General Boykin

Revelations of remarks made by Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin have caused a storm of public controversy in recent days. General Boykin’s comments basically amount to this: General Boykin has stated in Evangelical gatherings that the U.S.’s enemy is Satan, that God himself made George Bush president, that America is a Christian nation, and that this is why America’s enemies hate and attack us. Perhaps most infamously, Boykin claims he was able to capture an Islamic Somali warlord named Osman Ato because, “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and that his was an idol.”

In the public debate over Boykin’s comments, the battle lines have been drawn, and the usual suspects can be found firing verbal rounds from their respective trenches. Liberals are lambasting Boykin and calling for his dismissal, while conservatives (for the most part) are coming to his defense. The relevant question for Evangelicals is this: How should we Christians respond to General Boykin’s remarks in our witness to the culture? Should we consider his statements to be “sacrilege to our civic religion” as Ellen Goodman does in a recent Boston Globe OP-ED? Or should we give an unembarrassed endorsement of everything that Boykin said as Patrick J. Buchanan writes in a Washington Times OP-ED, “To a devout Christian, there is not only nothing wrong with the general’s beliefs, everything is right about them.” Let me suggest that both extremes would be harmful to Christian faith. While the General gives us a wonderful example of Christian witness, he also suggests something that we would all do well to discard from our Evangelical vocabulary.

General Boykin’s remarks have provoked controversy for two reasons: (1) Boykin makes the orthodox claim of the Christian God’s superiority over every other god, and (2) he leaves the impression that the interests of the Kingdom of God are somehow coextensive with the interests of the United States. With respect to number one, Boykin has provoked strong theological assertions from some very unlikely places. When Colin Powell was confronted with General Boykin’s statements on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week, he responded with an unorthodox glossing over of the real differences between Christianity and Islam, “We are not placing our god against anyone else’s god. We are all sons and daughters of one god.” While Secretary Powell’s remarks may be diplomatic, they are in stark opposition to Christian faith.

Theologically, there’s nothing novel in Boykin’s claim that the Christian God is the only true God. Anyone who has ever listened to Handel’s Hallelujah chorus at Christmas knows the ancient teaching of Christianity that Jesus is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (see also Rev 19:16). This simply means that Jesus is King over every other king, and Lord over every other lord. He has no rivals anywhere in the universe. He is absolute Sovereign and King. As sovereign King he not only directs the course of history, He also dictates the terms of salvation, which as it turns out are pretty exclusive. Jesus says that salvation from the penalty and power of sin come only through faith in Him and His cross-work. When anyone says that forgiveness of sins and life everlasting come only through Jesus, that person is simply articulating the old, old story. Christianity was founded on the premise that, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus himself does not mince words on the subject, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Evangelicals must not and cannot flinch in the face of opposition on this point. In this respect, we stand shoulder to shoulder with General Boykin.

With respect to number two, Boykin’s claim that the United States’ war on terrorism (including the war in Iraq) is a battle between God and the Devil leaves a false impression. It leaves the impression that the interests of the Kingdom of God are somehow coextensive with those of the United States of America. This misunderstanding represents a radical and unbiblical addition to the Gospel message. While many American Evangelicals may be proud of our Christian cultural heritage, we should beware of jingoistic Christianity. God has made no national covenant with the United States as he did with Israel of the Old Testament. God’s Kingdom work in the New Covenant breaks through the boundaries of national identity and proposes to incorporate people from every “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). God constitutes this new community of faith around His Son Jesus Christ. This community is not marked by allegiance to any national political power. This community is marked by allegiance to Jesus. The misrepresentation of this truth undermines Christian witness in places around the world where Muslims view the decadent culture of the U. S. as representative of Christianity.

Evangelical Christians must embrace and reject General Boykin’s controversial remarks.

With regard to the former, every Christian without exception must stand shoulder to shoulder with Boykin in bringing this central Gospel claim to bear upon the culture. With regard to the latter, we will all do well to recognize that neither the United States nor any other nation-state will bring the Kingdom of God to earth.