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?


Mark said...

Nick, please forgive me for being off topic but I thought you may enjoy this talk about Spinoza, religion and morality from this year's "Beyond Belief" conference.

Einstein's God--Prof Nadler on Spinoza, pt 1
Einstein's God--Prof. Nadler on Spinoza, pt 2

Sorry for the logo in the middle of the screen. I think that if there is a God, it must be Spinoza's God. Technically, that might make me an agnostic. I disagree with Spinoza's determinism though, in a selfish way. You have to be strong to be an existentialist. You have to be really strong to be a determinist. I hope free will manifested as existentialism exists but my hope has nothing to do with what's true. Spinoza, might be right.

Nick said...

No problem, Mark. thanks for passing these along. i'll have to check them out.

Nate Watson said...

I propbably shouldn't comment since I have not read the book, but it tickled my funny bone. It is risky business (in my under-educated opinion) when someone tries to engage "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of the world" with American politics. Overall, the emphasis is SPRITUAL when Jesus refers to these seemingly dualistic forces. But there is a nuance that hints of politics.

Many scholars find the roots for this language in the qumranic literature. I agree to the extent that they may have influenced the Gospel writers, particularly John in that it was a familiar ideology of the day. But I wouldn't validate that Essenes as "source" for Kingdom language. All that to say, if the language is rooted in the Essenes, what would they have meant by Kingdom language and how would that apply to the gospel writers. We know that authors of Qumranic literature escaped into the dessert from the evils of the time, one of those evils being polititical (ROME). In fact, at the time of Jesus' birth, his world was in political chaos. Herod, an edomite, not from the Hasmonean line, was an abomination of a king of the Roman city state of Jerusalem.

It is hard for me to begin to apply all this American foreign policy and Militant Islam. I am sure there is a connection...I just think that is a whole Masters thesis in itself.

Does boyd ever delve into the roots of KOH and KOW?

Sorry for how long and scattered in thought this comment is.

Nate Watson said...

sorry...third paragraph should read, "apply this TO American foreign policy"

Nick said...

Hi Nate,

I'm not entirely sure how to respond. I guess I would say that Boyd is using the phrases "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Kingdom of the world" in broad ways. His definitions will come out (i.e. the KOH always looks like Jesus, The KOTW always uses "power over"), but I'm not sure his goal is to draw from the origins of these phrases (Qumranic or otherwise), but rather to take them at face value in the gospels (i.e. Jesus saying "My kingdom is not of this world").

In short, I would say that Greg is drawing broad categories from the gospels, and applying them to American politics himself, based on logic and reason.

Does that make sense, Nate? That is just my opinion. I'd be interested to see what you think as we look at the subsequent chapters.

It could also be from my lack of relaying the whole picture, so I'm sure it would make more sense if you read the book.

Thanks for the comment!

Nate Watson said...

Sure, I get that...I was just suggesting that good scholarship applies the original intent of the author (which includes original undestanding of terms, of which origin is intrinsic, since we are 2000+ years removed) in modern application, and I was wondering if Boyd did that...but, like I said, I haven't read the book, so I don't want to jump to conclusions. But you have convinced me. I am going to read the book this month. Love your blog!

Nick said...

I'm glad I influenced you, Nate.