Ted Grimsrud—October 23, 2017
[This is the 15th 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 14th post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]
An example of the “something else must be going on” dynamic
Boyd begins the second volume of CWG with an introduction (pages 629-38) where he tells a made-up story about his wife that illustrates his approach to the Old Testament’s violent portraits of God. He then outlines the four principles that make up his “Cruciform Thesis” that is the core argument of CWG. The thirteen chapters of the second volume will be an elaboration on these four principles.
In the fictional story, Boyd spots from a distance his kind, loving wife Shelley acting in a way that seems totally out of character. She slaps around a wheelchair-bound panhandler rather than acting compassionately and generously toward him, which is what Boyd would expect to see. He is shocked. But because he knows his wife so well, he assumes that something else was going on beyond what his naked eye observed.
Boyd tells this story as a way of suggesting his response to the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament. He knows, through his long experience and intellectual awareness as a follower of Jesus, that God is loving, self-giving, even nonviolent. Therefore, he has to assume when he encounters the Old Testament violent portraits that “something else is going on” beyond what his surface reading seems to tell him.
This is an arresting example, one to keep in mind as we are continually reminded in the chapters that follow that Boyd believes “something else is going on.” The power of the example, it seems to me, rests in the personal knowledge he has of his wife through the long, intimate relationship he has with her. Because he has come to trust her so profoundly, he can’t actually believe what his eyes had shown him.
I agree with Boyd that it makes sense to assume based on one’s personal knowledge of the God of Jesus that God could not have given the commands and done the deeds that are recounted in OT stories such as the genocide in the book of Joshua. That personal knowledge should carry a lot of weight and certainly it justifies a sense of strong suspicion about the truthfulness of the violent portraits. However, I do not find Boyd’s explanation of the “something else that is going on” all that persuasive, though I do deeply appreciate his effort and, most importantly, share his commitment to affirming the God of Jesus as the biblical God.
I also have some problems with Boyd’s use of this story. He actually physically sees what his wife does; there is no question about the event of her violent treatment of the panhandler. So the assumption with the story would seem to be that the OT violent portraits are factual in a parallel way to Boyd’s wife’s actions. I think a closer parallel would be if his story was that he had heard someone else describe his wife’s actions. Then, a big part of the question would be about the veracity of the story. Boyd could say, I can’t believe the story is true because I know my wife would not do something like that. That’s the way I think of the OT violent portraits. Continue reading