Category Archives: Biblical theology

Boyd Defends His “Cross Thesis” [CWG chapter six]

Ted Grimsrud—June 22, 2017

[This is the seventh 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 sixth post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Arguments against seeing the cross as central

In chapter six, “Is the Centrality of the Cross Thesis Defensible?” (pages 229–77), Boyd responds to what he sees as the two main objections to his argument about the centrality of the cross both for Jesus’s mission and for the overall message of the Bible. These objections are: (1) that early Christianity did not see the cross as central as evidenced by the lack of the use of the cross as a symbol in Christian art during Christianity’s first four centuries and (2) that not very many theologians in Christian history have recognized the centrality of the cross. Since these aren’t the main questions I have about Boyd’s cross thesis, I read through this chapter fairly quickly. It did raise a few issues for me, though.

A question I do have is whether the main problem with Boyd’s thesis is with regard to how he interprets the New Testament, not whether he’s consistent with understandings of the cross in the history of Christianity. As a pacifist, I am used to having convictions that most Christians don’t have. That early Christian art or that Christian theologians over the past 2,000 years would not share Boyd’s view of the centrality of the cross is not necessarily evidence against Boyd’s argument in my mind.

My question is simply whether Boyd is correct in seeming to understand the main referent in New Testament cross language to be simply to Jesus’s death. Is it not possible that “the cross” and related images more often allude to Jesus’s life, a life that resulted in his being executed by the Romans? A significant point if we think of the cross more broadly would be that along with Boyd’s important emphasis on the cross as conveying a message of Jesus’s self-giving love, it would also convey of message of Jesus’s practice of forgiveness apart from sacrifice, of Jesus’s political radicalism that led Rome to crucify him as a rebel, and of Jesus’s continuity with the OT prophets and his embrace of a prophetic understanding of Torah. If the cross is seen as a symbol of the entirety of Jesus’s ministry, we may make more sense of Jesus’s oft repeated call to his followers to take up the cross in imitation of his life of service, resistance, and courage. As I have mentioned before, I do not mean to suggest that Boyd would necessarily disagree with my comments here about imitating Jesus’s life—but this kind of language is rarely a part of his discussion of the cross.

The NT text I am most familiar with, the book of Revelation, illustrates my point here. Revelation does not speak of the cross overtly very often, but it does commonly use the term “blood,” which I imagine most readers would understand essentially to be a synonym with cross. When Revelation mentions “blood,” we could generally substitute the term “cross.” I believe, though, that Revelation uses the image of blood not to refer to Jesus’s death per se. Rather, blood has to do with the entirety of Jesus’s ministry, with the emphasis on the life he lived. Because this life involved resistance to the political and religious structures, it led to bloody responses. And Jesus did not swerve from his commitment to a life of love and healing even in the face of those responses. So, the message Revelation gives us about Jesus’s cross is a call to discipleship. Continue reading

More on Greg Boyd’s Insistence on Making the Cross Central [CWG chapter five]

Ted Grimsrud—June 16, 2017

[This is the sixth 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 fifth post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

The cross in the gospels

In chapter five, “The Cruciform Center, Part 2: The Cross as the Thematic Center of the Gospel” (pages 173–229), Boyd has a helpful treatment of the cross as presented in the gospels. His discussion perceptively makes clear how the God of nonviolent love is revealed in the story of Jesus’s crucifixion—and, so importantly, makes clear how this picture of God’s love provides a model for how we ourselves should live.

However, though I greatly appreciate these points that Boyd makes, I still felt that his focus was a bit off. I think this may be an issue of tone more than intended content, though I am not sure. I will continue to reflect on this as I work through CWG. I am concerned that Boyd seems to say that the cross was the point of Jesus’s life rather than being the (not precisely foreseen) consequence of Jesus’s life. Was Jesus’s purpose from the start that he would die a sacrificial death? The NT can seem to suggest this, but I think it is a problematic emphasis.

I believe that the true meaning of the story the gospels tell is to be found in Jesus’s life—and that it is his life that is exemplary for us. The way the Romans (in collaboration with the religious leaders) executed Jesus—and the fact that they executed him at all—followed directly from the way he lived. Whatever meaning the cross has, then, derives from Jesus’s life. It was because he so profoundly embodied God’s love (both in the sense of how he showed mercy toward and practiced solidarity with “the least of these” and in the sense of how he confronted the blasphemies and injustices of those seemingly all-powerful human structures that claimed to act on God’s behalf) that Jesus was executed. The cross, then, reveals the fullness of the Powers’ opposition to God-in-the-flesh. It is not intrinsically revelatory or salvific.

So, I would say that Jesus’s cross is more mundanely (this-worldly) practical than Boyd seems to allow for. Boyd presents the meaning of the cross as having relevance most of all on what we could call the cosmic or theological level, as a necessary sacrifice that makes salvation possible. In doing so, he treats it almost ahistorically, as if the specific context for Jesus being executed is not particularly relevant. I would say, in contrast, that it is precisely the context that is most important. Jesus in his life that ultimately led to his death exposes the idolatrous nature of the political and religious institutions of his day. In doing so, he reveals what kind of life God wants human beings to live and what kind of resistance to the Powers is called for. The central meaning of the cross is for this world and for how we live in this world. Continue reading

Greg Boyd’s Insistence on Making the Cross Central [CWG chapter four]

Ted Grimsrud—June 12, 2017

[This is the fifth 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 fourth post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

The cross

In chapter four, “The Cruciform Center, Part I: The Cross as the Supreme Revelation of God” (pages 141–171), Boyd begins to explain what he means by what he calls a “cruciform hermeneutic”—his approach to interpreting the entire Bible in light of Jesus’s crucifixion. This doesn’t simply mean saying that the crucifixion is the most important story in the Bible. More than that, Boyd believes that everything else in the Bible (including the OT) must be seen as in some sense pointing to the crucifixion. It will take a lot of writing to explain how this dynamic works. The key purpose of explaining “the cruciform center” here, we will ultimately learn, is that this is how we might resolve the challenge of properly understanding “the OT’s violent portraits of God.”

Boyd asserts that the OT must be interpreted in light of Jesus, never placed alongside him as though it was a supplementary revelation. We should be able to discern how the OT narrative, and how each aspect of it, bears witness to Christ (142), especially Christ’s cross. In contrast, I would tend to take the opposite approach in that I would see the fundamental revelation being the exodus and the gift of Torah. We recognize Jesus as truthful, as the Son of God, because of how he embodies that same revelation.

Boyd suggest, sadly, that for the past 1,600 years theologians have indeed tended to read scripture christologically but they have not rethought the meaning of the OT’s violent portraits of God. This dynamic shows that we need to go a step further and advocate a crucicentric, rather than merely christocentric, orientation (142). By “crucicentric” Boyd means “the nonviolent, self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love of God revealed on the cross” (142). This is helpful, but I ask why center this notion of self-sacrificial love on the cross rather than on Jesus’s life? I suspect it is because on some level Boyd still accepts the evangelical focus on Jesus’s death as a necessary sacrifice. I will need to monitor this issue as I go through CWG—paying special attention to the problems for nonviolence that belief in a necessary sacrifice raise.

“Wrath” and love

Boyd understands God’s “wrath” not to be an independent characteristic of God’s character. He writes, “If God’s love alone is the one ‘absolute,’ then God’s ‘wrath,’ as well as every other aspect of God, must ultimately be understood to be a manifestation of this love from a particular perspective, including the perspective of those who are hardened against it and thus experience it as ‘wrath’” (146). I think this is a good statement, but I would suggest that if God’s love truly is absolute, God would not turn away and would protect everyoneif God could. That is, I think Boyd’s point bumps up against the idea that God’s love has to be seen to have limits if we accept (which I don’t) that there are people who are excluded from it. I think it’s better to understand the “limits” as intrinsic in God’s actual lack of power to control the world. God simply can’t protect people. More on this in future posts. Continue reading

Greg Boyd’s Peaceable God as Revealed in Christ [CWG chapter two]

Ted Grimsrud—May 30, 2017

[This is the third 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 second post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Reading the Bible with Christ as the center

In chapter two, “The True Face of God: The Absoluteness of the Revelation of God in Christ” (pages 35–92), Boyd’s main interest seems to be to establish the validity of his Christ-centered approach to interpreting the Bible. Based on extensive citations from the New Testament, Boyd makes the case that the Christian Bible as a whole should be read in light of Christ on the cross. He asserts that the Old Testament ultimately, for Christians, needs to be read in service to an affirmation of Jesus as Savior. This approach to reading the Bible will be the basis for Boyd’s cruciform reading of the OT violent portraits of God. He will argue that in the end those portraits (and everything else in the Bible) actually support the conviction that God is nonviolent love. More on that conclusion as we work through the rest of the book.

It strikes me that Boyd bases the case for Jesus as the center of the entire Bible more on his doctrinal beliefs about Jesus’s identity than on an inductive front to back reading that weighs the evidence as one goes along. I’m uncomfortable with his approach, though I will grant that he is able to marshal a great deal of evidence that the NT sees Christ as having authority over the OT and sees him to have an exalted identity as Son of God. Still, I am more attracted to an approach that understands Jesus’s authority and identity and his relationship with the rest of the Bible more based on his actions and teachings as presented in the first three gospels (I will call this a “Jesus”-emphasis) than on his crucifixion and exaltation (a “Christ”-emphasis).

A basic question will trouble me throughout Boyd’s book. Is the center of scripture best seem as Jesus’s death in itself or is the center best seen as the love of God shown to the world throughout the story—love that Jesus’s death witnesses to? That leads to a second question more directly tied to the book’s overt focus: How does the cross reveal God’s nonviolence? Is the core meaning of the nonviolence of the cross to be found in Christ (as God incarnate) taking general human sin upon himself or in Jesus’s life of active love that in its nonviolence shows both the character of God and the character of the human institutions who execute him because of his active nonviolence?

Boyd seems to operate with a “high” (or doctrine-first) christology that has as a starting point Jesus’s identity as God incarnate rather than understanding Jesus’s messianic identity as an inductively arrived-at conclusion drawn from the details of his life. The story of Jesus’s way of life does not seem necessary for Boyd’s description of his identity—or at least Boyd does not present it as such. Continue reading

Greg Boyd’s Peaceable God and the Bible [Chapter one]

Ted Grimsrud—May 27, 2017

[This is the second 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 first post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

In chapter one, “The Faith of Jacob: Wrestling with ‘Strange’ and ‘Alien’ Portraits of God” (pages 3–34), Boyd addresses several foundational issues. He writes about the importance of understanding the Bible as inspired (“God-breathed”) Christian scripture, the difference between reading the Bible in covenantal (traditional) rather than psychological (modern) terms, the profound problems that arise when God is seen as “a god who fights” (21) rather than a god who “refuses to fight,” and the need for his sympathetic readers actively to “renounce” the “violence in our own sacred Scripture” (31).

The authority of the Bible

Boyd’s first word about the Bible is that it is “God-breathed” (or, an alternative translation of 2 Timothy 3:16, “inspired”). He agrees “with the historic-orthodox tradition that this ‘breathing’ entails that God is, in some sense, the ultimate author of all canonical works” (5) I can’t say that I find the metaphor of God as the “author” of the Bible to be very helpful. I believe we should start with the assumption that the Bible is written by human beings—some of whom are identified for us, some about whose authorship we may gain pretty good guesses, and some who will remain anonymous. I find any hint that God in some sense overrode the humanness of these texts to be problematic, and a misleading detour from our needed work genuinely to understand the texts and their meaning.

Part of the issue in talking about “divine authorship” (this term strikes me mainly as a rhetorical device to strengthen claims concerning the authority of the Bible), though, is how we apply that idea. I’m not totally opposed to affirming some weak sense of divine involvement in the fitting together of the entire collection of books we call our Bible. Not that God was the “author” but that there was a gentle guidance in bringing the various writings together. We could call this a kind of a macro-inspiration that is best discerned not in the Bible’s “infallibility” (a word Boyd will affirm later in the book) as much as in its coherence and its applicability for “training in the ways of justice” (the words, actually, of 2 Timothy 3:16).

Boyd seems to want to apply authority and inspiration more on a micro-level in giving God-authored status to each particular text. He will qualify this application in major ways; surely many strong inerrantists will find his approach woefully problematic. However, I suspect that part of the “conundrum” he will wrestle with in this book is made more difficult by the priority he seems to place on finding each specific text in the Bible to be “infallible” in its theology, if not literal historicity. Continue reading

Is the Bible a Peace Book? Engaging Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God [Intro]

Ted Grimsrud—May 25, 2017

It is a measure of Greg Boyd’s stature that Fortress Press, perhaps the most highly respected publisher of theological books in the United States, would indulge him by publishing Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross in the form that it has. Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereafter CWG) comes to us as a single book in two volumes, a total of 1,486 pages.

CWG, though, is not an esoteric work of high-level academic density, accessible only to elite initiates. Certainly its size and detailed argumentation are not for the faint of heart, but CWG is the kind of book one might expect from a pastor-scholar—which is what Boyd is. It is clearly written, passionate in tone, and pursues a deeply practical agenda: How do Christians who are committed to the message of Jesus, the Peacemaker, understand their faith in light of biblical materials that paint a picture of God as a God of war and violence?

I find wrestling with this book to be one of most engaging and challenging investments of intellectual and spiritual energy I have made in quite some time. I have had a hard time putting the book down, though it’s not exactly a page-turner. In fact, I have turned the pages very slowly because there are so many ideas that demand my attention. Given the number of pages the book contains, I have decided that the only way I can justify to myself the energy I put into wrestling with CWG is to write about it. So I am embarking on a series of blog posts that will work through the book at some length.

I am not going to write a review exactly nor a summary of the book’s main ideas. Rather, I will reflect on issues that arise for me as I read and thereby develop my thinking about peace, the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion, and the character of God with Boyd’s impressive book as a catalyst. There will be chunks of the book that I will not address and there will be some parts that I will pay a great deal of attention to. And I won’t claim that in focusing on what I will focus on I will be reflect Boyd’s own priorities so much as my priorities.

We already have many reviews and many more will come. Boyd himself has provided summaries of his main ideas in writings and on-line sermons and lectures (see his ReKnew site). As well, he will publish a shorter and more accessible version of his argument this summer (Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence). What I offer here is more about my own thinking—as a pacifist, Anabaptist, anarchistically-inclined social ethicist who has deeply ambivalent feelings about mainstream Christianity, theological orthodoxy, and the legacy of the Christian tradition. However, I also offer one critical reading of CWG that will probably provide a distinctive angle for understanding Boyd’s project. Continue reading

God’s Healing Strategy: The Core Message of the Bible

Ted Grimsrud

[This essay summarizes the argument of my book, God’s Healing Strategy: An Introduction to the Main Themes of the Bible (Cascadia Publishing House, 2000; 2nd edition, Cascadia Publishing House, 2011). It was originally published as chapter 6 in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying the Way of Jesus: Anabaptist Convictions for the Twenty-First Century (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007), pages 73-88.]

In continuity with the Anabaptist tradition dating back to the sixteenth century, present-day Anabaptists understand their faith convictions as being rooted in the Bible. A major one of these convictions is the role of the community of faith in God’s work of bringing healing to creation.

In this chapter, I present an Anabaptist reading of the Bible that sees its central message as the account of “God’s healing strategy”: God has called communities of God’s people together to find healing themselves and to witness of this healing to the rest of the world.

The Need for Healing

Early on, the Bible tells us something has gone wrong. Loving relationships have been broken. Creation has been marred. Salvation is needed. However, God will not simply step in and by force, by coercion, make things right. God’s healing strategy is much more subtle. Love shapes God’s activity, patient, long lasting, persevering love.

The Genesis one creation story concludes, “everything…was very good.” Then, Genesis three tells of a break in the relationship between human beings and God, the rise of “brokenness” among human beings. Genesis 4–11 tells more of brokenness: Cain’s murder of Abel, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel. At the end of Genesis eleven, we read of Sarah’s barrenness.

Something new emerges with Genesis twelve. In the face of barrenness, God calls Abraham and Sarah to begin a community, to be the parents of a great people—and miraculously makes it possible by giving Sarah a child. Thus begins God’s strategy for healing as summarized in the words in Genesis 12:3: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God establishes a community of people who will know God. Through people of faith living together, face to face, in peaceable community life God will make peace for all the families of the earth. This healing strategy proceeds through the Old Testament and the New, culminating in Revelation 21–22. A desire to be part of the on-going expression of God’s faith community-centered healing strategy animates Anabaptist convictions, from the sixteenth century to the present. Continue reading