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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

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