions. I tend to believe that the private sector will not be so generous with their resources nor do I believe that it is fully capable of doing what it can to help the poor. History has shown that there has been such a thing as “charity fatigue.”

Regardless, whatever political stance one takes with the specifics of a particular policy WITHIN a sphere sovereignty position, one should NOT take it for granted that their particular proposal is THE CHRISTIAN ONE. However, because I believe that government has a role in helping the poor, from a Christian perspective, I take it that my particular theo-political stance ie., sphere sovereignty–meaning that government will be involved–it would do an injustice to the poor if the government was NOT involved in the first place.

This will lead into what Boyd has to say about “power over” in the first chapter. The point being that if I can, say for example, help the poor through government assistance, then this will mean that government can UNDERGIRD and MINISTER to the poor. That is, there will not be a “powering over” others (the poor) but a justice to help them–to bring them to a place of dignity that is owed them. A good example of this would be a library system. The “system” can contribute to human flourishing or it can dehumanize. The library system that is in right order with neatly aligned bookshelves, books in order, library cards, computer systems, time limits on books, etc–all these will contribute to human flourishing–human dignity. The system CAN contribute to the dignity of others. Certainly, the system can contribute to the dehumanization of people, but it will do this when it begins to exist for it’s own good and not that of others. In the end, even though, there is a “powering over others” in that citizens will pay taxes (or else!!!) to contribute to the system, I see no other way of helping the poor, the BEST WAY we can, without government involvement.


Greg Boyd’s, Myth of a Christian Nation Pt 3

Yes, STILL in the Intro

So we are still in the intro of Greg Boyd’s book, “Myth of a Christian Nation.”

This is what Boyd says on page 11-12 of “Myth”:

“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 public schools and at public events, and fighting to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings.

I will argue that this perspective is misguided, that fusing together the kingdom of God with this or any other version of the kingdom of the world is idolatrous and that this fusion is having serious negative consequences for Christ’s church and for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

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. While people whose faith has been politicized may well interpret me along these lines, I assure you that this is not what I’m saying. The issue is far more fundament than how we should vote or participate in government. Rather, I hope to challenge the assumption that finding the right political path has anything to do with advancing the kingdom of God.”

Two issues need to be raised here. The first one has to do with “legislating morality” and the second one has to do with sphere sovereignty.

On the one hand, the issues above are noble. That is, Christians seek to make the world into what they think is a better place just as many people involved in the political process tend to do.  I’m sure Boyd wouldn’t have problems with some laws that should be passed against certain things he considers evil. On the other hand, again, these Christians are committing what Skillen calls a “general moralism.”   One of the first questions that one needs to ask, whether they are on the right or left is, “Why should government get involved on this issue?”  “Should government make laws against every possible evil?”   “What is PROPERLY POLITICAL?” 

Now there are some things government has absolutely no business being involved in (some of which aren’t even evil to begin with) and it doesn’t take much thought to see this. Paul Marshall in God and the Constitution:  Christianity and American Politics says:

“There are areas where we definitely should try to impose our morality or legislate our views and there are areas where we should not.  There are many, different types and levels of morality and conduct:  some are appropriate for politics and some are not;  some are matters of personal taste, while others are mattters of life and death, and therefore politically central.  We shouldn’t try to tell people what they should put on their pizza.  It’s a matter of taste, and , unless someone is about to die of food allergies, people should be free to make up their own minds about what they want for lunch.” 

In the areas that are evil,  from a Christian perspective, it seems we have to co-exist alongside those evils (though this may mean fighting those evils in other ways or by other means) .  The idea here is from the parable of the man who sowed good seed in his field but someone who was his enemy had come along and planted weeds, Matt 13:28-30.  Jesus says that both should grow together.  Again, Paul Marshall states:

“If as the parable says, God is patient even with those who do evil, so much more should we also strive to live alongside others in political peace.

In fact, Jesus went far beyond describing God’s patient acceptance of certain kinds of evil.  He said that God not only allows people to live in disobedience, but also still actively cares and provides for them even as they do so.”

Though these are the first fundamental questions to ask, they still do not address how they are related to the question of a differeniated creation.  The question of what is properly political is not only to ask what  the proper role of government is or what government’s proper jurisdiction is but it is to also ask what are the proper roles (and responsibilities) of other areas of civil society ie., families, churches, police, unions, hospitals, schools, etc, etc, etc.  Again as Paul Marshall says,

“This chapter has stressed that the fact that someone may be doing something bad is not itself grounds for government action.  Individual, families, churches, unions, and businesses have their own rights and responsibility and need to have the political freedom to exercise that responsibility….the mere fact that greed and lust, and waste and pornography, are evil is not in and of itself any grounds for any government action. 

In this particular sense we should agree that is is not the task of government to enforce morality.  The government’s task is not to compel everything that is right or moral, but to enforce the particular morality that we call justice–which lies at the core of genuine poltical morality.  Governments must respect the proper independence of others—respect independent human callings human responsibilities, human rights. Human rights are one way of referring to an area of human decision and responsibility properly beyond the authority and power of governments.”

 

Essentially, when Marshall speaks about the “independent human callings and responsibilities” he is saying that different spheres of authority, ie., mothers, fathers, teachers, police officers, doctors, families, banks, unions, schools, etc, what we call “civil society” have particular callings and responsibilities from God. That is, as a result, they have a right(s) to carry out these callings and responsibilities–callings and responsibilities given by God via the nature of what they are. Government’s job is to not to go beyond it’s “authority and power” to carry out these callings or responsibilities for that would be government acting in an omnicompetent manner. It would be going beyond IT’S God given calling and responsibility. In other words, government should not take over the role of the other spheres. This is not to say that the spheres never overlap. But it is to say that each sphere should not be CONFUSED with another sphere.

Sphere sovereignty, as a tradition, plays no role in the thought pattern of Boyd throughout this book and that is unfortunate as that seems to be a more balanced understanding of faith and politics than what is offered to us in Myth.


Greg Boyd’s Myth Of A Christian Nation Pt 2

Still in the Intro

On page 11 of the intro of Myth under the heading of “The Central Thesis Of This Book” Boyd states,

Rather than focusing our understanding of God’s kingdom on the person of Jesus–who, incidentally never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day–I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.”

Aside from the problematic hermeneutic of  “following Jesus” in a sort of wooden fashion (it isn’t as if Christians don’t go beyond the Bible to “follow” Jesus) while I generally agree with the idea of Christianity being defined via “political ideals, agendas, and issues” there is a difference between this and God’s call to do justice–which, incidentally is theologically based.  What makes up this theology is not simply the words or actions or life and death of Jesus but the whole of God’s truth or the whole of the biblical drama.  In other words, the creative and powerful acts of God in the O.T. ALSO have something to say to us with regard to doing justice. 

That is, God creates and this creation exists in communion with God (Col 1:16-17).  As a part of this communion with God, God has specific purposes for the distinct and differentiated creation, such that together, they, in their “symphonic dance” reveal God’s glory.   If this is the BASIS for political involvement, then we need to ask how we can make this dance as beautiful as possible (as opposed to the haphazard chaos that existed prior to God’s initial creative act).  The questions that will ultimately need to be asked then are, “How do we do justice to each unique creature such that they can dance the dance? How will they dance to the best of their ability and RE-sponsibility in their uniqueness?  Who besides God can exercise that kind responsibility for ALL creatures?” 

According to the Genesis narratives God gives humans (who are made in his image) responsibility for one another and for all other creatures.  According to Skillen,

“God does justice TO the world, in part by commissioning human beings to exercise justice IN the world.” 

That is, God does justice to humans by making room for them to exercise responsibility that may seem to belong to God.  His image (a RESPONSIBLE God who gives due respect and honor to his creation) is their image (they are a RESPONSIBLE creation who give due respect and honor to the rest of creation).  

So, what does this mean?  Does this mean that justice is grounded in God’s PURPOSES for creation?  That is the uniquesness of God’s creatures? If justice is related to God’s purposes for creation would this be the basis for political involvement and if so,  is it really inappropriate for Christians to have concern for “political ideals, agendas, and issues?”  So, to use an example, let’s say the environment, including animals, mammals, organic organisms, etc, is something God gives us responsibility for, would it not make sense that we humans be concerned about ideals, agendas and issues for how they can dance the dance?


Greg Boyd’s Myth Of A Christian Nation: An Ongoing Review

We’ll start with the introduction and I’ll make some comments about each chapter where I think its appropriate.  As a precursor, I think it should be noted that there is no reason to abandon Anabaptism simply because one does not agree with it.  The thinking here is more for pragmatic reasons.  For example, if you had a strict pacifist and a person who believes in just war theory, my personal belief is that the pacifist is there (from a providential point of view?) to be a reminder to the just war theorist not to be so overly anxious to “pull the trigger” so to speak.  Those in the Anabaptist tradition, I think, serve to remind the rest of us about the dangers of “power over” and this will always be a prophetical voice in the Kingdom of God.  So…let’s get started.

Intro

On page 10 in the introduction of Myth of a Christian Nation (“Myth” from here on out) Boyd speaks about when he started a preaching series entitled, “The Cross and the Sword.” He says that  about 1000 people left his congregation as a result of disagreeing with these messages.  He states:

Many who left sincerely believe there is little ambiguity in how true faith translates into politics.  Since God is against abortion, Christians should vote for the pro-life candidate, they believe–and the preacher should say so.  Since God is against homosexuality, Christians should vote for the candidate who supports the marriage amendment act–and the Bible–believing pastor should proclaim this.  Since God is for personal freedom, Christians should vote for the candidate who will fulfill “America’s mission” to bring freedom to the world–and any American pastor, like myself, should use his ‘God–given authority and responsibility’ to make this known. ‘It’s THAT simple,’ I was told.  To insist that it’s NOT, some suggested, is to be (as I was variously described) a liberal, a compromiser, wishy–washy, unpatriotic, afraid to take a stand, or simply on the side of Satan.”

Now, right off the bat, we see something about either the way Boyd portrays this or the way these congregants were in his church.  I’m really not sure which is which.  Maybe it’s both.  Maybe both Boyd and his congregants do their politics essentially the same (though it seems as if he is more balanced [as per what I say below and] from an interview he had on CNN a few years ago via Christiane Amanpour.  You can see that here and here). Regardless, what Boyd is saying here is that the many of the congregants who left have a “single issue voting” approach to politics.  That is, they will vote for a politician because he/she is against or is for some moral issue that they agree with.  If voter is against same-sex marriage, then said voter will vote for politician who is against same-sex marriage.  Now, for the most part, this is true.  But it is true for both the right AND the left.  Aside from this though,  there are a couple of problems with how Boyd speaks of politics: 

  1. Boyd doesn’t draw a difference between political office and referendums.  He simply combines them.  That is, voting for an office (say, the presidency) is different from voting for a referendum.  If say, there is a marriage referendum for same-sex marriage and one doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage, why would one vote FOR that ONE issue that they feel morally apprehensive about? 
  2. When voting for a president or prime minister one should consider many different variables ie., character, fitness for office, their philosophy,  their priorities and what they intend to do about a full range of issues that are most crucial. Let me give an example.   What if a politician said they were against abortion but pushed legislative marriage/family policies or laws that cheapen family and marriage such that  and those who do get pregnant have even less reason to want to keep their unborn?  What have we gained at this point then?  Voting for a president or prime minister is more than just voting for that one issue.  It’s not to say the “life issues” shouldn’t be a top priority, they should be.  But if one could not reasonably expect that a presidential nominee would lead a Congress to bring an end to abortion, or at least make major strides in that direction, then one would have to assume that a great many abortions are going to continue all through his presidency.

Again, this is surely the problem of both the right and left politics.  Both sides jump on what Skillen called a “general moralism” whether it is single issue voting or many moral issues.  The left will jump on either one issue or all of these issue:  the poor, capitalism, same-sex marriage and corporate welfare, etc.  The right will jump on their moral issues as well (much that are the same as the left but simply the opposition to their issues) such that they sound like a family having a major feud, “You’re this, you’re that…”  “Yeah?  Well you’re this and your that!  Ha!”  A couple of interesting books that showed this account of things were put out in the mid 90’s by Zondervan, a Christian publishing company.  One was “How Right Is the Right?: A Biblical and Balanced Approach to Politics” and “Why the Left Is Not Right: The Religious Left : Who They Are and What They Believe”  The one big problem of both books was that NEITHER side asked the ONE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION:  What is government’s role?  Should government be involved in this? 

In the coming posts interacting with Boyd’s “Myth,” I hope to show why government or governing is biblical (contra what he says–all worldly governments are Babylon in Revelation), what the problem is with “power over” politics as well as politics and coercion among other issues to be discussed.   Stay tuned.