Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 9

Chapter 7 in Myth... is called "When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians", and is one of my favorites in the book. So much so, that we need two separate posts on it.

As we have said in the last post, Boyd is in the process of listing 5 negative consequences of believing the myth that America is a Christian nation. Chapter 6 covers the first three. Chapter seven covers the fourth, which is that when this myth is believed, it leads Christians to think that they are the moral guardians of society, that they are the moral conscience of the nation. Greg believes that this is misguided, and can even be harmful to the kingdom message, for at least 5 reasons.

1. "[A]s people called to mimic Jesus in every area of our lives, we should find it significant that Jesus never assumed the position of moral guardian over any individual, let alone the culture at large...His purpose, apparently, was not to guard, promote, or fix public morality."

Greg points out that it is true that Jesus publically confronted the religious leaders of his day for the hypocrisy and the using of religion for their own monetary gain. Greg points out that this style of confrentation is in line with a long tradition of Jewish prophets who held the Jewish religious and political leaders accountable. It should be noted, though, that they don't see it as their job to hold the non-Jewish leaders accountable. Boyd uses the example of a Catholic Cardinal reprimanding a parish priest. That behavior is much different than Christians "trying to regulate the morality of their non-Christian culture.

2. "[W]hen we assume the role of moral guardians of the culture, we invariably position ourselves as judges over others." Greg points out that not only does Jesus not do this, he actually forbids it, telling his followers not to judge others. Paul and James say similar things elswhere in the New Testament. Boyd acknowledges, though, that this does not prelude discernment, but that we should "never separate ourselves from people by comparing and contrasting ourselves with them."

3. "[W]hen the church sets itself up as the moral police of the culture, we earn the reputation of being self-righteous judgers rather than loving, self-sacrificial servants...While tax collectors and prostitutes gravitated to Jesus because of his magnetic kingdom love, these sorts of sinners steer clear of the church, just as they did the Pharisees, and for the exact same reasons: they do not experience unconditional love and acceptance in our midst--they experience judgement." In fact, in a pole done by the Barna Group, when asked to rank people groups based on their respectability, " 'Evangelical Christians' were ranked one notch above the bottom, just above prostitutes." The hard truth is that Evangelical or born-again Christian in America are not known for being especially loving. And, the fact that we continue to claim that we are loving despite the fact that no one thinks that is even more catastrophic.

4. [W]hen people assume the position of moral guardians of the vulture, they invite--they earn!--the charge of hypocrisy. For all judgement, save the judgement of the omnicient and holy God involves hypocrisy...Instead of seeing our own sins as worse than others, we invariably set up a list of sins in which our sins are deemed minor while other people's sins are deemed major. We may have dust particles in our eyes, we reason, but at least we don't have tree trunks like "those people.'"

5. "The fifth fundamental problem with the church being the moral guardian of society is that, throughout history, the church has proven itself to be a very poor moral guardian...Issues related to sex getm massive amounts of attention while issues related to corporate greed, societal greed, homelessness, poverty, racism, the environment, racial injustice, genocide, war, and the treatment of animals...typically get little attention."

Does this mean that Evangelical Christians shouldn't speak out publically on moral issues? Absolutely not! We should speak out, but we should do so in a distinctly kingdom way. We should speak with self-sacrificial actions more than 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.

Next time we will look in depth at the two examples that Boyd uses in this chapter, homosexuality and abortion. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 8

Perhaps now is a good time to allow Greg, in his own words, to give us a quick recap of his argument up to this point.

As we have noted, many Christians believe that America is, or at least once was, a Christian nation. We have argues\d that this notion is inaccurate for the simple reason that Christian means Christlike," and there never was a time when America as a nation has acted Christlike. Indeed we have argued that it is impossible for any version of the kingdom of the world to be Christlike for the simple reason that they participate in a system of domination that necessarily places its trust in the power of the sword. It may use this power in just or unjust ways--and we should certainly do all we can do to influence the former and resist the latter--but in neither case can it be said to be acting like Christ. The kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus is not simply an improved version of the kingdom of the world, for a version of the kingdom of the world may be relatively good, but it cannot be beautiful.

That is the essence of Boyd's argument, and for the rest of the book, he looks at the effects of believing the myth.

Chapter 8 of Myth... begins to discuss what Boyd calls five negative consequences that have resulted from the myth that America is a Christian nation. In this chapter he looks at the first three.

1. The myth that America is a Christian nation harms global missions

The primary cause of harm to global missions, Boyd argues, is waging war in the name of God, as has been done throughout history, and he gives several examples. More recently, though, "[t]his Christianization of military force was strongly reinforced when President George W. Bush depicted America as being on a holy 'crusade' against 'evildoers.' Elsewhere he said that America is 'the light of the world,' which the 'darkness' (that is, our natural enemies) could not extinguish. He was of course quoting scripture to make his point--Scripture that refers to Jesus (John 1:1-5)."

The result of using this religious language to further nationalistic goals results in much of the world hating Americans. "Not only does America represent greed, violence, and sexual immorality to [those who hate us], but they view America as exploitive and opportunistic." The result "is that this disdain gets associated with Christ when America is identified as a Christian nation.”

You can see where this would make it hard for a missionary to convince an Iraqi (or anyone) that the actions of America do not represent the heart of Christ.

2. The myth that America is a Christian nation harms missionary work in our own country

In this section, Boyd separates what he calls the "Civil Religion" of a nation, which in America's case is Christianity, with true Christianity. A civil religion is the “Christian” aspects of American culture (such as our holidays, having “In God We Trust” on our coins, saying “one nation under God” in our pledge, and hearing the religious rhetoric of our politicians). The civil religion is just a front. As Greg says, "If you peel back the facade of the civil religion, you find that America is about as pagan as any country we could send missionaries to." There are at least two dangers that go along with this civil religion of Christianity in America. First is the danger that Christians will believe that "winning these fights somehow brings America closer to the kingdom of God.” Secondly, it dilutes those in America who need Christ by leading them to think they are Christians without having a relationship with Jesus, in addition to killing the evangelistic zeal of American Christians.

3. The myth that America is a Christian nation tends to commit Christians to trust "power over" rather than "power under."
Thirdly, Boyd argues that believing this myth leads Christians to tend to resort to "power over" rather than to power under. Christians too often resort to lobbying and political means to change society, rather than trusting prayer, servanthood, love, and generosity. Boyd goes into great detail about social action in the chapter, talking about how Christians too often depend on the government to do what God has called the Church to do, like care for the poor and the broken.

What are your thoughts about these first three consequences of the myth that Boyd points out?

Next time we will look at my favorite chapter in the book, called "When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians."

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 7

Chapter 5 of Myth... is entitled "Taking America Back for God," and there are three major challenges Boyd offers in this chapter to widely held assumptions. Here are his main points and the assumptions he is challenging:

1. No political view should ever be labeled Christian.

Boyd would argue that labeling a candidate or a particular view as the Christian view is ridiculous, and perhaps even manipulative (for why are candidates and views ever labeled as the Christians way except to coerce Christians to vote in that particular way?). He would also say that holding a particular political view is "not part of your distinctive kingdom of God calling." That is not to say that a person's faith does not influence their views. Boyd says, "Of course our political views will be influenced by our Christian faith. We may even believe that our views, if they are implemented, will help facilitate the advancement of the kingdom. But we must also recognize that people who have diametrically opposing views may believe they too are advancing the kingdom, which is all well and good so long as we don't christen our views as the Christian view."

2. To Declare that we need to "take America back for God" assumes there was a time America was for God.

Boyd would ask the following question:

Were these God-glorifying years before, during, or after Europeans ‘discovered’ America and carried out the doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’—the belief that God (or, for some, nature) had destined white Christians to conquer the native inhabitants and steal their land? Were the God-glorifying years the ones in which the whites massacred these natives by the millions, broke just about every covenant they ever made with them, and then forced survivors onto isolated reservations? Was the golden age before, during, or after white Christians loaded five to six million Africans on cargo ships to bring them to their newfound country, enslaving the three million or so who actually survived the brutal trip? Was it during the two centuries when Americans acquired remarkable wealth by the sweat and blood of their slaves? Was this the time when we were truly ‘one nation under God,’ the blessed time that so many evangelicals seem to want to take our nation back to?

"There is nothing distinctively Christlike bout the way America was 'discovered', conquered, or governed in the early years."

3. Evangelicals are quick to assume that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Boyd would disagree. "There has been a great deal of debate about the extent to which the founding fathers were Christian in any historic, orthodox sense of the term. My own research inclines me to conclude that most were more deistic than Christian, and that they collectively had no intention of founding and explicitly Christian nation." As a matter of fact, John Adams had this to say: "the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Interesting, no?

Now, I must confess, I was one of those people who held to the view that the founding fathers were solidly Christian. Honestly, it is what I had been told for years and I believed it. I was very interested to read Boyd's discussion of the topic in this book, as well as this article talking about the same topic. It appears the issue is not as settled as pastors led me to believe. There is some evidence that would lead one to believe that the founders were Christians, like the fact that about half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had seminary degrees. But, it seems it is a mistake to project our current brand of Christianity onto the founders several hundred years ago (by the way, this is no slam on the founders of our country. I'm thinking for what they did and the courage it took. I'm just searching for the truth). And certainly one of the reasons for coming to America was religious freedom, though if that is the case, it makes no sense that they would set up a "Christian nation" as a form of religious freedom.

Nonetheless, I am still wrestling with this issue. I certainly take the words of John Adams above as truth, but I guess I'm still not crystal clear on what the religiosity (or lack their of) of the founding father and to what degree they held certain beliefs. I'm hesitate to say they were "Christian" in any current sense of the word. Do you have any further info or thoughts on this?

I think Boyd makes three great challenges to widely held assumptions in Evangelicalism. The first is perhaps one of the central points of the book, that as a Christian regardless of your particular political views, one should never tack the label Christian onto a view or a candidate.

What is your response to these? Do you see these assumptions creeping up in your circles?

Nest time we will look at chapter 6, ironically titled "The Myth of A Christian Nation."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brian McLaren Interview

You should definitely check out this interview that the Charlotte Observer does with Brian McLaren. He talks about his new book Everything Must Change, but also a host of other topics, including...

Poverty and Justice...

It's interesting that you mention both Mother Teresa and Dr. King because they represent to me two very important but very different models. Mother Teresa represents the model of caring for the poor, being with them as they die and, in a very personal and compassionate way, showing the love of God to poor people. Dr. King represents a very different approach, which says that we also have to deal with the unjust systems that keep causing people to suffer.

So I would hate to have Dr. King without Mother Teresa or Mother Teresa without Dr. King. But when we have the two of them, that's a great balance. It's the balance of mercy and justice.

Evangelicals and Politics...

The assumption that we could make for the last 20 years really, that evangelical Christians care about two issues -- abortion and homosexuality -- is in fragments. It's still true for a large sector of evangelicals. Those are the two issues they've been told to care about and they're faithfully staying with the program.

But younger evangelicals and a lot of older ones, too, are reading their Bibles. And they're seeing that the environment is really a concern. They're reading the Gospels and they're seeing that Jesus was not hawkish on war. Jesus had a lot to say about peacemaking.


I believe that there is something like a form of racism going on right now among well-meaning, but misguided and misinformed evangelical Christians. It's becoming acceptable to create stereotypes of Muslims that are inaccurate.

The problem is, Muslims are just like the rest of us. They're like Christians in this regard. There are wonderful, kind-hearted Christians and there are mean-spirited Christians. There are sincere Christians who live with integrity. And there are hypocritical Christians who are just out for a buck. We'll find that kind of diversity among every group of people.


I love to help every person I can to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

A lot of people don't want to become followers of Jesus Christ. And when they don't want to, they are not disqualified from being my neighbor. In fact, they still are my neighbor.

And so, everything Jesus teaches me about loving my neighbor applies to a person who has no interest in being a Christian. This idea that because some people don't want to become Christians, we should ignore them or treat them as enemies, I just don't get it.

And much more. Be sure to check it out.

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 6

Chapter 4 of Myth... is entitled "From Resident Aliens ti Conquering Warlords," and in it Boyd talks about the shift that happened in the early 4th century CE. Before this shift happened, the early Christians saw themselves as "resident aliens." As Boyd writes:

They were a persecuted minority and as such did not dream of corporately exercising "power over" others. Indeed, the church of this time grew--and grew at a mind boggling rate! This growth came about not by Christians fighting for their rights, as so many do today, but largely by Christians being put to death!
pp 75-76

The shift that took place in the 4th century was that Christians obtained political power for the first time. The Emperor Constantine won a battle in the name of Christ, and soon after would make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. This certainly would have been inconceivable to Peter and the early Christians.

Boyd contends that this shift has stained the Church ever since, that since this point the Church has resorted much too often to "power over" rather than following the peaceful, loving servant hood of the first century Christians. The result today is comments like this from the late Jerry Falwell:

You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes ten years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.
(Falwell on CNN, emphasis added)

Boyd points out how the result of the Constantinian shift was "a long and terrible history of people using the sword 'in Jesus' name for the glory of God.'" In addition, history has shown that "Christendom" has acted about as badly as most versions of the kingdom of the world (i.e the Holy Roman Empire, the Medieval Catholic Church, the Crusades, the Inquisition etc.). And, "if violence in oppression is demonic are demonic, violence and oppression 'in the name of Jesus' is far more so."

This tragic history has to be considered one of Satan’s greatest victories, and the demonic ironies abound. In the name of the one who taught us not to lord it over others but rather serve them (Matt. 20:25-28), the church often lorded it over others with a vengeance as ruthless as any version of the kingdom of the world ever has. In the name of the one who taught us to turn the other cheek, the church often cut off people’s heads. In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church often burned its enemies alive. In the name of the one who taught us to bless those who persecute us, the church often became a ruthless persecutor. In the name of the one who taught us to take up the cross, the church often took up the sword and nailed others to the cross. Hence, in the name of winning the world for Jesus Christ, the church often became the main obstacle to believing in Jesus Christ.
pg 81

Boyd's critique of the Church's use of "power over" throughout history, which is in stark contrast to the first century Christians, is quite indicting. What other ways can you think of where the church has resorted to power over in recent times? And, where do issues like pushing for the Ten Commandments being displayed in schools and courthouses and other modern political fights fit in?

Next time we will look at chapter 5 titled "Taking America Back for God."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Honoring Dr. King

If anyone should have a day that America sets aside in their honor, it is Dr. Martin Luther King. I have been thinking about how to properly honor him on this day here at Nick's Musings, and I think I'm going to do it a la carte style. Several of the other blogs I read have posted tributes, so I am simply going to link to them here.

May we never forget the awesome message of peace, love, and nonviolence as modeled first by Jesus, then so wonderfully copied by Dr. King.


Think Christian has posted this video of the Dr. King's famous speech (17:28).

Greg Boyd has written some good thoughts on how we should remember Dr. King.

Scot McKnight offers the transcript of the famous I Have a Dream Speech, posted above.


I've been thinking a lot lately about his word "Heresy" or its more accusative brother, "Heretic," and it has lead me to a conclusion: We shouldn't use the word Heresy (or Heretic) anymore.

Here is why.

1. The word is too strong

The word heresy is an old word, dating back to the 2nd century CE and Irenaeus. It comes from the Greek word meaning choose, referring to a choice of held beliefs. Now, we all know that a word can have a denotative meaning (the literal meaning, what the word's definition is) and a connotative meaning (the emotion that the word stirs up and what it is associated with). A classic example of this, and a word that I am intentionally using as an example for this discussion, is the word Nazi. The word Nazi denotes a member of the National Socialist German Workers' Party that was strong in Germany in the 30's and 40's. The word Nazi has a connotation that is much different, and is associated with the killing of 12 million people, 6 million of them being Jews, and the racism, war, and destruction that went with the world events in the late 30's and 40's. So, then, to call someone a Nazi is not to accuse them of identifying with the National Socialist German Workers' Party, but with the other events and emotions that went with that word.

The word heresy, to a lesser degree, of course, has a similar effect. Though the word is very old and means (denotes) a challenge of the prescribes system of belief, the word is associated with the time when the Catholic church was at its height (of both power and evil), and would often burn heretics at the stake. Therefore, the word heresy, or calling someone a heretic, can't help but conjure up images from stories and movies of what they did to heretics in the middle ages. We should not wish that fate on anyone. So, though the word denotes a valid concept, it also has a connotation that is negative and violent.

2. The word has little or no meaning

Secondly, though the connotation is extremely negative, even if taken at face value, the word has very little usefulness. Essentially, calling someone a heretic is to assert that you disagree with that person. If I am an Armenian and you are a Calvinist and I call you a heretic, all I am saying is that we have different historical views about certain aspects of God, and that I think I'm right. You could easily assert the same. And, here is the point, neither of us would really be saying anything useful. The face of Christendom today encompasses a kaleidoscope of views with only a very few "non-negotiables" at the center. From my experience, it is generally on the peripheral matters that the term heresy is used, which seems all the more inappropriate. Why, then, use the word heresy, when disagreement is so obvious?

3. The word is divisive

Lastly, but clearly most obvious, the word heresy is so very divisive. It is the trump card in an argument. When this word is used, one is no longer involved in a conversation, but it has become slander.

Furthermore, calling someone a heretic certainly does not make friends, but only enemies. By doing this, the speaker has drawn a line in the sand and judged (rather than letting God judge), automatically creating two sides, mine and theirs, "us" and "them." This is in no way productive.

In addition, using this word is narrow. It is not graciously considering another's opinions, wrestling with it, and agreeing to disagree. Rather, it is defining orthodoxy based upon ones' own personal view. May we thank God for the heresies (and heretics) throughout the generations, for those who have challenged our incorrect views of God have made us into better thinkers (Luther comes to the front of my mind, as does Dr. King, on this day in which we celebrate his life).

In conclusion, let me say that I am not against discernment, disagreement, or even orthodoxy. But may we always keep in our minds the sentiments of Tony Campolo, that we are all heretics in some sense, because no theology is perfect, nor can mere words capture the nature of an infinite God. They all fall short. May we have the humility to avoid this word, and may we always be thinking and seeking God for truth.

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 5

Okay, let's review:

The kingdom of the World (1) uses "power over" to accomplish its plans, (2)can change behavior, but not motives, (3) is always tit-for-tat, "us" vs "them", and (4) always has at least some influence from Satan.

The Kingdom of God (1) uses "power under" and never "power over" to accomplish its plans, (2) is concerned with changing the heart and motives, rather than just the behavior, and (3) always looks like Jesus on Calvary.

In chapter 3, Boyd takes another step toward separating these two kingdoms.

When the kingdom is manifested, it's rather obvious. It doesn't look like a church building. It doesn't necessarily look like a group of religious people professing certain things--including professing that they are Christian. It doesn't necessarily look like a gathering of people advocating the right political or ethical causes. It doesn't look like a group who are--or who at least believe themselves to be--morally superior to others, telling them how they should live. It doesn't look like a group using swords, however righteous they believe their sword-wielding to be. It rather looks like people individually and collectively mimicking God. It looks like Calvary. It looks Christian, whether it identifies itself as such or not. When people are "coming under" others to love and serve them, without regard to how much or how little those others deserve it, and without regard for their own interests and reputation, the kingdom of God has come.
pg 52

Furthermore, no kingdom of the world (i.e government, regime, ruling power etc.) can ever be the kingdom of God. They are diametrically opposed. However good the kingdom of the world may be, it cannot protect its self interests while loving its enemies, turning the other cheek and blessing those who persecute it. "By definition, therefore, you can no more have a Christian worldly government than you can have a Christian petunia or aardvark. A nation may have noble ideals and be committed to just principles, but its not for this reason Christian" (pg 54). And also, "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" (pg 55). ( We will look more into the notion of America as being a Christian nation, and particularly at the founders in the future).

Following from this, Boyd reasons that those who participate in the kingdom of God should always have a healthy suspicion toward every version of the kingdom of the world, lest we place undue trust in any political ideology or program. The worldly kingdoms do not ultimately hold the answers to the world's problems. In fact, Boyd would say that the fundamental problem in the world is "that fallen people trust "power over" rather than "power under," coercion rather than love."

To give a few examples, Boyd pulls from the political hotbed that was first century Palestine. Jesus' contemporaries were always trying to get him to weigh in on the political matters of his day, but Jesus always sidesteped the questions and took the issue deeper, to a kingdom of God reality rather than a kingdom of the world reality (examples Boyd talks about are the "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" passage in Matthew 22 and the man who wanted Jesus to oversee the dividing of inheritance in Luke 12). In addition, perhaps the most noteworthy political issue that went on in the company of Jesus was the fact that Jesus chose as disciples a tax collector and a zealot, and ultra-conservative and an ultra-liberal, so much so that we don't have categories today that properly illustrate that difference. Yet, Jesus chooses them to run in the same group, to be a part of the same posse, to be co-leaders in the movement he was starting, and we never read a word in the gospels of political discussions between these two or, more notably, of Jesus taking a side. Perhaps this suggests that holding a particular political view does not go hand in hand with following Jesus. Yet, in some Christian circles today, that is essentially what as happened. As Boyd says, "[I]n 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" (pp63-4).

The results are tragic. As Boyd says, "Perhaps this explains why many evangelicals spend more time fighting against certain sinners in the political arena than they do sacrificing for those sinners."

Chapter 4 for next time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Defining the Emerging Church Movement

Last Thursday I attended the Emergent Villiage Cohort at Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. I have been tuning in to the Emergent Podcast and thought I would check this monthly meeting out. It was fun to sit and listen to Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt (among others) talk about how the Emerging Movement came into being and where they see it going.

For the past few months, I have been increasingly interested in the topic of the Emerging Movement. I came across this fantastic article by Dr. Scot McKnight which is a transcript of a message he gave defining the Emerging Church Movement (thanks to Vanguard Church and The Jesus Creed). The article comes in response to the Widely read book by D. A. Carson Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Carson is a big enough name that many people hear what he has to say, except it as truth and don't investigate for themselves, when in reality Carson get it completely wrong. As McKnight says, "I have almost never heard anything that resembles what Carson thinks is so typical of the emerging 'church'," and that the book is "sloppy work."

Having said this, let us take how Dr. McKnight defines the Emerging Church. In fact, it is better to start by asserting what it is not. (*All Quotations are from the referenced article, unless otherwise specified.)

1. The Emerging Church is not what you've heard.

In addition to what has been said about Carson's poor analysis above, there are stereotypes about them being postmoderns who deny all truth and who reject morality. These claims are false, and someone who makes the claims about the EC doesn't know what they are talking about. So, maybe the first step to defining this movement is to forget what you know (or have heard). I honestly believe that this movement has been misquoted or quoted out of context more than any other in Christendom recently (i.e Brian McLaren).

2. The Emerging Church is not a "Church."

To call it a “church” on the title of his book [as Carson does] is to pretend that it is something like a denomination, which it isn’t. The leaders are determined, right now, to prevent it becoming anything more than a loose association of those who want to explore conversation about the Christian faith and the Christian mission and the Christian praxis in this world of ours, and they want to explore that conversation with freedom and impunity when it comes to doctrine.

3. The Emerging Church is not defined by its theological statement or destinctives.

[T]he evangelical movement is defined by its theology (or as David Wells would say, by its lack of theology); the emerging movement is not defined by its theology. It doesn’t stand up and say, 'Lookee here, this is our doctrinal statement.' To force the emerging movement into a theological definition is to do violence to it – it isn’t a theological movement and so can’t be defined that way.

The EM is not known by its innovative doctrinal statement or by its confessional stances. Now, to be sure, every movement is “theological” in one way or another, and that means the EM is a theological movement. But, what we need to keep in mind is
that it not a “Reformed” movement with a new twist, or an Anabaptist movement with new leaders (though I think it is more Anabaptist than anything else), and it is not a Wesleyan movement centuries later. It is, instead, best to see it as a conversation about theology, with all kinds of theologies represented, with a core adhering to the classical creeds in a new key.

4. The Emerging Church is not "Emergent".

A clear destinction should be made; Emergent refers to Emergent Villiage, headed up by Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt, an organization that exists through Cohorts across the nation (like the one I attended recently) that is made of of people from all different Christian backgrounds who come together to have conversations. Emerging "is bigger, broader, and deeper." The Emerging Movement is what McKnight is defining in this article, of which Emergent Villiage is a part.

Now, we can safely turn to what the Emerging Movement is. I will offer four statements taken from the article without any commentary. We will then use the outline that McKnight provides along with quotes about each in order to get a better grasp of the movement.

1. The Emerging Movement is a conversation.

2. The Emerging Movement is a reaction against Evangelicalism.

3. "The Emerging Movement thinks love defines Christian existence."

4. The Emerging Movement "is about 'how to do church' in our age" and "how to practice the way of Jesus in postmodernity."

As McKnight says, we must allow the Emerging Movement to define itself first, and then when outsiders define it, it must be in such a way that those in the movement say "Yes, that's it." In doing this, McKnight turns to Andrew Jones and his definition of the movement:

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses the nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.

McKnight continues on to offer his own metaphore as an outline, as follows:

The Emerging Movement is a lake (Lake Emerging) with four rivers flowing into it, which can me grasped generally in the following outline:

1. Postmodern: This can be subdivided into 3 categories, but suffice it to say, all emergence have some relationship with postmodernity.
  • Those who minister to postmoderns
  • Those who minister with postmoderns
  • Those who minister as postmoderns
    2. Praxis: This is what a person, group, or church does, and a great emphasis is put on praxis in the EM. McKnight highlights 4 areas of praxis.
  • Worship: This is usually characterized by newer forms, including couches, sitting in the round, candles, poetry, art etc.
  • Orthopraxy: To be straight up about it, the emerging movement thinks how a person lives is more important than what they believe,that orthopraxy is the most important thing.

    That being said, let it be clear that those in the Emerging Movement would not say that belief is not important. McKnight also says, I know no one in the emerging movement who thinks one’s relationship to God is established by how one lives, nor do I know anyone who really thinks it doesn’t matter what one believes about Jesus Christ. Pehaps it is important to say that both beliefs and praxis matter, but that those who are Emerging focus on the praxis because Jesus seems to.

  • Social justice: But what has to be seen is that anyone who thinks the Christian can withdraw from culture and society, cloistering themselves into huddled Bible study groups, longing for heaven and hoping it will happen soon are unfaithful to Jesus’ message of the kingdom. That’s the heart of the emerging movement’s concern with social justice.

  • Missional: This is to say, the EM is not concerned with "evangelisim" in the modern, evangelical sense, but in empowering "the Church" to go into the world, rather than creating a building for outsiders to come. The central element of this missional praxis is that the emerging movement is not attractional in its model of the church but is instead missional: that is, it does not invite people to church but instead wanders into the world as the church.

    3. Postevangelical: The EM is a reaction to evangelicalism in several ways.
  • Post-Bible-Study-Piety: The goal, so we in the emerging movement often say, of the Christian life is not to master the Bible but to be mastered by the Bible... The goal is not information, but formation.

  • Post Systematic Theology: So, let me begin with a simplification: the gospel is more than Jesus coming to die for my sins so I can get to heaven. This gospel is not only protested by the emerging movement; it is rejected. Emerging Christians are trying to get beyond this gospel and that movement. Please observe: as an Apple computer is post a PC or a Dell, so the emerging movement is post evangelical. Not in the sense of abandonment, not in the sense of rendering obsolete, but in the sense of taking up and moving beyond as a fresh work of the Spirit.

    I would say that the vast majority of emerging Christians are evangelical theologically or evangelical conversionally, but they are postevangelical when it comes to describing the Christian life and theology.

  • Post In vs Out: Those in the EM no longer stress the dichotomy between in vs out, saved vs unsaved, ingroup vs outgroup, because of the damage that has done.

    4. Politics: Brian McLaren says that Emerging politics are "purple" (i.e the combining of the good elements of the red and the blue). McKnight acknowledges this, but claims that practically speaking the politics of the Emerging Movement are skewed left.

    In conclusion, to summarize, here is the outline again below. If this topic interests you, read the article by Scot McKnight, It is the best attempt I have seen yet at difining this movement. Here is the outline:

    The Emerging Movement is a lake, with four rivers running into it:

    1. Postmodern
  • Those who minister to postmoderns
  • Those who minister with postmoderns
  • Those who minister as postmoderns
    2. Praxis
  • Worship
  • Orthopraxy
  • Social justice
  • Missional
    3. Postevangelical
  • Post-Bible-Study-Piety
  • Post Systematic Theology
  • Post In vs Out
    4. Politics

  • Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 4

    Chapter 3 of The Myth of a Christian Nation is a very biblical look at the Kingdom of God, which is at the heart of Jesus' teaching. Here is how Greg summarizes the Kingdom of God:

    Though the world as a whole was and remains part of the domain in which Satan is king, in Jesus the domain in which God is king has been introduced into the world. The central goal of Jesus’ life was to plant the seed of this new kingdom so that, like a mustard seed, it would gradually expand. Eventually that kingdom would end the rule of Satan and reestablish God, the Creator of the world, as its rightful ruler (Matt. 13:31-31). In other words, Jesus came to destroy the cosmic “power over” lord and establish the kingdom of God upon the earth (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Jesus planted the seed of the kingdom of God with his ministry, death, and resurrection and then gave to the church, the body of all who submit to his lordship, the task of embodying and living out this distinct kingdom…We collectively are his “second” body, as it were, through which he continues to do what he did in his “first” body…As we allow Christ’s character to be formed in us—as we think and act like Jesus—others come under the loving influence of the kingdom and eventually their own hearts are won over to the King of Kings. The reign of God is thus established in their hearts, and the kingdom of God expands. That process…will culminate in the return of the King accompanied by legions of angels, at which time Satan’s rule will end, the earth will be purged of all that is inconsistent with God’s rule, and his kingdom of love will be established once and for all.”
    pp 29-30

    Boyd writes a long chapter talking about the intricacies of this kingdom and shares several stories and illustrations from scripture to make his point. His presentation of the Kingdom of God is quite beautiful. The only other thing I'll say, though, to wrap up this chapter, is to post the list that Boyd ends the chapter with, of the primary contrasts between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world.

    1. "A Contrast of Trusts: The kingdom of the world trusts the power of the sword, while the kingdom of God trusts the power of the cross." It is "power over" vs "power under."

    2. "A Contrast of Aims: The kingdom of the world seeks to control behavior, while the kingdom of God seeks to transform lives from the inside out."

    3. "A Contrast of Scopes: The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature, and is heavily invested in defending, if not advancing, one's own people-group, one's nation, one's ethnicity, one's state, one's religion, one's ideologies, or one's political agendas. That is why it is a kingdom characterized by perpetual conflict. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves...The kingdom-of-God participant has by love transcended the tribal and nationalistic parameters of whatever version of the kingdom of the world they find themselves in."

    4. "A Contrast of Responses: The kingdom of the world is intrinsically a tit-for-tat kingdom; its motto is 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'...But kingdom-of-God participants carry the cross, not the sword. We, thus, aren't ever to return evil with evil, violence with violence...Far from seeking retaliation, we seek the well being of our enemy."

    5. "A Contrast of Battles: The kingdom of the world has earthly enemies and, thus, fights earthly battles; the kingdom of God, however, by definition has no earthly enemies, for its disciples are committed to loving 'their enemies,' thereby treating them as friends, their 'neighbors'." There is warfare in the kingdom of God, but it is against powers and principalities and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12) *Quotations from this list come from pages 47 and 48 of Myth...

    Now that we have the contrast adequately outlined, we will continue on with chapter 3 and the rest of the argument next time.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    The Case for Conditionalism

    I read the book Two Views of Hell recently. In the book two scholars, Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, offer the two most common views of Hell. Fudge makes the case for an increasingly popular view called Conditionalism, which is the belief that humans are not kept alive forever in unending torment, but that there is an end to the existence of the unrighteous. Traditionalism is, you guessed it, more traditional, and is the view that the majority of Christians have held throughout history, that souls live forever, the righteous to everlasting life and the unrighteous to everlasting torture in Hell. After each makes their case, the other critiques the author's view, so the book is a sort of conversation.

    What I thought I would do is offer a thumbnail sketch of the arguments for Conditionalism. I'm choosing not to argue for Traditionalism because, frankly, so many hold to this view that the argument for it is probably obvious. Before I begin, though, a few words.

    1. Please don't assume that I have signed my name on the dotted line for Conditionalism, or Traditionalism for that matter. I think this is an interesting discussion to have, but don't think I am advocating one view over another or that I'm trying to convert anybody.

    2. Realize that I'm offering merely a cursory glance at Conditionalism, which may not even be fair to the view. If this topic interests you, I encourage you to check out some more material on this debate (see Fudge, The Fire That Consumes and Peterson, Hell on Trial).

    3. I fully expect this picture of Condtionalism to make some people mad. What I want to know is, why? Why is it that the idea of the unrighteous not burning forever angers some so much? And, is that healthy?

    Okay, here we go:

    The basic premise is this: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

    We see verses like this throughout scripture and there is no reason to expect that they should not be taken for their clear, literal meaning. The two destinies as presented by scripture are salvation or destruction, eternal life or eternal death, but nowhere in scripture is it stated that the lost will be forever kept alive to be tormented in Hell.

    The King James Bible first uses the term "fire and brimstone" (translated in other versions as "burning sulphur") in Genesis 19:24 when talking about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This story is referred back to as "'an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly' at the end of time. (2 Peter 2:6)" pg 28.

    In addition, "The writers of the Bible use the same verbs to describe the eternal fate of the lost that they use to describe the judgment brought by the great flood. Just as with the flood, the ungodly will 'perish,' 'die,' and 'be destroyed.'" pg 27

    The wicked end up "like chaff that the wind blows away" (Psalm 1:4-6), and "Their destiny is destruction" (Phil 3:18). They can anticipate "only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Heb10:26-27) etc.

    The idea of humans possessing a soul that lives forever was first advocated by Plato. Fudge argues that it is this non-Christian source from which Christians (from about the time of Augustine) derive the idea that the soul lives forever and cannot be destroyed. But, scripture teaches differently. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

    Let it be made clear that Fudge does not deny Hell, but merely the idea that the wicked live forever in torment. Hell, according to Fudge, is the final destiny of the wicked where they will be consumed and be no more.

    The problematic texts:

    Now, there are a few instances that seem to suggest Traditionalism, that have been used by Traditionalists as proof texts for years, but it should be noted that they are in the minority, and if taken to advocate Traditionalism, they stand in opposition to many other scriptures that seem clear. Fudge's argument stands on the basic hermeneutical practice that one cannot take a few exceptions and reinterpret the majority of the verses on the topic to agree with the exceptions. On the contrary, one is to seek to understand the few that seem to be exceptions in light of the vast majority of plain and clear verses.

    Isaiah 33:14 asks the question "Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" Taken out of context, this could advocate for Traditionalism, but looking at the rest of the verse shows that wicked nations "will be burned to ashes" and like "bushes that are cut down and set on fire" (vs 12).

    Isaiah 66:24 tells of a worm that will not die and a fire that will not be quenched. Concerning this, Fudge says, "In chapter 66, Isaiah anticipates the same scene [as in Isaiah 37] on a massive scale at the end of time. In this prophetic picture, as in the historical event of Isaiah's day, the righteous view "the dead bodies" of the wicked. They see corpses, not living people. They view destruction, not conscious misery. Discarded corpses are fit only for worms (maggots) and fire--both insatiable agents of disintegration and decomposition." pg 32 (emphasis original)

    Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which is often used by Traditionalists as proof. Fudges argues that "Even taken literally...the story concerns only the intermediate state of two Jewish men who died while Jesus was still teaching on earth" (pg 40). He also says the story "tell[s] us absolutely nothing about the final destiny of the damned" (pg 41). In addition, to take it literally would require that we believe that the saved and the lost can converse with each other after death, in full view of each other and at close range. Fudge says "Few serious interpreters attempt to take the details of the story literally" (pg 41). This takes us to an area that needs a bit of elaboration. Whether there is an intermediate period of torment, and for how long that would be, and if each person would endure the same length of this period is not of Fudge's concern. You would find Conditionalists who hold each of those views. What the view is centrally concerned with, and what Fudge argues that the Bible is clear on throughout, is that the end is destruction for the wicked, not eternal life in torment.

    Matthew 18:8-9 talks about the end of the wicked being thrown into "eternal fire." Fudges states: "Gehenna is the "eternal" fire for two reasons. First, it is not part of the present age but the age to come. It does not belong to time but to eternity. Second, those who go into it suffer everlasting destruction. When the unquenchable fire finally destroys the lost, they will be gone forever." (pg 44)

    As Fudge wraps it up, he says, "the notion that the wicked will live forever in inescapable pain contradicts the clear, consistent teaching of scripture from Genesis to Revelation." (pg 80)

    Thoughts on this compelling, but no doubt controversial view? In my mind, it seems more convenient to believe in Conditionalism rather than eternal torment (asking would a loving God keep sinners alive forever just to punish them?). But, the convenient view is not always true. Your thoughts?

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    The Myth of A Christian Nation, Part 3

    As we dive into chapter 1 of the book, we see Boyd diagnosing what he calls the Kingdom of the World (BTW, I plan to refer to the author as either Greg, or Boyd, whichever seems appropriate. Please pardon my inconsistency). The Kingdom of the World always used "power over" techniques, as we discussed last time. This "power over", also figuratively called "the power of the sword", is not concerned with motives or internal change, but with conformity. As Boyd says, "As effective as a raised sword is in producing conformity, it cannot bring about an internal change. A kingdom can stipulate that murder will be punished, for example, but it can't change a person's desire to murder."

    He then goes on to comment about how we should not assume that all versions of the kingdom of the world are altogether bad. Some are better than others, and some are clearly worse than others. He cites Romans 13:1-4 that talks about submitting to governing authorities and being a good citizen. He then does some exegesis on the wold Paul uses for "instituted" in Romans 13:1, also sometimes translated "established." The Greek word is tetagmenai, and can mean to institute, appoint, or establish. Greg says this: “God's intent is to use any given "power over" government as his 'servant for...good.' This doesn’t mean that worldly governments are created by God or that governments always use their God-given authority as God intended—as though Hitler and Stalin were carrying out God’s will! Paul rather says that God institutes, directs, or stations (tetagmenai) governments."

    Greg also makes the point that Satan always seems to be involved in the kingdom of the world, and has some level of authority there. When Jesus was tempted, the Devil showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world and asserted that it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please (Lk 4:5-7). Jesus neither falls for the temptation, nor does he dispute the Devil's claim to own the kingdoms of the world. This, is fact, is just one example of several similar statements about the power that the Enemy has (1 John 5:19, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, 2 Cor 4:4, Eph 2:2). Concerning these last two points that seem to be in tension (i.e. God ordering governing authorities vs Satan having power there as well), Greg says the following:

    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.
    pg 22

    Lastly, and in my humble opinion, the best point he makes in this chapter, Greg talks about the ubiquitous disease of tit-for-tat, "us" against "them", "my tribe is better than your tribe", and revenge that is always at play in the kingdom of the world. In the case of the war on terror, for instance, Greg says, "You probably passionately believe that our cause [i.e. America] is just and theirs is evil, but the terrorists passionately believe their cause is just and ours is evil. Your passion for American justice is mirrored by their passion for Islamic justice." And a bit later, "You naturally believe your tribe is at least a bit less guilty than the opposition, and this is exactly what they believe about their tribe. And so the bloody game goes on, as it has in one form or another across the globe and throughout history." In a kingdom under this rule, and in our present world, where tit-for-tat, "you-hit-me-I-hit-you-back" is in play, war and violence is inevitable.

    Boyd says again:

    So long as people locate their worth, significance, and security in their power, possessions, traditions, reputations, religious behaviors, tribe, and nation rather than in a relationship with their Creator, Babylon's bloody tit-for-tat game is inevitable. Of course, peaceful solutions must still be sought and can, to some degree, be attained with regard to each particular conflict. But as long as humans define their personal and tribal self-interests over and against other people's competing personal and tribal interests, violence is inevitable and will break out again.
    pg 26

    As I reflect on this reality, it astounds me how much sense it makes. Think about how many problems flow from this selfish competition (materialism, gangs/gang warfare, popularity quests in High School, etc.). I think Greg nails it here.

    As Pastor Bob at Vanguard Church says, "Therefore, Boyd’s point is a striking one. When nations believe that they are on God’s side, they are deceiving themselves. When they go to war for what they have convinced themselves are righteous reasons, they often are simply partaking in the 'myth of redemptive violence'."

    The kingdom of Jesus stands in sharp contrast to the kingdom of the world, and Greg gets into that in chapter 2, which we will look at next time.

    For now, what questions arise from this chapter? Do you think his diagnosis of the world was accurate?

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    American Gladiators Returns

    I cannot adequately put into words how pumped I was to find out that American Gladiators was making a comeback. In fact, when I hit play on my Tivo to watch it last night, I let out a squeal of excitement (a tough, manly squeal, of course).

    American Gladiators is a show that started in the late 80's and ran through '96. the show featured contestants coming to compete against a series of Gladiators featured on the show.

    In the new version, replacing Mike Adamle and Larry Csonka as hosts are Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali. Replacing Nitro, Gemini, and Ice (among others) are new, bigger, tougher Gladiators. One guy, Justice, is listed as 6'8" 290!

    They also have returned the best games from the older show (slightly tweaked) and come up with some new ones as well. Here is an overview.

    Returning Games:

    Powerball: This may be the most physical, mano-a-mano game that has existed on AG. The contestants have to get balls into barrels at various spots on the floor, but they have Gladiators trying to take them out. The result is hard hits, tackling, and sometimes injuries. The one thing that always bothered me about this game is that there are 3 gladiators going up against 2 contestants. I don't mind the contestants being out numbered so much, but why 3? One contestant is always going to be 2 on 1 when the other is 1 on 1. Doesn't seem fair to me, but it is a fun game to watch.

    Joust: Perhaps the most famous game from the older show, contestants stand on a platform acoss from a gladiator on his platform, where they procede to use "jousting sticks" to knock each other off. The new twist: rather than falling onto a padded floor, the loser has about a 12 foot drop into a swimming pool.

    Hang Tough: what I always called "the rings" as a kid, the contestant must make it across a series of gymnist style rings before the gladiator gets to him and takes him down. No obvious changes to this game.

    The Wall: Rock Climbing, Gladiator Style. Pretty simple really. The contestants get a 7 second head start to climb up a rock climbing wall before the gladiators are let loose to chase them. This always played on my fear of someone chasing me and who was about to get me. The new twist, again, is that when the loser falls, they drop into the water.

    The Assault: I lied before. This has to be the most famous older game. The best by far. A constestant has to make his way through a course, hiding behind barriers and finding weopons to use to shoot a target located above a gladiator's head. Oh yeah, and the gladitor is using an air cannon to shoot tennis balls at 100mph at the contestant. If they get hit, they are out. There are some small new twists to this game (newer weapons), but the coolest thing is that when the target gets hit, the gladiator gets flung upward like a catapult (it used to be that smoke would release, yawn).

    *It will be interesting to see if they bring back the other classic games like Atlasphere and Human Cannonball.

    New Games

    Pyramid: This us my favorite new game. The contestants have to climb a padded, stair-stepped pyramid, with a gladiator in their way. The gladitors have the higher position (and usually about 100 lbs of muscle) on the contestant, so it results in some crazy tackles from above and throws off of the pyramid.

    Earthquake: There is about an 8 foot in diameter platform in the air that shifts and angles, as a gladiator and a contestant wrestle to knock the other off. The loser falls into the pool.

    Gauntlet: Contestants have to run trough a padded hallway of sorts with 4 gladiators at various places with pads, looking to knock the crap out of them.

    Hit and Run: Contestants have to run back and forth across a flimsly bridge to get points, all the while, gladiators are hurling 100 lb pendulum bags at them to knock them off.

    After competing in these games for points, the leader gets a head start in The Eliminator, a huge obsticle course to determine the winner. Here is what they have to do: On the whistle, contestansts first scale a wall (8 feet or so). From the top, the jump into a pool where they swim 20 feet under water below a row of fire. They swim to the edge, where they climb a 30 foot rope ladder. At the top, they grab onto a barrell like device and roll to the bottom (can you say "So dizzy I want to puke?"). Then, they do the hand bike, followed by a balance beam, then up a pyramid, and down the zip line. Then they go up the "Travelator", which used to be the first part of the Eliminator. It is a referse treadmill angled upward that contestants have to run up. Then they run up some steps and break through a wall of padded bricks.

    I honestly think they have made The Eliminator too hard. It is no longer a question of speed and strength (as it used to be), but of simple endurence. Usually contestants are so tired at the end they can hardly finish, and some don't. I have yet to see a close finish, as one person is usually down for the count out of exhaustion. It will be interesting to see if the contestants catch up to The Eliminator, or if they scale it down to make it more competative.

    Anyway, you can catch the show on Monday's at 8 EST, 7 Central. If you are watching the new show, let me know. It would be fun to share our favorite moments and gladiators.

    Apparently The Gauntlet was a game from the old show, not a new game as listed above. My mistake. As one of the poorer games they play, I guess I just don't remember it from back in the day.

    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    Emergent Thinking

    An interesting thought by Jeff Goins from his essay on Pilgrimage, featured on the Emergent Podcast:

    What if a generation was humble enough to admit that they still don't have God figured out, that He's still a mystery, and that intrigue leads them into all kinds of radical adventures? What if we took some time off and saw what God really had to offer the man or woman that was totally consecrated to him? I can't help but dream.

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    An American Prayer from Dr. Ben Witherington

    If you have not checked out the blog of Ben Witherington, you probably should. His most recent gem is this masterpiece he aptly titles An American's Prayer for the New Year. He also includes movie reviews, book reviews, and ongoing commentary on culture. You know, normal blog stuff. Suffice it to say, his blog is definately worth the regular glance.

    Here is his prayer (which connects nicely with our series on Myth...). May we take heed to its message.

    Lord God:

    I am almighty tired of all that is tawdry and cheap about Christianity in America. I am tired of the chest thumping assumptions about God being on ‘our side’. I weary of those who equate their brand of American politics with the will of God for the world, or worse, those who think being a Christian means I should not be involved IN the great causes of the age or the major decisions made in our land. Lord help us not to mistake apathy for true spirituality, or abstinence for action.

    Lord is there not a way to help American Christians understand that they are called to be global Christians, not merely American ones? Is there not a way to help us understand that the true patriots are those who will what is best for all humankind, and not just our kind? Is there not a way to make clear that when Jesus said we must ‘love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us’ he was not kidding? Could we not take to heart the words of your servant John Donne when he said ‘any man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind. Therefore do not think to ask for whom the bell tolls….’

    Lord this is an election year, and there is much fervor and ferment. Doubtless much hangs in the balance in regard to the war in Iraq, our relationship with Pakistan, and many other large matters, and yet we seem much more concerned about our own standard of living, and whether our houses will sell or not. Could we not please get a glimpse of a larger world vision and world view that would help us see that our near total preoccupation with ourselves is a reflection of human sin, of human fallenness, of ‘the heart turned in upon itself’? Could we not realize that real family values amounts to realizing that the worldwide family of faith, the family of Christ is the primary family, not our nuclear families?

    Lord I do not understand the blindness I encounter repeatedly in church after church. We rant and rave about sexual sin, and yet ignore racism, sexism, and in general the entire social gospel. Is this because we have reduced sin to the private and personal spheres in our lives? Is this because we have forgotten about the body of Christ and how there are both corporate and national as well as personal sins? Why do we strain over gnats but swallow camels when it comes to sin? Why do we repeatedly put the emphasis in the wrong place?

    Lord there is much that is good and generous about the American spirit. Yet so often it is myopic, and amounts to helping ourselves, or our near kin. Lord, I would pray that more Christians in America would take on the challenge of cross cultural missions and let it expand their world view, and reshape their mentality about your human creatures. Forgive us Lord for forgetting and letting the Great Commission become the great Omission as we build bigger barns here in America to house ourselves, or for treating the great Commission as if it were only the job of missionaries.

    Lord forgive us for our Biblical illiteracy, and for whittling off the hard edges of Scripture because they rub us the wrong way. Forgive us for our arrogance and ignorance which is always a lethal combination. Forgive us Lord for treating our cultural preferences as if they were Biblical absolutes, and forgive us for perverting your Gospel which is Good News for the poor into empowerment for those who long to be richer, wealthier, scratching the itch of a greedy soul. Lord forgive us our sense of entitlement and for treating you as if you were the great Santa Claus in the sky whose mission in life is to fulfill all our worldly longings and desires.

    Lord you have said that not many of us should wish to be teachers of your Word, and yet you have made me one. Lord, it is a heavy responsibility, and yet your yoke is lighter than being in bondage to sin. I hear every day the words ‘to whom more is given, more is required’, and sometimes I fear the reckoning, as I fall short, and am not infrequently wrong about things.

    Lord I understand that Christ is the model of true humility, and that it involves knowing both who and whose I am. I know it has nothing to do either with false humility or false pride, nor anything to do with feelings of low self worth or self-denigration. I know I am not God or even an angel, and yet Lord I know I am not nothing either. I know I am created in your image and recreated in Christ for good works.

    Help me to not mistake my busy-ness for your business in all respects. Help me not mistake my convictions for your truths in all respects. Help me say more often--- ‘I do not know’. Help me to continue to learn before I teach, to love before I critically evaluate, to praise before I blame, to help before I hinder, to listen before I speak.

    Lord in your Mercy, and in the name of the Blessed Trinity, hear my prayer,


    The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 2

    Today, we will be looking at the rest of the intro of The Myth of a Christian Nation, and sharing Boyd's introductory thoughts.

    As we begin to look at what Greg calls the foundational myth, I'm not sure that I can summarize it any better or shorter than Greg does. Here is what he says:

    From the start, we have tended to believe that God's will was manifested in the conquest and founding of our country--and that it is still manifested in our actions around the globe. Throughout our history, most Americans have assumed our nation's causes and wars were righteous and just, and that "God is on our side." In our minds--as so often in our sanctuaries--the cross and the American flag stand side by side. Our allegiance to God tends to go hand in hand with our allegiance to country. Consequently, many Christians who take their faith seriously see themselves as the religious guardians of a Christian homeland. America, they believe, is a holy city "set on a hill," and the church's job is to keep it shining.
    pg 12

    And also:

    The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be, damaging both to the church and to the advancement of God's kingdom. Among other things, this nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples. Instead of living out the radically counter cultural 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 it 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.
    pg 13

    Another result of this myth of America as a Christian nation, is that it has led many to associate Christ with America. The result, then, is that many people hear the good news of the gospel of Jesus "only as American news, capitalistic news, imperialistic news, exploitive news, andtigay news, or Republican news. And whether justified or not, many people want nothing to do with any of it." (pp 13-14)

    He then briefly shares his primary contrast that he will continually use throughout the book: that is that the kingdom that Jesus came to establish, that Jesus said is "not of this world", is diametrically opposed to the kingdom of the world (i.e. the governments of the world). It operates differently. While all versions of the kingdom of the world seek to gain power and then exercise "power over" others, the kingdom of God advances only by exercising "power under" others. It is self-sacrificial, loving, humble, and serving. Boyd would argue that everything the church is about hangs on preserving this "radical uniqueness" that the kingdom Jesus came to establish in contrast to the kingdoms of the world.

    This last paragraph was important, because it is here that he introduces us to some of his terms that he will be using throughout the book. I'm offering his basic argument before I get into the meat to give you time to mull it over before he starts to defend it. Does he have a point?

    Lastly, Greg offers three preliminary words before we get into the main argument.

    1. First, he says, his thesis applies as much to the political left as the political right, though he admits that since the dominant political position of Evangelicals is right wing/conservative, his focus tends to be there, and it warrants more attention.

    2. Second, to keep these two kingdoms radically distinct does not mean that a person is to keep their faith and moral convictions from affecting their involvement in the political process (this has been perhaps one of the most common misconceptions of the book). What does need to be kept separate, however, is the core faith and values, on the one hand, and the particular way in which these values politically express themselves on the other. "[K]ingdom people who share the same core faith and values can and often do disagree about how their faith and values should inform their involvement in the kingdom of the world." (pg 15)

    3. Lastly, the purpose of the book is not to resolve all of the ambiguities between the two kingdoms, but to paint a clear picture of the kingdom that Jesus modeled.

    We will dive into chapter one, the beginning of the core argument next time.

    As we prepare, what questions are coming to your mind? What issues do you hope Greg addresses before it is all done?