Thursday, December 28, 2017

My Most Important Recent Read

Gregory Boyd has run the spiritual gamut: from Roman Catholic to atheist to Pentecostal to orthodox Christianity. His theological education includes Yale and Princeton.
Currently, Boyd is Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and is one of the leading spokesmen in the growing Neo-Anabaptism[1] movement, which is based in the tradition of Anabaptism and advocates Christian pacifism and a non-violent understanding of God.
Boyd has also long been known as a leading advocate of open theism.[2] In addition, he is a noted Christian anarchist and is known for his writings on the relationship between Christianity and politics, including his best-selling book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. The book was written after the New York Times published a front-page cover article on Boyd's criticism of the Christian right.[3] In 2010, Boyd was listed as one of the twenty most influential living Christian scholars.
The excerpt that follows is perhaps the most important few paragraphs I’ve read in a long, long time! It comprises the last few pages of the third chapter of Boyd’s book, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Aside from some deletions (indicated) it is presented verbatim.[4]

Jesus would simply not allow the world to set the terms of his engagement with the world. This explains how (and perhaps why) he could call Matthew, a tax collector, as well as Simon, a zealot, to be his disciples (Matt. 10:3 – 4). Tax collectors were on the farthest right wing of Jewish politics, zealots on the farthest left wing. To compare them to, say, Ralph Nader and Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t come close. In fact, historical records indicate that the zealots despised tax collectors even more than they despised the Romans, for tax collectors not only paid taxes to support the Roman government (something zealots deplored), but they actually made their living collecting taxes from other Jews on Rome’s behalf . Even worse, tax collectors often enhanced their income by charging more than was due and keeping the difference. For this reason, zealots sometimes assassinated tax collectors! 
Yet Matthew and Simon spent three years together ministering alongside Jesus. No doubt they had some interesting fireside chats about politics. But what is positively amazing is that they ministered together with Jesus to advance the kingdom of God. Just as interesting, we never find a word in the Gospels about their different political opinions. Indeed, we never read a word about what Jesus thought about their radically different kingdom-of-the-world views. 
What this silence suggests is that, in following Jesus, Matthew and Simon had something in common that dwarfed their individual political differences in significance, as extreme as these differences were. This silence points to the all-important distinctness of the kingdom of God from every version of the kingdom of the world. To be sure, Jesus’ life and teachings would undoubtedly transform the trust both had in their political views if they would allow it. At the very least, as the reign of God took hold in their lives, the tax collector would no longer cheat his clients and the zealot no longer kill his opponents. Yet Jesus invited them both to follow him as they were, prior to their transformation, and their widely divergent political views were never a point of contention with Jesus [emphasis mine]. 
What are we to make, then, of the fact that the evangelical church is largely divided along political lines? The Christian position is declared to be Matthew’s among conservatives, Simon’s among liberals. While Jesus never sided with any of the limited and divisive kingdom-of-the-world options routinely set before him, the church today, by and large, swallows them hook, line, and sinker. Indeed, in some circles, whether conservative or liberal, taking particular public stands on social, ethical, and political issues, and siding with particular political or social ideologies, is the litmus test of one’s orthodoxy. In many quarters, individuals and groups with different opinions about which version of the kingdom of the world is best don’t have friendly fireside chats. If they communicate at all, it’s shouting across picket lines![5] 
What this suggests is that the church has been co-opted by the world. To a large degree, we’ve lost our distinct kingdom-of-God vision and abandoned our mission. We’ve allowed the world to define us, set our agenda, and define the terms of our engagement with it. We’ve accepted the limited and divisive kingdom-of-the-world options and therefore mirror the kingdom-of-the-world conflicts. Because of this, we have not sought wisdom from above (James 3:17), the wisdom Jesus consistently displayed that would help us discern a unique kingdom-of-God approach to issues to empower our moving beyond the stalemates and tit-for-tat conflicts that characterize the kingdom of the world. Instead, we’ve made these conflicts our own as we fight with each other over “the Christian” option.
We have lost the simplicity of the kingdom of God and have largely forsaken the difficult challenge of living out the kingdom. We have forgotten, if ever we were taught, the simple principle that the kingdom of God looks like Jesus and that our sole task as kingdom people is to mimic the love he revealed on Calvary. We have to a large degree gone AWOL on the kingdom of God, allowing it to be reduced to a religious version of the world. The world supplies the options, and in direct contradiction to Jesus’ example, we think it’s our job to pronounce which one God thinks is right.

Our central job is not to solve the world’s problems. Our job is to draw our entire life from Christ and manifest that life to others. Nothing could be simpler—and nothing could be more challenging. Perhaps this partly explains why we have allowed ourselves to be so thoroughly co-opted by the world. It’s hard to communicate to a prostitute her unsurpassable worth by taking up a cross for her, serving her for years, gradually changing her on the inside, and slowly winning the trust to speak into her life (and letting her speak into our life, for we too are sinners). Indeed, this sort of Calvary-like love requires one to die to self. 
It is much easier, and more gratifying, to assume a morally superior stance and feel good about doing our Christian duty to vote against “the sin of prostitution” [emphasis mine].
Perhaps this explains why many evangelicals spend more time fighting against certain sinners in the political arena than they do sacrificing for those sinners. But Jesus calls us and empowers us to follow his example by taking the more difficult, less obvious, much slower, and more painful road—the Calvary road. It is the road of self-sacrificial love. 
When we adopt this distinct kingdom-of-God stance, everything changes. While living in the kingdom of the world, of course, we still wrestle with tax and inheritance issues. And we should do so as decently and as effectively as possible. But our unique calling as kingdom people is not to come up with God’s opinion of the right solution to these issues. Our unique calling is simply to replicate Christ’s sacrificial love in service to the world.
When we return to the simplicity and difficulty of the kingdom of God, the question that defines us is no longer, “What are the Christian policies and candidates?” No, when love is placed above all kingdom-of-the-world concerns (Col. 3:14; 1 Peter 4:8), the kingdom-of-the-world options placed before us dwindle in significance—as much as Matthew’s and Simon’s fireside opinions were dwarfed in significance by their common allegiance to Jesus. For we, like Matthew and Simon know that the one question we are commanded to wrestle with is this: “How do we love like Christ loves?” Or to ask the same question in different ways: “How do we communicate to others the unsurpassable worth they have before God? How can we individually and collectively serve in this particular context? How can we ‘come under’ people here and now? How can we demonstrate Calvary love to every person?” The revolution Jesus came to bring was “a genuinely human one,” as Andre Trocme notes. “People, not principles, were his concern.”[6]
We need not be able to figure out how society should tax its citizens, enforce inheritance laws, or deal with prostitutes. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor any New Testament author gave inspired pronouncements about such matters. But that does not prevent us from washing the feet of overly taxed citizens, disgruntled younger brothers, and despised prostitutes. Jesus and the New Testament authors gave plenty of inspired pronouncements about that.

[1] Kevin de Young identifies “the low church, counter-cultural, prophetic-stance-against-empire ethos present in the emergent and evangelical-left conversations (as) a contemporary form of the Anabaptist tradition. []
[2] Open Theism is the thesis that, because God loves us and desires that we freely choose to reciprocate His love, He has made His knowledge of, and plans for, the future conditional upon our actions. Though omniscient, God does not know what we will freely do in the future. []
[3] Goodstein, Laurie (July 30, 2006). "Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock". The New York Times.
[4] Boyd, Gregory A.. The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (pp. 62-65). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[5] Eller’s comment is relevant: “A prime characteristic of worldly politics is its invariable framing of itself as an ‘adversarial contest.’ There has to be a battle. One party, ideology, cause, group, lobby, or power bloc which has designated itself as ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ sets out to overbear, overwhelm, overcome, overpower, or otherwise impose itself on whatever opposing parties think they deserve the title.” And it is “a power contest among the morally pretentious.” [Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy over the Powers (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).]

[6] Andre Trocme , Jesus and the Non - Violent Revolution (Farmington, Penn.: The Bruderhof Foundation , 2004 ), p. 132.