Greg Boyd Interview — Discussing ISIS and More
Recently I have been e-mailing some of my favorite contemporary intellectuals within the body of Christ in hopes of interviewing them, making a connection and showing my appreciation. The first man on my list was Dr. Gregory Boyd, who has played an integral part in my spiritual and theological formation. Greg is a graduate of the University of Minnesota (BA), Yale Divinity School (M.Div) and Princeton Theological Seminary (PhD). He is the author of many books, writing with a keen ability of appealing simultaneously to both academic and lay audiences. He has written on a diversity of topics such as politics, theodicy, nonviolence, the relationship between doubt and faith, the historical Jesus and various issues regarding apologetics. Some of his most famous works are: Letters from a Skeptic, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, The Myth of a Christian Nation, God of the Possible: A Biblical View of the Open View of God and God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict. Dr. Boyd also co-authored and edited The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition and Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology with friend Paul Eddy.
Greg is Senior Pastor at the successful Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN. While Woodland Hills seems to shy away from being defined by a specific denomination, many of its teachings stand out in opposition to other large congregations in America. For example, some teachings resonate with certain core aspects of Anabaptist and Mennonite theology, such as an unswerving commitment to nonviolence.
Due to the short nature of our correspondence, I was graciously given enough space for three questions. It was difficult to condense an array of questions, but with the help of Cairn University’s own Mrs. Amy Dunlap, I was able to narrow them down even further. The following is the interview portion of our correspondence.
Jacob: What is the Kingdom of God, and what does it look like for it to “come on Earth as it is in Heaven?”
Greg: As God Incarnate, Jesus is the perfect expression of what it looks like when God fully reigns in a person’s life. So to the degree that God reigns over an individual or community, they will think like, look like, and love like Jesus. This is why the New Testament so strongly emphasizes the need for disciples to “imitate God” by “living in love, as Jesus Christ loved us and gave his life for us” (Eph 5:1-2). As Jesus taught and modeled, we are to love and bless our enemies, pray for those who mistreat us, do good to those who are against us, sacrificially serve all who are hurting and oppressed, and never retaliate against those who have harmed us (e.g. Mt 5:39-45; Lk 6:27-36). In doing this we are bringing about our Father’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). In doing this we are manifesting “the kingdom of God.”
Jacob: How should a Jesus-disciple traverse life in a pluralistic society with a denominationally divided Church?
Greg: Jesus commanded us to love like the Father loves, which means we are to love indiscriminately — like the rain falls and like the sun shines (Mt 5:44-5). The rain doesn’t CHOOSE who it will get wet: it just does what it does. And the sun doesn’t choose who it will warm: it just does what it does. So too, we are not allowed to choose who we will love and who we won’t love. We are to love all people unconditionally and indiscriminately, because this is the way the Father loves. In fact, Jesus said we are to love like this “SO THAT we may be children of our Father in heaven” (Mt 5:45; Lk 6:35). Loving unconditionally — even our worst enemies — is the tell-tale mark that we are children of the Father. Conversely, if we reserve for ourselves the right to love and do good to some while hating and doing harm to others, Jesus’ teaching indicates that we cannot consider ourselves children of the Father in heaven.
In this light, it should be apparent that the way followers of Jesus live should be the same whether the church is united or divided or whether we live in a homogeneous or pluralistic society. The fact that the church is divided, and the fact that we live in a pluralistic society, simply makes it all the more important that followers of Jesus manifest Christ’s self-sacrificial love and humility in all our interactions with people. Jesus taught that it is BY OUR LOVE that people would know that we are his disciples (Jn13:35). And if followers of Jesus lived like this, I believe we would find the church increasingly less divided.
Jacob: How do you believe a Jesus-disciple should engage with issues regarding Isis and militant acts against Christianity?
What about the recent attack on Paris?
Should nonviolence play a role in a Jesus-disciple’s response to these issues?
Greg: When Jesus spoke of loving “enemies,” the first people his Jewish audience would have thought of were the Romans who at this time ruled over them. Rome ruled with terror. If any group caused them trouble, Roman soldiers would typically sweep into the town where the trouble-makers lived and randomly snatch up people without any consideration of whether they were innocent or guilty. They would then crucify these unfortunate victims on a nearby hillside and leave them there for several days. It was their way of saying, “See what happens when you mess with us?” So the “enemies” that Jesus commands us to love, do good to, bless, pray for, and never retaliate against, are the worst kind of unjust, terroristic, life-threatening enemies imaginable! It thus includes enemies like ISIS.
When hearing this, people typically object that this teaching violates common sense! IF Christians refuse to take up arms against enemies like ISIS, then ISIS will WIN!
To this objection I offer three responses.
- First, we have to choose whether we will follow the clear teachings of Jesus (and Paul) or whether we are going to follow our own fallen common sense. If we submit to Jesus as “Lord” of our life, then we must submit to his teaching and example, even if it makes no sense. After all, it did not fit common sense for the all-powerful God to become a human and then allow enemies to crucify him when he could have easily “won” by crushing them. To the natural mind, the cross looks “foolish” and “weak,” but followers of Jesus are to consider the cross “the power of God” (I Cor 1:18). Though it violates the common sense of the natural mind, Christians are called on to trust in, and to embody, the power of self-sacrificial love for enemies.
- Second, we have to decide if we are going to trust God or not. Followers of Jesus are to trust God to run the affairs of the world and to trust that God will use the self-sacrificial love of Jesus’ disciples to spread his kingdom in the world and to ultimately overcome evil. This way of living has often cost believers their lives, as it did Jesus. But it is our willingness to die rather than kill that is our victory, for in this way we bear witness to the Lord we follow and the kingdom we belong to. As it says in the book of Revelation, we overcome by not clinging to our lives and by the word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb (Rev 12:11). We do NOT overcome by using the sword to protect ourselves or to defend our country. People who don’t accept or understand the way of Jesus will often accuse us of being cowardly, irresponsible and unpatriotic, but that should not surprise us. This is precisely what Romans argued against Christians in the early church. It is simply evidence that we are being faithful to the call.
- Finally, the New Testament tells us that God uses sword-wielding governments to punish wrongdoers (Rom. 13:1-7). Interestingly enough, seven verses before Paul taught that God uses governments to “exact vengeance” against wrongdoers (Rom 13:4) he told followers of Jesus that they are NEVER to exact “vengeance” against wrongdoers but are to instead leave all vengeance to God (Rom 12:19). While God uses sword-wielding governments to punish wrongdoers, Paul tells followers of Jesus to “bless those who persecute you”(Rom 12:24), to feed our enemy if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty (Rom 12:20) and to never “repay anyone evil for evil” but to instead “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17, 21).
From the teachings of both Jesus and Paul, it’s apparent that the business of Jesus followers is not to try to use the sword to protect the world, but to bear witness to the non-violent Lord of the heavenly kingdom we are citizens of (Phil 3:20) by imitating Jesus’ humble, non-violent, enemy-loving lifestyle. We are of course called to serve the world by being peacemakers, placing ourselves in harm’s way to protect others when necessary. And we are called to pray for the peace of the world while trusting that the power of prayer does more to bring about peace than bombs and bullets ever could. But we are never called or allowed to fight evil the violent way the world does. We must at all times remember that our true battle is NEVER against “flesh and blood,” but “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). And we fight these demonic powers precisely by refusing to give into the temptation to fight “flesh and blood,” as if humans were ever our enemy.
Greg provided interesting and challenging thoughts to these questions. To any Jesus-disciples who disagree, I hope that at the very least, this has given you new perspectives to think through and chew on. To those who agree, I hope you found Greg’s thoughts to be a breath of fresh air, just as I have.
If you are interested in Greg and his thoughts, I recommend taking a look at his website, ReKnew. More specifically, I highly recommend the ReKnew Manifesto which briefly summarizes his views on a variety of topics that were not able to be discussed here. For example, he writes about Open Theism, Annihilationism and the Atonement.
If you are interested in Woodland Hills Church and sermons preached there, I recommend this website. Each sermon is uploaded as a video file to view online or to be downloaded.
Finally, I end with this:
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forevermore. Amen.
Grace and peace to you,