Part 3: A Reply to Greg Boyd's Critique of Disarming Scripture

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


If you missed it, here's part 1 of this three part series.

Last time, in part 2, I explored how Boyd and I both agree that Old Testament texts, which contain portraits of God that are clearly in conflict with the way of Jesus, must not be normative for how we as Christians see God or treat others. This raises the question of how then such texts can be considered part of our sacred biblical canon. In this final installment I will explore the different ways Boyd and I address this question.



Boyd’s “Magic Eye” Approach

Boyd begins with the assumption that “Jesus taught that all Scripture is inspired for the purpose of bearing witness to him.” Now, one could certainly debate whether Jesus actually ever said that “all Scripture is inspired for the purpose of bearing witness to him.” As you may have noticed, two separate verses are being welded together here. On the one hand is 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” and on the other is Jesus’ declaration that “You search the Scriptures... and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39 ESV). So Jesus did not actually say “All Scripture (i.e. every verse)... bear witness” but rather “the Scriptures (ho graphe)... bear witness.” As The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states, the Greek graphe can and often does refer to individual passages in the Gospels, but it further notes that this meaning is “highly debatable” in the case of John’s Gospel where it may equally “be a reference to Scripture as a whole” (TDNT 1:752).

One can therefore legitimately ask whether Jesus is in fact saying that every single verse—including the ones about genocide and cannibalism—point to him (which seems to be quite a stretch). Is Jesus perhaps saying instead that Scripture as a whole—when we learn to read it like Jesus did—points us to him? This is would be how I would understand Jesus' statement. Boyd however seems to be convinced  Jesus is saying every verse refers to him. This is quite significant because Boyd appears to hang his entire theory on this (highly debatable) assumption,
Since Jesus taught that all Scripture is inspired for the purpose of bearing witness to him, I submit that we should not be trying to discern if a passage is inspired, we should be trying to discern how a passage is inspired to serve this function. The question I believe we ought to be wrestling with is this: How do portraits depicting God commanding genocide (Deut 7:2; 20:16-8), causing parents to cannibalize their children (Lev 26:29; Jer 19:9; Lam 2:20), or engaging in any number of other macabre acts, bear witness to the non-violent, self-sacrificial, enemy loving God revealed in Jesus?” (emphasis added)

As Boyd says, “It is admittedly not obvious how morally repugnant portraits of God such as those that depict Yahweh commanding the merciless slaughter of women and children could possibly bear witness to Christ.” In order to do this, Boyd looks to the “ugliness” of the cross,
“I asked myself the question: How does the cross function as the definitive revelation of God? Looking at it with the natural eye (in a first century Jewish context), there is nothing to suggest that this guilty-appearing, God-forsaken, crucified criminal is the definitive revelation of God. This crucified criminal can only be understood to be the definitive revelation of God when we by faith discern what else is going on behind this appearance. And what faith sees going on behind this horrific appearance is a God of unfathomable love stooping an infinite distance to become our sin and our curse and to thereby take on a hideous appearance that mirrors our sin and our curse.”

From this Boyd proposes that, just as we see God revealed in the ugliness of the cross, so too we can see this in OT passages such as those where God is said to command or commit horrendous acts of violence,

"We must by faith look past the ugly, sin-mirroring surface to behold the beauty of the divine revelation, for the revelation is not located on the surface appearance, but in God’s loving condescension to assume this appearance."
A major difficulty I see here with Boyd’s proposal is that there is a world of difference between being a victim of violence, and being the perpetrator of violence. Seeing a murder victim can be said to be “ugly,” and a murderer can be said to be “ugly” as well, but in profoundly different ways. 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 opposites. 


I submit that part of the problem here is coming from a misunderstanding of how the cross functions.[*] A better understanding of the cross—one we find reflected both in the Gospels and in Paul’s epistles—shows how Jesus on the cross is condemned by the authority and powers that be, and those powers are thus unveiled as unjust. How does this work? The Gospels continually stress that Jesus was sinless, innocent, blameless.  It is by recognizing God incarnate upon the cross (i.e. recognizing that the one who is condemned is innocent and holy— that we see the reversal, where the powers (what we had esteemed as good and right) are unmasked and stand condemned. Thus Paul can exclaim, “Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15 NET). The unjust suffering of the righteous servant (Isa 53) exposes the world’s false conceptions of power and violence. We thought he was stricken by God, but it was we who were guilty. The cross exposes the lie of violence committed in God's name. That includes those false conceptions of power and violence where we find them upheld in the Old Testament.

To say that God in Jesus assumed the role of the victim, of the condemned, of the afflicted is vastly different from saying that God in the Old Testament genocide accounts is “condescending to assume the appearance” of the warlord, the killer, the perpetrator. As it stands, I don't understand how that would point us to Christ, rather than pointing us away from Christ.

Now, I should note that Boyd does not appear to think that God actually committed or commanded these heinous acts. In Benefit of the Doubt he writes, “I can’t for a moment imagine Jesus ... commanding anyone to mercilessly slaughter anyone.” The question Boyd therfore instead asks is, “why God would stoop to appear to act in certain ways that reflect a character that is very different from his true character, revealed in Christ.”

Indeed. As I noted above, the question for me is: If God were to do this, how would this point us to Christ? How would God being falsely portrayed in a way that is not Christlike point us to Christ? After all, God is not seen in the Roman soldiers who beat Jesus, God is seen in Jesus, the victim of that beating.

There are also other questions currently left unanswered in Boyd's proposal. If God did not actually do this, who did? Did it happen at all? Most importantly, if God did not command killing, but purposely let people think he had commanded the killing, how is that not morally irresponsible?

Perhaps such questions are worked out in his forthcoming book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, but as it stands these are some of the difficulties I see with Boyd's proposal.


First Things First

The answer, I propose, is neither to justify these acts as good, nor is it to say that the text is not saying what it says. Instead, I insist that we need to face these morally troubling passages for what they are. Not tossing them out, but looking at them in all of their ugliness, with our eyes wide open.

While we may go to a second reading as Boyd proposes, we need to begin with a first reading; and on that first reading (i.e. reading the texts for what they actually say, and in the way their authors intended them to be understood), the genocide accounts are exactly what they seem to be—texts promoting genocide in God’s name. They are not about love of enemies, they are about mercilessly slaughtering enemies. Genocide is immoral and wrong. If we are to have a redemptive reading, as Boyd proposes, we must begin by first facing these texts for what they are.

This is not simply a problem of our mistaken interpretations, but the reality of moral problems inherent in the texts themselves. Those problems are real, and we dare not deny them. To read a text purposely in a way that runs counter to how it was intended is not to read the text “correctly” (as if it were somehow incorrect to interpret something as it was intended). It is to read in protest against the text. It is to undo it, subvert it—or more positively we might say convert it to Christ.

In Disarming Scripture I offer several examples of how Paul takes Old Testament passages that promote hatred of enemy gentiles, editing them by omitting the violent parts, so they instead promote God's love towards those same enemy gentiles. Since Paul was very familiar with the Scriptures, and in the past had likely employed those same violent texts to justify his violent persecution of the church, I argue that Paul is intentionally misquoting these texts. He is subverting them, disarming them, converting them.

In many ways Boyd's approach is similar to Paul's. Both intentionally read the text in a way that is counter to the authorial intent in order to promote the gospel and Christ's way of enemy love. So seeing that, I am genuinely thankful for people like Boyd who are trying to find creative ways to approach these texts coupled with a commitment to Jesus’ way of enemy love. I fully support such redemptive readings.

However, if we are able to redeem parts of the Bible showing how they point to Christ I must insist that this cannot mean that we deny the very real problems inherent in these biblical texts. We need to face this reality of our own sacred texts we need to own it, admit it as ours. We need to begin by taking a hard look at the sin that is mirrored in these texts, and then, and only then, can we move from there to look for a redemptive reading just as we must first face our sin before we can move to redeem it. That sounds to me like a gospel approach.


The Multi-vocal Old Testament

So how do I understand the Old Testament to function as part of our sacred canon despite the fact that it contains much that we would consider to be profoundly immoral and wrong?

As I illustrate in Disarming Scripture, drawing from the work of Walter Brueggemann, the reality is that the Old Testament is multi-vocal. That is, it does not contain one view of God, one view of what morality looks like, but instead is made up of multiple authors voicing multiple conflicting visions of who God is, and how we should love. Some depictions of God in the Old Testament are focused on love and compassion. Others focus on the opposite. That is simply the reality of the Bible we have. The Old Testament is multi-vocal.

Reading as Christians, the key to knowing which of these to embrace (ie. which should shape how we see God and treat others, and which should not) is in understanding which ones Jesus embraced, and which he repudiated. As I detail in Disarming Scripture, looking at how Jesus read the Hebrew Scriptures, we can observe that he embraces the understanding of God found in the Old Testament characterized by compassion, and rejects depictions that instead promote harm and hate. Jesus reads the multi-vocal Old Testament and identifies with and embraces certain voices, while repudiating others.

Now, this raises the question: If there are things in the Old Testament that we must reject, how can it be said to be inspired? The Old Testament is clearly not "inspired" in the sense of being a book that we can pick up, flip to any page, and apply what it says to how we see God or treat others. Because it is multi-vocal it must be read with discernment, knowing what to embrace and what not to. Our model in this, as I said above, is looking at how Jesus read Scripture, and learning to see what he sees.

What I affirm is that the Hebrew canon as a whole is inspired in that we can read it in a way that we recognize it pointing us to Jesus. The Hebrew canon as a whole, through the very process of dispute, takes us on a journey (albeit along a rocky road with ups and downs) of a people discovering who God is. That journey culminates in Jesus.

Through faith we can recognize God working in all of this, behind the scenes and between the lines. Through faith we can witness that God is present in the middle of our human wretchedness, working through the disputes, contradictions, and many wrong and hurtful understandings of a primitive people that we see cataloged in the many books of the Old Testament. Through faith we can recognize how God raises up the voices of the marginalized and victimized are extraordinarily included as part of the Hebrew canon, giving them a voice of protest alongside the voices of power. Through faith we can see how God is gradually guiding us towards Jesus. We can find God in the Old Testament in the same way we see God in our own lives—a treasure contained in a jar of clay, a flower (Isaiah would say a wild and beautiful weed) growing out of the dirt.

This is a way of understanding the Old Testament as inspired that is rooted in God rather than in a book, and which does not require us to deny the very real problems of violence that we find in the Hebrew Scriptures.


Conclusion

In the end, while there are some difficulties I see currently with his proposal, I am confident that Boyd can address these, and I applaud his desire to redeem texts, just as Christ redeems us. As I mention above, Paul does something very similar, so Boyd is in some very good company! I hope I have also shown that, rather than being in conflict, our two approaches can work together, and indeed are needed parts of the whole, allowing us to read scripture in honest and morally responsible ways.

UPDATE: The conversation continues! Greg responded to these three posts, with another two-part response  (part1 and part2). I then respond to that here in a post I titled: An Orthodoxy For All of Us Non-Purebred Mutts: More Dialog with Greg Boyd. Also related, I further elaborate how I understand inspiration and infallibility here.





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FOOTNOTES

[*] Boyd’s above understanding of the cross seems akin to a view of the atonement that is known as “penal substitution,” which as I argue in Healing the Gospel represents a misunderstanding of how the cross functions. This misunderstanding results in justifying retributive violence, rather than unmasking it, and is therefore incompatible with the commitment to nonviolence that both Boyd and I share.

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34 Comments:

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Jeremiah said...

I'm pretty sure Greg Boyd does not ascribe to penal substitution... I recall a YouTube video he posted on his channel addressing that and instead talking about Christus Victor as his primary view on the atonement. Furthermore, Boyd's theology would be vastly different (I feel) if he did ascribe wholly or primarily to penal substitution. Perhaps I am wrong, but that is the distinct impression I got/get from Boyd's writings and his videos addressing the matter.

 
At 10:58 AM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

Bravo!

My faith in your work has been solidified.

I like your approach the best.

Thank you fir equipping us to better read the scriptures.

 
At 10:58 AM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

Bravo!

My faith in your work has been solidified.

I like your approach the best.

Thank you fir equipping us to better read the scriptures.

 
At 2:01 PM, Blogger Mike H. said...

Again Derrick, well said. It’s helpful to see approaches contrasted. Each has it’s challenges. Honestly, ALL approaches have their own challenges.

One approach (call it Boyd’s) will look at violent “texts of terror” and say that a face value reading cannot be right. This is because 1)Jesus is non-violent but 2)Jesus confirmed the infallibility of the entire Bible and therefore 3)these texts must have another explanation that can be “redeemed” to prop up that infallibility. Note the foundational presuppositions. And also, note that picking and choosing IS happening – but it takes the form of “reinterpreting” texts for the sake of preserving “infallibility” and/or verbal plenary inspiration. Effectively though, the “plain meaning is thrown out”. One never needs to truly face what is really there in the text because we find sophisticated scholarly ways to ignore it. One person may “reinterpet” away violence or find a way to justify it. Others focus on the violence and “reinterpret” away God’s mercy or any statements that might suggest that God loves all people, not just “all kinds”, etc. Ultimately it allows us to say – “See, the text was right all along!” I find that such approaches, while well-intended, ultimately prove to be untenable. There is plenty of picking and choosing and effectively “throwing out texts” going on , it’s just not so obvious (to some). But nearly all Christians would agree that Jesus is the starting point of this (often unacknowledged) picking and choosing.

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Mike H. said...

A 2nd approach (call it Flood’s) will likewise look at violent “texts of terror” and say that a face value reading can’t be right. This is because 1)Jesus is non-violent….according to the Bible (is there a circular problem going on?). There is no need to “throw out” verses that say otherwise, but neither is there a need to creatively “redeem” them into saying something that they don’t. These verses can be what they are. These verses don’t need to be redeemed and they don’t need to be cut out of the Bible with scissors (“thrown out”), they instead need to be subverted. Honestly, this subversion, particularly to those that Paul and Jesus may have encountered, would be VERY difficult to do – it amounted to questioning their hearers very deepest convictions and expectations. Note that this also involves picking and choosing. The difference is, this approach doesn’t look for some hidden meaning or dispensation of how the texts were right all along. This approach can instead say, in light of the revelation of Christ this text is not right – the text is subverted/repudiated. Again, nearly all would agree that Jesus is the starting point here, just like the above approach.

For me, it really comes down to this. In one approach, (historical considerations aside) it’s held that God really did tell people to commit genocide (it’s the literal Word of God), so we just have to creatively say how it’s loving or part of some other dispensation (we need to redeem it) and/or find a way to let it stand. In the other, could it be said that they THOUGHT that God wanted them to commit genocide? I get why people bristle at the 2nd option because it can turn into a slippery slope and the perception is that the entire faith would crumble because infallibility is a necessity (though the 1st option is just as slippery – a little “historical context” can go a long way after all). Either way there are challenges. With #1, interpretations to hold it all together get VERY creative, but at least there is a concrete starting point (the Bible). With #2, it casts a shadow over what is “infallible” and what is perception (even though #1 does this too – the shadows are just creatively interpreted away). With #2, you also see the Bible itself model ways in which faulty beliefs about God and life are addressed and subverted – very important IMO. None of us come into life with an “infallible” foundation after all. The question for me is, how do we approach the text honestly for what it is?

 
At 3:43 PM, Blogger Richard Sciarappa said...

Love your book, Derek. It blew my mind, in a non-violent way. I dig Greg too, especially his open views of future, however I couldn't follow him into the magic eye. I mean, when gazing at the image of a mother cannibalizing her child, what image could pop up that would make it Christ. Especially when God's decrees these tragedies for his glory. It makes me thinks of Piper's hidden smile of God in tragedy and I never thought I would see the day where I could link Boyd and Piper. But both are saying we can find Christ in the terrible decrees . Does God use these terrible portraits of himself to drive people to the cross? Fear or love?

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger Brad said...

You are correct. But Derek's point was Boyd's argument wasn't based on unmasking powers but appealed to themes consistent with penal substitution. Strange for Boyd huh?

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Brad said...

Mike put into words what I so appreciate about your approach Derrick. Conservatives try to reinterpret the text away, Liberals dismiss it and put labels on it. Neither is willing to see it as it is.

Derek, your approach, seems more honest. I am much more conservative similar to Boyd but I hope his 1200 page mammoth book doesn't miss the mark by reinterpreting away the violence in the text.

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger Brad said...

Mike, I really appreciated your ability to boil things down. Thanks for sharing.

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger Brad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Jeremiah,
I was able to clarify with Boyd that he does not believe in penal substitution. He acknowledged that what he had said was ambiguous, so it is good to have that clarified.

This however does not change my larger point that a victim and perpetrator are not the same.

 
At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

thanks Juan :)

 
At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Mike,

"And also, note that picking and choosing IS happening"

This is an important observation. The question is not IF we should pick and choose, but since we all pick and choose, the question is how we can do this well.

I appreciate Boyd's desire to adopt a "cruciform" approach, but the reason I did not is that I find it all too easy to simply project one's own views on to that (which is why we have people for and against violence BOTH claiming to do so because of Jesus). So I try to develop an approach that echos the approach of Jesus in content, but can stand on its own merit (which I think Jesus would support FWIW).

 
At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Mike,

perhaps a minor point but,

" 2nd approach (call it Flood’s) will likewise look at violent “texts of terror” and say that a face value reading can’t be right. This is because 1)Jesus is non-violent….according to the Bible (is there a circular problem going on?). "

I don't think it's "because Jesus is nonviolent" since this would be an argument based on authority (do it cuz Jesus does). I reject all arguments based on authority.

Rather, I am convinced that nonviolence is good based on observing that it is good. So it is based on merit. I recognize it as good, and then recognize that Jesus is tremendously insightful and helpful to me as I see to pursue and live out the way of enemy love. Learning by doing.

Looking back, perhaps the way I got to that is I experienced Jesus as loving, this resulted in trust, then when Jesus said love enemies I trusted and tried it, then I saw that it was good and pursued it more, growing in it and learning how it works more deeply.

 
At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Richard! I suppose it's okay to say the book "blew your mind" since I put a big bomb on the cover ;)

 
At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

thanks Brad :)

 
At 4:36 AM, Blogger Mike H. said...

Good point.

Wasn't trying to make it sound arbitrary. I was trying to show how and where (the way I'm reading it from the review and response) the two approaches differ, even though they (can) have though they both agree that Jesus is not violent.

 
At 9:37 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Beautiful rebuke of Boyd's Cruciform Hermeneutic. The Cruciform Hermeneutic is an affirmation of penal substutionary atonement...Brilliant! And the Cruciform Hermeneutic is an affirmation of the abuser rather than the victim...Does that curtail enemy love?

 
At 10:31 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

If the Bible is moral than it will side with the victim. But enemy-love is the wild-card. What is moral in regards to enemy-love. All things go out the window. Unless enemy-love is the morality. It is the standard. Then all wisdom flows from that.

 
At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joel,

I'd say that both the way of retaliation and the way of enemy love both side with the victim, but the difference is that in retaliation the victim becomes the perpetrator in retaliating (often escalating the brutality even). Enemy love is thus about not becoming what we hate, about not mirroring evil. It stops the cycle of retaliation, and instead works towards reconciliation and ending hurt.

 
At 1:25 PM, Blogger Nathan Patterson said...

Derek,

Thanks for the interaction with Boyd. I own your book, but have yet to read it, and I'm a big fan of Boyd's view, and really felt compelled to read your book finally (making time is always an issue for me) after reading the conversations that you and Boyd have been having concerning your views the last couple of days.

I've always had a question in the back of my mind before even hearing about either of these views that went something like this: "What if the Old Testament writers got God wrong? What if that was also one of the reasons that Jesus came in the flesh? Jesus is basically saying 'Hey guys, you got me, God, all wrong, THIS IS WHAT I AM LIKE.'"

Just a thought. Look forward to digging in, be blessed brother!

 
At 5:48 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Thanks Derek for the comment! Very logical. You got a gift for teaching.

 
At 12:45 AM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

I mean you already knew that. I'm just reminding you. lol. Have a good day.

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Derek, I'm trying to email you via a couple of the email access points on your site here. None of them seem to work, and derek@therebelgod.com gets sent back undeliverable. Didn't know if you were aware of this.

Tom

 
At 6:05 PM, Blogger John B. Eppler said...

I want to believe your view of God's character but I am only a simple minded old retired charter-boat captain. I still don't understand how to reconcile the 5 red letters in Matthew that insist that the majority of mankind, when it is all said and done, will not only be disapproved (IE) but also will suffer weeping and gnashing of teeth. Without displaying a cruel and harsh nature in the Old Testament, how could we believe referring to such a harsh and cruel judgment to come? It was Jesus that gave the warning that God the Father is not beyond such retributive violent justice? Please help me out here..

 
At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Tom, I just checked and the email is working fine. Maybe it was a glitch. Please try again.

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Joel :)

 
At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

John, have you read this? http://therebelgod.com/HellPaper.pdf

 
At 7:50 PM, Blogger John B. Eppler said...

I have not read it but I will...thankyou

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Christine Smith said...

sorry if double-posted, not sure it went through the first time.

Two things.
First, thank you so much for your thoughtful response and critique without descending into mud-slinging, character assassination and name-calling. I am always grateful to read a thoughtful debate that doesn't make me feel like I need a bath afterward.

Second, on matters of faith, particularly how you stated it near the end of this post in this series as well as your position on in the book. I wish that you would have given more emphasis on how God himself, through the Holy Spirit helps us discern what truly points us to Jesus and what doesn't. Look at how beautifully this section would read if faith were replaced with the Holy Spirit, so that we are relying on Him to reveal Himself in a way that we can individually understand.

Through the Holy Spirit we can recognize God working in all of this, behind the scenes and between the lines. Through the Holy Spirit we can witness that God is present in the middle of our human wretchedness, working through the disputes, contradictions, and many wrong and hurtful understandings of a primitive people that we see cataloged in the many books of the Old Testament. Through the Holy Spirit we can recognize how God raises up the voices of the marginalized and victimized are extraordinarily included as part of the Hebrew canon, giving them a voice of protest alongside the voices of power. Through the Holy Spirit we can see how God is gradually guiding us towards Jesus. We can find God in the Old Testament in the same way we see God in our own lives—a treasure contained in a jar of clay, a flower (Isaiah would say a wild and beautiful weed) growing out of the dirt.

I am proposing this and pointing this out because this has been a large part of my own formation and ability to muddle through the OT violent portraits. I have asked for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to really let me see God in these scenes and He has showed up with divine revelation and insight that very often is mirrored and echoed in what great scholars and theologians spend their full time job mining out of the texts. I believe that God WANTS us to see Him more clearly. Why would He not? In my experience, it is unlike God to leave us to muddle through on our own when I have earnestly and humbly (this was hard) sought Him for wisdom, at the same time dropping my agenda and waiting openly and expectantly for what He has for me.

I get that scholars and academics aren't about seeking the Holy Spirit for inspiration. That's not part of the academic system. But since you made it clear that this book was for lay people and that it has a pastoral intent, I would have liked to see more emphasis on the Spirit and His role of leading us and guiding us into the truth that is often hidden with a plain reading.

Keep up the good work, Derek. You have added a ton to the conversation and demonstrated how to disagree with grace and humility.

 
At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Christine,
First of all, I appreciate you wanting to take this further. I see my book by no means as the "final word" but rather as hopefully the start of a conversation. So I'm glad to have people continue to develop and think through the ideas!

I also as a Charismatic very much relate to your focus on the Spirit. That's why I stress that the way we understand inspiration (which means in-Spirit-ed) cannot be separated from a living encounter with the Spirit. We need to read with the Spirit to read right, and that Hold Spirit is the Spirit of love (God is love), and more specifically, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, so it's Jesus-shaped love.

My caution is that I know it is all to easy for us to claim the Holy Spirit's leading even tho we are wrong. I saw this all the time in the Charismatic movement. Likewise, it is really easy for us all to claim as Christians that we are using a "Christocentric" method since we all want to claim Jesus. But there are lots of folks who claim that, but advocate totally different things. So because of that, I wanted to try to articulate a way to evaluate our readings that functioned practically, and what I recognized is that simply trying to listen to the Spirit did not guarantee that we would not get things really wrong. So I instead sought to offer some practical criteria we could use to help us evaluate whether our interpretations were hurtful or life-giving based on observing their effects in people's lives. At the same time I certainly agree that we should have an open and teachable heart that is attentive to the Spirit's guiding as we read.

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger Christine Smith said...

Thank you for your response, Derek. I completely understand your cautions about people claiming to have heard from the Spirit and being wrong. I have been mistaken myself as I was learning to listen to the Spirit's leading. But on the other hand, some *practical* criteria that we can may want to lean on can let us down, too. I know you talk in your book about how modern mental health professionals now recognize the damaging parenting styles that may be portrayed as "biblical." However, it is just not that long ago that the medical profession was OK with and in some cases endorsed spanking. It was only in the last century that corporal punishment was removed from schools. It was not that long ago that medical conditions such as PMS or even IBS were thought to be all in a patient's head. I have personally been treated as a hysterical pregnant woman because of the intense pain that 2 doctors could not find the source of. (It ended up being a benign tumor on my pancreas about the size of a golf ball). Over 22 years of parenting, I have seen the "professionals" flip flop on everything from the best way to feed a baby to how many and how often they should be immunized. Look at the division in the medical community on topics such as the origins of autism or certain types of mental health conditions or what causes obesity or the role of diet in health. You can easily find extremely educated people staking out their turf on a topic with absolutely religious fervor and an equally educated professional staking out the exact opposite claim. So I don't think we can *totally* lean on practical ways of interpretation in order to avoid being wrong, just as you said we may not be able to solely rely on the Holy Spirit in order to avoid being wrong.

I have learned to get a little more comfortable with the *possibility* of being wrong and placing my first and best trust and faith in the Holy Spirit to instruct me when I do veer off. The professionals are a lot less concerned with the specific direction that I personally need to be a better parent or fulfilling the calling that God has for me. Getting over having what may almost look like a formula for interpretation (I find most "practical" ideas follow a set format) and being open to what the Holy Spirit says *can* be risky. Big time. This is why community is important and accountability as well. That way if I come up with something like "God told me to leave my husband and go form a commune somewhere in the desert" I have people in my life that will say, "hold on there, chickie" In our extremely individualistic society, where people don't often want to share their "stuff," this can be a tough road.

I think that you may likely agree with what I am saying it is probably a simply matter of degrees of emphasis. Again, I want to thank you for your reply, your book and your passion for the non-violent way of Jesus.

 
At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Christine,
I completely agree. I think this opens up some really interesting stuff, so my plan is to make this all into a blog post of it's own for next week where we can continue to discuss this.

 
At 5:41 AM, Blogger Christine Smith said...

yes, I will look forward to that :)

 

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