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Greg Boyd on Constantine’s influence on Christianity

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/28)

The date is important for Christianity because Constantine went on to end imperial persecution of Christians (with the Edict of Milan in 313). He also converted to Christianity personally, and empowered and enriched the church in countless ways, from copying Bible texts, to gathering the first ecumenical council, to beginning Christian architecture. What’s not to love?

… when He became incarnate, and was made man, He recapitulated in himself the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam–namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God–that we might recover in Christ Jesus. (Against Heresies III.18.1)

Samuel, this seven pound two ounce wonder, represents, no less than other children, what Jürgen Moltmann once named ‘metaphors of God’s hope for us’, that with every child, a new life – original, unique, incomparable – begins. And that while we typically ask, who does this or that child look like…, we also encounter the entirely different, the entirely dissimilar and unique in each child. It is, Moltmann suggests, precisely these differences that we need to respect if we want to love life and allow an open future. Moltmann also recalls that with every beginning of a new life, the hope for the reign of peace and justice is given a new chance….Every new life is also a new beginning of hope for a homeland in this unredeemed world. If it were not, we would have no reason to expect anything new from a beginning.

Be suspicious of statistics, especially those that seem too good or too bad or too surprising to be true.

You’re two years into your administration and the question that arises in my mind is, Are we the people that we were waiting for? Or, are those people are still out there and we don’t have their number?