Author Archives: Ted Grimsrud

About Ted Grimsrud

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Boyd on God’s “divine aikido” [chapter 15]

Ted Grimsrud—November 13, 2017

[This is the 17th 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 16h post may be found here—and an index of the series here.] 

Chapter fifteen, “Divine Aikido: The Cross as the Revelation of God’s ‘Wrath’” (pages 767-804) expands on the second key point in Boyd’s Cruciform Hermeneutic, which is “the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal.”

Depoliticizing Jesus’s execution

Boyd begins the chapter with a brief statement about “the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal”: It “is anchored in the fact that God the Father did not act violently toward the Son when the Son bore the judgment of our sin that we deserved. Rather, with a grieving heart, the Father simply withdrew his protective hand, thereby delivering his Son over to wicked humans and fallen powers that were already ‘bend on destruction’ (Isa 51:13). Yet by abandoning his Son to suffer the destructive consequences of sin that we deserved, the Father wisely turned the violent aggression of these evildoers back on themselves, causing evil to self-implode and thereby liberating creation” (768).

This statement raises a number of concerns for me. The idea that “the Son bore the judgment of our sin that we deserved” seems to me to depoliticize Jesus’s execution. Here is an idea that the key element of Jesus’s execution is that in it he was judged for our sin. The only judgment I see in the story is the false judgment by the Empire and the religious leaders that Jesus deserved to die. I guess there is a sense that in making this judgment, these powers actually judged themselves as false claimants to be acting on behalf of God.

However, the idea that in some sense “we” deserved the “judgment” Jesus received because we are the sinful ones seems to reflect a purity, collective guilt notion of sin. It’s as if the presence of sin in this story is not the injustice of the powers that be but the inherent sinfulness of all human beings. That is, the dynamic in the picture is not idolatrous politics that continue to turn people from Jesus’s way even now but rather something much more vague and pervasive—a dynamic that blinds us to the on-going political relevance of this story.

Another concern I have with Boyd’s statement comes when he writes that “the Father simply withdrew his protective hand” and let Jesus be executed. This point seems to imply that God actively “protected” Jesus until God chose not to, with an assumption that God can and does intervene directly to shape what happens—except when God chooses to step back. I find it difficult to differentiate morally between an interventionist God who directly causes an evil act such as Jesus’s execution to happen and an interventionist God who definitely could have stopped the execution and chose not to. Continue reading

Boyd’s “principle of cruciform accommodation” (part 2) [chapter 14]

Ted Grimsrud—November 1, 2017

[This is the 16th 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 15th post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Chapter fourteen, “The Heavenly Missionary: Yahweh’s Accommodation of the Law, Nationalism, and Violence” (pages 701-64), is the second part of Boyd’s account of the first of the four principles that make up his “Cruciform Thesis”: the principle of “cruciform accommodation” continuing the discussion from chapter thirteen. He looks at how God’s accommodation to human sinfulness may be seen in how God allows the writings of the Bible to present God as complicit in the people of Israel’s violent understandings of the meaning of the law and of their nationhood.

What about “sin”?

A key part of Boyd’s account is what he calls God’s “sin-bearing” efforts: “To the degree that canonical portraits of God reflect [the fallen and culturally conditioned hearts and minds of God’s people of the time,] our cross-informed faith must discern the heavenly missionary stooping to bear the sin of his people, just as he did in a definitive way on Calvary” (703, emphasis added). It’s not quite clear to me what is involved in “sin-bearing.” This term seems a bit jargonish without a clear explanation of what it means. Is it the idea that there is some kind of legal “transaction” where the sin is “paid for”? What’s the actual outcome of this “sin bearing”?

Boyd seems Augustinian in writing that we are all living in a state of sin—as if being in a state of sin is what matters most in the human relationship with God. If it is the case that this general sense of our sinfulness matters the most in relation to God, then we would likely say that what killed Jesus was our sinfulness in general; we are all guilty. The significance of Jesus’s death then is to somehow address this universal problem of human beings being fundamentally sinful as a state of being. Precisely how Jesus’s death resolves the problem of universal human sinfulness is yet to be determined. Continue reading

Boyd’s “principle of cruciform accommodation” [chapter 13]

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

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