Thursday, August 10, 2006

Courageous Pastor or Bad Theology?

I first heard of Greg Boyd a couple of weeks ago when it was reported over the internet that the Minnesota pastor had taken a courageous stand against the "narrow-minded" types in his church who were demanding his leadership and participation in the political system. His refusal to bow to their pressure cost him as he watched over one thousand of his members walk out, never to return.  As a pastor who takes tough stands, I was struck with an odd mixture of curiosity. Part of me wanted the challenge of hearing a view of civil activity very different from my own, while a part of me was drawn to what appeared to be raw courage. He is being championed as a hero by the media for his refusal to hand out voter guides, hang the American flag in support of our troops, or encourage participation in defending the sacredness of marriage against an onslaught of the same sex marriage movement.  He preached a series of sermons that have been published in a book entitled The Myth of a Christian Nation.   My curiosity demanded that I find out more about Greg Boyd. 

So I began an investigation of what defense this man offers for his convictions.  It seems that Boyd believes Christians should exclude themselves from political activity and are to give themselves only to "Christlike" service.  His argument sounds very biblical and even inviting.  We all know that political action is not the ultimate solution for the world's troubles; that neither the Republican nor the Democratic nor even the Socialist party  will bring about salvation; salvation through Jesus Christ alone is the solution.  Greg Boyd boldly asserts that it is a myth to state that America is a Christian nation.  He skillfully cloaks his argument in biblical terms, ignoring a clear command in scripture for believers to be like salt and light in decay and darkness. 

At this point I must assert a different perspective.  America was founded by people with a distinctly Christian world view who were not trying to bring in the Kingdom of God but were trying to work out a more perfect union based upon a Reformation view of the fallen nature of man and the value of the human soul and conscience.  Biblical Christianity has been the most dramatic influence in the course of the Western world. 

Upon further investigation I learned that Greg Boyd is a pastor of a large church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is a professor of theology at Bethel College.  He is a proponent of Open Theism.  Open Theists insist that true human freedom requires that God cannot know human decisions in advance. This view asserts a new way of understanding God's knowledge.  In other words, Open Theism is a belief that states that God cannot know all things actual or possible in the future.  God is just as open to changes in plans and human will as we are.  God learns and grows and yes, even makes mistakes in judgment, but He is a learning, growing and developing God.  Boyd's core beliefs strike at the very heart of the omniscience of God; the affirmation that God knows all things, past, present and future.  This doctrine of omniscience has been held dear by all branches of the Christian church throughout the centuries. 

All pastors must struggle with their role and the role of their flock in the world in which we find ourselves.  How Christians bring salt and light to bear upon that culture is not simple or easy,  nevertheless it is a worthy struggle.  As one pastor who has seen some small advances (and many setbacks) in the battle for the hearts and minds of people in my culture, I am comforted by the reality of an all knowing God who holds all things together by the word of His power.   Benjamin Franklin counseled the framers of our constitution to remember; "...the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”   Any involvement in bringing Christ’s love to my culture is comforted and guided by an omniscient God who knows how it all ends.

Ed Litton


Jared said...

Sounds like 'Closed Theism', to me. I find great comfort in knowing that, no matter how badly I may stumble as a father, God has plans for my son that I couldn't budge, even if I tried.

Gavin Brown said...

Pastor Ed,

Former UM student. I attended NoMo in college (98-'02).

I'm a bit shocked that Boyd's church members walked out over political participation (though I dont fault them for it), and not sooner over his views on Open Theism.

It seems a much more grave error to deny God's complete foreknowledge than to refuse to engage in politics.

Lisa M said...

Well said, Ed. On the one hand, I can totally see where Pastor Boyd is coming from. On the other hand, I don't think that membership in the Kingdom of God precludes participation in a democratic system. Being "salt" not only means preaching the gospel and making disciples, it also means standing firm against evil in a society. People think that if they don't believe in God, they don't have to follow his commands. They don't understand there are absolute rights and absolute wrongs regardless of the belief system. We as Christians are duty bound "to stand" in our society and that includes utilizing the tools at our disposal, and that is not idolatry.

I knew that Pastor Boyd had deistic ideas, but are you sure that he still holds to those beliefs?

Anonymous said...

Man's understanding of God has evolved through the ages. In fact, the book we know as the Bible has been rewritten countless times, all by men who professed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. From the time the first stories of the creation were recorded, through the Inquisition, the Civil War and other major world events, many people who claim to be Christians have used scripture to defend their deeds... whether to help liberate slaves or to keep them enslaved ("Servents obey your masters.") Given all the variations through the millenia, how can we say that Pastor Boyd's understanding is wrong without falling into the trap of judging him, which Jesus clearly warned against?

On the topic of the Founding Fathers, and Benjamin Franklin in particular - they spoke of God but not Jesus. Based on that fact, one could argue that the United States was founded more on a universal understanding of God's principals rather than one that is exclusively Christian in nature. Jews and Muslims (who the Founding Fathers were fully aware of) also teach obedience to that whom they perceive as God as well.

Also: the idea of "supporting the troops" via a church has no scriptural basis. It is an addition made by man.

Jesus told us that we are IN this world but we are not to be PART of this world. If we somehow introduce purely American things into a church setting, we are defying God's will. God is ABOVE patrotism and all the flag-waving and yellow ribbon bumper stickers. When it comes to our beliefs, we are Christians FIRST and Americans SECOND. God does not observe territories drawn by man; he loves all his children the same.