Tag Archives: Bible

Boyd on judgment and “divine withdrawal” [chapters 17 and 18]

Ted Grimsrud—December 7, 2017

[This is the 19th 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 18th post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

In Chapter 17, “Doing and Allowing: The Crucicentric Significance of Scripture’s Dual Speech Pattern” (pages 851-890) and Chapter 18, “A Question of Divine Culpability: Responding to Objections to the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal” (pages 891-916), Boyd develops further his arguments about how God exercises punitive judgment in ways that are compatible with how the nonviolent God is revealed in the cross of Jesus.

What does the Bible mean when it speaks of God’s actions?

Boyd makes a good point in his discussion of what he calls “Scripture’s ‘dual speech’ pattern.” He suggests we recognize that the Bible’s authors acknowledge “that God merely allowed the actions they elsewhere directly ascribe to God.” The language of God directly acting to bring about judgment thus should not be read overly literally. It is God’s universe and everything that happens in some sense happens under God’s directing providence. But that does not mean that God directly acts every time God is mentioned.

Boyd links this “dual speech pattern” with his belief that “God merely withdraws protection when he brings about judgment” (852). I would rather say that to note this “dual speech pattern” is simply to note that we have in the text a rhetorical projection of God’s agency onto the events. Boyd takes an additional step that I cannot accept, that the biblical writers implicitly recognize “that their violent depictions of God are divine accommodations to their own fallen and culturally conditioned hearts and minds” (852). I would rather say that this “dual speech pattern” is simply a reflection of the human nature of the Bible’s books.

Boyd seems to claim that the Bible is still “inspired” and even “infallible” when it reflects such “divine accommodation.” It is not that the Bible is a human book that cannot help but reflect its human sources and in fact could not be otherwise. Rather, for Boyd it is that the Bible is still a divine book where God chooses to allow the human limitations to be evident even though God could fashion the Bible otherwise if God wanted to.

It strikes me that Boyd wants to retain a view of a profoundly powerful God who could control things and chooses not to. In face of the evidence that the Bible indeed does reflect human limitations, Boyd argues for this “divine accommodation” without any clear evidence to support such a move beyond the need to hold on to his understanding of the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. Continue reading

Boyd on how God judges sin [chapter 16]

Ted Grimsrud—December 1, 2017

[This is the 18th 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 17h post may be found here—and an index of the series here.]

Chapter 16, “Crime and Punishment: Divine Withdrawal and the Self-Destructive Nature of Sin” (pages 805-50) develops more of Boyd’s thinking on the second key point in his Cruciform Hermeneutic, which is “the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal.”

Does God, in effect, grant Israel’s “wish” when Rome destroys Jerusalem?

Boyd explains Jesus’s teaching in Luke 19 that seems to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in 70 CE: “For centuries, God’s covenant people had been pushing him away, and they were now about to push him away in a definitive way by participating in Jesus’s crucifixion. By 70 CE, the time had come when God did, in essence, grant them their wish. And in doing so, God was leaving them vulnerable to the Roman military, who would inflict on them the death-consequences of their sin” (809).

I believe that there are a number of problems with Boyd’s statement. First of all, his statement that “God’s covenant people” (by which he surely means “the Jews” as a people) for centuries “had been pushing [God] away” needs to be challenged. Certainly, the community, as always before and since (and as has always been the case for Christian communities at least as much), struggled with faithfully following God’s will. However, it seems deeply problematic to say they were “pushing God away” in any sense differently than God’s people ever have.

The leadership of Israel in the generations prior to Jesus’s birth, indeed, seems to have been quite corrupt with its use of the temple to exploit the people and in its collaboration with Rome. Again, though, the leadership of Christian communities has over the centuries been just as corrupt. “The [common] people of the covenant” (as always) surely struggled to get by in life and to live as best they could in harmony with God.

Second, to say that “God’s covenant people” would push God away in a “definitive way” by participating in Jesus’s crucifixion seems like a fundamental misreading of the story. It was only the Jewish leaders who collaborated with Rome in killing Jesus, not “God’s covenant people.” Jesus’s execution as a political criminal was not an act of “the covenant people” against God. It was an act by the power elite of the temple structure collaborating with the power elite of the Empire to defy God. That is, the killing of Jesus was most of all about the political dynamics of the power elite versus the efforts of Jesus to minister to the common people, not about Judaism as a religion versus emergent Christianity. Continue reading

The Bible and same-sex marriage

Ted Grimsrud

Lecture presented at Oak Grove Mennonite Church (Smithville, Ohio)—January 18, 2015

As I understand it, I have been invited to be with you today in order to speak from a biblically grounded perspective. I was asked to share my perspective, to explain why I support Christian churches taking what I call an “inclusive” (i.e., gay Christians should be accepted as full participants in the churches with the acceptance of their intimate relationships being understood in the same was as acceptance of heterosexual intimate relationships) rather than “restrictive” (limits should be placed on the participation of gay Chrstians due to their sexual identity) approach to Christians who are in—or who are open to being in—committed intimate relationships with partners of the same sex (for simplicity’s sake, I will use the term “gay”). In a nutshell: I support non-discrimination—gay Christians and straight Christians should seek to adhere to the same set of expectations concerning intimate relationships.

Moral analogies

Let’s imagine several “moral analogies” for how we might think of gay marriage.

(1) The least accepting view is that gay marriage is a choice to sin by people who could easily choose otherwise. The analogy could be that gay marriage is like adultery. It’s simply wrong and the person sinning is fully culpable even for wanting to sin.

(2) A more moderate view is that gay marriage is a wrong choice for one who has an unchosen affectional orientation toward people of one’s same sex. The analogy could be that same-sex marriage is like alcoholism. We tend to see the proclivity toward alcoholism to be something that is innate for some people and as such not morally wrong. But the choice to act on that proclivity is sinful. Likewise, one who is attracted to people of the same sex should not act on that and become sexually involved.

(3) A more accepting view yet is that the same-sex attraction is problematic, not the ideal, but not inherently morally wrong. Given that it is deep-seated and, for some, unchangeable, church and society should accept the validity of gay marriage because marriage is a good thing that should not be withheld from people who are not suited for “normal” opposite-sex partnerships. The analogy could be that same-sex affectional orientation is like a birth defect (such as being born without sight). The task is to work at living as full a life as possible in face of the defect. So, if not an ideal state, being “afflicted” with same-sex affectional orientation need not disqualify one from finding a marriage partner and living a pretty normal life.

(4) The most accepting view sees same-sex attraction as completely morally neutral, just as is opposite-sex attraction. The analogy could be that same-sex affectional orientation and gay marriage are like being left-handed. Most people are strictly right-handed, a few are strictly left-handed, and some others are a mixture. Handedness is simply part of who we are. We don’t understand it very well, but we have learned that it is unchangeable for people at the farthest ends of the “handedness” spectrum. Continue reading

Reflections on Old Testament worship and politics

From time to time, I have the privilege of writing short meditations on the biblical texts being studied in the quarterly Sunday School lessons that are published in the Mennonite World Review. This summer, the texts focused on the portrayal of worship in a small slice of the Old Testament. My six articles were published in MWR between May 27 and August 5. The first two articles dealt with texts from Isaiah, the middle two with texts from Ezra, and the final two with texts from Nehemiah.

I found it particularly interesting to reflect on the texts from Ezra and Nehemiah. They described the situation in ancient Israel following the return from exile after the Babylonians dealt the kingdom of Judah a devastating defeat. One key theme for me is the contrast between this time of constructing the second temple in the context of being part of a much larger empire (the Persians) that did not allow the Israelites to have political self-determination and the constructing of the first temple as the Israelite nation was settling in for a long but disastrous time of running their own kingdom.

Here is a link to the articles.

Salvation project completed (or, is it, abandoned?)

Ted Grimsrud

The project on the Bible’s salvation story that I have been working on for some time has come to its conclusion (at least for the time being). I submitted a manuscript in early August, 2012, to Cascade Books. The book is under contract and hopefully will be published some time during the summer of 2013.

The book will be called Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. I do challenge traditional atonement theology, in large part for the sake of advocating for Christian peace theology. The main focus of the book, though, is on the biblical narrative itself. I try to establish that the Bible as a whole follows a logic of mercy rather than the logic of retribution implied in mainstream atonement theology. I will leave it to a sequel to address the history of atonement theology in the post-biblical epoch and speak to the diversity among the atonement models. Continue reading

Romans commentary (chapter six)

The sixth chapter of my running, preliminary commentary on the book of Romans is here.

These are some of the key points I discuss in the commentary,

1. Paul makes clear that his point about “grace abounding all the more” due to the “increase” of sin when “law came in” (5:20-21) has an ethical agenda at its heart. His thought is not that the abundance of God’s grace has to do with “going to heaven after we die,” but that it has to do with the empowerment of believers to live faithful lives in the present.

2. Paul sees a direct link between, on the one hand, Jesus’ own faithful life leading to the cross leading to vindication through resurrection and, on the other hand, the fate of those who seek to walk with Jesus. Paul’s central concern in these verses is to exhort his readers to share in Jesus’ way of life – the only authentic outcome for those who indeed do trust in God’s mercy.

3. The way to life is to give up trusting in idols. Easier said than done! This is why Paul places such an emphasis on the epoch transforming effect of God raising Jesus from the dead – and the believers’ identification with this work of God. We can be freed when we trust in God’s power of love.

4. Because Jesus himself was raised from the dead, his way of living free from the Powers, free from idolatry, free from the dominance of sin becomes the norm for all who would worship the true God. And Jesus’ way of living also is revealed as possible. Hence, Paul can exhort his readers to “not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies” (6:12).

5. When we respond to God’s mercy with faithfulness, “sin will have no dominion” over us (6:14). When we respond thus, we are “under grace” not “under law” – just like Abraham. Paul’s point here is not a chronological one, that in Old Testament times God wanted people to be “under law” and now, with the advent of Christianity, God wants people to be “under grace.” Romans four has made it clear (as do Jesus and the prophets) that God has always wanted people to be “under grace.”

6. Paul argues that we all are “slaves” to something – either to sin or to obedience. One kind of slavery fosters a narrowing down where we become like the lifeless things we are giving our allegiance to. The other kind of slavery is actually freedom.

7. Being in bondage to the Powers keeps one from living according to justice. The way to true life involves a complete upturning of the dynamics of slavery/freedom Paul has identified as leading to death. The person moving toward “sanctification” is a person who as a “slave of God” becomes “free in regard to sin” (6:22).

8. Paul seeks to challenge the imaginations of his readers. What seems in the present and to superficial sight (dimmed by the dynamics of idolatry, Romans one) as attractive about enslavement to the Powers and unattractive about enslavement to God is a false impression. Genuine life results only from freedom from idolatry and trust in the only true God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Romans commentary (chapter five)

The fifth chapter of my preliminary, running commentary on Romans may be found here.

Here are some key points from chapter five that I discuss in the commentary.

1. Because trust in God as revealed in Jesus is the one non-idolatrous trust, we may indeed “boast” in “our hope of sharing the glory of God” (5:2). “We boast in our sufferings” (5:3) because when we walk with Jesus we will mark ourselves as threats to the Powers. And they will retaliate, causing us to suffer, leading to endurance that enhances character and produces hope (5:3-4).

2. As evidence that God will reward our faithfulness with healing, Paul points to the presence in our lives right now of God’s love through the Holy Spirit. Paul certainly believes in an ultimate future vindication, but with this reference to the present reality of the Spirit of love, he points to a genuine experience of wholeness with God in the present as well.

3. As a rule, people do not give up their lives for others (5:7). However, God does precisely this. Paul overtly couches the mysteries of Jesus’ crucifixion strictly in terms of God’s love. There is no hint here of retributive justice, no hint of any kind of mechanistic dynamic whereby a “holy” God needs some act of propitiation in order, according to the dictates of a love-less “justice” to offer pardon.

4. We have been made whole (“justified”) by Jesus’ “blood” (5:9; that is, his life of faithfulness unto death leading to his blood being shed as a witness to the transforming character of his life that evoked such hostility from the Powers).

5. God reaches out to us while we are still God’s enemies. God’s initiative is centered on the witness of Jesus, who loved even to the point of a self-sacrificial death at the hands of the Powers (and we should remember that Paul surely had himself in mind here as an “enemy of God’ who used violence against Jesus’ followers).

6. By pointing back to Adam, Paul makes clear that the Law was not to blame. Sin was in the world before God’s revelation to Moses. However, it takes the Law to be able clearly to define sin (idolatry) for what it is. The Law, though, was never intended to solve the problem of sin. What it does is offer guidance for transformative obedience as the appropriate response to God’s mercy – mercy that does indeed solve the problem of sin.

7. Following Adam’s path leads to condemnation. Following Jesus’ path leads to “justification and life for all” (5:18). Adam’s way unleashes the Powers who tighten the spiral of death and injustice, resulting in many people being “made sinners” (5:19).

8. How does “the one man’s obedience” lead to the making just of the many (5:19)? We should think in terms of Jesus’ “saving work” having to do with his model of freedom from the Powers, vindicated by God raising him from the dead, and sustained by the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit among those who do trust in God’s mercy.

9. Paul is committed to the conviction that God’s grace will have the final word. As distressing as the reality of sin is, and as troubling as having the insight to see the deadly dynamics of idolatry might be, Paul insists that God’s mercy will be more powerful yet. Ultimately, the growth of sin will lead to a growth in mercy. The more need there will be God’s healing justice, the more God will bestow healing justice.

Romans commentary (chapter four)

The fourth chapter of my running, preliminary commentary on Romans may be found here

These are some key points from Romans 4 that I discuss in my commentary:

1. How was Abraham justified (made whole in his relationship with God)?  God’s gifting call came first, then Abraham’s trust, and then, in response, Abraham’s following the commands (i.e., circumcision, the classic boundary-marking command).

2. To one who trusts in following the commands as the way of gaining God’s favor, the favor God bestows (“wages”) are “something due,” not a “gift” (4:4).  In contrast, to one who recognizes that God’s favor is from the start a gift that need not be earned, trust in God is what counts as the basis for their being seen as just.

3. In Genesis, Abraham was called in chapter 12 and not circumcised until chapter 17.  The circumcision was a “sign” that served as a “seal of the justice he had by faith” (4:11).  The justice, though, was established before Abraham’s circumcision.  

4. When Paul speaks of God’s promise that Abraham and his descendants “would inherit the world” (4:13), he may have in mind the promise of Genesis 12:3 that Abraham’s descendents would “bless all the families of the earth.”  Paul’s own apostleship to the Gentiles (1:5) may be seen as his acting on the confidence that he is part of the embodiment of the “inheritance” promised Abraham.

5. “The law brings wrath” (4:15) means: “Trusting in the law as an idol separated from God’s motivating mercy brings with it negative consequences.  Those so trusting lose touch with this mercy and instead are possessed by the rules in ways that lead to violence and injustice.”

6. Paul is not meaning to imply that Israel is no longer part of God’s covenant.  He merely argues, based on the original scope of the promise to Abraham and Sarah, that this promise includes both “adherents  of the law” and those “outside the law,” that is, both Jews and Gentiles.

7. In the beginning of Israel, God brought into being something new, out of nothing, an act of pure mercy.  If God did such a work in the time of Abraham, there is no reason why God could not do it again.  The Gentiles who trust in God in Paul’s context are not less worthy of God’s mercy (and no less uncircumcised) than Abraham had been when God first called him.

8. Paul’s punch line: “the words ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for [Abraham’s] sake alone, but for ours also” (4:23-24).  This story Abraham is a present reality throughout all of history, showing how God works with human beings and providing a model for human responsiveness to God. 

Romans commentary (chapter three)

The third chapter of my running, preliminary commentary on Romans may be found here: chapter three.

These are some key points from Romans 3 that I discuss in my commentary:

1. I would not read an angry God who directly intervenes to punish into these ruminations by Paul. More, he seems to have in mind the need to hold on to a moral universe. One danger is to believe that unjust people will be able to practice their injustice without consequences. The other danger is to forget that God is a merciful God who above all else in relation to human beings desires wholeness and restored relationships.

2. “Sin” is about idolatry that manifests itself in injustice. By being under the “power of sin” Paul has in mind sin as a force outside of us (though it taps into and exploits our inner flaws) that shapes us and distorts our way of seeing and seduces us into worshiping idols. And this “worship” of idols leads to injustice. When Paul says we are “all” under the power of sin, his point seems to be not so much that each individual is (he has already alluded to the existence of genuinely just people) but that Jews and Gentiles as distinct populations are each equally liable to being under the power of sin (that is, idolaters).

3. When Paul states in 3:20 that no one will be justified (made whole, restored to healthy relationships with God and other human beings) by “deeds prescribed by the law” (or, “works of the law”), he emphasizes the peculiarly Jewish (and problematic) reduction of the law to particular rules especially useful for setting and sustaining boundaries (e.g., circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher eating). Such a tendency leads to a sense of entitlement and hostility toward Gentiles (contradicting the call to bless all the families of the earth), and of having leverage over against God.

4. The law helps give knowledge of sin (as idolatry) by providing various touchstones for when we cut ourselves off from God’s healing power. When there is injustice, that is a sure sign that our trust in God has wavered. When the communal wholeness prescribed by the law is violated, that warns us of the presence of idols in our midst. The law also points us to the reality of our liberator God who stands in contrast to all the other gods we are tempted to trust in.

5. When Paul asserts that the disclosure of God’s justice is “attested by the law and prophets” he is saying that scripture from the start has witnessed to how God discloses God’s justice – through acts of mercy and liberation.

6. Paul is saying that the problem of idolatry cuts across any possible lines of distinction. The (Gentile) lusters (Rom. 1) are idolaters, but equally so are the (Jewish) judgers (Rom. 2).

7. When Paul speaks specifically of Jesus’ blood as the means of “a sacrifice of atonement” “put forward” by God (3:25), he refers to Jesus’ life (“the life is in the blood,” Lev 17:14) as a witness to God’s justice.

8. God “put forward” Jesus’ self-sacrificial life in order to make clear with all with eyes to see the nature of God’s justice. When the Powers respond to this disclosure with murderous violence, they are exposed as idols. This exposure provides a means for liberation for their seductions. Then, the final expression of God’s commitment to Jesus as the expression of justice put forward by God comes when God raises Jesus from the dead, firmly establishing Jesus as the authentic revelation of the healing justice of God.