What is Christendom? Christendom is seen by many as the ‘church triumphant and militaristic’, the church that is allied with the state and will use earthly powers, even the power of the sword (history has shown), to bend society to its will. It is often seen as having begun with the ‘conversion’ of the Roman emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD. The mindset it creates tends to lament the time when Christians lose control over civil and governmental powers.
Is it dying? For a long time now, on various parts of the theological spectrum, an answer has begun to resound: ‘Yes. And that’s no bad thing.’ For example, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote about its death, and how releasing it is for the true church, in their little book Resident Aliens: Life In The Christian Colony.
But they weren’t the first to notice the final throes of Christendom in the West. Greg Boyd in his foreword to the third edition of God’s Strategy in Human History champions this book (by Roger Forster and Paul Marston) for its influence early in his life as a theologian and pastor, and hopes that the seeds it sowed in its first and second editions will now be reaped by the third.
He reckons its timing is perfect. ‘The religion of Christendom with its vision of the “church triumphant” is on its way out!’ People are starting to wake up to the fact that Jesus is not a conquering Caesar but a humble, crucified Saviour, says Boyd.
A Kingdom Revolution
God’s Strategy was first published in 1973. Before the New Perspective on Paul was making waves, or Open Theologians such as Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd or Richard Rice were reflecting on God’s relationship with the future, Roger Forster and Paul Marston were striding ahead with their bold challenges to the traditional views on concepts such as predestination, foreknowledge, free will and more.
In this new third edition they have been able to interact with some of the more recent, welcome developments in Pauline and New Testament studies, including the New Perspective on Paul. They have highlighted where their points are now being reinforced, and noted where they would still differ and offer further challenges. Ever careful in their approach, they also issue the occasional note of caution in regard to Open Theology, preferring a ‘middle way’ between Arminianism and Openness, known as ‘Relational Theology’.
As Greg Boyd states in his introduction, their work speaks right to the core of the ‘kingdom revolution’ that is taking place. People are rediscovering the true nature of Jesus’ kingdom, that it is ‘not of this world’. Thus also the picture of God that went with Christendom – an all-determining, fatalistic moral monster – is fading into
nothingness as people discover what he’s really like. Forster and Marston’s work helps us to do this, and in so doing offers a new manifesto for being ‘in the world, not of it’, offering a view of God that is better than anyone could possibly imagine, seeing off the worldly mindset of Christendom, and encouraging a fresh devotion to the way of Christ’s heavenly kingdom.