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 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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At 7:49 AM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

I'm reading at about the same pace as you and appreciate your running commentary. I come from an ELCA background and am a current follower of Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory. So your comments about his beefs with Evangelicalism are helpful; I didn't pick-up on that. But from my background his approach to the inspiration of all of Scripture as "God-breathed" is strange to me. I'm looking forward to chapter 9 on the synthesis approach to the problem. I might be more in that camp. I did like Boyd's emphasis on covenant, which is also big for me. My primary way of dealing with these issues is to say that God has covenanted with humankind to be on a journey to discover what it means to be human and live into that. In Christ we learn that part of our original disobedience has been to worship false gods of violence. My approach is more anthropological; Boyd's is theological.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Derek. All my time with your work... along with Greg, Brueggeman, Brian Zahnds preaching, Haueweras,etc has gotten me to the point where this is no longer new to me (as of about 4 years ago) but, as a pastor, still no less profound. Your voices are leading the way for a new movement and people are listening. Thanks for this commentary (or whatever you want to call it). I hope to get around to reading the books soon but it might be awhile.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger marieldanielle said...

I have been interested in reading this book, thank you for taking the time to pre-read it for us and share some of the key ideas! I am very curious to see how he develops his argument throughout the work. One of my biggest theological dilemmas is how to hold my profound conviction that the God revealed in Jesus is the true Image of the Father, while also respecting and holding OT texts as inspired.

This distinction is coming more and more into focus for me, as I am starting my Master's at Fuller Seminary this fall, which states they hold the Scriptures as "infallible." I am not well-versed on the difference between inerrant, inspired, infallible, etc... and am starting to realize how much those terms really mean to people. I would really appreciate any insights you might be able to share from your own journey!!

I appreciate your insight on all of these matters and I hope you know how inspirational your writings are to me!! Keep it up, I am soaking it all in!


At 2:01 PM, Blogger lewie spearman said...

I will have to check out this series you are into. Thanks for your thoughts and quotes you posted here.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Clay Feet said...

These views are no longer new to me, but I came to them from a little different direction. I felt compelled for two years to study through the Bible listening for what the Spirit was urging me to discover. After settling firmly in my mind that this view (especially the truth about hell, as you later helped solidify for me - thank-you) was heaven's perspective, only then did I begin to discover others sharing these things such as you and Greg.
I now am sharing them myself and my passion for doing so keep increasing as the light just keeps getting brighter and more and more people join the movement. I am convinced that this movement is represented by the angel of Revelation 18 who fills the entire planet with the true glory of God - the truth about Him Jesus originally brought but was masked over with myriads of confusing lies by religion.
As far as the infallibility of Scripture goes, there is no support in Scripture for this tradition; it is purely traditions of men being pawned as commandments of God. Inspiration is far different than infallibility. Only God/Jesus/Spirit are infallible - everyone else at best can only be inspired. But people want to bolster their opinions about Scripture by insisting on this, and often that requires a specific translation as well to keep their favorite doctrines in tack.
Thanks for sharing this, I was really hoping someone would do something like this since it is nearly impossible for me to read that much in any decent amount of time. But I love hearing people who are digging into these truths as it lights a holy fire that cannot be quenched in our time.

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Derek. Having recently read and reviewed Boyd's book, I'm really interested to hear how others respond to it.

I agree with you that Boyd's bold starting position is refreshing and invigorating. While I tend to part ways with him later, his comprehensive and scholarly argument for the supremacy of Christ crucified as the revelation of God par excellence is almost worth the price of the book.

(If I may be so bold, the first part of my review can be found here, and readers can link from there to parts 2 and 3:

At 6:39 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

let me make Rob's link clickable:

At 6:46 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks, Derek.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Following along, Derek. Just finished vol 2 yesterday. Putting together my thoughts for a review - but busy moving from MN to CA right now.

There is much to agree with - not surprising for 2 vols and 1,400 pages. But I have a couple of deep disagreements with Greg's Christology that affect how things get applied.

I got all I needed from vol. 1 in Part 3 (chs 10-12 that spell out the Cruciform Hermeneutic). Parts 1 and 2 are all preparation for that. And if you're already on board with "God is love" means God is non-violent (which Parts 1 and 2 defend), then you can basically move straight to Part 3.

Even when I disagree fundamentally with Greg, I still come away better, having thought through my position in fresh ways.

Congrats on your mention in vol. 1. He brings you up. :D


At 8:07 AM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

Working Question as I read Boyd's The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: if the Christian revelation is so decisive for theology, then why have our theologies continued to relapse into violence? Working answer: It's because we've never before been able to fully appreciate the decisiveness of its anthropological revelation. Today, the advent of anthropology as a science gives us a more firm foundation for understanding the anthropology behind our false theologies, a foundation that can more fully act as a firewall to fake theological interpretations. Boyd gives us a foundational theology of the loving, nonviolent God of Jesus. But this can only remain firmly in place if there is a priority on the Anthropological Interpretation of Scripture through Christ, guided by Mimetic Theory's linking of revelation and science.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Mariel,

I discuss the differences between infallible, inerrant, and inspired in the last chapter of Disarming Scripture. Basically I understand inspiration to be something that must involve both us and God's participation, rather than something that happens independent of God or us, as if a book was somehow magic. Rather is is a sacrament that can be used by the Spirit when our hearts are open in order to lead us to Christ and Christlikeness.

I find Greg's view of both infallibility and inspiration to be somewhat nebulous, so I'm unsure how to characterize it. One would think with his charismatic orientation that he would likewise take a view of the Spirit's active roll in the in-Spirit-ation of Scripture, but I have not seen any evidence of this in his writing.

At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


"Only God/Jesus/Spirit are infallible - everyone else at best can only be inspired."

Yes I agree.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Rob, that's a great review. I found your assessment insightful, and once I get to that point in Greg's book, I want to return to it to see where I land. But from what I can see, I tend very much to agree with you.

At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


"I got all I needed from vol. 1 in Part 3 (chs 10-12 that spell out the Cruciform Hermeneutic). Parts 1 and 2 are all preparation for that. And if you're already on board with "God is love" means God is non-violent (which Parts 1 and 2 defend), then you can basically move straight to Part 3."

LOL, I am only almost through part 2 now. Looks like you are a faster reader than me :)

May I ask where you are moving in California? (I'm also there).

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I'm intrigued to hear more about "a priority on the Anthropological Interpretation of Scripture through Christ, guided by Mimetic Theory's linking of revelation and science." Can you elaborate? I've read most of Girard's work, but am not familiar with the Anthropological Interpretation of Scripture per se. Are there particular books or authors who have shaped this view for you beyond Girard?

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joshua, Lewie, thanks for the encouragement :)

At 5:02 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I haven't read Gregs book, but I'm quite familiar with the dilemma of wrestling with the OT and Christology. One question I can't get away from is this: could Israel have formed as a nation in a particular land without violence? My current answer So yes, the violence in the OT poses a theological, and therefore hermeneutical, dilemma, but it's kind of hard to imagine how Jesus could have arrived the way he did, and had the impact that he has, without the formation of historical Israel, in a historical land, in the midst of historical realities of violent people groups who were hostile to God and people, even people from their own city/clan/tribe etc. I think our safe and secure location in the United States, sheltered as we are from violent invasions (for the most part) shapes our approach to this topic.

At 7:52 AM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

Derek, my reference to anthropological interpretation is more generally to the entire corpus of folks who work with Girard's theory for interpreting Scripture. The largest source for such readings is probably my website, "Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary" ( Another good source for interpreting Scripture according to MT is Michael Hardin (

My basic point is that an anthropological understanding of how the human experience of transcendence works gives us insight into our tendency to create violent gods in our image. I believe that the persistence of violent portraits of God will not go away armed with theology only. Anthropology is the key because it gives us a knowledge-base about how our theologies come about. It gives us the key to discerning true and false theologies on the basis of understanding how the human endeavor of theology works.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

Derek, one more suggestion of someone you might not have read yet. The late Raymund Schwager, an Austrian Jesuit theologian, read Girard's Violence and the Sacred when it was published in 1972 and immediately recognized it's value for an anthropological reading of Scripture. He wrote Must There Be Scapegoats? in 1978, one of the earliest applications of MT to Scripture, including even Girard himself. Then, Schwager brought together one of Boyd's favorites, Balthasar, with Girard in a major work of theology: Jesus in the Drama of Salvation. I recommend these two books by Schwager as ways of dealing with the violent portraits of God more effectively than what I've seen thus far in Boyd. (I still prefer your book Disarming Scripture, as far as that goes!)

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

Quick addition to my recommendation of Schwager. I'm outlining Boyd's book and notice in Ch. 16, a section titled "The Aikido-Like Response to Sin and Evil" (pp. 838ff.), that Schwager figures heavily in this section.

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


"I think our safe and secure location in the United States, sheltered as we are from violent invasions (for the most part) shapes our approach to this topic."

One reading strategy that I have found profitable is to read a text from the perspective of the victim. For example reading the text of Joshua from the perspective of the Canaanite children. This helps get us out of the "sheltered" view you note above. Along these lines I mention Dora Mbuwayesango in the above blog post. She writes from the perspective of an African reading of Joshua. As I'm sure you know, Africa has experienced modern day genocide, committed with an appeal to these OT text to justify the genocidal killing. As you can imagine, to a person coming from that context, seeing how these texts are being used to commit genocide in your own land today, has a profound impact on how those texts are read.

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I have learned a lot from Girard. I have read almost all of his books. However, I think it is significant that Girard himself says that his MT off an anthropology of the cross (gospel) not a theology. Also, if i remember correctly, he qualifies MT as a metaphysical approach. It is definitely insightful, but MT does not account for the ontological nature of evil within human nature. In that sense, it is inadequate as a model for understanding the atonement, and therefore the gospel. Still useful, but ultimately insufficient.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Hey Derek, thanks for your reply. I agree that trying to read a text from the standpoint of the victim of crucial. And the point about how Joshua has/can be used to justify genocide is certainly a tragedy. However, wouldn't Israel be a victim in the story? Starting with Joseph in Genesis, on through to the Exodus narrative? Also, what about the victims of child sacrifice within those people groups who occupied the land before Israel entered the land? Also, what about Israel being a potential victim of those people groups in the future via military federations to destroy Israel? This, in fact, is what we see taking place through the Philistines and Goliath. I think there are a lot of historical realities that have to be factored in to the equation. Cause and effect realities that are determinants in why God chose to take the strategy he did via the conquest. For example, once Israel was liberated from slavery, where would they go? What land would they occupy? How would that land and it's location serve God's purpose of making Israel a light to the nation's? These are all practical, logistical realities that present historical contingencies. One if the practices I engage in when scripture is imagining of I were God, how would I gave done it differently? What would the story have looked like of I were directing it? Where would I have led Israel to? Why? How? It would be interesting to hear you're perspective on how you would have led the people of Israel out if bondage and created a nation out of them within the historical options available at that time. Catch my drift? It's a good exercise to participate in because it forces us to process things from Gods perspective, and to see his wisdom.

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


Yes Schwager's MTB Scapegoats was quite influential in Disarming Scripture! My copy has lots and lots of highlights. I've also read Von Balthasar, but was not familiar with Schwager's Jesus in the Drama of Salvation so I'll have to give that a read.

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


If God is revealed in Christ, then we do not put ourselves in God's place when we imagine him to be like some military king planning how to lead a nation/army. That's putting ourselves in the place of a Zeus.

If God is revealed in Christ, we put ourselves in the place of God when we imagine things from the perspective of the powerless, the damned, the forgotten.

At 3:24 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for your kind words about my review, Derek.

At 3:40 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Hey Derek,

I think I know where you are coming from with your reply. However, Christ is a Jew who was born from the tribe of Judah...Israel. According to the narrative, and logically speaking, history itself, there would be no Jesus Christ without Israel. So I think the exercise I propose is just as valid and legitimate as the exercise you propose. Again, of you were God, how would you have liberated a large group of people from Egyptian slavery, and then established them as a nation? Where would you have led them? What would have been a better strategy? It seems you are proposing a better narrative could have taken place. I'm just curious what that narrative would have looked like to you? Especially since Israel was a victim of Egyptian oppression. How would the God revealed in Christ have liberated the Hebrew victims and established them as a nation?

At 7:15 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Well, how did God free his people from oppression under Rome? What did that messiah do? The people at the time, doing basically the same exercise you are trying to do, imagined that the messiah would be a warrior-king who would use the sword to liberate them. That is not what God in Christ did. The people also imagined that he would be establishing the Jewish nation. However, Jesus revealed that membership in his kingdom was not based on race or nationality but on how we reflect his values of caring for others and showing forgiveness.

I do not think I would have been able to guess that kind of kingdom or way of liberation before Jesus, but now that Jesus has come and I understand him as Lord, that is the way I imagine God would always act. A God who would act otherwise is a god made in the image of man. I believe in God in the image of Christ. I believe in his kingdom.

So my answer is, I would come and die for them on a cross. That's a better narrative. That's why it's called "good news."

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

Tim, I'm committed to studying Boyd's landmark book to test my thesis that inverts the view of Girard's MT as being "insufficient." There's truth to that, certainly; his anthropology does ultimately need a corresponding theology. But primary for me is the inversion of your point: all theology is ultimately insufficient without a cross-centered anthropology like Girard's. Without beginning with a better understanding of the anthropological revelation of the cross, human theology always relapses back into the theology of our evolution that includes violent portraits of God. The cross is God's establishing a point of re-evolution of human theology that can only ultimately take hold as anthropological knowledge of our evolution and re-evolution are revealed. Anthropological revelation takes priority over theological -- otherwise, theology remains trapped in the original sin of our violent evolution.

I'm reading Boyd as a test of that thesis. I believe, for example, in the priority of anthropology for the issues you mentioned: the ontological nature of evil in human beings and the Atonement.

One final response: I'm not sure what you mean by Girard seeing his theory as metaphysical. I recall him saying the opposite, which is why he always wanted to distinguish his theory from philosophy. He calls his theory "realism," rooted in the reality of the victims of collective human violence.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Hey Derek,

I'm totally tracking with your train of thought on Christology. I just want you to know that :-) The thing I have a problem with is that you seem to be bypassing the important historical development of Israel as a nation. If the nature of the problem of evil could simply be solved by the single act of Jesus dying on a cross, then why not just send Jesus right after Adam and Eve sinned? The entire project of developing a people required T.F. Torrance does a good job, in his writings about Israel as the womb of the Messiah, framing some of the reasons why God had to form Israel as a part of his solution to the problem of evil. And forming Israel as a nation was a big part of his agenda as revealed through his covenant with Abraham. I think we have to wrestle with that, and find a way to make sense of it. I want to guard against a lot of the same things you are wanting to guard against when it comes to Christology. But if we separate Christ from the story of Israel, and God's purposes through Israel, we don't have much of a grid to interpret Christ himself, or his good news. So I'm curious, what role do you ascribe/subscribe to Israel in Gods purposes of overcoming evil?

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Hey Derek,

Regarding a resource on Israel as thw womb of the incarnation, here is a link to an journal with an article about it written by Baxter Kruger. Blessings bro!

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


If you asked the Apostle Paul this question, I think he would answer that God's covenant with Abraham was not about a nation, it was about establishing a people who mirrored his goodness in the world. So the role of the true Israel, as Paul would say is the same role that the church has, which is to represent Christ-likeness in the world, characterized by nonviolent self-sacrificing love, care and empathy for the least, and radical forgiveness.

Paul would further say that this way appears as "foolishness" and "weakness" to us from a political perspective, yet it is the "wisdom and power of God" revealed in Christ. I stand by that.

According to Paul, the nation of Israel failed in that. I would add that the Christian church has also (with a few exceptions) also failed. I however still want to keep trying to do that. That is what following Jesus, what calling him "Lord" looks like in my understanding.

At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

For what it's worth, while Greg and I do have disagreement on many things (see my part 2 of this series), I'm pretty sure he would agree with all that I have been saying here. If you read Vol 1 of his book I think that becomes quite clear.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Hey Derek, thanks for the dialogue. I'm not sure we can develop the conversation on this topic any further. I think your approach to the historical development of Israel as a people/nation is nasically different from mine, and based on your responses to my inquiries, I'm not sure I'm communicating my perspective or questions very well. Blessings to you and your work brother.

At 10:42 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Derek: May I ask where you are moving in California? (I'm also there).

Tom: Missed this! It's been a while. Thanks for your review of Greg's work, Derek. Always thoughtful and challenging.

We finally settled into Sacramento in May. So this is home now. I think you're in San Fran? If we can ever swing coffee, I'd love that.


At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


Yes coffee would be great. Shoot me a mail if you are in town.


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