Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: Broken Angel Day 2

About halfway through Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer, I set the book aside and commented to myself, "Someone’s obviously been reading his Gregory Boyd."

For those who haven’t read this month’s book, you may want to stop reading. I don’t know how much of what I’m about to explain will ruin the plot, but just to be on the safe side. As I said yesterday, the book is set in the near future in a totalitarian theocracy called Appalachia. The citizens are kept illiterate and are monitored at all time through devices they’re forced to carry called vidpods. No one is allowed to own a book, not even an audio version of the Bible. Punishment for violating Appalachia’s laws is severe, namely stoning. It’s a harsh life, the depiction of which is bound to make many Christian readers uncomfortable.

What amplifies that discomfort is the fact that those who wish to escape Appalachia want to get to what’s called "Outside." In Outside, there doesn’t seem to be a church of any kind. There are no morals restraining their actions. And yet, it’s this God-less society that so many people consider a better alternative to Appalachia’s religious atmosphere.

It’s a very dark picture that Brouwer paints. Would a modern theocracy be so bleak?
I happen to think it would, mostly because it’s a confusion of God’s two kingdoms, a mixing that isn’t beneficial to either.

This is an idea that Martin Luther played around with during the Reformation. Luther taught that God has two kingdoms, the kingdom of the right hand and the kingdom of the left hand. The kingdom of the right is the Christian Church and is founded on grace. This is the kingdom that Jesus speaks of to Pilate in John 18:36 when He says that His kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom of grace, forgiveness, and faith.

The kingdom of the left hand are the governments of the world. It is the way that God governs the rest of humanity, by working through the authorities of this world. Paul talks about this in Romans 13:1-7, where he tells the Romans, "there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God." It is a kingdom of law, meant to curb the evil that human beings often engage in.

It was Luther’s contention that the two kingdoms should not mix because they will either dilute or taint each other. A government ruled by true Christian forgiveness would be too lax in administering the law, which would only lead to chaos. A Church involved in the administering of laws could easily tip toward legalism and forget about grace. In short, the Church should never wield the sword of government. Luther even went so far as saying that it would be better to be "ruled by a good Turk than a bad Christian prince." (And remember, the Holy Roman Empire was facing an invasion by the Turks when he said that!)

Gregory Boyd, in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, expands on this theme. It’s a book that I think all modern Christians should read. He points out that Christ didn’t ask for us to spread his kingdom through political means. Instead, it’s better for Christians to work as servants where they are. He details a number of reasons why this mixing of the two kingdoms is such a bad idea. The most persuasive to me is that the sins of "Christian" government can easily be laid at the feet of the Church. For example, by calling America a Christian nation, Christianity’s critics can blame such debacles as slavery, racism, or eugenics on Christian teaching, even though such things aren’t compatible with the faith.

Brouwer’s setting for Broken Angel is, I think, a natural outgrowth of what Luther and Boyd wrote about. In this dystopian theocracy, the politically active Christians finally get sick and tired of being marginalized and ignored. So they take their ball and go home, so to speak. They set up shop behind a high wall, set up an economy based on cheap labor and selling carbon emission credits (a very cool touch, I thought), and enforce their version of Christianity, harsh and legalistic.

It’s a cautionary tale, one I think more American Christians should consider. Christ never called on His followers to force anyone into His kingdom or coerce their behavior through political means. Christ’s true kingdom is one of service, not swords.

Agree? Disagree? Either way’s fine. But Brouwer’s book is good food for thought, as is Luther’s teaching and Boyd’s book. If nothing else, it’s something that all Christians should at least consider ... especially during an election year.

Go see what the others think of Brouwer’s book:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Sean Slagle
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams


sbrouwer said...

Hello John,

very perceptive! I was halfway through the manuscript, when a friend suggested that I read Gregory Boyd, and I was glad to see how well he articulated his ideas.

since then, and in speaking to evangelical audiences hostile to hearing those ideas, I've boiled it down to this, not that I'll claim it's particularly original thinking:

once any group, Christian or not, gives authority to leaders, those authorities must also be given power to back up their authority. and once in power, it's inevitable that the leaders exert control to keep their power. (hence banning of the English translation of the Bible in the time of William Tyndale.)

the founding fathers overcame this danger by limiting a president to two terms. (very wise!)

I would argue the cycle is very obvious when you examine the power structure of the Temple authorities in Jesus time, or when you look at the arc of the humble beginnings of the church to it's horrible abuse of power under the popes, leading to the need for a Reformation.

I know, I'm sounding like a broken record, but I can't help but wonder where we might be in a couple of generations if the evangelical voting bloc in America starts abusing its considerable current power. (And if we become a 'Christian nation', whose Christianity will lead us? Dobson's? Wright's? Robertson's?)

I doubt, we'll never see such a theocracy, but I hope it doesn't hurt to stop and examine Boyd's ideas, either through non-fiction or fiction.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Seems like every stop I make, Sigmund has already been. I need to go write my own post.

John, you said Agree? Disagree? Either way’s fine. But Brouwer’s book is good food for thought, as is Luther’s teaching and Boyd’s book. If nothing else, it’s something that all Christians should at least consider ... especially during an election year. I think that's the crux of the issue. These are ideas that need to be examined and discussed, and Broken Angel brings them to the forefront.


Brandon Barr said...

Very insightful post

Angela Breidenbach said...

I really enjoyed your post on this book. It does feel like an either/or situation where God's grace is often the most forgotten part of following Christ.

Thank you from a fellow Lutheran,


I haven't read anything by Gregory Boyd, but now I'm intrigued! I will definitely be looking him up.

Currently on the controversial Christian reading list: Founding Faith by Steven Waldman. I've barely started it, but based on the first chapter, I recommend it.

Fantasythyme said...

John, today's post covers a lot of the problems that occurs once any group, no matter how well intentioned, gains complete control. To keep control the leaders must impose tighter and tighter restrictions. That explains why Caitlyn's father was able to move into the area twenty years earlier, while the present would have been too regulated to make it through.