As we continue our way through Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, the internal tensions and incoherencies continue to mount. The longer he goes, the more specific he must become, and as he becomes more specific he sees contradictions where there are none, and suggests contradictory sentiments to us, even in the same sentence.
Here is an example of the first, seeing a contradiction where there really isn't one.
"It is impossible to imitate Jesus, dying on the cross for those who crucified him, while at the same time killing people on the grounds that they are against political freedom. It is impossible to love your enemies and bless those who persecute you, while at the same time defending your right to political freedom by killing those who threaten you" (p. 150).
Over against this, we have the testimony from centuries of Christian warriors, men who accepted their responsibility to love their enemies as Jesus commanded, and who also accepted their responsibility to be efficient in the pursuit of their lethal duties in battle. I can easily see how a warrior could fail to do both, but that is simply a concession that it is difficult -- not that it is contradictory. I was born into a military family, grew up in a military setting (Annapolis), and spent years in the submarine service. I know how Christians in the military are trained to think and behave, and love for your enemies is not something that is dismissed out of hand. My father knew a group of Christian fighter pilots who would meet together for prayer before their missions -- not only to pray for obvious things like safety, but also to pray for the enemy. I know this seems like a logical contradiction to someone like Boyd, but I would appreciate sometime seeing a pacifist argument that seeks to show it to be contradictory, rather than just assuming the contradiction from the mere difficulty of it. Not all challenges are contradictions.
Many years ago, when I was first working through a number of these issues, I recall reading an astonished article in a magazine (Sojourners or The Other Side, some magazine like that). The writer, a pacifist, was recalling his reactions to an interview with a Christian pilot who had been shot down over North Vietnam, and who had then been tortured by his captors. In the interview, he recounted how the Lord had given him genuine love for the men who were his torturers. He really loved them, and did not return malice for malice. When the interviewer then asked him if he would be willing to fly any more missions against North Vietnam, he replied, as a good military man, "Of course." The pacifist who was recounting this admired the love this man obviously had for his captors, but could not fit this together with his willingness to continue fighting as a warrior. And I acknowledge the difficulty. It is such a great difficulty, it can only be surmounted by the work of the Spirit of Christ. Far from being a violation of the Spirit's love, it is one of the highest manifestations of His presence. This is the grace of God.
What about genuine contradictions that Boyd advances? Here is one.
"What would happen if kingdom people honored Jesus' command not to own anything (Luke 14:33) and followed the kingdom principle of giving to those in need and taking in those who are without a home (Luke 6:30-31 . . .)? What would happen if wealthy suburban congregations took it upon themselves to build affordable housing for the poor? (p. 154).
Jesus commanded us not to own anything. Furthermore, we are to take in those who don't have a home. But we can't take them in because we don't own a house anymore. Gave it all away last week while obeying commands. And why on earth would we build affordable housing for anybody -- placing them in direct violation of Christ's command not to own anything?
On another front . . .
"The evangelical church as a whole is not known for its willingness to assume responsibility for these [mercy ministry] areas" (p. 153).
The evangelical church may not be known for these things, but this is more a function of misinformation like this from Boyd than a function of genuine chintziness. Americans are about six percent of the world's population and we account for about forty-five percent of the world's philanthropy. Among Americans, believers are far more generous than secularists. Among believers, Protestants are more liberal in their giving than Catholics. Among Protestants, evangelicals are more generous than mainliners. But if you were ask a secular arbiter of all that is philanthropic for his opinion on how we were doing, he would invert the whole thing. That much said, when the standard is God's generosity to us, most of us are not nearly as generous to others as we ought to be. We should pray for grace to overflow more liberally still. But we may be pardoned if the evangelical artesian well, producing 20 gallons a minute, while wishing it could be 40, doesn't want to hear lectures on charity from the dry hole of secular leftism.
Boyd continues his practice of avoiding some disreputable types while endorsing the way of Jesus in theory.
"And predictably, we drive away the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day, just as the Pharisees did, rather than attracting them, as Jesus did" (p. 155).
He always leaves out the centurions. I just don't get it. Or maybe I do get it.
Boyd is clearly not aware of how much the zeitgeist is getting to him and is skewing his judgments as a result.
"Instead of living to sacrifice for others, we become the official 'sin-pointer-outers.' Instead of gaining a reputation of being humble servants who manifest Calvary-quality love, we gain a reputation for being moralistic and self-righteous" (p. 155).
Two problems. First, the whole thing is set up as a false dilemma. Either you sacrifice for others or you point out sin. But can Boyd not envision a situation where to point out someone's sin would be the greatest sacrifice that someone had ever made? And can he not see that there have been times when silence was the result of a direct refusal to sacrice one's self? Why are these set in opposition?
But they are not really, and that is the second point. Because of the way the media pounds away at this point, it is the easiest thing in the world to envision a pro-life crusader, or an anti-porn activist, or a volunteer in a anti-special-rights-for-gays campaign as censorious, unloving, rude, moralistic and self-righteous. But if a black man were being hauled off by a lynch mob, and a solitary man stood to confront that mob, taking his life in his hands with dead weight in his gut and a lump in his throat, would Boyd chastize him for trying to function as a "sin-pointer-outer"? Would Boyd care that the vast majority of the mob would characterize that lonely man as moralistic and judgmental? "Thinks he is better than everybody?" No, Boyd would, like the rest of us, praise that man. But that means that the structure of Boyd's argument falls.
One last point. In this chapter, Boyd argues briefly and superficially against theocracy. He says that America never was a theocracy and ought never to become one. This illusrates all the usual confusions about theocracies. All law-orders are theocratic, and the only thing that distinguishes them is the name of the god and the nature of his law. But there is an unusual twist here, because Boyd has been at pains to point out throughout this book that Satan is the god of this world, and the god of all the nations in this world.
"As with all nations, America is under the strong corrupting influences of demonic powers" (p. 151).
So Boyd might be willing to concede that America is a theocracy, and that the gods in question are the principalities and powers. But what I cannot grasp is why Boyd is teaching Christians to be complacent about this, refusing to challenge those principalities and powers in the name of Jesus. Why should Christians be content to let false theocracies continue? If false gods are indeed false gods, then let us have a challenge on Mt. Carmel.
Speaking of this general subject, we need to return to a deep grasp of the totality of the antithesis. Jesus is Lord over all, and all other gods need to be named for what they are. We need to teach this to our children. When my son and his family were visiting the Merkles in the UK this last year, one of the things they did while at Oxford was visit the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. They have an Egypt display there which Lucia, age four, had gone ahead into the room to see. Having done so, she came barreling back out again to inform her siblings (and other visitors to the museum) of what they were going to see. "False gods! False gods!"