The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Saturday, May 13, 2017

This is part four of a series I have been doing on Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Here are links to the other parts: Part1, Part2, Part3. Greg has also responded to these.

Volume I of Greg’s book lays out the foundation of his “Cruciform Hermeneutic,” and Volume II proposes how to apply that hermeneutic in a four-part “Cruciform Thesis.” The first part of Greg’s four part thesis is the principle of Cruciform Accommodation, which I discussed in my previous post. I noted there that I saw some issues with how Greg is understanding the cross that I did not really unpack there. My aim is to address that in this post now, focusing on the second part of Greg’s thesis, which he terms Redemptive Withdrawal.


The Cross as Punitive Violence

The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal is grounded in an understanding of the cross where “the Son bore the judgment of the sin we deserved” (768). This reflects a penal substitutionary understanding of the cross, the key term here being “penal,” meaning punishment. I should note that Greg does not like the term penal substitution, and does make a point of stating that he rejects the popular form of this doctrine where “the Father had to vent his wrath against sin in order to embrace sinners” (796), arguing instead that “God’s punishments are always redemptive in intent” (785). In other words, he still holds to an understanding of the atonement rooted in punitive justice (the idea that things are made right through violent punishment), but sees the intent of the violence as restorative (or as Greg calls it, "redemptive"), rather than as retributive.

I'll return to the idea of violence being “restorative” later, but for now let's simply focus on the notion of the cross being understood in terms of punitive justice, and what this understanding looks like when it is applied as the lens to interpret OT passages which view natural disasters, genocide, and cannibalism as acts of God's judgment. Despite having earlier declared such depictions to be “sinful” and false representations of God, using this punitive understanding of the cross Greg now declares that a cruciform reading of these violent accounts does see them as ultimately good and just. For example, speaking of the biblical flood, he states, “this flood reflects a genuine judgment of God. The only thing that conflicts with God’s revelation on the cross is the manner in which this author ascribes the violence in the judgment directly to God” (526).

This focus constitutes the “withdrawal” element in Greg’s principle of Redemptive Withdrawal. Greg affirms that the violent accounts are correctly seen as God’s just judgment for sin, as the texts claim. He only denies the claim of the text that God was directly involved in committing the violence. Instead, he maintains that God simply “withdraws” his protection, allowing other “agents” to commit the violence, thereby enacting God’s judgment for sin. Speaking of the Canaanite genocide he writes,

“God decided, with a grieving heart, to withdraw his protective presence... Reflecting the same Aikido-like strategy that was employed on the cross, God would now use the evil of the Israelite’s disobedient reliance on the sword to punish the evil of the Canaanites wickedness and idolatry” (982).

Note that Greg refers to using other agents (in this case humans) to carry out God’s violent judgment in the form of genocide as “Aikido-like” here. What does he mean by this? Greg clarifies that while Aikido practitioners have the goal “of bringing as little harm to their opponent as possible” this minimizing of harm is apparently not something that God is concerned with. Greg explains, in contrast to these Aikido practitioners, “God is not adverse to allowing evil-doers to suffer the full destructive consequences of their own sin.” He further clarifies “The point of the Aikido analogy is that God himself never needs to actively engage in violence” (769, n6).

At this point one may be wondering how any of this can possibly be seen as congruent with the nonviolent understanding of God that Boyd laid out so carefully as the foundation of his Cruciform Hermeneutic throughout volume I of this work. Greg explains that based on his understanding of the cross as an act of divine punishment, “it becomes evident that not only can a nonviolent God judge sin, but the ‘wrath’ of this nonviolent God against sin is no less severe than it would be if God did engage in violence. It is just that whatever violence is involved... is carried out by created agents” (782).

What we can observe here is that when a cruciform reading is shaped by a punitive understanding of the cross, the result is to affirm the most extreme violence (global flood, genocide) as being just and good judgments. The resulting “nonviolent” God is therefore just as violent as the warrior god. The only substantive difference is that Greg apparently believes that God is absolved from any moral responsibility by not directly committing the violence entailed in these acts of divine judgment. As he puts it, “the distinction between what God does and what he merely allows removes culpability from God” (720, n29).

I disagree. Mob bosses and war lords commonly have people assassinated and slaughtered without directly participating in the killing. We would certainly not consider them innocent. Anticipating this type of objection, Boyd imagines that someone might compare these “indirect” judgments of God to a person unleashing “a rabid pit bull” on someone (902). That person would be responsible for the harm inflicted by the dog, even though they were not personally involved in the attack. Likewise, “if God unleashed violent nations for the purpose of having them afflict another nation, one could argue that he is responsible for the suffering that the violent nation brings about” (902).

Acknowledging that this is a “formidable objection,” Greg offers a four-point response. First, he argues, since sin is a matter of “pushing God away,” God’s withdrawal must be seen as “a decision to give people what they want” (903), and one does not ask to be attacked by the pit bull. The second point Greg makes is “this is what they deserve” (903) so it is a just punishment (think genocide as you read that). Third, God inflicts his violent judgments “in the hope that their suffering will teach them what God’s mercy will not” (904), although in the context of God’s judgment consisting of the “slaughter of entire populations” (983) it’s hard to imagine how that teaching moment is supposed to work exactly when they are all dead. Forth, he argues that “since God’s very being is unsurpassable love, the pain he experiences when people are afflicted, even when they deserve it, is unfathomably greater than the pain experienced by others who love these people, or by the people themselves” (904).

So in sum: (1) You asked for it. (2) You had it coming. (3) This will teach you, and (4) This hurts me more that it hurts you. While this may sound like some people’s fathers, it sounds nothing like the one to whom Jesus prayed “Our Father who art in heaven.” Note, too, that all of these points involve arguing that the violence is justified, and none address whatsoever the issue of moral responsibility.

The analogy of the pit bull is apt because, as Greg notes, the nations in their blood lust often went overboard in their violence, much like a “rabid pit bull” is completely out of control once you “withdraw” your hand from its leash. Far from being absolved from responsibility, I think it is pretty clear that were a parent to unleash a rabid pit bull on a disobedient child, this would be morally exponentially worse than it would be for them to beat the child with their own hand (which is of course also bad). So I must reject this concept of “withdrawal” as a means of avoiding responsibility. It simply does not hold water. God is morally responsible for what God does, whether directly or indirectly, just as we are.

Moreover, I maintain that the picture of God in Christ crucified is not one of withdrawal because of our sin, but just the opposite. It is a picture of "God with us," God in Christ entering into all of our brokenness and darkness and hurt. It is God in Christ “becoming sin” so that we can become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). It is God stooping down to us in our depths. As David says, “Even if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are with me” (Ps 139:8). We should therefore not be talking about “redemptive withdrawal” with Christ as our image of God, indeed with Christ crucified. The cross, understood as an expression of restorative rather than punitive justice, is a picture of redemptive union with humanity in the very depths of our sin and wretchedness. It is God entering into our abandonment like the father finding the prodigal son among the pig slop and embracing him there. At the moment Christ called out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” God was in Christ on the cross, and likewise when we most feel abandoned, God is there. As Paul writes,

"I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:38-39)

You've heard it said, “God can’t be where there is sin,” but I say in Christ crucified we see that this is exactly where God is, and where God has always been.


“Redemptive” Violence

Let’s turn to focus on the “redemptive” aspect of Redemptive Withdrawal. To illustrate this, Greg cites Lev 26:16-45. This passage consists of God repeatedly threatening escalations of violence and terror if the Israelites do not repent. Here’s a sample,

“I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength...
‘If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over… I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.
If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.
If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me... I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.” (Lev 26:16-27)

While he does mention certain “aspects of these judgments to reflect the pre-Christian perspective of the author,” mentioning cannibalism specifically as an example, Greg nevertheless declares, “I believe the motivation this passage ascribes to God... is a direct revelation. For what drives the escalating judgment is God’s hope to restore his people” (791).

I do not doubt that this was the ancient author’s motivation behind these threats of horrifying violence. However, we should seriously question the notion that inflicting violent physical harm and emotional trauma is “redemptive” in any way. Greg is certainly correct that these stories reflect the “pre-Christian perspective of the author” in regards to cannibalism, but he is apparently missing that it also reflects the ancient perspective of people who commonly practiced what we would today regard as criminal child abuse, seeing this violence as redemptive. As William Webb has outlined in his study of corporal punishment and the Bible, the Old Testament calls for striking a child with a whip or rod on the back or sides. Because this is where the internal organs are located, this would likely result in internal bleeding as well as welts and bruises. While leaving such marks on a child’s body would be legal grounds for charges of child abuse today, people at the time believed that inflicting such wounds was healing and redemptive. As Proverbs puts it, “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being” (Prov 20:30). This reflects the common understanding of people at the time, and here this abusive understanding is being projected onto God unknowingly by this biblical author. They did not know any better. We, however, living in the 21st century, really should.

So what do we do with the violent judgments of God found throughout the Old Testament? We do what Greg proposed in volume I, we repudiate them as incongruent with Christ crucified, “Any conception that characterizes God’s power in terms of coercive control rather than self-sacrificial love must be identified as an all too common anthropomorphic projection onto God” (196). As Greg writes in his reply to me,
“My entire thesis is predicated on the insistence that the violent judgments of God cannot be justified, let alone made to look ‘loving and just’! Indeed, I argue that it is only when we abandon all attempts to justify them that we can see how these violent portraits bear witness to the cross.”
Precisely. We will not find God behind the violent judgments portrayed in the Old Testament. These reflect the image of a punitive warrior god. If we want to find Christ in these passages, we must look for the victims, the scapegoats in these texts. That is where you will find Christ crucified, deeply buried.


Conclusion

What began as a project to interpret Scripture through a cruciform lens is undermined by a punitive understanding of the cross. This is not a Girardian view of the atonement which seeks to unmask sacred violence, rather the principle of Redemptive Withdrawal makes the case for sacred violence. The principle of Redemptive Withdrawal is quite literally a perpetuation of what Walter Wink called the myth of redemptive violence

At the root of all of this is an understanding of the cross based on punitive justice. As we have seen here, this leads to calling horrific violence just and restorative. What is needed is a non-punitive understanding of the cross resulting in a truly nonviolent cruciform hermeneutic. I have attempted to work out such a non-punitive understanding of the cross in my book Healing the Gospel.

In the end, there is simply no room for violence in the economy of God. But I do not need to appeal here to Wink or Girard to make this claim. I can look directly to the work of Greg Boyd, and in fact I can look to this very work, volume I. 

“The indiscriminate love and unconditional nonviolence reflects the essence of who God is, and thus reflects the character of all God does. God can therefore no more act violently than God can lie or deny himself” (226).

“If we understand God completely in light of what happened on the cross... we can only conclude it is contrary to God’s very nature to engage in violence.” (225).
That means that we can look at God's actions and have them model how we should act. 

“On the cross, Jesus fully displayed God’s self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing, nonviolent character, and the church is called and empowered to embody this same character” (205).

To understand God correctly is to understand that God looks like Jesus. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. Both are equally examples of enemy love.

“Jesus predicates his command to love indiscriminately and to refrain from all violence... on the fact that this alone reflects the character of the Father.” (224-225)
So when we see images of a god who punisheseven if this is done with “redemptive intent”—we must recognize that this is not a cruciform Jesus-shaped understanding of God, and must therefore be repudiated as the false warrior god, a god made in our own image. In the cross we see that God does not overcome evil with evil, God overcomes evil with good.

In conclusion, let me stress that the issues I have laid out here have to do with the specific punitive understanding of the cross that Greg set forth with his principle of Redemptive Withdrawal. As I have outlined here, I see severe problems with that principle and believe it should be abandoned. However, I very much agree with the idea of reading all of Scripture through a cruciform lens.

On a personal note, Greg had wondered in his response to my reviews whether I was upset with him for his criticism of my work which he laid out in chapter 8 of his book. Greg, let me assure you that I am not. On the contrary, I appreciate you pushing me to not stop at repudiation of these violent portraits, but to go further from there, digging deeper to find Christ. I hear you, and I believe your principle of Cruciform Accommodation is a viable approach to doing this, so long as it is disentangled from a punitive understanding of the cross. I hope that what I have said here can be taken constructively, and ultimately serve to strengthen Greg's wider project of reading all of Scripture with cruciform eyes.

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A Theological Review of the Crucifixion of the Warrior God (part 3)

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Must there be skate goats?
This post is part 3 in a series reviewing Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. In Part1 I cited lots of quotes from the book that I liked. In Part2 I respond to Greg's critique of me (which I did not like).

In this post I would like to offer a theological and ethical review of the central argument of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, noting some problems I see and proposing possible solutions to them. I’ll begin with a broad overview of the argument in the book. The first 10 chapters of volume I set up the problem which, simply put, is that genocide and Jesus don’t mix. Boyd thus proposes reading Scripture through the lens of Christ crucified, understood in terms of self-sacrificing nonviolent enemy-love. The last two chapters of volume I present Boyd’s proposed solution, a “Cruciform Hermeneutic” which seeks to show how we can find the love of Jesus in these OT portraits of God’s violence. This is then further developed in the first two chapters of volume II (ch 13 & 14).

Boyd admits that these OT texts—as the biblical author intended them to be understood, and insofar as what the texts actually say and promote—do, in fact, present a “revolting” portrait of an enemy-hating violent “warrior” God, and are used to justify horrific violence being committed in God’s name. Examples given of this divine violence found in the OT include genocide, cannibalism, and public gang rape. Citing these disturbing examples, Boyd proposes that in the very ugliness of such passages we can see Christ’s beauty, just as we see this in the ugliness of the cross. For example, he cites the prophet Nathan’s decree of God’s punishment of king David (2 Sam 12:11), noting that this divine punishment consists of the “public raping of a multitude of unfortunate women” (718). Boyd first proposes that, in light of the cross, we know that God is in fact “outraged” by this, and further declares that this passage of Scripture reflects the “twisted and culturally conditioned heart of the biblical author” (719), which is clearly a “sub-Christlike portrait” (720). However, he continues, when read through “the lens of the cross” we can discern how this story of divine-decreed rape “bears witness to the same sin-bearing faithfulness that God displayed on the cross” (720).

The problem with this, of course, is that it does not. This is categorically not a parallel to the cross, but its polar opposite. This is something that Boyd acknowledges as he develops this in volume 2, stating that these violent OT passages present God as “a perpetrator of violence” whereas on the cross we see God as “a victim of violence on Calvary” (642). So despite his earlier claim in volume I that “we discern him in these literary crucifixes in the exact same way we discern him in the historical crucifixion” (511, emphasis added), he acknowledges here in volume II that these are in fact not parallels, but, rather obviously, complete opposites.

Behind all this appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how the cross functions as an expression of non-violent enemy-love. Properly understood, the cross is about seeing God in Jesus as the innocent victim of violence. In contrast, these OT depictions present God as the alleged perpetrator of violence. While both are indeed ugly, they are absolutely and in no way parallel. For instance, the above example of God’s punishment of David’s sin is clearly not a story of God “bearing sin” at all, but of God allegedly decreeing the sin of rape, portrayed as just punishment. Simply put: Seeing God in Jesus as the victim of religious and political violence, and seeing God in the Old Testament as the perpetrator of that violence are not parallels, they are polar opposites.

As the Gospels stress, Jesus on the cross is falsely accused of sin, not by God but by the religious and political powers. Through the cross, as Paul says, those powers are thus exposed as unjust, including unveiling their violence as unjust. This represents a Girardian reading of the cross, and in this same section of his book Boyd continues on to favorably reference Girard, affirming this understanding of the atonement (696-697). He quotes Walter Wink who states,

“The violence of Scripture, so embarrassing to us today, became the means by which the sacred violence was revealed for what it is: a lie perpetrated against victims in the name of a God who, through violence, was working to expose violence for what it is and to reveal the divine nature as nonviolent.” (697)

Read out of context one can see how the above quote does sound a lot like what Boyd is proposing. However, Wink is not claiming, as Boyd is, that these violent OT depictions of God as the perpetrator of gang rape, cannibalism, and genocide are in themselves “a testament to God’s covenantal faithfulness and his self-sacrificial, sin-bearing nature” (689) either on the “surface” or with a “deeper” reading. In contrast to Boyd’s going “deeper,” Wink (following Raymund Schwager and Girard) instead proposes a reading that I will describe as looking wider, understanding these violent passages in the larger context of the whole story of the Bible which culminates in Jesus. I therefore wish to propose that we can find a way in Wink, Schwager, and Girard’s looking wider to see how even these dark passages can, when read through the lens of Christ, play a vital and revelatory part in the wider context of the entire canon of Scripture, leading us to Christ. Allow me to unpack this a bit...

Throughout the multivocal Old Testament we encounter many conflicting and contradictory voices, each claiming to speak for God. Many, as we have seen, claim that God commands horrific violence. However we also find minority voices within that same Hebrew canon which give voice to the victim of violence. As Wink says, the OT can be thus understood as “a long and laborious exodus out of the world of violence and sacred projections, an exodus plagued with many reversals and falling short of its goal” (Engaging the Powers, 146). As Girard asserts, it is not until Jesus that the scapegoating mechanism is fully revealed and exposed. We can thus look back from Jesus and see these violent passages, which project human violence onto God, serving now with opened eyes to mirror our own proclivity to make violence sacred. These disturbing passages therefore stand as a record of how religious people like you and me can use God to justify our hate and violence.

If we look only at a particular passage of Scripture in isolation, portraying God as violent, it is simply not true that it shows us Christ’s self-sacrificial love. If you dig deep here it becomes no less ugly. In such passages we see our sin mirrored, and specifically we see the sin of religiously justified violence mirrored before us. This is revelatory when read in this way in the light of Christ, and I stress that it is not what the original authors intended. We can thus, as Boyd proposes, see here a divine revelatory intent in that, when we read these passages in light of Christ, we can now see them exposed as sinful projections. The original authors of course, themselves, under the grip of the lie of redemptive violence, intended these judgments to be seen as good and right. Through the perspective of the cross we now can see that they instead reflect the sin of religiously justified violence.

These violent passages mark the point on that exodus story when we are still in bondage to the lie that violence will save us. It is the point in the story when we are still blind like Saul. However, when we learn to read wide by beginning with the perspective of Jesus opening our eyes to the lie of redemptive violence, we can then look back and discern all of Scripture chronicling humanity’s messy and often failing struggle to break free of this lie. That of course is not to say that we are today somehow beyond it, nor to say that we as Christians are immune. On the contrary, seeing violence as “good” and “just” still grips us as a society today, particularly in America. Indeed, one could say that more than 80% of white evangelicals are deeply under this spell today. God revealed in Christ crucified, understood from a Girardian frame, unmasks that lie. Our eyes are opened to seeing that the way of Jesus is the way of God and the way of violence and power are not. To truly see this is amazing, revelatory. With opened eyes, these dark passages serve as a permanent reminder documenting the sinfulness and profound hurt that comes through religion, lest we ever think we are immune.

Whether or not Greg will find this approach compelling I cannot say. But while I find significant problems with his particular solution, as I have outlined here, I do see something worth salvaging in his larger project of developing a cruciform hermeneutic, and hope that others may find the solution of looking wider, found in the Girardian perspective of Wink and others, to be a viable means to do this. In other words, my intent is to provide a means to overcome the shortcomings of Boyd’s good proposal, in the hopes of furthering it. I believe that when we learn to look wide through the eyes of Jesus we can indeed see how even the most disturbing parts of Scripture can have a revelatory content that ultimately points us to Christ, just as seeing our own sin exposed drives us to the cross.

I wish I could stop here, but I cannot, because Boyd does not. Volume II continues for another 11 chapters (ch 15-25) presenting an apologetic for God’s violent judgments in the OT as loving and just, seemingly taking a u-turn from the nonviolent course Boyd had been establishing up to this point in the book. You can read that part here.

UPDATE: Greg has responded to this post on his blog. The main substance of his reply focuses on our differing understandings of how the cross functions. Greg seems a bit perplexed and that is probably my fault as I do not really unpack this in the above post here. In the next installment of this series, part4, I deal with this extensively, and hopefully this will serve to clear things up, explaining the difficulties I see in regards to Greg's understanding of the cross, and how this impacts how he then reads violent OT passages with that lens. Since the foundation of Greg's entire hermenutical approach is rooted in the cross, we definitively need to get that understanding right.

Since Greg's reply to me I've been thinking about the principle of Cruciform Accommodation and how these OT texts might be read through the same Girardian frame that the Gospel writers used to understand the crucifixion.

I still don't think it makes sense to draw a parallel between Jesus (as the victim of violence) and Yahweh (being the perpetrator of violence), even if we agree that both are falsely accused. The parallel would be between Yahweh in the OT who is falsely seen as behind the violence, and God the Father in the NT who is also falsely seen as behind the crucifixion (which is how Rome and advocates of PSA would see it). In other words, I think that Greg is right in saying that we can legitimately see Yahweh in the OT as being falsely accused of being the perpetrator, but I don't think this is where we find Christ in the story, at least not if we are reading with a Girardian frame...

Basically we look at who in the story plays the role of the righteous authority, and in the Girardian reading that authority is unmasked as being illegitimate. In the NT the authority that executed Jesus is delegitimized (i.e. the cross was not just) and in the OT the slaughter of the Canaanites was also delegitimized as an unjust judgment. In both we can say that the God figure behind all this is falsely portrayed, and is instead of being with the perpetrators is with the victims of that violence done in the name of justice.

That's where God in heaven is in these stories. However, if we want to find Christ, I'd say we need to ask who the scapegoat is in the story. Who is the victim of violence who is being described as bad and deserving of death? In this story it is obviously the Canaanites who are being scapegoated. Just as we find God in Christ on the cross, so too we find God among all those who are scapegoated.

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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, A Second Look

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Dismissal Solution club (I'm the second from the left)
As some of you know, I’ve been digging into Greg Boyd’s new book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God As some of you have pointed out to me, he liberally cites my work in Disarming Scripture. So naturally, I hold a particular interest in Boyd’s most recent thoughts on the subject, both because the topic is very close to my heart, but also because I’m frequently referenced in the book.

I am currently about half-way through the first volume. The first part if the book really impressed me, because Greg boldly confronts the problematic frequent OT depictions of a "violent warrior god," insisting we must "abandon all attempts to defend" these depictions, and instead "permanently crucify" this understanding of God, replacing it with an understanding of God revealed in Christ crucified. You can read my review of that part of the book here.

But then I got to chapter 8, in which Greg addresses the works of Eric Seibert (Disturbing Divine Behavior), Peter Enns (The Bible Tells Me So), myself (Disarming Scripture), and others, grouping us all into what he calls the “dismissal solution” (more on that unflattering term later). Greg defines this “dismissal solution” as seeking to “discredit” the OT based on “historical, ethical, theological, and logical grounds” (341). He then identifies Seibert and Enns as falling into the above “historical” category, and further names me and others as belonging to his “dismissal solution” as well, saying,

“Something similar could be argued about the work of C.S. Cowles, Derek Flood, and Dora Mbuwayesango, who reject violent depictions of God primarily on theological grounds, as well as about the work of Wes Morriston, Randal Rauser, and Paul Anderson, who advocate similar solutions, primarily on ethical grounds.” pp. 342-343

Note above that Greg identifies my rejection of violent depictions of God on theological grounds, rather than historical grounds. I’ll return to that shortly, but first let me address the historical grounds that he identifies with Seibert and Enns. Greg does not actually disagree with the archeological evidence these claims are based on (extensive archeological findings in the later part of the 20th century have convinced the vast majority of scholars today that the genocide accounts recorded in the book of Joshua are largely fictional), but argues basically that the moral message of the text is not changed simply because the historical veracity of the account is disproven. I agree. The moral message remains horrible in these texts describing merciless genocide in God’s name. The portrait of God here remains awful.

What is significant is that if the genocide accounts are a fiction, this makes it rather clear that the claim that God commanded them is equally a fiction. This matters because many biblical accounts use the evidence of miracles to back up their position. So we ask, if genocide is wrong, then why did God cause the walls of Jericho to fall down as the Israelites marched around them allowing them to then slaughter every living thing inside in the name of the Lord (Joshua 6)? When we learn from high-precision radiocarbon dating that Jericho was destroyed more than a century before Joshua ever got there, that kind of changes things. God, in fact, didn’t say this and didn’t do that because the entire thing simply never happened.

Again, this does not solve the problem of these violent depictions of God entirely. It does not change the fact that the violent ideology behind them is clearly deplorable. Nor does it change the indisputable reality that this very ideology has been used to justify very real historical genocide and bloodshed in the name of God ever since— genocide perpetrated by the Christian church no less. Greg however claims that Seibert and Enns believe the problem is solved with this historical evidence, and thus with this archeological evidence proceed to “dismiss” these violent depictions of God, and includes me in there too,

“[I am not] suggesting that these scholars altogether dismiss violent divine portraits, as if they found nothing of value in them. To the contrary, Seibert, Enns, Flood, and others have worked hard to pull positive lessons out of them. Yet, each author ultimately assumes that the problem posed by the biblical authors ascribing violence to God is to be solved by denying that the violence ever took place.” p. 343, emphasis added

I’m not sure what Pete would say about this charge (I’m hoping he blogs about it soon), but I am fairly certain he is misreading Eric’s position, and I certainly can say that he is misreading mine. As I read it, Eric Seibert’s larger goal is to develop a Christocentric hermeneutic, which is incidentally what Greg has been working to do as well thus far in his book. This is also my goal in Disarming Scripture. Namely, I reject committing violence in God’s name (which is not quite the same as rejecting “violent depictions of God” since it focuses on our moral actions, rather than on our theoretical understanding, meaning my core focus is practical, focusing on how we live) by adopting the way Jesus and Paul read Scripture, who both also rejected justifying violence in God’s name.

I would propose that Greg actually agrees, or at least he has in everything he has said previous to this chapter. For example, Greg refers to these “violent depictions of God” as “sub-Christ-like” (118), “sub-Christian” (376), “anthropomorphic projection onto God” which religiously is “essentially pagan” (196), reflecting the “limitations and sin” of the “biblical authors depictions of God” (376). He describes them as “horrific” (291), and states, “However revolted we are by violent divine portraits, must we not conclude that God must be unimaginably more so?” He further declares these texts “fallen” (332), and “evil” (288), and states that we should not follow them or allow them to shape who we understand God to truly be,

“If anything in the law or prophets fails to agree with Jesus, however, the implication is that it is Jesus who should be followed. Nothing in the law and prophets should be allowed to compromise what Jesus reveals about God’s character and will.” pp. 51-52

Greg avoids using the word “reject” although this is for all intents and purposes practically what he is doing. Along these lines he states that “We certainly ought to reject their violence” but that we “must do this in order to look past the surface meaning” (451). In other words, as far as what these texts actually say, as far as what the biblical authors intended them to say, Greg agrees we should reject them. He however wants us to continue to look deeper to find a hidden message beyond this. An evaluation of whether he successfully can show this hidden message will need to wait since Greg has not said anything about this yet in the book.

In his summary at the end of the chapter Greg writes, “I do not believe the Dismissal Solution is a viable option, at least not for those who feel compelled by our faith in Christ as Lord to embrace his high view of Scripture” (378). Since a central focus of my book was based on identifying how Jesus read Scripture, particularly in regards to religiously justifying violence, I must object to the overly-general and anachronistic assertion that Jesus holds to a “high view of Scripture” (a modern category), which frankly contradicts what Greg himself has written previously in his book where he agrees with me on how Jesus actually reads Scripture,

“One of the clearest expressions of the superior authority of Jesus is that while he certainly shared his Jewish contemporaries’ view that all Scripture is ‘God-breathed,’ he was nevertheless not afraid of repudiating it when he felt led by his Father to do so (Jn 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:31). While conservative exegetes have made valiant attempts to avoid this conclusion, it is hard to deny that Jesus taught things that “blatantly contradicts and overturn multiple Old Testament passages and principles,” as Derek Flood notes.” p. 67

In discussing Jesus “revoking the lex talonis” (an eye for an eye) he writes,

“Jesus was calling on people to respond to wrongdoers in a way that is ‘the direct opposite’ of the OT, as Flood notes. It is understandable that so many have attempted to soften this contrast, for, among other things, it conflicts with many people’s understanding of biblical inspiration to grant that Jesus explicitly repudiated commands of the OT. But these attempts simply have not been compelling.” p. 72

So Jesus “repudiates” Scripture. Repudiate is a synonym for reject. So Greg could have just as easily written that I “repudiate violent depictions of God primarily on theological grounds” and added by the way that Jesus does, too. This may “conflict with many people’s understanding of biblical inspiration” but that is nevertheless precisely how Jesus reads Scripture. Greg goes so far as to state that “This means to be considered a child of the Father in heaven by Jesus, one had to be willing to break the OT commands to retaliate” (73).

That’s why reading this chapter is so baffling. It feels like the Greg who wrote this chapter has not met the Greg who wrote the first part of the book before it. I also find it hard to overlook the pejorative way that Greg frames the entire chapter, beginning with how he introduces his “dismissal solution” at the outset of the chapter, claiming it finds its origins in the heretic Marcion,

“The first proposal, to be addressed in this chapter, was put forth by a second-century preacher named Marcion. He was uniformly branded as a heretic by the proto-orthodox theologians of the time because he solved the problem posed by the OT’s depictions of God by simply dismissing them, along with the entire OT, as an authority for Christians. I will thus label this response “the Dismissal Solution.” p. 336

However, Greg’s central claim is that his so-called “Dismissal Solution” “...assumes that the problem posed by biblical authors ascribing violence to God is to be solved by denying that this violence ever took place” (343), which Greg admits Marcion never actually said, “Contrary to a common misunderstanding of his position, Marcion did not reject the OT on the grounds that it was historically inaccurate or in any other respect untrue” (337).

Why not instead claim that this perspective finds its origins in Anabaptism, since as Greg notes, they did actually make this claim (127). Since Greg is sympathetic to Anabaptism this would then be both more accurate as well as more generous. Let’s be honest, associating those of us who he groups in the “dismissal solution” with someone who was “uniformly branded as a heretic” really can only serve as a form of guilt by association. I would have hoped for Greg to show a little more care in his words. To be clear, I am frankly not terribly worried about being accused of being a heretic. Looking at church history I observe that the heretics were usually the good guys. However, it is meant to discredit, and I’m sure that since Greg has surely been accused of being a heretic plenty of times and is surely not happy about that, I would appeal to Jesus’ motto of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” here.

Along these same lines, the term “dismissal” is clearly not one that any of us would chose to describe our position since it not-so-subtly implies that we are not really dealing with the issue or taking it seriously. In case you might think this was accidental, I note that Greg writes,

“I am compelled to take the genocidal portrait of God in this narrative just as seriously as I do any other canonical divine portrait. And this is the primary difference between my approach to violent divine portraits and the Dismissal Solution.” p. 370

It strikes me as rather self-evident that if a person writes an entire book on a subject, they can hardly be accused of not taking it seriously or of simply “dismissing” it. So how about we call it the “Repudiation Solution” instead, and you can call mine the “Repudiate Like Jesus Does Solution” or if you prefer, “Cruciform Repudiation” which does sound a lot catchier.

Greg is certainly welcome to disagree with me and others (as I’m sure he disagrees with those Anabaptists). I also welcome his attempt to build further upon the work we have done, taking it to places beyond where we were able to go. However, I wish he would then frame it in that way. Indeed, the only way one would be able to somehow look beyond what the texts say to find this “deeper” meaning, as Greg aims to do, is by first identifying that the “surface” meaning is in conflict with the God revealed in Jesus. In that sense, the work that I and others have done can be seen as building the foundation for what Greg aims to do. So why not suggest that he sees the need to build further, rather than seeking to repudiate and discredit what we have said? Why the stress on framing Seibert, Enns, myself, and others as rivals to him? It seems so unnecessary, and indeed unfortunate.

Again, as I mentioned earlier, Greg has not yet made his case for how to find this “deeper” meaning hidden in the text. So I will keep reading.

Continue to Part 3. Go back to Part 1.

UPDATE: Greg has responded to this review on his blog, and also on his podcast (the part with me begins at a little after 3 minutes in). Although I'm pretty sure it was recorded earlier, I actually found what Greg said on the podcast more helpful than the blog. He reflected that perhaps he had been too "harsh" or "pejorative" saying "It's always good to question yourself, and maybe I overplayed that." He also clarified that while he agrees that we must reject violent OT passages as being incongruent with the cruciform God, he sees this as a stepping stone which should lead us to wrestle with the text as part of our sacred Scripture seeking to understand how even this can point us to Christ. I appreciate him being reflective and gracious and agree that we should always question ourselves (I hope I can exhibit that too!), and I also appreciate him challenging all of us (myself included!) to continue to dig and wrestle with these difficult texts.

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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, A First Look

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I’m reading through Greg Boyd’s new 2-volume work Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. I naturally don’t want to make any final assessments until I have read it all the way through, but I thought it may be of interest to share what Boyd is saying as I go. So I will largely simply be citing passages from the book, selecting the quotes that stand out to me, and mostly just letting these citations speak for themselves, perhaps adding a bit of context where necessary, and re-ordering them a bit as needed for the sake of clarity here. This is thus not a review nor is it a summary. Rather, it's stuff I personally found provocative and worth sharing in the hopes of sparking conversation.

In this first post I'll cover the introduction through chapter two. We begin with the introduction to volume 1 where Greg outlines the basic argument of his book. Greg first recounts how he came to write the book, a journey that led him to part ways with his fellow Evangelicals in regards to the interpretation of violent portraits of God in the OT.

“I can no longer agree with many of my fellow Evangelicals who insist that we must simply embrace these violent divine portraits as completely accurate revelations of God alongside the revelation we are given in Christ.” p xxix

“I was also supposed to accept every other portrait of God in Scripture as revelatory as well, including the violent portrait. Hence, like most Christians, I had a mental picture of a God who was Christ-like to a degree but who was also capable of commanding merciless genocide and bringing about familial cannibalism.” p xxxi

Greg consequently developed what he terms a “Cruciform Hermeneutic” which could be described as the thesis statement of his book,

“The driving conviction of the Cruciform Hermeneutic is that since Calvary gives us a perspective of God’s character that it is superior to what people in the OT had, we can also enjoy a superior perspective of what was actually going on when OT authors depicted God engaging in and commanding violence.” p xxxiv

It’s important to note that this does not mean that Greg intends to use this hermeneutic to explain and justify these violent passages. Greg explains that he felt compelled to break with “most Evangelical books addressing this topic” which, as Greg puts it somewhat in  tongue-in-cheek fashion, attempt to “put the best possible ‘spin’ on violent portraits of God in the OT” (p xxix). Rather, this hermeneutic aims to completely change how we understand depictions of a violent warrior god found in the OT.

“Scripture’s violent divine portraits become mini-literary crucifixions that function as harbingers of the historical crucifixion. … For when the sin of the world was nailed to the cross with Christ (Col 2:14), the sinful conception of God as a violent warrior god was included. Hence, the revelation of the agape-loving and sin-bearing crucified God entails the permanent crucifixion of the violent warrior god.” p xli-xlii

So what does the "crucifixion of the warrior god" mean practically? As Greg explains in chapter one,

“I am convinced that it is only when our conviction about the supremacy of the revelation of God on Calvary causes us to abandon all attempts to defend the violent behavior ascribed to God in the OT that we can begin to see how these violent portraits actually bear witness to God’s true, cruciform character.” p 36

To put that in perspective, Greg’s goal in writing the book is to show how it is possible to affirm the inspiration of all of Scripture (or as he prefers to say, the “God-breathed” nature of Scripture), including these violent portraits, while at the same time recognizing that they are, at face value, at odds with and opposed to the revelation of God in Christ. Therefore

“We must trust God’s character as it has been revealed in the crucified Christ, to the point that we have no choice but to call into question all portraits of God that conflict with it, even as we continue to faithfully affirm that these portraits are ‘God-breathed.’” p 34

In other words, Greg stresses that if we wish to get to the point of being able to understand how these passages are God-breathed and point to Christ, the place where we must start is in fully recognizing the degree to which these passages are in conflict with the revelation of God we see in Christ.

Key to doing this, Greg argues, is to learn to read Scripture in a way that places absolute normative and interpretive priority on God revealed in Christ. In other words, Greg maintains that in order to read all of Scripture rightly, we must begin with Jesus and the God that he reveals.

“ ‘God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.’ … He is not part of what the Father has to say or even the main thing the Father has to say: as the one and only Word of God (John 1:1), Jesus is the total content of the Father’s revelation to us.” p 40
This revelation of God in Christ should then shape how we read all of Scripture, and in particular in regards to violent portraits of God in the OT, Greg insists that it is Christ who needs to shape our understanding of these passages, rather than these passages that shape our understanding of Christ,

“The centerpiece of the message of the NT is that we worship a God who defeats evil by dying out of love for enemies rather than by killing enemies, and he calls on his people to do the same. … This revelation should never have been qualified by, let alone trumped by, the OT depictions of a ‘god who fights.’” p 24


Greg therefore flatly rejects a common assumptions within Evangelicalism, which is that all of Scripture is equally authoritative. Asserting instead that,

“If anything in the law or prophets fails to agree with Jesus, however, the implication is that it is Jesus who should be followed. Nothing in the law and prophets should be allowed to compromise what Jesus reveals about God’s character and will.” p 51-52

He further comes against a very common practice within Evangelicalism of trying to let the rest of the Bible temper and modulate Jesus.

“How misguided it is for followers of Jesus to allow any portrait of God or any teaching of the OT to in any way qualify or compromise the portrait of God and the teaching we are given by Jesus.” p 73

“The NT presents Jesus as the definitive revelation of God...no sub-Christ-like portrait of God in the OT should ever be allowed to qualify it.” p 36
So in sum, Greg describes the frequent OT depictions of a "violent warrior god" as "sinful" and "sub-Christ-like," insisting we must "abandon all attempts to defend" these depictions, and instead "permanently crucify" this understanding of God, replacing it with an understanding of God revealed in Christ crucified. Taken all together, those are some pretty bold statements. Personally, I like bold. The world has plenty of dry boring books on theology. Heaven knows I've read a lot of them. This book is certainly not that.

I'll keep reading, and hopefully have further posts to share in the future as I work my way through the book. But I think there is certainly plenty to chew on here, even in these first two chapters. But at this point let me turn it to you: Are these ideas familiar or brand new to you? Do you find his statements affirming and reassuring? Or do you find them threatening and frightening? What are your thoughts?

UPDATE: Continue to Part 2

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