Greg Boyd thinks my kid is cute.
He told me so.
It really is beyond question, I suppose, but it is nevertheless nice to find something on which we agree. (That was an overstatement for dramatic effect, in case you missed the rhetoric.)
On the Monday night before I left for the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Diego, I was leading a group of men in prayer and when asked how they could pray for me I told them that I would appreciate prayer for my conversations on my flights.
For whatever reason, I seem to have my most meaningful and substantial conversations about Jesus with the people who sit next to me on flights. It seems that God almost always creates evangelistic opportunities for me any time I plant myself into a fart-stained, low-class, no-free-peanuts, cheap-as-I-could-find coach seat on a plane.
Interestingly, on my return flight from ETS this year, God had a slightly different plan.
As the plane took off and approached cruising altitude, I prayed and asked God to soften the heart of the women seated to my left and to make her receptive to what I had to say about Jesus. Evidently, God had a different idea because this lady proceeded to order two Skyy vodkas, drink them without taking a breath in between, and promptly pass out in a snoring, drooling mess on my shoulder. So much for option A.
I then turned to my right, across the aisle, to see who option B was. To my surprise, as a I realized after trying for some time to place him, option B was Greg Boyd. (When I told this story to the men I teach on Monday nights, some guy from the back [predictably] lipped off with, “So, did you convert him?!” Come on now, guys. Behave yourselves.)
Greg Boyd, undeniably, has stirred up more than his fair share of controversy in evangelical circles. From his advocacy of Open Theism (the view that God does not know the future), to his collaboration with the emerging church movement, to his sermon series, “The Cross and the Sword,” on Christians and politics, along with his best-selling book, Myth of a Christian Nation, which landed him on the front page of the New York Times, and got him an interview with Charlie Rose, not to mention cost him a fifth of his (formerly) 5,000-member church, who departed after his sermon series ruffled quite a few political feathers.
Truth be told, I think Boyd offers some valuable and sorely-needed correctives to ‘evangelical politics’ (if we should speak of such things) in his sermons and in his writing, but one wonders if there was a way to say what he felt compelled to say in such a way that wouldn’t have angered so many and would have avoided prompting such a large exodus. Not to say, by any means, that I could have done better, but to have 1,000 people looking for a new church home does seem tragic to me.
There are other things that are undeniable, in my view, about Greg Boyd. Certainly the most important one is that he is a passionate and genuine disciple of Christ.
One of the first books I read as a new believer was his, Letters From a Skeptic, which is a collection of correspondence between Boyd (who at one time was a committed atheist) and his dad discussing some of the most troublesome obstacles to belief in Christianity. While I read the book, I was just beginning to attend a rather large and well-known church across town, and was sternly cautioned about the ‘dangers of Greg Boyd.’ While I feel deeply in love with this church, its congregation and its pastor, the ‘Greg-Boyd-is-the-enemy’ vibe always sat uneasy with me.
That vibe sits as uneasy with me as ever after my conversation with him four miles above California, Minnesota, and all the states in between.
This is a man deeply committed to Jesus, to his Kingdom, and to the written Word of God. I disagree with him on Open Theism. I think it’s a destructive take on God’s knowledge and providence—biblically, theologically and pastorally. I disagree with him in much of his sympathy for the emerging church movement. I have a few significant issues with what he has to say about politics. Nevertheless, there are times, it seems, that when it comes to folks like Boyd, evangelicals are more like paranhas than peacemakers.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one who screams, “Unity! Unity! Unity!” even as biblical evangelical orthodoxy crumbles at the hands of those who care little for what is important to be united around. But I take very seriously the counsel of one of my former professors, Kevin Vanhoozer, who impressed on me very strongly that when we, as evangelicals (above all people!) disagree with someone, our first calling is to display overwhelming charity. And not merely as a formal prelude to criticism.
Constructive criticism of Boyd and others is necessary. Family squabbles are going to happen. Sometimes family members are wrong, and Boyd is just flat-out wrong about some things (as, certainly, am I). But, as evangelicals, our charity must be overwhelming. It must be disarming. It must clearly demonstrate our real cognizance our own pride, propensity for error, and sinfulness. It must leave the criticized with the impression that he has been loved, not simply attacked.
Evangelicals must do better.
There are plenty of things to talk about from ETS this year, and I’ll get to some of that this week. But I needed to say these things first – if only to caution myself in how I speak about brothers in the Lord with whom I sometimes disagree.
UPDATE: A dear brother came to me today, in the spirit of Matthew 18, and called me to account for an obvious instance of hypocrisy in what I’ve had to say here, and I’d like to address it publicly. In the comments on my post, “Who Cares,” I made some disparaging and excessively critical remarks about President Bush. To make the comments I made was completely out of step with the charity I am pleading that we extend to folks like Greg Boyd. I sincerely apologize for the critical overstatement, and desire to work harder on bridling my (sometimes too flamboyant) tongue. To the brother who brought this to my attention: Thank you for your love for me and your willingness to step forward into the awkwardness of correction for the good of my soul. I could only wish for more brothers to be so bold with me.