Boyd’s peaceable reading of Revelation [CWG appendices]

Ted Grimsrud—October 19, 2017

[This is the 14th in a long series of posts that will work through Greg Boyd’s important book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Fortress, 2017). The 13th post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Boyd’s reflections on some New Testament issues

At the end of the first volume of CWG, Boyd provides four Appendices that deal with questions that come up in the New Testament about violence and related themes. The two middle essays, which I will not respond do, address the questions of “Jesus and Violence” (563-82) and of “Violence in the Pauline Epistles” (583-91). In these pieces, Boyd basically presents a solid pacifist answer to allegations that elements of violence in these two sets of writings provide evidence against Christian pacifism.

I have a few comments to make about the first essay, “The Alleged Anti-Judaic Attitude of the Gospels” (553-62), and will respond at more length to the fourth essay, “Violence in the Book of Revelation” (592-626). I am not fully happy with Boyd’s comments on the alleged anti-Judaism. On the other hand, his discussion of Revelation is excellent—this essay is one of my favorite sections in the entire book.

Boyd on Jesus’s Death

Boyd will address the broader issue of alleged Christian supersessionism at the end of the second volume, and at that point I will raise my critique about Boyd’s general treatment of the Old Testament and of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. In this initial appendix, he focuses only on the issue of whether the gospels themselves are anti-Jewish. I think his argument against that charge is solid.

However, along the way he makes a statement that I am troubled by. According to Boyd, for the NT writers, “Jesus was no one’s victim, and the crucifixion was no random act of violence…. This event unfolded according to God’s redemptive, predetermined plan (Acts 2:23; 4:28)…. If anyone is ultimately responsible for Jesus’s death, it is all of humanity” (558, Boyd’s italics). Continue reading

Boyd’s “theological interpretation” of the Old Testament [CWG chapter twelve]

Ted Grimsrud—October 13, 2017

[After taking a break since July, I am back to writing about Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2017). This is the 13th in a long series of posts that will work through Boyd’s important book. The 12th post (on chapter 11) may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

An alternative to the historical-critical method

In chapter twelve, “Interpreting Scripture as God’s Word: The Cruciform Hermeneutic and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” (pages 513–552), Boyd completes the first volume of CWG (except for several contentful appendices) by elaborating on how his approach may be characterized as a particular expression of the “theological interpretation of scripture” (TIS) movement (514).

The TIS movement has at its heart a negative reaction against the hegemony of the historical-critical approach to scripture. In Boyd’s view, reflecting the sentiments of the TIS movement in general, the historical-critical approach “has, without question, had a rather devastating effect on the church” (516)—including delegitimizing “the traditional way of reading Scripture as a single ‘God-breathed’ book” (517).

In a nutshell, it seems, the focus of the TIS movement, amidst a great diversity of views, is to recover a sense of the uniqueness of scripture linked with reading it “as the word of God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and with the eyes of faith within the community of faith” (520). People within the TIS movement differ in their understandings of the precise role that historical-critical study of the Bible should play in the use of the Bible in churches. Perhaps most common is the belief that the use of historical-critical tools should be limited, but that they do have a role. This seems to be Boyd’s own view.

I like the idea of a “theological interpretation” of the Bible. I agree with Boyd that a strictly historical critical approach tends to render the Bible unavailable to the churches as they seek to empower faithful Christian living. However, I am not very comfortable with how he seems to seek to practice theological interpretation. A challenge for a “theological interpretation” is to avoid projecting (problematic) doctrinal theology back on the texts rather then discerning the theological element already present in the texts.

In my view, a “theological interpretation” should be about reading the parts of the Bible in light of the whole. This involves recognizing that “the whole” is a story, not a set of doctrines—theology in story form, not doctrinal form. The biblical story is “theological” (as in core convictions) in a very different way than post-Constantine, Greek-shaped Christendom. A theological interpretation of the Bible should still be in tension with much doctrinal theology. Continue reading

Is the “Benedict Option” a Believers’ Church Option?

Ted Grimsrud—September 21, 2017

[What follows is the text of a paper I presented at Goshen (IN) College on September 15, 2017. It was part of the conference, “Word, Spirit, and the Renewal of the Church: Believers’ Church, Ecumenical and Global Perspectives”—the 18th Believers’ Church Conference. The paper is drawn from a series of blog posts I wrote in May, 2017.]

I want to talk about the book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (Sentinel Books, 2017) by journalist, blogger, and religious thinker Rod Dreher. This book that has received an unusual amount of attention. I believe it challenges and helps illumine a distinctively Believers’ Church approach to “Christ and culture”—with both similarities and differences. I have four parts to my talk: First, description and affirmation; second, critique; third, a response to Dreher’s emphasis on same-sex marriage as a paradigmatic issue; and fourth, a sketch of a “Believers’ church option.”

Description and Affirmation

It is important to keep Dreher’s stated agenda and his intended audience in mind as we consider his book. He writes to and about conservative Christians (politically and theologically—Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Protestants)—so progressives of any kind who read him should expect to feel as if they are overhearing a conversation they have not been invited to join. There is a lot to criticize in the book, but I don’t think it should be criticized for not spending much time presenting a careful argument to Benedict Option (or, “BenOp”) skeptics. That is not Dreher’s agenda.

Dreher hopes to inspire a joining together of Christians of like mind in resistance to the downward spiral of American culture heading toward, he might say, a pit of moral relativism, individualism, and hostility toward “orthodox” Christians. The goal is to inspire a counterculture that will have the ability to sustain “traditional” faith in this world.

I agree that the general question how Christians might practice our faith in life-giving ways in a culture that seems all too bent on death should be at the center for all of us. I see two particularly attractive elements to Dreher’s presentation. The first is that many of Dreher’s concerns and criticisms of contemporary American culture are perceptive and demand respectful attention. The second is that his sense of the calling Christians have to invest themselves in creative countercultural formation seems right. Continue reading

Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic applied [CWG chapter eleven]

Ted Grimsrud—July 28, 2017

[This is the 12th in a long series of posts that will work through an important new book, Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2017). The 11th post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

The center of the Bible

In chapter eleven, “Through the lens of the cross: Finding the crucified Christ in violent depictions of God,” (pages 463–512), Boyd develops an especially important part of his argument. He discusses how Jesus Christ, and especially Jesus as the crucified Christ, stands at the center of the Bible and determines how we read everything else, including the violent portraits of God in the OT.

He begins the discussion with a quote from the Scottish theologian, T. F. Torrance: “The truth of Scripture is to be found in the living person of Jesus Christ to whom it points” (464). For Boyd (and Torrance) the centrality of Jesus Christ seems ultimately to point to one making a Christian confession (and, I assume, one being baptized and taking communion). I do agree that the key to understanding the Bible (at least for Christians) is to “know God through Jesus Christ.” But what does that mean? I think knowing God through Jesus has more to do with following Jesus’s way of life than it does with doctrinal beliefs and ritual observances.

I believe that the Bible presents the life of faith as practice-oriented, not doctrine- and ritual-oriented. So, one could even go so far as to say that Gandhi can serve as a guide to the deep meaning of the Bible, revealing to us what a life of shalom might look like. Gandhi as guide would contrast with the role of theologians and exegetes who marginalize Jesus’s message of love of neighbor. It is because of the practice-oriented character of biblical faith that I emphasize the “Bible’s salvation story” (see my book, Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness) that puts resistance to the Powers as central from the exodus through the prophets through Jesus through Revelation.

So, I believe that the notion of Jesus as the center of the Bible that Boyd affirms should be an inductively arrived at conclusion based on an objective reading of the entire Bible, not a doctrinal assumption that one imposes on the Bible. Approaching it my way means we have to be attentive to the story and to the way Jesus in his life and teaching link with the OT story. To do it the other way all too often may lead to minimizing or distorting the OT—and often also seems to lead to minimizing the actual ministry of Jesus, which is what I fear might at least somewhat be the case for Boyd. Continue reading

Boyd’s alternative: “The Reinterpretation Solution” [CWG chapter ten]

Ted Grimsrud—July 17, 2017

[This is the 11th in a long series of posts that will work through an important new book, Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2017). The tenth post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Boyd’s alternative

In chapter ten, “A Meaning Worthy of God: The Reinterpretation Solution,” (pages 417-62), Boyd sketches his alternative to the dismissal and synthesis “solutions” for the problem of the OT violent portraits of God. The “reinterpretation solution,” in a nutshell, involves understanding the cross of Christ as the key for interpreting every part of the Bible. Boyd will argue that if we keep the cross always central, we will ultimately be able to discern how every part of the “God-breathed” Bible confirms the truths revealed in the cross. As it turns out, such a reading strategy does involve some creative interpretations because the way that some texts confirm the message of the cross is not always obvious—perhaps at times not even apparent to the original writers and communities that produced the texts.

In developing this alternative, Boyd pays significant attention to early (pre-fourth century) Christian interpreters, especially the fascinating and controversial theologian, Origen. I think that Origen’s allegorical approach is fascinating. As Boyd points out, it is good—following Origen—not to obsess about “the original meaning” of a text (contrary to tendencies among both historical-critical and evangelical approaches). I tend to think that paying attention to the original context of a passage is important but that we also simultaneously should take other elements into account such as our own context, the broader biblical context, and the historical dynamics between our present and the time of the text; though I am not attracted to Origen-like allegorical readings. One big problem I have with Origen as presented by Boyd is a sense I have that Origen’s approach required a much more interventionist view of God as, in effect, controlling the production of the entire Bible (428).

I agree with Boyd to a degree when he emphasizes that the meaning of the whole Bible is best seen in Jesus as the culmination to the story (432-3). However, I would say that the Jesus who catches up the meaning of the rest of the Bible is not the same as the divine Christ and perfect savior of “historic orthodoxy” but is the prophet Jesus who taught and embodied the deepest meaning of Torah in continuity with the OT prophets. And unlike Origen, and maybe Boyd, I’d say the “deepest meaning” is not mysterious or hidden, but is open, mundane, concrete, practical, and embodied clearly and directly.

I see some parallels between the way Jesus embodied the prophetic tradition and the way much more recent prophets such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., (imperfectly) embodied that same tradition. What all three did as much as anything was make clear to the watching world what was potentially present all along—embodied restorative justice, love, and shalom. It strikes me that this kind of understanding of truth and meaning is a bit different than Origen’s sense of the “spiritual meaning” of texts and traditions (433) that the original writers and readers likely were not aware of. Continue reading

Boyd’s critique of the “synthesis solution” [CWG chapter nine]

Ted Grimsrud—July 13, 2017

[This is the tenth in a long series of posts that will work through an important new book, Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2017). The ninth post may be found here—and an index of the series here.] 

The “synthesis solution”

In chapter nine, “Wrestling with Yahweh’s Violence, Part 2: The Synthesis Solution,” (pages 379-414), Boyd critiques and rejects what he sees as the most common view in Christian history concerning the violent portraits of God in the OT. He calls this the “synthesis solution” because it solves the apparent tension between how God is presented in much of the OT and how God is presented in the story of Jesus by positing a “synthesis” where “the OT’s violent portraits of God must be accepted as accurate revelations alongside of Christ” (p. 379).

Boyd writes, “the church’s major theologians over the last sixteen hundred years” have believed that “the only logical alternative to dismissing or reinterpreting violent divine portraits in the light of the revelation of God in the crucified Christ is to synthesize these portraits with this revelation.” For most, this “synthesis” meant defending the violent portraits as truthful about the character of God with the consequence that Jesus’s message of nonviolence has been marginalized, and most Christians have concluded that God affirms their going to war when called upon to do so.

In his critique of the synthesis solution, Boyd focuses on four ways the violent depictions of God have been defended. [1] “We fallen humans are in no position to question God’s actions. In this view, the transcendent and all-holy God is not subject to our fallen ethical intentions…. We must simply accept that everything God is said to have done and commanded in Scripture is perfectly good, regardless of how immoral it may appear to us” (381-2).

[2] “Throughout church history, the single most common defense of God’s apparent violence in the OT has been that it expresses God’s holy wrath against sin. In this view, if God sometimes commanded or engaged in violence against people, as we find throughout the OT, it was because they deserved it. Indeed, in this view, God would be unjust if he did not punish wrongdoers” (392).

[3] “The ‘Greater Good Defense’ [argues that] when God sanctions or engages in violent behavior, … it is to promote some greater good, or to at least prevent some greater evil” (395).

[4] “God has always had to accommodate his revelation to the limitations and fallen state of his people. His strategy was to gradually increase his people’s capacity to know him as he truly is. The revelation of God within the ‘God-breathed’ written witness to God’s covenantal faithfulness thus unfolds gradually” (399). Continue reading

Boyd’s critique of the “dismissal solution” to the problem [CWG chapter eight]

Ted Grimsrud—July 7, 2017

[This is the ninth in a long series of posts that will work through an important new book, Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2017). The eighth post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Three possible “solutions”

In chapter eight, “Wrestling with Yahweh’s Violence, Part I: The Dismissal Solution,” (pages 335-78), Boyd examines various approaches Christians have taken to resolve the challenges of understanding the violent portraits. He suggests three main options: (1) “The Dismissal Solution,” which is simply to dismiss the OT as an authority for Christians, in part due to the truthfulness of Jesus’ peaceable message; (2) “The Synthesis Solution,” the consensus approach since the 5th century, which is to accept that the “God-breathed” character of scripture requires accepting the violent portraits of God in the OT at face value in spite of Jesus’s message with the tension resolved by appeal to “the mysterious transcendence of God;” and (3) “The Reinterpretation Solution,” which is to accept the truthfulness of both the OT and the message of Jesus, but to reinterpret the OT so as to see it as consistent with the message of Jesus. (p. 336)

Boyd will argue for the third option. He will go to great lengths in the rest of the book to make the case for an reinterpreting approach where he argues that below the surface message of a violent God in many OT texts, “something else is going on” that ultimately affirms the message of a nonviolent God found in the story of the cross of Christ.

A different kind of approach

In my interaction with Boyd’s argument in the pages to come, I will make the case for a different kind of approach than any of these three. I find all three to be inadequate, including Boyd’s reinterpretation solution. Each of these approaches as described by Boyd misses the centrality to the OT when read as a whole of what my OT teacher Millard Lind called “theo-politics.” The politics of God as presented in the OT are best understood, in my view, by reading the OT as a whole and paying special attention to its Big Story.

The problem that Boyd’s three “solutions” all share is that they focus on discrete passages at least somewhat in isolation from the place each passage has in a bigger story with its theo-political emphasis. I will also argue that the politics of God as presented in the OT are pacifist politics, ultimately—and, the politics of God as presented in the OT are in close continuity with the politics of Jesus. And, I should add, by “politics” I don’t mean the partisan, state-focused politics that Boyd seems to understand politics to mean. Rather, I mean the broad sense of how human beings order our social lives, with the understanding that our social and spiritual lives are by definition part of one whole—so we cannot accurately talk of a separation between spiritual/religious life and political life. Continue reading