Let’s take a look at the subheading on pg. 19, “God and the Kingdom of the World”
There, Boyd talks about government and quotes John Howard Yoder:
“God is not said to create or…ordain the powers that be, but only to order them, to put them in order, sovereignly to tell them where they belong, what is their place. It is not as if there was a time when there was no government and then God made government through a new creative intervention; there has been hierarchy and authority and power since human society existed. Its exercise has involved domination, disrespect for human dignigty, and real or potential violence ever since sin has existed. Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does. The sergeant does not produce the soliders he drills; the librarian does not create nor approve of the book she or he catalogs and shelves. Likewise God does not take the responsibility for the existence of the rebellious “powers that be” or for their shape or identity; they already are. What the text says is that God orders them, brings them into line providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purpose.”
And so Boyd goes on to say:
“As he did with nations in the Old Testament (for instance, in Isaiah 10), God uses governments as he finds them, in all their ungodly rebellious ways, to serve his providential purposes.”
For Boyd, government is for:
“the general purpose to preserve as much law and order as possible. Insofar as governments do this they are properly exercising the authority God grants them and are, to that extent good.”
There are a couple of things to say about this.
1. Generally speaking? Boyd simply views government AS INHERENTLY EVIL though he sees it doing good at times. For Boyd, government WORKS AT A MINIMUM. Essentially, though government is there to punish crime even if it is inherently evil, it’s primary task is negative. It will govern coercively, through fines, jail, threats, etc. This, it seems to me, is THE UNDERLYING FRAMEWORK Boyd works with. This has to be kept in mind as we review Myth. The problem with this understanding is that government’s task is not simply negative but postive as well. We’ll look at that below.
2. Yoder: For Yoder, God does not specially create governments. Humans existed, then societies and then governments resulted from those societies. Prior to societies, sin emerges as inherent among individuals who build societies which then build governments for those societies so that what we have are sinful or worldly governments.
So Boyd is really repeating what Yoder is saying here (obviously) but there are a couple of major problems with this Let’s look at the second first.
1. Boyd, along with Yoder, wants to say that governments appear AFTER sin. Consequently then, it is affected by sin. Over at Jesus Radicals, Mark Van Steenwyk says the same thing. He says:
Let’s start at the beginning. One can easily read Genesis as an anti-civilizational text. After all, it tells the story of humans living in harmony with nature. The first act of violence is committed by the agriculturalist (Cain) rather than the nomadic herdsman (Abel). As we know, agriculture emerges with the advent of civilization. This murderer is the person who establishes the first city. Later, as humanity “progresses” all sorts of crazy things happen, like when human population spikes, the “sons of elohim” have sex with women, people become increasingly wicked, and God sends a flood to reboot creation. Later, folks gather to build a huge tower that reaches to the heavens; God scatters the people. For the most part, Genesis is remarkably negative about the civilizational project and its subsequent imperializing tendencies.
As Ched Myers suggests, “in the ‘primeval history’ of Gen 1-11 Israel’s sages—redacting older sources and probably writing in the aftermath of the failed monarchy—also attempt to explain [the rupture from primal life]. Eden can be interpreted as a mythic memory of the old symbiotic lifeways: humans, creatures and God dwell intimately and richly together (Gen 2).” When paradise is lost, humans are relegated to hard agricultureal toil, the first city is attributed to murder, God has to drown the earth to knock back the evils of civilization.
“The “Fall” in Gen 1-11, then, is not so much a cosmic moment of moral failure as a progressive ‘history’ of decline into civilization—exactly contrary to the myth of Progress…The biblical primeval history thus should be considered not only as “mythic memory,” but also as perhaps the first literature of resistance to the grand project of civilization—rightly warning against its social pathologies and ecocidal consequences.”
The rest of Genesis follows the story of the first patriarchs, who YHWH has called out to become a people who will follow YHWH into a promised land. Throughout Geneis, trouble happens when the Jews favorably interact with imperial powers or try to settle too soon. It should be pointed out that, while the patriarchs had lots of possessions, it is a stretch to put modern notions of property rights upon them. Pre-agricultural nomadic peoples were tribal. While they certainly weren’t egalitarian (at least in this case) their understanding of ownership was certainly more communal. The wealth of the tribe or clan or family was for the benefit of all. And, it would seem, that God’s vision for Jubilee would push that even further.
What I find problematic about what Steenwyk is saying is this. Yes. The story of Cain says that there were many cultural activities that appeared after sin. We have hunting, plowing, city-building and activities such as music-making ALONG with a legal order, however, as Paul Marshall says:
“…music-making–which also appeared in the generations of Cain (Gen 4:21). But, while we may have our doubts about much of what comes over MTV these days, it is doubtful that music only came into existence because of sin. It depends on the song sung. Similarly, the use of bricks and tar IS FIRST described as part of the building of the tower of Babel, a project CONCEIVED IN PRIDE (Gen 11:3-5). But this presumably, does not mean that building is wrong. Many FUNDAMENTAL FEATURES OF HUMAN LIFE appeared only when sin already existed in the world, and took their shape PARTLY IN REACTION TO THAT EXISTENCE.”
2. From a sphere sovereignty position, again, it is God first–God who is sovereign over ALL earthly authorities and powers and then those other centers of authority. God is the Lord of all. No one can act in an omni-competent manner other than God. What this means is that government’s role is not to simply act in a negative fashion but it is also to act in a manner that is positive. That positive manner would be to ensure that everything other center of authority is allowed the space to carry out it’s role and responsibility–that another center or sphere will not take over another’s role–that another center of authority will not act like God. This means that not everything government does is coercive. Think about it. You go through your daily life being the construction worker, the teacher, the professor, the mother, the father, the banker, the fireman,etc, without coercion or force. These callings and responsibilities are not FORCED on you. They are what they are. Being callings and responsibilities means we have to ask WHO does the calling and WHO is responsible to carry out those callings. God does the calling and gives us the responsiblity (cultural mandate) and we are to own up to our part (carry out your responsibility). This is where Victor Austin’s conductor analogy comes into play.
In a symphony, we have what Austin calls a “mini-society.” Essentially, what Austin says is that the symphony comes together voluntarily and listens to the conductor on that same basis. They give themselves to practicing freely, they are selfless, they hold no grudges against other members, and they do not undercut one another. Lastly they will not seek more glamour for themselves than what their piece of the music warrants (over-extending their authority?). Basically? They are perfect. Given the nature of this mini-society, Austin raises the question: “Would such a symphony, composed of mature musicians free from the weight of sin, need authority? Austin answers in the positive.
1. First they need a conductor. The conductor has “the ear,” so to speak, to pick up the nuances of a piece of music that individual musicians might not have–even if they ARE mature players. Why is this? Because there are a range of legitimate interpretations. As Austin says:
“Decisions must be made about phrasings, about tempo, about volume and blend of various instruments. On each of these questions there are many wrong answers; but there is also seldom just one right answer. So decisions must be made. And they must be made amongst alternatives which have equal reason. So someone, an authority, in this case the conductor, has to determine how the music will be played. And the musicians must accept the conductor’s determinations and play as she directs or there will be no music. Does the musician lose his freedom when he plays as his conductor directs? He does lose his ability to play in any which way he might choose, but is that a loss of freedom? ”
Austin goes on to answer that question by saying that while say, a trombonist might not recognize any authority outside of himself, and may even be able to play solos very well, no trombonist–even the best, could play Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony by himself. As such, without the authority of the conductor, a SYMPHONY of different instrumentalists and musicians playing in harmony could NEVER be heard. In actuality, by a musician recognizing the conductor’s authority, said musician can play with even GREATER expression of freedom. There is in actuality, MORE music that said musician could play.
Austin, later on talks about dissent and authority, ie., a lone ranger musician adamantly disagreeing with the conductor. In such cases, there are particular ways to go about disagreeing with authority WITHOUT UNDERMINNING it of which we will look at later.
2. There are many forms of legitimate authority. That is, many forms of power “stem from leadership which wins people over voluntarily and gladly.” (Marshall). A person can be an authority, not simply because they are who they are or the position they hold, ie., the president. This person’s authority is tied to their skills–to particular knowledge or talent someone might have. In these cases, we are RECOGNIZING these authorities while at the same time we are said to be CONFERRING that authority and submitting to it. As Marshall says:
“The key to using power well, is not by avoiding it in a desperate search for a nowhereland where none is ever subject to another. Rather, by knowing our strenghts and temptations, we can recognize and submit to knowledge and ability. The power that lies at the heart of the political order can be and often is misued, but it is itself a gift to be used wisely.”
So if there can be a “mini-society” such as a symphony with the differing members (musicians) which can be run along the lines of a non-coercive behavior, so is it possible for political society with its differing members!
The next post I put up will deal with how Boyd’s deals with Jesus’ temptation and Satan’s offer of the Kingdom’s of the world. For Boyd, the kingdoms of the world are all OWNED by Satan which is to say that Satan is sovereign over all versions of the kingdom of the world (in the same way that God is?).