Monthly Archives: July 2012

Greg Boyd’s, Myth of a Christian Nation Pt 10

On pg 22 of Myth Boyd says:

Satan is the acting CEO of all earthly governments.  Paul agrees, for he refers to Satan as ‘the god of this age’ and as ‘ruler of the power of the air.’ (2 Cor 4:4, Eph 2:2).  We see, then, that while God ultimately gives authority to governments to preserve law and order in a fallen world, and while God orders and orchestrates governments as he find them to his own providential advantage, Satan–‘the destroyer’ who deceives the nations (Rev 9:11; 20:3, 8; especially 13:14)–is heavily involved in all of them as works at cross purposes to God.

I know of no way to resolve the ambiguity involved in this dual analysis of the kingdom of the world–but simply recognizing that there is, at the very least, a strong demonic presence polluting all versions of the kingdom of the world has to significantly affect how followers of Jesus view earthly governments.  Minimally, this recognition implies that we can never assume that any particular nation–including our own—is always, or even usually, aligned with God.

We may be thankful whenever our government wields the sword in ways that are just and that punish wrongdoers.  But we must also always remember that fallen principalities and powers (Eph 2:2; 6:12) strongly influence our government, and every government,  however relatively good that government may otherwise be.

As was noted in Pt. 8, on the one hand, Boyd sees government as INHERENTLY evil, while here, he seems to want to say that it isn’t by way of saying that Satan is a ruler in some sense over the nations.  This just seems convoluted to me.  Either the governments are inherently evil and there is nothing we can do about it, thus, making it Satan’s domain and thus Satan is sovereign and king over it as Christ is over the cosmos or they aren’t.  By the fact that Boyd uses the term “polluted” that seems to suggest that governments are NOT inherently evil.  But let’s look at something here.  Boyd says, “god of this age” and “ruler of the power of the air.”  Just a couple of things about those.

1.  First, we are talking about a small “g” god not a big “G” God.  So that seems to refer to Satan as not having the same level of sovereignty as God.  He is a ruler but he is not a King.  He is a CEO, but he is not a president.

2.  It seems that the Eph 2:2 text is backs up my point.  To the extent that people are “disobedient” or mis-relating to God, Satan is at work in their lives.

3.  There is the issue of Jesus being the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” of Rev 19:16.  There it says:

16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

There are a couple of things about this title.

1.  It has been pointed out by scholars that the doubling of the name “King of Kings” was a practice of Persians and Parthians to emphasize the supremacy of their royalties. (Robert Mounce)

2.  This name emphasizes “the universal sovereignty of the warrior Christ in his eschatological triumph over all the enemies of God.  It is actually a title that also occurs in Rev 17:14, 1 Tim 6:15; Dan 2:47 as well as echoes back to Moses declaration to Israel, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords.”  Deut 10:17  Even though this title is referred to God/Jesus within the context of a warrior, I think it is still safe to say that to God as Creator of all, all power is his and all nations are subject to the might of his righteous retribution. (Mounce)

Greg Boyd’s, Myth of a Christian Nation Pt. 9

“Satan and the Kingdom of the World”

Starting on page 20 of Myth, Boyd speaks about Satan’s authority.  He says on pg 21:

“Indeed, sometimes the scope of authority granted to this cosmic adversary, Satan, in Scripture is astounding.

For example, in Luke 4 the Devil tempted Jesus by showing him “all the kingdoms of the world” while saying, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority;  for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will be all yours’  (Luke 4:5-7).  Jesus, of course, would not worship the Devil to acquire these kingdoms.  But note:  he doesn’t dispute the Devil’s claim to own them.”

So it makes sense, then, that if Satan OWNS the kingdoms of the world, that Boyd would see governments as inherently evil.  However, there are several things that can be said about not only this text of scripture but Satan’s dominion in general.   We’ll look at the text first.

       1a.  First, I don’t know if I would want to build a  theology of politics on this text.  Because if that is the case, then we have a direct contradiction in Daniel 4:32.  Starting at vs 31 it says:

“31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.‘”

Now Boyd goes on to say:

Apparently, the authority of all the kingdoms of the world has been given to Satan.  It’s not clear from this text whether we humans gave the Devil this authority when we surrendered to him in the Garden (Gen 3) or whether God originally entrusted Lucifer with this authority before he rebelled.  What is clear is that however it came about, God’s cosmic archenemy now owns the authority of all versions of the kingdom of the world this authority to whomever he pleases.”

I hate to say it, but Boyd ends up turning the Dan 4 passage on its head.  There, it is God who gives over all the kingdoms to anyone he wishes but Boyd has Satan doing that.  Thus, after the fall, the world and its kingdoms are STILL in the hands of the Creator God.  And so it is clear that the world was not surrendered in the Garden or prior to that when Lucifer rebelled.

       1b.  Its pretty hard to make sense out of these temptations to begin with.  Boyd seems to want to skip over that too quickly when he says, “What is clear is that however it came about, God’s cosmic archenemy now owns the authority of all versions of the kingdom of the world…”  Let’s not move to fast!  It isn’t clear that it even “came about!”  Either way, the temptations themselves are not even all that clear.  For example, were these temptations ACTUAL?  Were they OBJECTIVE?  Or were they SUBJECTIVE?  Some commentators want to say that they were actual in the sense that Satan did lead Jesus to turn actual stones into bread, to Jerusalem and to the top of the wall of the Temple and to a high mountain where he physically saw all the kingdoms of the world.  Some want to posit that they were more subjective like Martin Luther’s experience, who was said to have had the devil appear to him at which point he threw an ink well at him.  Matthew Henry’s commentary says that they were more subjective  because the scripture says that Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in an instant.  Henry, says:

“Thus the devil thought to impose upon our Savior with a fallacy–a decptio visus; and by making him believe that he could SHOW HIM ALL THE KINGDOMS OF the world, would draw him into an opinion that he could GIVE him all these kingdoms.”

As a matter of fact Henry says that Satan ALLEGED that the kingdoms were ALL DELIVERED TO HIM.  But in reality, for Henry, God didn’t give Satan the kingdom’s of the world, rather, kings and the people of these kingdoms gave their power over to Satan Eph 2:2  

Now, I don’t want to make a big deal about the actuality or the subjectivity of these temptations.  Either way, these temptations took place SOMEHOW.  Regardless of how they took place, there are other areas of interest that the subjective questions should not take us away from.  For instance, it seems that the idea behind showing Christ the kingdoms of the world, Satan wanted to entice Jesus as someone who would be the kind of Messiah the people wanted to lead them in revolt against Rome.  So the question of how much authority Satan actually has has been a point of debate for sometime.  Here is the bottomline for this blogger. 

Whether Satan had this power or not, does not Jesus call him the Father of Lies, John 8:44?  This doesn’t actually put to rest whether Satan had that sort of authority for Satan could have had it and told Christ that he would give him the kingdoms of the world when in fact he wouldn’t.  Or was it because he REALLY COULDN’T.  In the end, I’m inclined to agree with Matthew Henry’s commentary that kings and their subjects gave over their power to Satan and in this way he ursuped his power.  It really has to do with the Eph 2:2 passage.

       2.  This leads us to a FRAMEWORK, a model so to speak, as to how Satan has a grip on the whole world 1 John 5:19.  Al Wolter’s work is important here and it will be what I rebound off of to make my point (though David VanDrunen calls for greater care in making these sorts of distinctions here).  It works with remembering that the Bible uses the terms, bondage and enslavement.   Basically, when we speak of Satan having dominion it is in the sense that when God’s creatures are disobedient or when they are in mis-relation with God (a term I think more appropriate) to the extent that they mis-relate is also the extent that they are under Satan’s dominion.  So, if we were to take the diagrams that Wolters provide (which I have to describe) it would go like this:

You have an imaginary box.  Split the box in half.  Divide the left side into categories.  At the top downwards toward the bottom, Wolters puts church then family, then politics, business, art, education journalism, thought, emotion, plants and animals and then lastly inanimate matter.  On the right side, at the top, the “Kingdom of God (Sacred)” is next to church and then the rest below that is the “world” or what is secular contrasted against all the other categories on the left, ie., family, politics business, etc.  What Wolters is doing is NOT affirming the dichotomy this way.  He says its actually more complicated than that.  On page 82 he has another box.  On the left side is the “Kingdom of God (sacred)”  on the right side is the “world” (secular) and down the middle are the different categories, church, family, politics, business, art and so forth.  Down the middle of those categories (creational reality) there is a jagged line.  Now the reason why it is jagged, according to Wolters, is because it:

“… represents the battle line between the forces of opposing regimes and different areas experience varying degrees of liberation and bondage.  Moreover, the line moves: wherever family life, for example grows in obedience and conformity to God’s creational law, there the kingdom advances and the world is pushed back.  Wherever the spirit of humanism secularizes human thought, there the kingdom of God loses terrain and is taken captive…It is even possible that I might experience dramatic liberation by Christ in one part of my life (my emotions, perhaps, or my family life) while another remains, sadly secular (my thinking, for example, or my church involvement).  The same disparity can hold true of particular nations and traditions.” 

Now this may not be the most accurate way to talk about God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of darkness or Satan’s dominion, for it is possible to see things not so much in this sort of dichotomous way but more as a mixture say, in a pot of stew.  That is, even Wolters idea may not accurately describe precisely how sin works.  But for our argument, the model seems valid.

In the end, it seems clear to me that Satan does not have dominion in the same way that God has soverignty.  Its not as if we have two “Gods” who are equal in power warring against each other.  And it also seems clear to this blogger that the Lukan text does not help Boyd’s case per the Dan 4 text and via a general understanding of Satan’s usuping of power over his subjects via their giving him that power.

Greg Boyd’s, “Myth of a Christian Nation” Pt. 8

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?).