ELKHART, Ind. — Greg Boyd repeatedly called listeners to “look like Jesus, love like Jesus, serve like Jesus” during his visit April 24-25 to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
Boyd, a best-selling author and cofounder of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., was this year’s Peace and Justice Guest at AMBS. In a lecture to a filled chapel, Boyd described characteristics of the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. Then he outlined how to keep God’s kingdom holy, meaning distinct and separate.
The kingdom of the world, Boyd said, imitates Caesar, is based on mistrust and power over others, is self-interested and uses violence. The kingdom of God imitates Christ, is based on trust and love, is other-oriented and seeks to serve enemies and transform hearts.
Using Scripture references to draw a clear division between the world and God’s kingdom, the author of The Myth of a Christian Nation explained that “when God created the world, he never told us to have dominion over each other. We are to reflect his loving character. . . . Putting trust in earthly rulers and the military is not God’s design and is a sign of rejection [of God].”
Having all the power
Jesus came to establish the reign of God, Boyd emphasized, and this kingdom always looks, loves and serves like Jesus.
“Do everything in love, and love is defined by the cross,” he said. “What do you do when you have all the power in the universe? If you are Caesar, you control and denominate. When you are Jesus, you wash the disciples’ feet.”
This humility must be a characteristic of Christians.
“Whatever sin you notice [in someone else] is a mere dust particle compared with the tree trunk you need to deal with [in yourself], regardless of what sin you are talking about,” he said.
Enumerating things Christians do as part of the kingdom of God, Boyd quoted familiar New Testament teachings: carry the burdens of others even if they are enemies, put interests of others above your own, do not seek to rule others, imitate Jesus’ revolt against greed, nationalism and racism.
“To the extent that we do this — and only to the extent that we do this — we participate in and manifest the Jesus-looking kingdom of God,” he said.
Fighting for everyone
In discussion that followed the lecture, Boyd emphasized even more strongly Jesus’ call to love.
“Our battle, our warfare, is never against flesh and blood,” he said. It doesn’t matter whether others are Democrat, Republican, Taliban or communist, they are “something we are supposed to be fighting for, not against. The way we fight for them is by refusing to make them an enemy.”
Boyd’s visit included a session with local pastors, with opportunities to question him about his role as a public theologian. Again he emphasized the need to keep the kingdom distinct from the world.
“It’s so important not to let the world set the terms of the discussion,” he said. Rather than being limited by an either-or approach, we must see people as complex. “People are people, they are not a category — gay or straight, or black or white, or rich or poor, or they struggle with this issue or that issue,” he said.
He answered pastors’ questions about how to minister when there is tension in the church over accepting certain behaviors.
“You have to get inside a person’s life to have any kind of wisdom about what God is supposed to work on,” he said. “We are allowed only one opinion about people that we are not in deep relationship with, and that is that they are of unsurpassable worth because Jesus died for them.”
Recovering an identity
Boyd said it is important for Mennonites to recover a core identity that is separate from the world — not isolated or irrelevant but “holding passionately to the distinct calling to be different.”
People are waking up to the ways the church has adopted norms of the world and are looking for a different identity.
“What’s needed is for us to hold passionately to the distinctives of the kingdom but hold loosely to our cultural distinctives,” he said.
Boyd outlined work he is doing on a new book, exploring aspects of the cross that inform how we look at violence in the Old Testament. His most recent books are The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now and Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty.