The best way to defeat the kingdom of God is to empower the church to rule the kingdom of the world—for then it becomes the kingdom of the world! The best way to get people to lay down the cross is to hand them the sword! (Myth of a Christian Nation, 94-95)
As our house church conversations on spirituality and politics draw to a close, I’m reading Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church. I’m really enjoying it. It’s challenging. I can see it making a lot of Christian people mad—and necessarily.
Boyd’s central thought is a comparison of the fundamental difference between the kingdom of God and kingdoms of the world (of which America is a part). The kingdom of the world, on one hand is a “power over” kingdom, a kingdom of the sword, a kingdom that carries out its agenda—even for justice—based on its ability to coerce people.
The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is a “power under” kingdom. It’s a kingdom of love, service and humility. This kingdom is embodied by the cross—God’s non-violent response to evil in the world. It is non-coercive. It is thus utterly incompatible with the kingdom of world because it is not inherently based on exercising power over people.
Given all this, I return to the question: what level of political participation can a citizen of God’s kingdom have in kingdoms of the world that are inherently counter to the politics of God’s kingdom? The question itself seems to lean toward less participation.
Boyd addresses this question in a more extended way with this thought:
To be sure, a version of the kingdom of the world that effectively carries out law, order, and justice is indeed closer to God’s will for the kingdom of the world. Decent, moral people should certainly encourage this as much as possible, whatever their religious faith might be. But no version of the kingdom of world is closer to the kingdom of God than others because it does its job relatively well. For God’s kingdom looks like Jesus, and no amount of sword-wielding, however just it may be, can ever get a person, government, nation, or world closer to that. The kingdom of God is not an ideal version of the kingdom of the world; it’s not something that any version of the kingdom of the world can aspire toward or be measured against. The kingdom of God is a completely distinct, alternative way of doing life.
In fact, far from aligning any version of the kingdom of the world with the kingdom of God, kingdom-of-God participants must retain a healthy suspicion toward every version of the kingdom of the world—especially their own (for here it is most tempting to become idolatrous). After all, on the authority of God’s word, we know that however good a particular government may be by world standards, it is nevertheless strongly influenced by fallen principalities and powers. Consequently, no kingdom-of-God citizen should ever place undue trust in any political ideology or program….Not only this, but we know that however good a particular version of the kingdom of the world may be, it does not hold the ultimate answer to the world’s problems. (55)
That’s an interesting perspective: too much participation in the kingdom of the world might be a form of idolatry. Boyd argues explicitly in other places in the book that the American church has in fact practiced idolatry in this way.
How do you respond to Boyd’s thoughts?