From Chapter Twelve of Greg Boyd’s book, “Benefit of the Doubt.”
“The Cross-Centered Kingdom
An Invitation without Clutter
In an earlier chapter I noted that the way to know what a person or people group really believes is not to ask them but to watch. Christians frequently say, “It’s all about Jesus,” but our actions betray us. Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles, ranging from the defense of the literalness and inerrancy of the Bible to the war against gay marriage or universal health care, one easily gets the impression that Christianity is about a lot of different, equally important, things.”
This is probably the one thing that irritates me the most in Greg’s writings but also in some discussions between online friends, myself and Greg on the Open Theism Discussion Boards that we participated in years ago. His ethics–especially as it gets closer to the street level. Isn’t it interesting that this is a dig at the “Christian Right” or their issues? But if we were to bring up things like how best to help the poor or issues like war, I may definitely not get the same “dig.”
Now, Greg might say something like this would apply to both the right and the left and that would be fair enough in terms of the point about it all being about Jesus. However, when Greg speaks in this manner (mentioning these specific examples) he essentially betrays His political leanings. But more than this, he shows his anabaptist hand when it comes to politics in general. As if THIS is how evangelicals SHOULD do politics. In other words, it is not so much his political leanings but rather when he says: “Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles…” For Greg, it is all about God’s love. That we are made for that love. We are to reflect that love back to God, thereby participating in the triune Godhead but we are also to reflect it towards each other. Thus, these battles will be on the back burner.
I want to parse this out a bit though and say that as important as that is (which nothing can be more important than loving God), it is not robust ENOUGH. Let’s look at three political positions and then work from there.
A. Christians going with a merging of the Church and state. In other words, you can go from the extreme Dominion Theology, Kingdom Now, Reconstruction type theology to the more conservative Religious Right (as well as the Left, though generally it is the Right) in which Christians will attempt to bring the Bible to bear on society. This will be every thing from trying to implement actual biblical laws into modern day society to weaker or blander versions such basing particular laws on “biblical principles” ie., the Religious Right/Left, ie., Pat Robertson, James Dobson to Jim Wallis types.
B. Christians will not become involved with politics in the same sense mentioned above. They will generally be removed from it for two main reasons–eschatology or pietistic reasons. For the first it’s kinda like saying, “What use is there in rearranging the furniture on the Titanic when it’s going down? Let’s concentrate on saving souls.” The latter is more what Greg would hold to. He would say that one should not be involved in politics because it is “power over” and not “power under” as “quintessentially expressed on the cross.” In other words, we don’t force or coerce people to obey our Christian ethics. It’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics and try to influence from without. It is only to say that we should not be forcing others to follow Christian ethics via making laws that would do so. Without getting into full fledged post on this point, I will say not only do I think this is confused but IT IS basically a position that is held to and practiced on the basis of scripture. That is, even though it is not like option A above it is still a position informed by scripture.
C. Lastly, there is the position that I hold to which doesn’t go with either A or B though it is still informed by scripture and has a long history within the Church. Catholics call it “subsidarity” and Reformers call it, “sphere sovereignty.” Though there are major differences between the two sides, the idea is that God has called the state or authorities (it’s not necessary to say which form of authority is derived from God) just as he has called other aspects of civil life into being, ie., schools, hospitals, families, churches, libraries, banks, etc, and given them authority.
Now, given that God has called these different spheres into being, this means that God has called them to be responsible. He has given them a responsibility to carry out their authority, doing that for which they are called for.
[As an aside, I realize that there are some objections to this of which I won’t respond to in this post ie., how is civil society called into being when it is that which humans make? Is a particular form of authority legitmate? If not, how is it called into being by God? What makes this particular form of authority legitimate over another form? Suffice to say, I’m simply noting that civil society is something that God ultimately brings about and, regardless, each sphere is still to be responsible for it’s own authority as opposed to another ie., a police authority is not a family. A family is not a police authority, etc.]
So, one may ask, “What does this have to do with what Greg is saying?” Let’s look at these in this order:
A. First, Greg looks at salvation in a pietistic fashion. He basically follows the ‘ol, “Let’s save souls and that is how we’ll change a nation” argument. Isn’t that basically what he is saying when social issues are secondary to the “pure gospel” which is loving God first? Gay marriage is second to loving God? Universal health care is less important than loving God? I submit that that there is a false dichotomy here. Salvation is definitely about loving God yes. But loving God is not intangible. It has to be worked out in the concrete. Frankly, there is no such thing as loving God outside the concrete. Salvation will also include this world. It will include saving this souls but also being concerned about someone’s health for example.
B. Second, (and of course this is related to the first), if salvation is about the “whole of human life” then it will be concerned about institutions such as marriage. If God has called these different spheres into existence, then God is concerned for justice done to them. And if that is the case, then justice will insure they have the room to carry out their responsibilities before God whom gives them these responsibilities in the first place. And in order to do that, each one of these spheres needs to be differentiated. A family is not a government. A government is not a library. A library is not a hospital. A hospital is not a church. A church is not a military and so forth.
So what we end up with here is where Greg will say, that we should do justice in the world (which he doesn’t connect to salvation, for the most part, though he gives hints to it in early writings ie., God at War) but is apparently oblivious of the connections to the bigger salvific picture.
Big point here: If I’m going to be concerned about justice not only will I see it in connection with salvation of the whole but I will see all spheres equally. In other words, I won’t simply be concerned about same sex marriage MORE THAN education. I will be concerned about justice for both. I won’t be concerned about abortion more than say, the poor or ensuring that we have regulations in place for which we can sustain life as a whole. I will be concerned about both. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, we may prioritize, say, life issues over same sex marriage, but we will still be concerned about justice for all based on the idea of a “principled pluralism” outlined above which is based on a theology that God creates, gives some authority over to his creatures and expects them to be responsible with that talent he has given them.