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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At 8:06 AM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

Wow! Putting you and Enns in the Dismissal camp is a highly questionable move. I haven't read that chapter yet; I'm only on p. 200. I love your work, and I present it in my seminars as more in the camp of progressive revelation, since you present God as on a journey with us to heal our tendency for retributive justice, progressively revealing God's justice to us as restorative.

I did read ahead to the end of ch. 9, where he takes on the "Progressive Revelation" camp under the category of Synthesis -- which is where I would put my own position. At least there he says that his own position can be viewed as a new version of progressive revelation. I consider my own approach to also be a new version, one based on anthropology, as I commented on under your First Look at the book.

At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


As I understand the "synthesis" approach, it consists of creating our image of God based on a synthesis of the God revealed in Jesus + the pagan genocidal warrior god found in parts of the OT. I don't get the impression that this would be your position. So I imagine you must mean something else.

FWIW, I don't think progressive revelation actually fits into the "synthesis" category since it is not a synthesis of images but a progressive revealing of the image of God.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

I heartily agree with your view that progressive revelation should not be placed under "Synthesis" with other views diametrically opposed to it. Another highly questionable move by Boyd. He sees his as progressive revelation but doesn't really place it under Synthesis. He might provide the same courtesy to other versions of progressive revelation.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I mention above that our approach is incorrectly labeled as "dismiss" and say it should be instead called "repudiate." Another term could be "confront" in that it acts to confront the problematic texts. This repudiation/confrontation is the opposite of dismissing. It does not dismiss or ignore or in any way suggest that there is not a problem. Instead it insists that there is a problem and we must own it and face it. We need to face that these texts have been used to justify hurting other (for example justifying genocide) in the name of our God. To do anything less than to confront this is to read the text naively/irresponsibly.

I made a point of looking at the work of every author he put in the "dismiss" camp, and can now say that all of them fall into the confront/repudiate camp. Boyd in framing things as if we were all basically saying "problem solved, now you don't need to face this" falsely represents us as saying the polar opposite of what we are actually saying. We are all saying "problem identified, you must face this."

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Paul Nuechterlein said...

One of my pet peeves is how quick many Christians are to cry "Marcionism." Marcion is more clearly an example of Dismissal. I prefer your nomenclature of Repudiate/Confront for those who do so without calling for dismissal of large chunks of Scripture -- usually with some form of progressive revelation as the reasoning behind repudiation. I think Boyd is quick to lump others in with Marcion because of his conservative version of scriptural inspiration as "God-breathed."

At 3:35 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Derek, I agree that the turn taken by Boyd in chapter 8 is very disappointing. It seems to me that, in his desire to be able to hold up his own proposal (covered in Volume 2) as the comprehensive solution to the problem of OT divine violence, Boyd feels compelled to dismiss any other view. Thus, if it doesn't fit the "synthesis" category, it goes in the "dismissal" can. It's a completely false categorisation.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Derek, I am just finishing the first book. I can see how Greg seems to have misrepresented your position. But I think he also honored you and others, and upheld the convictions of those have taken a different approach on how to resolve these 'sub-Christ like' portions of Scripture. In the end I think you and Greg agree, but take slightly differing paths to the belief that these Scriptures must not be taken at face value. I am hoping that Greg's solution might be a bridge to some who are more conservative in their understanding of 'Biblical inspiration.' I think authors like you, Greg and Enns are all working toward a more Christlike view of God in the Old Testament. More power to you all!

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Peter said...

Greg is trying hard to find a solution that won't get him booted from the evangelical camp. He's been tiptoeing around the edge for quite a while and one false move will make him the next Rob Bell. I believe he genuinely does not want to go as far as you, Pete, and others have, but like you say in the review, for all intents and purposes he already has and it seems he's just using semantics to suggest otherwise.


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