There are some Sundays when you want to invite your friends to church, and other Sundays when you wisely take a pass. On the good Sundays, there’s either a speaker or message or occasion that you just want your friends to witness. It’s not, If so-and-so just hears this message or this speaker they’ll understand why they should be a Christian. Rather, it’s If so-and-so was here today they would brush up against something profound and mysterious and our friendship would be richer because of it. As regular churchgoers, we’ll freely admit that there are good Sundays and less good Sundays. (Sometimes, depending on your church, there may simply be flat out bad Sundays.) At Crossroads today, it was a good Sunday because Greg Boyd was in town.
Boyd is Senior Pastor of the Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, but once or twice a year he stops by Cincinnati and preaches or delivers a guest lecture. He was in town today to discuss the Kingdom of God. Boyd was featured in the New York Times in July 2006 for, among other things, losing 20% of his congregation due in large part to a sermon series he preached during the 2004 election called “The Cross and the Sword.” In that series Boyd drew a line between the Kingdom of God and politics — specifically the Religious Right, which most of our friends who aren’t Christian (understandably) assume is the default setting for all Christian evangelicals. Boyd’s refusal to weigh in on the hot button issues cost him 1000 members over the course of that year.
According to the Times article, Boyd “first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.”
“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’”
The message Boyd delivered this morning was very much in the same vein. He cited examples down through human history, from the Crusades to the Nazis, of Christians killing in the name of God. How is it, he asked, that we have such an abhorrent track record of killing our enemies when everyone knows that Jesus commanded us to love them? Part of the answer, he said, has to do with us confusing our opinion with God’s opinion. (“You want to know what God thinks about that? Well I’ll tell you — he agrees with me!”) And part of the answer has to do with our willingness to leverage religion for political power, something Jesus seemed wholly unconcerned with in his teachings. Boyd contrasted Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector — the Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck of their day, as he put it — and noted how the Bible says nothing of any political disagreements between them, only that they both followed Jesus as disciples.
Boyd also quoted John 18, when Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Or, in Greg Boyd speak, “Are you a threat to me?”) Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” As it so happened, his servants did fight to prevent his arrest — Peter cut the ear off an unfortunately named servant called Malchus. But Jesus rebuked him (“Put your sword away”) and healed the servant’s ear.
Yet still, in the two thousand years since, the church has been full of Peters taking up the sword to fight a battle Jesus never intended to fight. That’s a deeply troubling fact for Christians — and especially American evangelicals. Though he is one of us, what appeals to us about Greg Boyd is that he is not just telling evangelicals something we want to hear. He is telling the truth. And whenever anyone is brave enough to tell the truth these days, you want to gather people around and say, “Listen to this!”
“I am sorry to tell you,” Boyd told his congregation during “The Sword and the Cross” series, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”
We happen to agree with Boyd on this, but that’s not why we commend him to you. We’ve certainly sympathized with the religious left, and more than once used the Bible to justify the rightness of our opinions. We’ve been Peter. In this, we’ve been poor examples of Christ. Greg Boyd’s not perfect either, but we think he’s worth listening to. He’s also super freaky intelligent, with like six degrees and a slew of books. We can’t think of many better people to point to as a good spokesman for what we believe. The next time he’s speaking at Crossroads, you’re invited.