Greg Boyd’s Godless Sermon

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 22, 2010 in Ethics

greg boydAs a believer, one of my favorite preachers was Greg Boyd. I listened to his sermons online, attended his church a few times, and my friend Kevin Callaghan works directly with him (Kevin is now helping people in Haiti).

Greg believes some astoundingly implausible things about the universe. But he is not stupid or evil. He is compassionate and driven to reduce suffering in the world.

Greg also gets props from me for a 2006 sermon series about how the Christian church should avoid political power like Jesus did, not try to take it over like Republicans want. He lost 20% of his tithe-paying members because of it. But he kept preaching.

In 2007, he condensed the sermon series into a book: The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. Fuck yes.

One of my favorite Greg Boyd sermons was delivered in 1998. It’s called “Whose Neighbor Am I?” (Download here.)

It’s a short sermon, nearly devoid of metaphysical speculation, and worth listening to in full. Basically, it’s a moral sermon hinged on a famous argument given by atheistic moral philosopher Peter Singer. With minor modifications, this would be a great sermon at an atheist church like the North Texas Church of Freethought.

The highlight comes when Greg breaks down into tears in front of his large congregation, near minute 17. If this sequence doesn’t bring tears to your eyes when you listen to it, you’re missing something:

We’re not called to be big. We’re not called to be mass-marketing Jesus. We’re not called to have fancy churches. We’re not called to have high steeples. We’re not called to have soft pews. We’re not called to have great programs…

What we’re called to do is love.

Love is by definition, sacrificial.

It’s got to grieve the Lord to the core of his being when he sees… the American church… that is so up in other things. We’re to be followers of the Lord who said “If you don’t give up all your possessions, you can’t be my disciples”…

[Christians say they can't help because they have their own problems.] But what are the problems that so many American Christians think they have? Well, you look at what they do with their resources, that’s how you tell what their problems are. It’s the problems of upgrading your curtains! It’s the problem of upgrading your car! It’s the problem of finding bigger closet space because you’ve got too many clothes! It’s the problem of “I gotta get a job promotion; I want the best for my kids, and I gotta have this and I gotta have that and I’ve got my own problems. I gotta make house payments!”

…I think the Lord would say, “You’ve got the wrong set of problems! You’ve got the wrong set of problems.”

…But you say, “Greg, you can’t solve the world’s problems!”…

That’s true. You can’t.

But the Good Samaritan wasn’t trying to curb the crime rate in Jericho. There’s this one guy here in need, and he met that need.

You can’t solve the world’s problems, but maybe this person over here could use your friendship, and this person over here could be helped out by you…

Have you seen the movie Schindler’s List? Schindler was a man who bought about 6,000 Jews out of destruction by putting together a phony business… At the end of the war, when the Jews were freed, they came and thanked him and said, “Thank you, you’ve done so much.”

And Schindler began to cry. He says, “It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough!”

They said, “But you did so much!”

And he says, “But I could have done more! This watch – I could have bought three lives with this watch! … And this tie clasp – this would have been a life! And these shoes, how many lives are these shoes worth? And this car! How many lives was this car worth? Why didn’t I sell the car? I could have bought more lives! It wasn’t enough!”

And the question that the gospel… would put right in my face is this: “Who is paying a price for my curtains?”

This cuts right to the heart of the American dream. What else could I be doing with what I’ve got?

A good question, whether you’re religious or not.

This is the kind of stuff that made me on fire for Jesus, and the reason I wanted to do nothing else but be like Jesus to a hurting world. But that led me to study who Jesus was in history, which led me to think Christianity is false.

But this, above, is still pretty awesome.

Also see: Greg Boyd – “More Killing for the American Jesus!

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Atheist.pig May 22, 2010 at 7:17 am

I seen Gregory Boyd on Charlie Rose a few years back and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard.

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Atheist.pig May 22, 2010 at 7:26 am

Sorry link tags aren’t working…

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/264

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lukeprog May 22, 2010 at 7:37 am

Cool link.

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Josh May 22, 2010 at 7:52 am

That was quite good.

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Joshua Blanchard May 22, 2010 at 8:28 am

I’m confused by why this post is called Boyd’s Godless sermon. I guess “Boyd’s Multiply Appealing Sermon” has less of a kick to it, but still.

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lukeprog May 22, 2010 at 8:30 am

Joshua,

Yup.

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J. K. Jones May 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

It is a great sermon.

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Bill Maher May 22, 2010 at 10:14 am

Always nice to hear a sweet and sincere person, regardless of what their beliefs are.

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Scott May 22, 2010 at 10:17 am

I hated that scene from Schindler’s List. It was Neeson begging for an Oscar by being overdramatic.

I love this attitude. I love asking hardcore Christians why, if Jesus said to give up your possessions and follow him, they are going through college – why not spend your life doing mission work? With a lot of charity work, I don’t really care if it’s faith-based or not, so long as it isn’t proselytizing. Helping is always good.

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Jeff H May 22, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Excellent points. Schindler’s List cuts me to the core every time…

At the same time, though, I think (at least going by the extended quote here) that it may ignore or at least minimize the moral duties that we have to impact social structures as a whole. Certainly one person can’t “solve the world’s problems”, but a large enough group of people can. Certainly there’s something to be said for helping people from within the existing structure, but why not work to change the structure itself so that people now and in the future are better off?

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al friedlander May 22, 2010 at 6:45 pm

” And the question that the gospel… would put right in my face is this: “Who is paying a price for my curtains?”

This cuts right to the heart of the American dream. What else could I be doing with what I’ve got?

A good question, whether you’re religious or not.”

People who are legitimately going out of their way to help others in a seemingly, -truly- altruistic manner put me to shame.

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Beelzebub May 23, 2010 at 1:57 am

Problem is, what percent of American Christians are going to relinquish the power they’ve already tasted? I’m surprised this guy didn’t lose 80% of his congregation, not 20%

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Dantresomi May 23, 2010 at 8:21 am

thanks for this. honestly.. great stuff

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The Crocoduck Hunter May 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I like Greg Boyd. I’m going to try to get him to come talk for us Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists at the University of Minnesota, either in a debate with Dan Barker or otherwise.

Speaking of which, Luke, if you’re ever visiting your folks up here in the frozen North, let me know if you’d like to swing and give a talk :).

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lukeprog May 23, 2010 at 8:30 pm

David,

Will do.

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Phil Newton May 31, 2010 at 4:41 am

Great post! There are many Christians and people of other faiths who see through the bullshit of cultural/consumer religion to a simple truth that places love as the highest, most noble, most transformative, most positive thing we are capable of. If only we could overcome the ridiculous baggage of religion that gets in the way.

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Michael June 1, 2010 at 9:31 am

The sermon is certainly powerful for anybody who hears it. The only thing I question is how much it really is an obligation for us to help others. I would say that some areas of the Bible seem to say that it is about intention and motivation, more than about the action itself(widow giving in the temple vs. rich men). Having said that, if this encourages one to help for the right reasons, great. But if it puts in one the sense of obligation, and we do not do so generously, it seems to be worth less, at least to me.

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Greg Boyd June 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Well, I must confess that this is the nicest review of a sermon by an atheist I’ve ever gotten. THANK YOU. I’m deeply honored. In a world in which people are being increasingly walled apart from each other, its nice to see bridges build.
God bless… uh… I mean, Good Luck! : – )

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Thanks, Greg. :)

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cl June 9, 2010 at 2:58 pm

This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to actually thank you for a post you wrote. This was beyond words.

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owly January 4, 2011 at 6:28 am

I wonder how after being part of Greg Boyd’s church and (hopefully) hearing him debate some of those with “alternate views” of who Jesus was and is, that you reverted to the cynical position. I love the first part of your post
“This is the kind of stuff that made me on fire for Jesus, and the reason I wanted to do nothing else but be like Jesus to a hurting world.”
But the next part made me sad:
“But that led me to study who Jesus was in history, which led me to think Christianity is false.”
I hope you will take a look at Boyd’s book: “Lord or legend?: wrestling with the Jesus dilemma.” It is really much more convincing than the Jesus movement argument!

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Luke Muehlhauser January 4, 2011 at 6:50 am

owly,

I read parts of the shorter version of ‘Lord or Legend.’ For you, my recommendation is Bob Price’s chapter in ‘The Christian Delusion,’ which outlines all the fallacies and false facts to be found in the Boyd/Eddy book.

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Graeme May 3, 2011 at 7:06 am

Hey Luke,

This is the perfect representation of what Christians are supposed to be like (the sermon, not Greg). I think you should check out the book “Can We Trust the Gospels?: Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” by Mark D. Roberts. It is a great read. http://www.amazon.com/Can-Trust-Gospels-Investigating-Reliability/dp/1581348665

Take Care,

Graeme

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owly October 10, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Hi Luke,
I just listened to this debate between Price and Boyd. I didn’t think Boyd was too shabby in speaking to Price’s points. And as for tone…there was a difference between the two.
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/12/robert-m-price-v-gregory-boyd-debate.html
Do you get what I mean about the “tone”?

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Will December 9, 2011 at 11:42 am

If all Christians were like Greg Boyd, I wouldn’t have any religious nutters to gripe about! (And what fun would that be?)

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