“Naming and Unmasking the Powers
That Enslave Us”
A Review of
The Myth of a Christian Religion.
by Greg Boyd.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
The Myth of a Christian Religion:
Losing Your Religion for The Beauty of a Revolution.
Hardcover: Zondervan, 2009.
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After tackling the myth of the United States as a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd has now set out in his most newest book to topple the myth that Christianity is a religion. The Myth of the Chistian Religion: Losing Your Religion For the Beauty of a Revolution further cements Boyd’s reputation as a bold prophetic voice in the midst of American evangelicalism. He begins the book with the observation:
What Jesus was about had nothing to do with being religious. Read the Gospels! He partied with the worst of sinners and outraged the religious. This is what got him crucified.
What Jesus was about was starting a revolution. He called this revolution “the Kingdom of God” (9).
Thus, Boyd’s argument here against Christianity as a religion and for the revolution of the Kingdom of God is presented as a series of “revolts” against the prevailing powers in American culture (and especially American evangelical culture) that would deter us from following in the way of Jesus. Before launching into his description of this multi-faceted revolution, Boyd opens the book with two foundational chapters that remind us who Jesus is and what the Kingdom of God is about. In these two introductory chapters, Boyd pleads with the Church to return to a high Christology that is rooted primarily in the person of Jesus and the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed and not in a stifling religion that is loosely based on the scriptures.
The first power that Boyd challenges us to revolt against is idolatry, and indeed all of the powers that he will proceed to name in the following chapters are idolatrous. He then turns to the related powers of judgment and religion – which is in essence the heart of the book. In this chapter, he says “The Kingdom’s revolt against religion… is a revolt against all attempts to get Life from particular beliefs – including true ones. For where God truly reigns over an individual or a community, their only source of Life is God, not the rightness of their beliefs” (60). Once we have arrived at the place of falsely understanding Christianity as a religion, our religious fervor often obscures the injustices perpetrated by a host of other powers. Throughout the remainder of the book, Boyd unmasks these powers – including individualism (and the related power, consumerism), nationalism, violence, racism, poverty (and greed), abuse of Creation and abuse of sex. The chapter on the revolt against individualism is particularly important to a reading of the whole book, for it would be easy for one to read and respond to Boyd’s work as an individual isolated from others. He says, “The Kingdom suffers, and we suffer, when we try to do life solo” (75). The last power that Boyd urges us to revolt against is secularism. This chapter, of course, is a counterbalance against those who would see the injustices so often associated with the Christian religion, and thus in a knee-jerk reaction reject the reality of God’s Kingdom, and its immanence, altogether.
The Myth of A Christian Religion is – at its finest – a call for thorough examination of our lives, as individuals and as churches. To borrow language from Walter Wink’s renowned examinations of the powers in scripture, Boyd helps us to name and unmask the powers that enslave us and inhibit our experience of intimacy with God. Confession and then repentance, it seems, is an appropriate response to the challenges that Boyd raises here. In the book’s final chapter – really, an appendix of sorts – he offers an “action guide” that points us in the direction of examination, confession and repentance. Boyd steps chapter-by-chapter back through the book offering a wealth of ideas to stir our imaginations about how we can re-submit ourselves to God’s power to set us free from all idolatrous powers and to begin to live faithfully in the Kingdom reign of God.
In many ways, this is a provocative book, and surely it will upset many who have a vested interest in the propagation of the Christian religion and the many injustices that it so often endorses. However, Boyd’s critiques – like those in his previous work on demythologizing the Christian nation – have a ring of truth about them, and anyone who would seek to argue with his points here, should first examine Boyd’s words in the light of the One who is the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ. The Myth of the Christian Religion is above all deeply Christological, calling us to examine all corners of our lives in light of the person and mission of Jesus, and in so doing, we will find ourselves at the end of religion and on the threshold of a beautiful and vibrant intimacy with God!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com