Part 2: A Reply to Greg Boyd's Critique of Disarming Scripture

Monday, April 20, 2015

In my previous post I discussed why I reject the Fundamentalist understanding of infallibility, which as I discussed is very different from how Boyd understands infallibility. In this post, I’ll begin by explaining why I, in contrast, agree with Boyd’s re-imagined Christ-centered understanding of infallibility. I will then discuss inspiration, authority, and what it means to make Christ the center of how we read the Bible.

Boyd’s Re-imagined Understanding of Infallibility

What infallibility means for Boyd in the context of the larger “God-breathed” nature of Scripture is a bit difficult to ascertain from his review. The closest I found to a definition was in a footnote where he states,

“The Bible is infallible in accomplishing all that God intends it to accomplish, which, as shall become clear later on, is ultimately to point us toward, and bring us into a relationship with, the God revealed in the crucified Christ.”

Digging a little deeper I found this further clarification in his book Benefit of the Doubt,

“Our confidence in Scripture as the inspired Word of God can be strengthened once we abandon the misguided notion that everything in Scripture is equally important … If God’s ultimate purpose in ‘breathing’ (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3: 16) Scripture is to point us to Christ and to help us cultivate a relationship with Christ, then so long as we remain confident that Scripture doesn’t fail to do this— in this sense, it is ‘infallible’— whatever problems we might encounter in matters surrounding this book are irrelevant to the question of whether it’s divinely inspired.”

From this I take it that Boyd sees infallibility as meaning that God is somehow active in Scripture, using it to lead us to Christ. Scripture (or more precisely, God active in Scripture) is unfailing in doing this, and thus infallible. As Boyd says above, affirming this does not mean that we should not question violent portrayals of God, nor does it mean that everything is of equal weight or validity.

The question of course is then, how does Scripture do this? How does a text which contains “violent divine portraits that conflict with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ” lead us to Christ? The answers that Boyd and I give to this question are different. I will consider our two differing answers to this question in my next post (part 3). Right now I want to simply note that Boyd and I are in agreement that Scripture—when it is interpreted rightly—leads us to Christ and his way of cruciform love. If that’s what infallibility means, then I apparently believe in infallibility, too. 

Now, I don’t think I will be adopting the term “infallibility” because for me the term is historically tied to Fundamentalism, and as I said, I am not a Fundamentalist. I am however sympathetic to why Greg might want to redeem the term. 

We all do that at one point or another. There are some who reject the term “Christian” because of its negative associations, instead calling themselves “followers of Jesus” and such. I instead want to redeem the word “Christian,” showing that it should be associated with Christlikeness. I also want to redeem the term “inspiration,” showing how it works in the context of Scripture’s ultimate purpose being to lead us to Christ. I present that definition in the final chapter of Disarming Scripture, drawing on the of of Stanley Grenz.

So I really do appreciate what Greg is trying to do here by re-defining infallibility. I just don’t think it is fair or particularly charitable to fault me when I do not feel the need to redeem the same words that he does. At the very least, what we need to look at is the content of what we each believe and affirm, rather than focusing on affirming particular words. 

Inspiration (And How I Don’t Deny It)

More important however is how Boyd jumps from me denying the Fundamentalist doctrine of infallibility to assuming that I hold a position that “requires us to deny the inspiration and infallibility of all Scripture.” This is an inaccurate presentation of my view and I said nothing of the sort in Disarming Scripture. But Boyd pushes this even further, claiming that I advocate just tossing out anything I don’t like,

“When our conscience and life experience discern a portion of Scripture doesn’t lead to love, then it is apparently not inspired and we are free to reject it.”

Again, this is not what I said. What I in fact say repeatedly (using it as a thesis statement) in Disarming Scripture is,

“If we therefore recognize that a particular interpretation leads to observable harm, this necessarily means that we need to stop and reassess our course. To continue on a course we know to be harmful, simply because ‘the Bible says so,’ is morally irresponsible.”

How Boyd takes my above statement advocating humility and self-reflection, and from this declares that I am therefore saying that Scripture is “not inspired” and can just be tossed out, is frankly baffling to me.

On the contrary, I make a point throughout Disarming Scripture of saying that we need to face these violent text head-on, rather than ignoring them or pretending that they are good and Christlike, when they clearly are quite the opposite (more on that later). Continuing, Boyd writes,

“Yes, Flood holds that we should still wrestle with this material to learn lessons from it (104-12). But in his view we are not wrestling with this violent material as though it was divinely inspired and carried divine authority.”

Again, the first sentence is true (note that he can give a page reference). I do say that we should wrestle with the text (and I might add, so does Boyd). In the second sentence however Boyd is once again putting words in my mouth.

Let’s take a moment to consider the notion of “authority.” What does it mean for a biblical text to “carry divine authority” as Boyd puts it?

Authority: Why the Bible is not like the Constitution

In his review Boyd draws an analogy between the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Constitution for the Supreme Court judges. The role of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution. The judges frequently do not agree on these interpretations, but they do agree that the Constitution is authoritative in making their rulings. Boyd thus writes,

“Imagine how chaotic and dysfunctional the Supreme Court would be if each judge was allowed to reject whatever aspects of the Constitution they disapproved of? …
Throughout the Church tradition, Scripture has functioned very much like the Constitution functions in the Supreme Court... [C]utting the tether with this tradition has the same effect on the theology of the Church as denying the supremacy of the Constitution would have for our Supreme Court.”

That all makes sense as far as the Supreme Court goes, but completely falls apart when it is applied to how Boyd proposes we should interpret Scripture. Boyd maintains that we should reject violent interpretations, while at the same time he fully recognizes that many parts of the Old Testament texts themselves contain “violent divine portraits that conflict with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ” and thus present us with an inaccurate portrait of God’s true nature revealed in Christ. This is not a matter of interpretation, of us somehow reading it wrong. It is simply what the texts actually proclaim and promote.

The only way Boyd can get around the fact that these texts themselves contain morally disturbing content intended by the biblical author is to propose that we interpret a text in a way that is intentionally opposed to the way the biblical author intended it. Now, try and apply that to the Supreme Court: Imagine how chaotic and dysfunctional the Supreme Court would be if each Supreme Court justice sought to interpret the Constitution in a way that was intentionally counter to the intent of the Founding Fathers. If there were a way to get fired as a Supreme Court Justice, I’m pretty sure this would be it.

So at the very least the analogy of comparing the authority of Scripture to the way the Constitution functions completely falls apart here. Conservative biblical exegetes who are exclusively concerned with authorial intent, completely detached from ethical concerns, might be comparable to the Supreme Court, but not to the approach of either Boyd or myself.

The fact is, the way Boyd proposes we interpret Scripture is really nothing like the way the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, and that’s because the way we interpret Scripture (as both Boyd and I affirm) centers on Jesus not on Torah. That’s why I agree with Boyd when he writes in Benefit of the Doubt,

“Confessing Scripture to be completely ‘God-breathed’ does not entail that everything in Scripture is equally authoritative or that every portrait of God carries the same weight.”

Amen. What is therefore ultimately authoritative—i.e. what is normative for how we should live and how we see God—is not all of Scripture equally, but Jesus definitively. Jesus is authoritative. The cross is central. Only in so far as Scripture is read in a way that leads towards a Jesus-shaped life and a Jesus-shaped understanding of God is it authoritative. That’s why I very intentionally said in my previous post that I “affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and in particular of the New Testament.”

That is what I am saying, and—despite the apparent confusion between us—I think it is what Boyd is trying to say as well.

You must reject... You mustn’t reject 

This understanding of the supremacy of Christ as our ultimate authority when interpreting Scripture necessarily entails that we must reject the portions of the Old Testament which run counter to Christ and his way, at least insofar as they are to be normative for us. Along these lines Boyd writes,

“Jesus, along with Paul and other authors of the New Testament, felt led by the Spirit to go beyond, and even at times against, the original meaning of passages”

Right. They go beyond and even against the original meanings. This is what I demonstrate in Disarming Scripture. But Boyd’s above quote continues,

“[But] there is no indication that they ever felt free to simply reject any portion of Scripture.”

Wait, what? Then what does “go against” mean then? How can you go against something, but not be rejecting it? Boyd writes further,

“I am in agreement with Flood when he claims that Jesus employed a hermeneutic of love that caused him to prioritize some parts of Scripture over others and to repudiate other parts of Scripture”

Repudiate. Let’s look that up in the dictionary: It means refuse to accept or be associated with. Deny the truth or validity of. So, following the lead of Jesus and Paul, we should repudiate and go against violent passages, but we can’t reject them?

Does the term “reject” have some meaning for Boyd that is different from these other terms? One might be inclined to think so, until we read him say,

“I completely agree that we must, in the light of Christ, reject violent interpretations of Scripture.”

At this point I honestly became a bit confused. Boyd maintains that in the light of Christ, we must reject violent interpretations of Scripture, and simultaneously that Jesus and Paul never felt free to simply reject any portion of Scripture? How does that make any sense?

It frankly doesn’t. 

So what might Boyd have then meant? Trying to view his position in the most generous way I can, I assume what he was trying to say is that we do practically need to reject, repudiate, go against (in the sense that they are not normative for how we see God or how we treat one another, which is to say that they are not normative at all) texts which are in conflict with the revelation of Christ, seeing them as not carrying the same weight and authority as the way of Jesus, but nevertheless still should seek to wrestle with these morally problematic texts to understand how they can then function as part of our sacred canon. 

Both Boyd and I seek to do this, albeit in very different ways. In my next post I will discuss our two approaches.

What I have attempted to accomplish in this post is to show how what Boyd finds so alarming (that I am supposedly “severing the tether” with the historical faith by denying the Bible’s inspiration) is simply not true. In fact I think we agree more than most on these things. I hope that Greg can give me the benefit of the doubt on that.

continue to part 3...

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At 9:06 AM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger gingoro said...

"But Boyd pushes this even further, claiming that I advocate just tossing out anything I don’t like"

That may not be what you intended but that was how I read you. I saw nothing said about things that do not seem to demonstrate love should cause us to back out of our current interpretation and try again.

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Mike H. said...

Well said Derek. I appreciate Boyd and his work, but I think that he’s caught himself in a few contradictions here.

It does seem that much of what the two of you are talking about is the nature of the Bible, specifically how to define “infallibility” and/or “inspiration” and how such concepts relate to “authority”. Taking Boyd’s own definition per “Benefit of the Doubt” (referencing the quote that infallibility is “to point us to Christ and help us to cultivate a relationship with Christ, then so long as we remain confident that the Scripture doesn’t fail to do this – in this sense it is ‘infallible’”….) is, to me, utterly unhelpful. If “infallibility” is defined purely in terms of “results” (leading us to Christ), then it doesn’t speak to the nature of the text itself AT ALL. The text itself could be anything. These “infallible” results could be the same whether the text itself is the inspired journey of a changing and growing (and at times errant) faith that culminates (and is subverted) in Christ, or the literal divinely dictated Word of God. That’s fine if that’s what he means, but that doesn’t seem to be what “infallibility” implies – it’s a significant redefinition.

I might suggest, though, that Boyd seems primarily concerned with how the book might be received by a conservative audience – an audience that holds to the traditional (though debated) definitions of inerrancy and infallibility. (I’m getting that from his comment that your approach won’t “persuade many dissenting scholars”). Ultimately, he’s not willing to concede that an “infallible” Bible demonstrates and proves a violent God. To do so would be to admit defeat.

I’ve heard many, many times (from Christians) that Islam is inherently violent as plainly presented in it’s sacred texts (not arguing either way, but just using it as an example). If someone within Islam wanted to refute that violence by addressing the violent texts, there’d only be a few options to do so (which might have sub-options underneath them). Either (1) the texts don’t mean what they plainly say, (2) they do mean what’s plainly there, but they don’t apply anymore for any number of reasons, or (3) the texts are wrong. All 3 have their own set of challenges for sure. But if the starting point of True Faith is an inerrant/infallible timelessly true sacred book that requires only objective interpretation (the key point) then ditching that infallibility as the ONLY way to avoid violence would seem to actually prove the point that it is inherently violent.

And from a Christian standpoint, I think that Boyd is trying to avoid this conclusion. Those same scholars that may not like your approach, however, are very likely not going to like Boyd’s definition of infallibility.

Ultimately, I’d argue that the mental and theological gymnastics surrounding the cherry-picking, “text trumping” and explaining away violence and/or the historical challenges in the Bible (which are exhausting) are functionally the same thing as ditching “infallibility”. There is always picking and choosing going on (explaining away the things that aren’t liked through sophisticated scholarly loopholes because they don’t fit within the jigsaw puzzle), even if one hides behind “infallibility”. But for many, infallibility is vitally connected to verbal plenary inspiration which is vitally connected to and the cornerstone of whether True Christianity stands or falls – so the word must be kept even if it functionally doesn’t do much. Slippery slope and all that – and I’ll admit that I struggle with that A LOT.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Boyd, you, and Jersak are my favorite theologians. I love Dr. Gregory Boyd, but he's trying SO HARD to keep his "evangelical card." In an attempt to remain credible with his evangelical scholars, he's slipping on his logic. I still love him to death though. It seems every book Boyd puts out is like A COMPLETELY NEW IDEA, but man I loved "Disarming Scripture" and your "scientific hermeneutic" as I like to call it. This hermeneutic has originated with gay Christians such as Justin Lee and Matthew Vines, and it is SO SOLID in a scientific world as the one we live in. I love your thoughts and teachings Derek Flood!!!!

At 3:14 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

I see the 6th paragraph and the 3 following paragraphs of Boyd's 3rd post to be his most important critique of Derek's books. The paragraph I am talking about begins with "Second I believe Flood's conception...". This has been a critique of mine ever since I finished reading both of Derek's books and I intended to raise it but Boyd said it better than I ever could.

Derek did not seem to embrace other positive characteristics of neighbour love in the NT like joy, peace, longsuffering... My take is that this was simply an oversight or something I might have missed and that Derek would affirm such in the NT.

More serious to my mind was Derek's rejection of anything in the NT that sounds negative to him or that smacks of law or punishment. The summer after I finished high school I ended up with very severe asthma in late August. My parents were in Newfoundland, which is half way to Europe from where we lived in Ontario, for the summer running a children's camp. When they got home my dad took me to our family doctor's home as he had an office there as well as a regular office down town. He was a "good" evangelical Christian but he gave me a shot of demerol which made me extremely ill such that I ended up in the hospital for a week or ten days being given oxygen for most of the time. Passing out from lack of oxygen is no fun. My mother did not expect to see me alive again after dad put me in the car for the trip to the hospital. She never forgave my father for not calling an ambulance, His reason was that the noise might disturb the neighbors, ie neighbor love. This all was back in the days when GPs made hospital rounds, especially in smaller towns. Our dr was never allowed to visit me and my friends who were in nurses training told me never to see him again. I expect they were reflecting what the hospital specialists were saying. When I got moved to the town, where the university I attended was located, my dr there said essentially the same thing. My thought has been that our family dr had tried to perform euthanasia on me and failed to give me a large enough dose of demerol. For most my last year of high school, we had been to emerg about twice a week for treatment of my asthma. As I see it our dr was tired to treating me and tried to do the "loving" thing, not tempered/guided by the scriptural law against murder. Our family dr told my parents that he was on drugs (uppers and downers) and simply made a mistake which is an almost equally damaging admission as I see it. DaveW

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

Yes! Like I said on the previous post, I was completely baffled by his review. I just don't understand how he could have *misread* you so badly.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

Yes! Like I said on the previous post, I was completely baffled by his review. I just don't understand how he could have *misread* you so badly.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Brad said...

Going against vs. Rejecting may make more sense if Boyd is concerned you are tossing out scriptures that you don't like vs what he sees as Paul reinterpreting those passages in a different light. His main concern is interpretation. Where as he evaluates you as saying that we can throw out scriptures that are whatever (violent, opposed to Christ suffering sacrifical love).

This is the rub. Boyd is concerned with leaving all the text in and reinterpreting the violent passages. Where as you seem to be arguing that Paul rejects passages from the Bible. Very different approach than Boyd.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Mike H. said...

I don't know what specific examples might be referenced, but it seems that "reinterpreting" in a way that completely repudiates the meaning of a text is not, in fact, "reinterpreting" at all. If "repudiating" it - effectively taking passages to make them mean something completely different - still permits infallibility, then I don't know what a fallible Bible would even look like. Any passage can be "creatively" reinterpreted if the desire is to sustain "infallibility". I don't see much of a difference in approach at all.

Also, I think highly of Boyd.

At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


"That may not be what you intended but that was how I read you."

Have you read my book Disarming Scripture? I don't know how one could honestly get that impression from it. I say of the NT frequently that “If we therefore recognize that a particular interpretation leads to observable harm, this necessarily means that we need to stop and reassess our course."

The OT being multi-vocal is an entirely different matter. I explain this more in part 3. I'll let you read that rather than repeating it in a comment here :)

At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Mike H,

Wow man, I think you nailed it. Really insightful post!

I do think that there is a lot of these words being used to say " look, I belong!" to certain gatekeepers, but the words are used in ways where the definition is changes so it really means something entirely different to the gatekeepers definition.

Personally, I'd rather avoid these words and instead speak of the communicate the content of what we are saying clearly. Also I don't like gatekeepers.

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


In regards to my appropriation of the scientific method, perhaps I will discuss that in a later post.

At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Joel, great insights!

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Juan, yes I was honestly surprised by that too.

At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Yes, I get into that in more detail in part 3.

At 4:38 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

Derek Yes I read your book Disarming Scripture but I read it after I read your second book and probably I take my impression of your position mostly from your second book. But I still claim that "observable harm" can and probably does become too subjective without paying attention to the positive and negative commands in scripture. DaveW

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Perhaps you can define what you mean by "too subjective"? You do realize I hope that looking to the Bible in no way is objective, right? Authoritarian and objective are not the same.

I say that we should read the Bible and look to see that our application is not hurtful. So I don't know where you get that I would "not pay attention" to commands in Scripture.

What would the alternative to that be exactly? Ignoring when things are hurtful and doing it anyway because the Bible says so? Would that be "less subjective"?


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