In the book The Myth of a Christian Religion, Greg Boyd explores what he understands to be the true calling of the church and the ways religion often gets in the way. He argues that the true calling of the church is to represent and proclaim the Kingdom of God, which he defines as:
the Kingdom of God that Jesus referred to is the domain of God’s reign. Jesus’ life and teachings focused on revealing what it looks like when God reigns in a person’s life and in the life of a community.
Jesus didn’t just focus on the Kingdom, however. He was the Kingdom. According o the New Testament, Jesus was the embodiment of God — he was God Incarnate, to use traditional terminology. He was, therefore, the very embodiment of the Kingdom of God. (pg. 14-15)
He goes on to talk about the way the Kingdom of God, when lived out in an individual’s life and the life of a community stands out from the ways of the world. Boyd argues that the world around us is subject to principalities and powers that are in direct contrast to God’s Kingdom ways. He highlights 12 categories where this is evident devoting a chapter to each.
- Idolatry — “God creates us with a hunger only he can satisfy, but this hunger doesn’t force us to enter into a relationship with him…If we choose, we can try to satisfy our hunger in other ways…the truth is that an idol is anything we treat as a god; that is, anything we use to satisfy the hunger in our soul that only our Creator can satisfy. An idol is anything other than God that we rely on as a source of Life.” (pg. 39-40)
- Judgment — Judgment is “predicated on the assumption that I am qualified to be the insightful arbiter of other people’s parenting skills, dressing styles, sexual orientation, dietary habits, and the like. It presupposed my superiority. However imperfect I may be, at least I wasn’t like that person.” pg. 46 And, “Judgment is the foundational sin in the Bible because it prevents us from obeying the foundational command in the Bible, which is to love others the way God loves us…Nothing is more central to the Kingdom than agreeing with God about every person’s unsurpassable worth” (pg. 50-51)
- Religion — “religious idolatry is particularly resistant to the Kingdom of God. It’s no coincidence that the main opposition Jesus faced in establishing the Kingdom came from the guardians of the religious status quo — the Pharisees, religious scribes, and the like. So it should not surprise us that the main opposition to advancing the Kingdom in our own day comes from contemporary guardians of the religious status quo” (pg. 59) And, “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.” (pg. 63)
- Individualism — “While people in traditional cultures tend to define themselves by their ties to a particular community, modern westerners tend to define themselves apart from ties to a particular community — ‘over and against’ others instead of ‘in relation’ to others. (pg. 70)
- Nationalism — “God’s dream has always been for humans to form a single, united community under his loving Lordship. His goal has always been for humans to reflect the love of the triune God by how we relate to one another. This dream was shattered when our sin set us against one another and divided us into different tribes and nations.” (pg. 78)
- Violence — “By voluntarily giving his life for his enemies — which includes you and me — Jesus made it possible for us to be transformed by the beauty of his love and to be reconciled to God. And the clearest evidence that we are being transformed by God’s love and participating in the Kingdom that is not ‘of this world’ is hat we adopt the same nonviolent, self-sacrificial stance toward enemies that Jesus had.” (pg. 95)
- Social Oppression — “Jesus revolted against this classism by touching lepers, healing the sick, treating beggars as equals, treating women with respect, identifying with the poor, and befriending those judged as the worst sinners. In fact, Jesus taught his followers that how they treat these sorts of people is how they treat him…In the end, Jesus ascribed unsurpassable worth to each and every one of these marginalized people by giving his life for them.” (pg. 106)
- Racism — “God created only one race — the human race. The idea that there are different races of humans is a myth created by white Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to justify oppressing and enslaving nonwhites. God’s goal has always been that the one human race would be united in a way that reflects the perfect loving union of the Trinity.” (pg. 114)
- Poverty and Greed — “The truth is that the Kingdom call to live without possessions and with outrageous generosity is a call to freedom. While the Powers delude us into believing that possessing things gives us Life, the truth is that whatever we think we possess actually possesses us. The truth is that owning things doesn’t give Life; it sucks Life out of us.” (pg. 133)
- Abuse of Creation — “Our rebellion against God didn’t only affect us. Because we were the earth’s divinely appointed landlords, when we fell, everything under our authority fell as well. We brought a curse on the world and nature itself was subjected to futility. The whole creation was fundamentally altered.” (pg. 145)
- Abuse of Sex — “I don’t believe most will be motivated to adhere to God’s strong no to sex before and outside of marriage until they can fully appreciate God’s even stronger yes to the beauty of sex within marriage.” (pg. 156)
- Secularism — “The majority of Western people hold some sort of spiritual beliefs but nonetheless continue to live much of their lives as functional atheists…Jesus perfectly manifested the reign of God precisely because there never was a moment in his life when he wasn’t consciously surrendered to God’s reign.” (pg. 164-165)
This book was written so as to be generally accessible to everyone. Boyd doesn’t presuppose much, if any, theological or church knowledge. He still however writes with depth of insight, both in his interpretation of Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom and in his assessment of the ways we individually and corporately as a culture fail to reflect God’s Kingdom ways here on earth. This is a good book and I recommend it to anyone looking for a better understanding of what God’s Kingdom looks like when it’s lived out in our contemporary American culture.