At this point in my spiritual journey, no one influences me like pastor/author/professor Greg Boyd. Boyd's teaching on the Kingdom of God has revolutionized my understanding of the church, what it means to be a pastor and simply what it means to be Christian. His book Myth of a Christian Nation is one of the best books I've ever read, and I've read thousands of books. It's a must read for any follower of Jesus, particularly those who, like myself, grew up in a church in which just before presidential elections we were given a brochure from the Christian Coalition, telling us what exactly was the "Christian vote." To hear me going off on the idea of a "Christian vote" listen to this sermon. I believe Boyd is bringing much-needed change to Evangelical Christianity; challenging us to reject the world's power structures and get back to the example and teachings of Jesus.
When Zach Pogemiller told me he'd just bought Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution I figured I didn't need to read it since I'd already heard it all in Greg Boyd's podcasts. Thankfully however, I read the book anyway. While it's true there were no ideas in the book that were new, the book still convicted me and reminded me of ways in which I still need to grow as Kingdom person. The chapter on Judgment hit closest to home and I've heard the Holy Spirit call me out on judgmental thoughts the past few days.
Maybe the best way to summarize the book is to list the chapters, which will give you a general overview of the book's content. While almost every one of the 218 pages contains challenging ideas, I'm going to share a few of them below.
[My eyes were slowly] opened to the radical contradiction between the lifestly Jesus calls his followers to embrace, on the one hand, and the typical American lifestyle, on the other. Yet it struck me that the Church in America largely shares - even celebrates - the typical American lifestyle.
What I never understood was why followers of Jesus would try to gain political power over people when Jesus himself never attempted such a thing. Nor could I understand how Christians could act as if their sins were less serious than the sins of those they were crusading against.
I would explain the biblical reasons why our church never has, and never will, participate in political activity (as well as why we don't have a flag on our premises, sing patriotic hymns, celebrate the Fourth of July, or do other things like that. So I delivered a four-part sermon series entitled "The Cross and the Sword" that spelled out the difference between the Kingdom of God, which followers of Jesus are called to promote, and the kingdoms of the world, which politics concerns itself with. The messages exposed a division in my congregation that ran through the entire evangelical community. On the one hand, I'd never received such positive responses to anything I'd ever preached. Some people literally wept for joy, feeling that the Gospel had been hijacked by American politics. On the other hand, roughly a thousand people walked out. I faced similar extremes of positive and negative feedback when I preached the message on politics that is linked above.
But the Kingdom revolution is unlike any other the world has known. It is not a revolution for power over others, choosing instead to excercise power under others. It's a revolution of humble, self-sacrificial, loving sservice. It always looks like Jesus, dying on Calvary for the very people who crucified him.
Christ and Caesar
The power of this distinctive, self-sacrificial beauty is lost, however, whenver the Kingdom of God gets blended with the power-over attitudes and practices of the kingdoms of the world. The Kingdom stops looking like a giant Jesus and starts looking like a giant Caesar - which means the Kingdom for all practical purposes simply ceases to exist.
Some claim the church is supposed to be the "conscience of the government," but there's absolutely no basis for this claim in the New Testament. Rather, we're to position ourselves as society's humble servants, for this is what Jesus did.
The Revolt against Idolatry
In Jesus, our hearts finally find what they've been hungry for, so we are empowered to break our miserable addiction to idols.
The Revolt against Judgment
People on both sides whose source of Life is wrapped up with their patriotism just know that they happened to be born on the side of the good, while their enemy happened to be born on the side of evil. In America, for example, most people (including, it seems, most Christians) just know that God is on the side of political freedom and that it is worth killing for - despite Jesus' command that his followers are to love and do good to all enemies, and despite the fact that neither Jesus nor anyone else in the Bible ever said a word about political freedom.
The Revolt against Religion
While the holiness of Jesus ascribed unsurpassable worth to people, the "holiness" of the Pharisees detracted worth from people as they ascribed worth to themselves. The holiness Jesus manifested fed people, while the judgmental "holiness" of the Pharisees fed off of people.
What kind of holiness does the Western Church manifest today? To answer this, we need only ask: Are the prostitutes and tax collectors of our day attracted to us or repelled by us?
Jesus was known for the scandalous way he loved.
So, instead of being know as outrageous lovers, Christians are largely viewed as self-righteous judgers.
The Revolt against Individualism
When you combine our relationship-eroding consumerism with our stress on individual freedoms and rights, you can understand why most westerners have many acquaintances but few (if any) deeply committed relationships that echo the beautiful love of the triune God.
In his marvelous book The Great Divorce, CS Lewis envisioned hell as a realm in which people are forever moving farther away from one another. Hell is the ultimate, cosmic, suburban sprawl. It's a vision of hell that is becoming a reality in Western culture, and it's something Kingdom people in the West are called to passionately revolt against.
House gatherings were the primary social unit of the Jesus revolution for the first three centuries.
Welcome to McChurch, where you get served up a Gospel tailor-made to suit your personal tastes and needs and that never confronts you or causes you any discomfort. McChurch not only fails to confront the idols and pagan values of Western culture, it often "Christianizes" them.
The Revolt against Nationalism
For the first three hundred years or so of the Kingdom revolution, Christians on the whole remained beautifully free of nationalistic idolatry. The early Christians didn't see themselves as belonging to the empire they lived in, and they would not pledge allegiance to or fight for any ruler or country. They routinely chose to die rather than pledge allegiance to a symbolic statue of the emperor. They were consequently criticized and persecuted for being unpatriotic, subversive, and cowardly.
By their refusal to conform and willingness to suffer, these early followers of Jesus bore witness to a radically different, beautiful Christlike way of doing life. In sharp contrast to Islam, which experienced explosive growth in its earliest years by the ferocity of its warriors, the early Church experienced explosive growth in its earliest years by the beautiful way followers of Jesus chose to die rather than fight.
Constantine's alleged vision, telling him to go to war under the banner of Christ changed all this. Christianity was reduced to a pagan, nationalistic god of war.
Leaders as well as the masses too often embraced their nation's values and goals as though they were God's own.
We've been seduced by the Powers. It's time for Kingdom people in America to be done with this. Our ultimate allegiance cannot be to America or any other country. It cannot be to a flag, democracy, the right to defend ourselves, the right to do what we want, the right to vote, or the right to pursue happiness however we see fit. We are Kingdom people only to the extent that God alone is King of our lives, and thus only to the extent that we revolt against the temptation to make any cultural values or ideas supreme.
The Revolt against Violence
Although it might appear that Jesus is telling his followers [In Matthew 5 - "turn the other cheek"] to be passive, masochistic doormats in the face of evil, that is not what he's suggesting. The word translated "resist" antistenai doesn't necessarily suggest passivity. Rather, it connotes responding to a violent action with a similar violent action. We aren't to passively let evil have its way, but neither are we to sink to the level of the evil being perpetrated against us by responding in kind. Our response is rather to be consistent with loving the offender.
We aren't to be passive and we aren't to be doormats. But because we aren't to be defined by the evil we confront, neither are we to become violent. Quid pro quo has been entirely abolished in the Kingdom Jesus brings.
Our willingness to go against our fallen nature and love and serve enemies rather than resort to violence against them is the telltale sign we are participating in the Kingdom of God.
Notice this: there are no exception clauses found anywhere in the New Testament's teaching about loving and doing good to enemies.
For while the way of violence may appear to curb evil in the short run, it always - always - produces more violence in the long run. It's self-perpetuating.
Suggested Websites: Christian Peacemaking Teams Witness for Peace
Peace Brigades Nonviolent Peace Force
The Revolt against Social Oppression
The truth is that Jesus' teachings and examples are primarily about brining God's will "on earth as it is in heaven" in the lives of his followers here and now. We're now living in the year of jubilee, so all class distinctions are to be abolished in the community of God's people now.
The majority of American churches are as segregated along socioeconomic lines as much as they are along racial lines.
The Revolt against Racism
This means [Ephesians 2:14-16] that revolting against racism is not a nice addendum to the Gospel, as many contemporary white Christians seem to think. It's one of the reasons Jesus came and died on the cross. It's as central to the Gospel as anything could possibly be. We can no more refrain from proclaiming and demonstrating the reunification of humanity in Christ than we can refrain from preaching forgiveness of sin in Christ!
The truth is, racism in America is far more subtle and sinister than this. America was conquered by white Europeans, was structured by and for white Europeans, and it continues to privilege white Europeans. Racism has been woven into the very fabric of our culture from the start.
One of the ways the social system of America continues to privilege whites over others is that it insulates us from the ongoing effects of America's racist past.
For more reading on this topic, check out Lies My Teacher Told Me
The Revolt against Poverty and Greed
When Jesus offers warnings to "the rich," therefore, he's talking about most of us. And his warning is that riches have a way of entrapping us.
It's sobering to compare America's spending on the military with its aid to the poor. In 2005, America spent twenty-seven times more on its military than it did on alleviating global poverty. Some estimate that the amount spent on the Iraq war alone in 2006 could have fed and housed all the poor on the planet six times over. It's also sobering to consider that Americans spend enough money on entertainment each year to feed all the hungry people on the planet for a year.
The Revolt against the Abuse of Creation
"The time has come for judging the dead... and for destroying those who destory the earth." Revelation 11:18
I'd like to suggest that, from a Kingdom perspective, it shouldn't make a bit of difference why the earth is warming up. Nor should it make a bit of difference if it suddenly starts cooling down. For we as Kingdom people are called to care for the earth and the animal kingdom simply because this is part of what it means to be faithful to the reign of God. Following the example of Jesus and the general teaching of Scripture, we're called to manifest God's loving care for the earth and the animal kingdom while revolting against everything that abuses creation.
The Revolt against the Abuse of Sex
Something is precious when it is not common. It costs a great deal to purchase a diamond but costs nothing to acquire an ordinary stone, because diamonds are rare while ordinary stones are not. Sex is intended by God to be a precious and beautiful diamond precisely because it's not intended for common use. Sexual intercourse is the only place where God creates the "one flesh" reality that reflects his beautiful and costly relationship with humans in Christ. It is to be shared only by those who have paid the ultimate price of pledging their whole loves to one another.
What God knows - and what we desperately need to understand - is that our own well being and the well being of society depends on our treating this diamond like the rare and precious stone that it is. When we treat this diamond like a common stone - as our contemporary recreational view of sex encourages us to do - we are desecrating the "one flesh" reality it creates, disdaining its role as a sign of God's relationship with the Church, and violating its role as a sign and sealing of the marriage covenant. We are making a mockery of a beautiful, foundational aspect of God's plan for humans on earth. And we are, consequently, bringing destruction upon ourselves and society.
The Revolt against Secularism
I've been trying to practice this discipline after being inspired last year by Greg Boyd and John Burke's preaching.
A central task for a Kingdom disciple, therefore, is to cultivate a life of unbroken communion with God through Christ. Far from living in a "secular" world where we rarely surrender ourselves consciously to God, our goal must be to abolish the seperation between the "secular" and the "holy" in order to make everything - and every moment - holy. This is our revolt against secularism.
Practicing the presence of God is something we strive for moment-by-moment, even if it's something we will never perfectly attain in this life.
Like me, you will undoubtedly forget to remain aware of God's presence in a few moments. But if you're open to it, before long the Holy Spirit will break through your secularized consciousness and whisper to you, "Remember me?" And when he does, our job is to yield to him and surrender to God's loving presence in that moment - and then seek to do so in the next moment, and then in the next.