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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

Pacifism, God, and the punishment of children

Ted Grimsrud—May 18, 2014

[This paper originated as a presentation at the conference, “Mennonites and the Family,” at Goshen College in October 1999. It has been published in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying Peace: Collected Pacifist Writings, Volume 4: Historical and Ethical Essays (Harrisonburg, VA: Peace Theology Books]

What difference does it make to assert that nothing is as important for our theology as pacifism (i.e., the cluster of values which include love, peace, shalom, wholeness, kindness, mercy, restorative justice, nonviolence, and compassion)?

I propose that one difference pacifism makes (or should make) is to cause pacifists to look critically at all justifications for violence – and to question all theological underpinnings for such justifications. In this essay, I will focus critically on one case – theological underpinnings that help justify acting violently toward children (what is commonly called corporal punishment).

I want to discuss six points concerning the theological problem of the justification of violence against children.

(1) Human beings tend to be reluctant to act violently toward other human beings. We usually require some kind of rationale to justify such violence. We must believe some value is more important than nonviolence. For Christians, this value or conviction is usually expressed in terms of “God’s will.”

(2) A theological framework, that I will call “the logic of retribution”, underlies the rationale for the use of violence against children. In “the logic of retribution,” God is understood most fundamentally in terms of impersonal, inflexible holiness. God’s law is seen to be the unchanging standard by which sin is measured. Human beings are inherently sinful. God’s response to sin is punitive. Jesus’ death on the cross is necessary as a sacrifice to provide the only basis for sinful human beings escaping their deserved punishment.

(3) Consistent pacifists must raise theological concerns here. When God is understood, as with the logic of retribution, primarily in terms of impersonal holiness, legal requirements, and strict, vengeful justice, the biblical picture of God as relational, compassionate, and responsive is distorted.

(4) Not only is it justified according to problematic theological assumptions, corporal punishment also has problematic practical consequences. It may well intensify the dynamic of responding to violence with violence, actually educating young people into the practice of using violence. It may also contribute to a stunted experience of life for its recipients.

(5) Given that all theology is humanly constructed, we may (and must) reconstruct our understanding of God in order to foster consistently pacifist theology and practice.

(6) Foundational for such a theological reconstruction, the Bible may be read as providing bases for a “logic of restoration.” According to the logic of restoration, God’s holiness is personal, flexible, dynamic, and relational. God’s justice is concerned with restoring relationships and community wholeness, not with punishment, vengeance, and balancing the impersonal scales of an eye for an eye. God’s mercy is unconditional, not dependent upon human beings in any sense earning it. Continue reading