SUMMARY: Power of the sword versus power of the cross. Control of behavior versus transforming lives from the inside out. A tribal kingdom versus a universal kingdom. A tit-for-tat kingdom versus a returning-evil-with-good kingdom. One set of characteristics describes a kingdom of the world while another details the distinct way of the kingdom of God. In The Myth of a Christian Nation, author and pastor Greg Boyd provides a strong scriptural foundation to repudiate that any nation on earth can be a Christian nation, since every kingdom of the world is intrinsically opposed to the kingdom of God.
“The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be, damaging to the church and to the advancement of God’s kingdom,” Boyd writes. “Among other things, this nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples.
“Instead of living out the radically countercultural mandate of the kingdom of God, this myth has inclined us to Christianize many pagan aspects of our culture. Instead of providing the culture with a radically alternative way of life, we largely present it with a religious version of what already is. The myth clouds our vision of God’s distinctly beautiful kingdom and thereby undermines our motivation to live as set-apart (holy) disciples of this kingdom.”
The kingdoms of the world rule with a “power over” mentality characterized by making people conform to a government’s laws with the threat of violence. The kingdom of God employs a “power under” mentality that is defined by changing people’s hearts by loving, serving, and sacrificing.
“The kingdom of the world is centrally concerned with what people do; the kingdom of God is centrally concerned with how people are and what they can become,” Boyd says. “The kingdom of the world is characterized by judgment; the kingdom of God is characterized by outrageous, even scandalous, grace.”
Many Christians in America have amalgamated the kingdom of America with the kingdom of God. Instead of embracing a kingdom of self-sacrifice and compassion, we have been seduced by the idolatry of power and violence. We have allowed the kingdom of the world to, “define us, set our agenda, and define the terms of our engagement with it.” Simply put, in our idolatry we have lost our prophetic voice.
“I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry,” Boyd writes. “Rather than focusing our understanding of God’s kingdom on the person of Jesus — who, incidentally, never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of the day — I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.”
Christians have allowed bitterness and hatred into our hearts. We demonize and mock our enemies while some of us respond with violence. Boyd says this posture has harmed the church in three fundamental ways. First, it harms global missions as Christianity is associated with the kingdom of America – a kingdom that many in the international community see as exploitive, greedy, and violent. Second, it harms local missions by promoting the idea that Christianity is America’s civil religion – i.e. “true” Christianity. And third, it commits the church to a “power over” dynamic instead of a “power under” dynamic. This is in direct opposition to what Jesus taught.
“Jesus says we are to love without consideration of others’ moral status. We are to love as the sun shines and as the rain falls–in other words, indiscriminately. We are to ‘be merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36). God’s love is impartial and universal, unrestricted by typical kingdom-of-the-world familial, tribal, ethnic, and nationalistic loyalties, and so must ours be (Deut. 10:17-19, 2 Chron. 19:7, Mark 12:14, Acts 10:34, Rom. 2:10-11, Eph. 6:9; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 Peter 1:17; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 4:8).”
Sound impractical or impossible? Boyd says that is just an indication that we have bought into the kingdom of the world hook, line, and sinker.
“By kingdom-of-the-world standards, this is impractical and irrational, for in kingdom-of-the-world thinking only ‘power over’ is practical and rational,” Boyd writes. “But this radical, non-common-sensical, ‘power under’ love is the kingdom of God, for this loving way of living reflects the nature of God and looks like Jesus.”
No nation, not even Israel, is a Christian nation. The kingdom of God is “a completely distinct, alternative way of doing life.”
“We should speak with self-sacrificial actions more than with words. We should speak not as moral superiors but as self-confessing moral inferiors. We should call attention to issues by entering into solidarity with those who suffer injustice. We should seek to free people from sin by serving them, not by trying to lord it over them. And we should trust that God will use our Calvary-like service to others to advance his kingdom in the world.”
Boyd aptly recognizes this posture can feel like we are doing little, but these “small” acts of love can be life-changing. When we have a kingdom of God mindset, we ask different questions. We have different goals, and these acts of service act as a tangible witness that the kingdom of God is revolutionary.
“As we manifest kingdom life by replicating Jesus to the world, it may often look like we are doing little–and even sometimes look like we are losing ground. But we know, against all common sense, that nothing could be further from the truth. However trivial they may seem, we know that Christlike acts are doing more to bring the world to the glorious end God has for it than any ‘power over’ act ever could.”
KEY QUOTE: “Rather than buying into and then fighting over the limited, divisive options of the kingdom of the world, we need to be the one tribe on the planet who thinks ‘outside the box.’ We need to be a peculiar people who live in the otherwise unasked question–what can we do to bleed as means of manifesting life? While others posture and holler, we are to be a holy people who, knowing we are the worst of sinners, simply live in the question–how can we bleed for others?”
BONUS: Don’t have time to read the book? Listen to Boyd on The Deconstructionist Podcast. Skip to 8:20 to get to the interview.
BONUS II: The Myth of a Christian Nation pairs well with Unsettling Truths. The Myth of a Christian Nation takes a theological approach to the topic, while Unsettling Truths uses historical documents to dismantle the statement.
DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
Our latest curated books on Christian nationalism:
Depending on the places you get your news or the social circles you run in the term Christian nationalism has a positive or negative connotation. With the explosion in conversation around the term since the January 6 insurrection, it is challenging to divorce the definition, good or bad, from today’s context. This is where Taking America Back for God immensely helps. Sociologists Samuel Perry, (University of Oklahoma), and Andrew Whitehead, (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) draw primarily on data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey to provide a nuanced and constructive look at the term that has influenced American politics for decades.
How did the Republican party and white evangelicals become synonymous? Has abortion always been the focus of the Republican party and white evangelicals? In a tight, accessible 100 pages, author Randall Balmer traces the roots of the Religious Right and its wedding to the Republican party from the 1830s through the 1970s and then links the movement to its current iteration in the 21st century.
The church, specifically the American church in the context of Postcards from Babylon, has been seduced by the allure of power and influence. This is not a new phenomenon, but has been going on for hundreds of years. The intertwining of faith and empire has blinded our eyes to the teachings of the Bible that calls the church to be a counter-cultural, prophetic voice against violence.