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The Beautiful Kingdom
20 October 2014
 
 
The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church by pastor Gregory Boyd has radically and profoundly impacted my spiritual life. It has transformed my relationship with God and my view of Christianity.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that I have posted 9 articles over the past four years which share excerpts from this amazing book. In this article, I am sharing the richness of Mr. Boyd’s book for the tenth time.

The author repeatedly mentions the beauty of God’s Kingdom, in stark contrast to the ugliness of all the kingdoms (governments) of this world, which are ruled by man, and ultimately, by Satan.

These references are scattered throughout the book, so I have gathered most of them together into the extracts below. In order for these references to the beautiful Kingdom to make sense, I have also taken some of the sentences before and after so that they appear in context. Color highlighting is MY emphasis; bold and italic emphasis is the author’s.
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 most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples.

Instead of living out the radically countercultural 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.

Even more fundamentally, because this myth links the kingdom of God with certain political stances within American politics, it has greatly compromised the holy beauty of the kingdom of God to non-Christians. This myth harms the church’s primary mission. For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ....

The kingdom Jesus established and modeled with his life, death, and resurrection ... demonstrates the reign of God by manifesting the sacrificial character of God, and in the process, it reveals the most beautiful, dynamic, and transformative power in the universe.... What is more, the Calvary-quality beauty of this coming kingdom revealed in our lives is to be the primary means by which the mustard-seed kingdom expands in the world. Tax collectors, prostitutes, and all others who hunger for real life are drawn to the beauty of the kingdom of Jesus ... As much as God wants governments to operate justly, Jesus didn’t come to establish a perfect worldly government. He came to establish the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, whether they declare themselves to be “under God” or not. When we misguidedly loop Christian talk into American kingdom-of-the-world talk, we do great harm to the work of the kingdom of God.

Among other things, we discredit God’s kingdom by believing that it was God’s will — “manifest destiny” — for whites to carry out the barbarism they carried out toward Native Americans, Africans, and a host of other nonwhites in the course of American history. We compromise the purity and beauty — the holiness — of the kingdom of God by associating it with the typical “power over” injustices that this country has largely been built on. And we encourage the sort of “power over” behavior among religious people that we see today as they attempt to “take America back for God” by political means. Allegiance to the kingdom of God is confused with allegiance to America, and lives that are called to be spent serving others are spent trying to gain power over others. When we clearly and consistently separate the kingdom of God from all versions of the kingdom of the world, we are in a position to affirm the good as well as the bad of American history without having to defend it as Christian.

For example, insofar as one could argue that it served justice, one could argue it was better that America won independence from England, despite the massive bloodshed the fight for independence required. But neither the outcome nor the bloody process that led to it were Christlike. It didn’t manifest the kingdom of God, for Jesus never killed people to acquire political freedom for himself or others. Hence, July Fourth is not — or at least should not be — a Christian holiday, however meaningful it may be to some Americans.

Still, a citizen of the kingdom of God need not deny the positive outcomes that have resulted from Europeans discovering and conquering America. Yes, the process was largely immoral and extremely bloody, as it typically is when versions of the kingdom of the world collide. But the bloody injustices don’t negate the fact that America has arguably now become, by historic and global standards, a relatively good version of the kingdom of the world.

Still, we must never confuse the positive things that America does with the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is not centered on being morally, politically, or socially positive relative to other versions of the kingdom of the world. Rather, the kingdom of God is centered on being beautiful, as defined by Jesus Christ dying on a cross for those who crucified him.

To promote law, order, and justice is good, and we certainly should do all we can to support this. But to love enemies, forgive transgressors, bless persecutors, serve sinners, accept social rejects, abolish racist walls, share resources with the poor, bear the burden of neighbors, suffer with the oppressed — all the while making no claims to promote oneself — this is beautiful; this is Christlike. Only this, therefore, is distinct kingdom-of-God activity.... 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. In my opinion, nothing has been more damaging to the advancement of the beautiful kingdom in America, and to a significant degree around the globe, than this myth that America is a Christian nation....

Global missions have been tremendously harmed by American nationalism. And we who seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) must accept responsibility for this. We have not placed the preservation of the holiness — the radical distinctness — of the kingdom of God as our top priority.

Rather, we have allowed the cross to become associated with the sword of Constantine. We have allowed the unblemished beauty of Calvary to get wrapped up in the typical ugliness of our version of the kingdom of the world. We have allowed our allegiance to the kingdom of God to be compromised by allegiance to our nation. We have far too often placed our worldly citizenship before our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20) and allowed the flag to smother the cross.

The time to turn completely from this Constantinian idolatry is long overdue. For God’s sake — literally — we who profess allegiance to Jesus Christ must commit ourselves to proclaiming in action and word the truth that the kingdom of God always looks like him. Since our ultimate allegiance is not to our nation or institution, we should be on the front lines proclaiming that the history and activity of our nation has nothing to do with the kingdom of God.

Far from invoking God’s name to justify the behavior of our nation (for example, to “blow [people] away in the name of the Lord” — Falwell on CNN), we should in God’s name lead the charge in prophetically critiquing our nation. Indeed, following the example of Jesus (which is, after all, our sole calling), we should publicly side with all who have been or continue to be harmed by our nation.... The kingdom of God ... is a beautiful kingdom that is not so much spoken as it is displayed in loving action.... Jesus exposed the ugliness of patriarchalism by the countercultural way he treated women.... In a society in which women were generally understood to be the property of men and in which women had few rights, Jesus’ actions were revolutionary.... His kingdom provides a beautiful alternative to the male-dominated kingdom of the world and exposes the ugly injustices of this present world system in the process.

The same may be said of Jesus’ treatment of social outcasts. His beautiful service to lepers, the blind, the demonized, the poor, prostitutes, and tax collectors screamed volumes about the inhumanity of various first-century social taboos and laws.... His kingdom provides a beautiful alternative to the sociopolitical structures of the world and exposes the injustices of these structures in the process.

Along these same lines, Jesus exposed the inhumanity of certain religious rules (which in first-century Judaism had political force) by healing and feeding people on the Sabbath. And he exposed the evil of racial prejudice by fellowshipping with Samaritans and Gentiles and placing them in praiseworthy positions in his teachings.... Jesus’ kingdom provides a beautiful alternative to the socioreligious structures of the world and exposes the inhumanity and racist dimension of these structures in the process.

Finally, and most fundamentally, Jesus exposed the barbarism of the Roman government, and ultimately the barbarism of all “power over” kingdoms, by allowing himself to be crucified by them. Instead of using the power available to him to preserve his life, he exercised the power of love by giving his life for the very people who were taking it.... Jesus’ kingdom provides a beautiful alternative to the “power over” structure of the world and exposes the self-centered ugliness of these structures in the process. This is what we are called to be: a community characterized by radical, revolutionary, Calvary-quality love; a community that manifests the love of the triune God (John 17:21-26); a community that strives for justice not by conquering but by being willing to suffer; a community that God uses to transform the world by providing it with an alternative to its own self-centered, violent way of existing. How socially and politically revolutionary it would be if his disciples lived up to their calling! ...

Voting and picketing costs us little. The kingdom approach costs us much. But it is precisely the costliness of the kingdom approach — which looks like Jesus dying on Calvary for those who crucified him — that makes it a unique kingdom approach. And because it manifests the beauty of Jesus, it glorifies God and has a power to change the world in a way that kingdom-of-the-world strategies never could....

It is the uniquely beautiful quality of “power under” that is the power of the kingdom of God, the power that comes from bleeding for others. It is the power that looks like Calvary and that flows from Calvary.... The distinct kingdom question is not, How do you vote? The distinct kingdom question is, How do you bleed? ... Not only is the supreme value of America’s nationalistic religion (political freedom) not espoused in Scripture, but the Calvary-quality love that is the supreme value espoused by the New Testament is impossible to live out consistently if one is also aligned with this nationalistic religion. Among other things, the nationalistic religion is founded on individual self-interest — the “right” to political freedom — whereas the kingdom of God is centered on self-sacrifice, replicating Calvary to all people at all times.

Moreover, because it is a nationalistic religion, the religion of political freedom must use “power over” to protect and advance itself. As we have seen, however, the kingdom of God planted by and modeled by Jesus uses only “power under” to advance itself, and it does not protect itself by force. 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....

However much one cherishes political freedom, a kingdom-of-God citizen must never elevate this to the status of a kingdom-of-God value. We must always preserve the holiness and beauty of the kingdom of God by not letting it get co-opted by a nationalistic religion — even, and especially, when we agree that the central value of the nationalistic religion is very important. We must never allow cultural sentiments to compromise our calling to be radically set apart from the masses by our willingness and capacity to love those nationalistic enemies that others despise.

The danger of kingdom people taking the slogan “one nation under God” too seriously is that we set ourselves up for idolatrous compromise.... The only people who can be meaningfully said to be “under God” in a kingdom-of-God way are those who are in fact manifesting the reign of God by imitating Jesus’ love expressed on Calvary (Ephesians 5:1-2). To belong to God’s kingdom is to crucify the fleshly desire to live out of self-interest and tribal interest, and to thus crucify the fallen impulse to protect these interests through violence.... It is to live the life of Jesus Christ, the life that manifests the truth that it is better to serve than to be served and better to die than to kill.

It is, therefore, to opt out of the kingdom-of-the-world war machine and manifest a radically different, beautiful, loving way of life. To refuse to kill for patriotic reasons is to show “we actually take our identity in Christ more seriously than our identity with the empire, the nation-state, or the ethnic terror cell whence we come,” as Lee Camp says [in Mere Discipleship].

So, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country — or for any other reason....

A kingdom person can agree that the outcome of a war was to some degree good without saying that the war itself was a Christian war or that it was good that Christians fought in it. As we have noted throughout this book, for the sake of the holiness of the kingdom, we must guard against labeling Christian everything that might be considered comparatively good.

The kingdom of God is not merely the goodness of the kingdom of the world. Rather, the kingdom of God is the radical alternative to the kingdom of world. It is not merely good: it is beautiful. And there’s nothing beautiful about war, however good its outcome may be.
Don’t miss my 9 other articles of extracts from this life-changing book! And be sure to buy your own copy of The Myth of a Christian Nation so you can read the majority of the book which doesn’t appear in any of my articles.
This article is 58th a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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9  Nov  2008
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The Beautiful Kingdom
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