Thanks to Richard Beck for directing my attention to Greg Boyd‘s 4th of July sermon, in which he decries the pagan influence that Constantine had on Christianity. Watch the video and then check out my comments below.
Now, the main thing that you need to know about this video is that Boyd is wrong. Could I make that any more clear?
To develop that assertion a little more, let me offer few additional comments:
- The church was not all pure and innocent before Constantine, and it wasn’t all corrupt and guilty after. Any time you hear somebody setting their narrative up with such clean distinctions, they are almost certainly wrong.
- Christians did not suddenly move from images of the crucified Jesus to the victorious Jesus at the time of Constantine. You can find both images before and after Constantine.
- Boyd’s claim that God would “rather be slain by his enemies than slay his enemies” is a great portrayal of God’s love and grace on the cross, but fails to take into account the rest of the biblical narrative in which God clearly demonstrates that he will not allow the rebellious to undermine his plans for the world (cf. Revelation).
- Boyd draws way too simplistic a distinction between the church before Constantine, which lived a beautiful, countercultural lifestyle of love, and the church after Constantine, which was all about power and coercion. Again, that simply is not historically accurate. At the very least, it fails to take into account the fact that the church was beginning to develop a more nuanced understanding of the church/state relationship even before Constantine came along. And, more importantly, it fails to consider the ways in which the church continued to resist and reject a simplistic wedding of church and state even after Constantine. Boyd’s narrative simply does not hold up to historical scrutiny.
- I’m not even going to comment on Boyd’s claim that the church “didn’t mind” being slaughtered because this life is “just a prelude to the real thing.”
- I could go on, but I won’t.
Now, to be fair (even though I don’t want to be), I should acknowledge that some of Boyd’s points are legitimate. I think the church absolutely should strive to imitate the love and grace of God as demonstrated on the cross. Although God will come and defeat his enemies in the end – ushering in his Kingdom and accomplishing his purposes – the Church is never called to accomplish any of these things for him. We are ambassadors of the Gospel, not “soldiers” of the Kingdom. And, the Church was unquestionably faced with temptations and challenges after Constantine that were new and that it was relatively unprepared to handle. But, it did not simply capitulate to the challenges nor did it surrender its distinct identity anywhere along the way. Did the Church make mistakes? Yes. And, it always will. But God remains faithful.