Ted Grimsrud

Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

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

In Biblical theology, God, Nonviolence, Old Testament, Pacifism, peace theology, Theology, violence on May 27, 2017 at 12:08 pm

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

In Biblical theology, Book reviews, God, Jesus, Nonviolence, Old Testament, Pacifism, peace theology, Politics, Theology, violence on May 25, 2017 at 8:30 pm

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

In Biblical theology, God, Jesus, New Testament, Old Testament, peace theology on May 8, 2017 at 7:02 pm

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. Read the rest of this entry »

The Old Testament as a peace book

In Biblical theology, Old Testament, Pacifism, peace theology on December 17, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Ted Grimsrud

[This was the first of a two-part Carol Grizzard-Browning Lecture Series—University of Pikeville (Pikeville, KY)—11/11/13 (here’s part 2 on the New Testament)]

What I will do with this lecture on the Old Testament and with my second lecture on the New Testament is share about some things I have been passionately engaged with now for about 40 years.

A journey to pacifism

When I went to college in the mid-1970s, the Vietnam War was coming to an end. I registered for the draft, and was ready to fight if called. The draft ended, though, before I was called. That marked a turning point in my life, nonetheless.

I had just become a Christian. I was taught a Christian should be patriotic and be willing to fight for one’s country. However, I was also urged to read the Bible, especially to read the story of Jesus my savior in the gospels. The gospel story presented Jesus as a peacemaker. This challenged me as I struggled with the possibility of going to war. I also learned to know a number of veterans returning from Vietnam. They told horrific stories—and themselves quite often were traumatized. War didn’t seem so attractive.

About the time I finished college, I came to a clear conviction that I could not fight in war, that I was a pacifist. This conviction came shortly after I had deepened my commitment to live as a Christian—the two went together, as I resolved to be a serious Christian I committed myself to be a pacifist. What I meant by “pacifist” first was “the conviction that it is never morally acceptable to fight in or support war.” My current definition is more like this: “The conviction that no causes or values can override the commitment to treat each life as precious.” In either case, to be a Christian pacifist is to affirm these convictions due to one’s understanding of Jesus’s message.

My task then became—and remains—one of faith seeking understanding. What does it mean to be a Christian pacifist? How should I read the Bible in relation to these convictions? What about all the questions and problems—and the stubborn fact that just about all Christians for hundreds and hundreds of years have not accepted pacifism?

It helped that I had some experience being a minority. I was the only boy with four sisters. I was the only University of Oregon fan in a community filled with Oregon State fans. I was used to being a bit different, so being part of the tiny pacifist minority in a religion filled with warriors was not itself enough to make me think I was wrong…. Read the rest of this entry »

The prophet Amos and restorative justice

In Biblical theology, Justice, Old Testament, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Theology on June 4, 2012 at 8:38 am

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.3

[Published in Ted Grimsrud and Loren L. Johns, Justice and Peace Shall Embrace: Power and Theo-Politics in the Bible: Essays in Honor of Millard Lind (Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 1999), 64-85]

When I was a doctoral student in the mid-1980s, I had the privilege of taking a year-long seminar on justice from Professor Karen Lebacqz of Pacific School of Religion.  At the time, Lebacqz was in the process of writing a two-volume theological study on justice.[1]  As we read and discussed works such as John Rawls’s classic, A Theory of Justice[2], and Robert Nozick’s critique and alternative, Anarchy, State, and Utopia[3], I found myself increasingly disenchanted with these modern philosophical theories.

I was uneasy with both points of view, and I saw them having many problems in common—things that were particularly troubling to me in light of my own faith commitments. They both share certain assumptions (or faith commitments) that are problematic.  I will mention a few, in general terms, not so much in an attempt to criticize them significantly, but more as a means of expressing part of my immediate motivation in seeing if an alternative might be constructed.

Briefly, these assumptions (sometimes more true of one than the other, but largely applicable to both) include:

(1) a fundamental rationalism, an assumption that we can come up with a notion of justice which all “reasonable” people can accept;

(2) an emphasis on self-interest, a kind of faith that a balance of self-interest can lead to the common good for society;

(3) individualism, a locating of the basic unit of moral discernment with the autonomous individual;

(4) an emphasis on what seem to be quite abstract principles such as “equality,” “fairness,” “liberty,” “entitlement,” etc.;

(5) a utopianism (in the sense of utopia = “nowhere”) which is ahistorical and not closely tied to historical developments concerning genuine injustices and genuine practices of justice;

(6) a bracketing of any discussion of religious and faith and rejection of any notion of “particularlism;”

(7) a focus on western consumptive goods and notions of liberty as if these are the ultimate human values.

Out of my unease with this general approach to justice, I decided to look at the Bible to see if it might contain something that might provide help in formulating an alternative approach.  I wrote a letter to my seminary Old Testament professor, Millard Lind of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, asking if he had any help to offer.  Professor Lind kindly sent me several papers, including a most helpful unpublished (at that time) essay, “Transformation of Justice:  From Moses to Jesus.”[4] Lind is one of the few pacifist theologians and biblical scholars I am aware of who has accepted the challenge to attempt to rethink justice.  A pacifist theory of justice that would serve as an alternative to the problematic approaches mentioned above continues to be an urgent need.[5]

This essay is only one more fragmentary attempt to point toward a thorough-going Christian pacifist approach to justice.  One of my main arguments, following Lind, is that the Old Testament is a crucial resource for such a resource.  In fact, if we can get beyond what Canadian social theorist George Grant called “English-speaking justice”[6] (or, said in other words, beyond the western philosophical tradition represented in recent years by Rawls and Nozick) and look at the biblical materials concerning justice (including the Old Testament) on their own terms, we will find that they are a tremendous resource for a pacifist approach to justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Old Testament Peace Theology

In Biblical theology, Old Testament, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Theology on June 1, 2012 at 9:15 am

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.1

[This paper was presented to the Contextual Ethics section of the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, Atlanta, November 2010. It was published in Ted Grimsrud, Arguing Peace: Collected Pacifist Writings, Volume 3: Biblical and Theological Essays (Peace Theology Books, 2014, 18-31.]

The “just peacemaking” project that brought together Christian ethicists holding both to pacifism and to versions of the just war theory but united in the goal of “abolishing war”[1] has made a great start in a practical effort to overcome the curse of war. The desire to expand the project beyond Christianity is welcome—in fact absolutely necessary.

My paper points in two mutually reinforcing directions—one is to challenge Christians in our understanding of the bases for our peace theology, the second is to work at finding common ground between Christian peace theology and other traditions (most obviously Judaism, but potentially beyond).

The Old Testament as a Problem

Christian peace theology tends to be New Testament centered, especially drawing on the gospels. Most Christians would seem to assume that the Old Testament has little to offer for the work of overcoming war and violence. The comment of a friend of mine many years ago may be representative. We were in a Bible study group together and when someone suggested we study something from the Old Testament, my friend snorted and stated flatly, “I don’t want anything to do with that bloody book!” And many Christians who have wanted something to do with the Old Testament, going back to Augustine, have mainly used it as a justification for the acceptability of warfare.

So it’s no surprise when a Christian peace theologian such a Jack Nelson-Pallmyer writes a polemical book critiquing Christian acceptance of violent theology, he would portray the Old Testament mainly as a problem.[2] Every Fall I teach an undergrad class called “Biblical Theology of Peace and Justice” to students who by and large are Christian pacifists of a fairly theologically conservative stripe (mostly Mennonites). Rare is the student who doesn’t see the Old Testament as a major problem.

Even peace theologians who don’t share Nelson-Pallmyer’s antipathy toward the Old Testament (such as John Howard Yoder, Glen Stassen, and Walter Wink) nonetheless do little to develop a positive Old Testament centered peace theology.[3]

Happily, numerous Old Testament scholars have helped us make progress in understanding the Hebrew scriptures as conveying a message of peace, not only giving us problems to overcome in constructing a biblically-based peace theology.[4] But as yet, these scholars have mainly produced careful historical and textual studies more than constructive biblically based peace theologies. Read the rest of this entry »

Christian Pacifism Encounters the Old Testament

In Biblical theology, Old Testament, Pacifism, Politics, Theology on May 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.2

[Previously unpublished. From a 1983 lecture. Slightly revised in 1991.]

The Old Testament has been enormously influential in Christian thinking about warfare, especially for its use in justifying involvement in warfare.  Sociologist Ray Abrams, in his study of American Christian support for World War I makes the strong statement: “It may be safely predicted that as long as Christian ministers and Sunday School teachers continue, as the majority of them now do, to defend the crude ethics in parts of the Old Testament, the Bible will continue to be used as the greatest defense of war in history.”[1]  Unfortunately, many pacifists react to such uses of the Old Testament by dismissing it and neglecting the positive resources it offers for Christian peacemaking and social thought in general.

We do not have to explain away the Old Testament’s wars in order to remain pacifists and at the same time accept all of the Old Testament as scripture.  Looked at on its own terms, and seen as a record of the historical movement of God’s people in history, the Old Testament can provide us with a great deal of insight.  For one thing, it can help us to see that we are pacifists primarily not for negative reasons (it is wrong to kill) but for positive reasons.  We are called to be agents of God’s redemptive working in human history and that working moves in the way of the suffering servant, not in the way of power politics and violence.

Certainly, we are not left without problems.  But all areas of Christian theology leave us with problems.  The Bible is a very human book, presenting human history.  Just as human history is neither unambivalent nor unambiguous, neither is the Bible.  And the Bible, with its ambivalence and ambiguity, addresses us in our ambivalent and ambiguous contexts with words and images which nonetheless mediate the word of God for us.

The Old Testament texts should be seen first within their historical contexts.  In the age of Joshua, for example, the question of whether the taking of human life is morally permissible would never have been asked.  The key concept during the holy wars for the participants was not bloodshed, but rather the question of whether Israel would trust in God or not.  If it would trust and follow God’s will, then the occupants of the land would be driven out in ways which would make it clear that it was God and not military might or large numbers which won the victory.[2]

When we look at the historical development rather than directly comparing Jesus with Joshua, we see evolution.  First we can see novel aspects of holy war itself (e.g., dependence on God for one’s existence) and in legislation (e.g., rejection of indirect retaliation and greater dignity given women and slaves).  Progressively the prophetic line represented by writers such as Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah underlines these same emphases.  Progression continues through incorporation of persons of non-Israelite blood into the tribe, expansion of world vision to include other nations, prophets’ criticism of and history’s destruction of kingship and territorial sovereignty as definitions of peoplehood.[3] Read the rest of this entry »

The Old Testament God

In Biblical theology, Old Testament, Theology on May 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Ted Grimsrud

Exodus and the Psalms provided stimulus for reflecting on how the Old Testament presents God in a series of short reflections I published during the Fall of 2010 in Mennonite Weekly Review.

These reflections followed the uniform Sunday School lesson for that time period. The format for these reflections allows very little opportunity for in-depth analysis of any sort. And they are meant to be accessible to non-scholars. So it’s a challenge to find something to say that has substance.

My main interest, in the small space allotted, was to test the thesis that God in the Old Testament is actually mainly presented as merciful, concerned with healing, and well worth trusting in. Of course, one could easily find 13 passages that would support this thesis. However, part of the challenge in writing these reflections was that I was not allowed to choose the passages to write on; I had to follow the outline given to me.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Old Testament message of mercy

In Biblical theology, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology on July 25, 2008 at 9:49 am

Many people, we could call them the “cultured despisers,” reject the Old Testament as a “bloody book.”  Many others, probably more, affirm the Old Testament as a “bloody book” and all too often use that “bloodiness” as a justification for their own.

This article, “Mercy not retribution,” argues for a reading of the Old Testament that recognizes the centrality of God’s mercy in the story–and sees that mercy as the biblical basis for Jesus’ own peaceable message.

It was originally published in The Mennonite, September 6, 2005.

Pacifism With Justice (4)

In Biblical theology, Pacifism, Restorative justice on May 26, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Quite often in discussions of Christian pacifism, the concepts of “peace” and “pacifism” and “love” are held in tension with the theme of “justice.” In recent years, the discipline of restorative justice has arisen that, in its more faith-oriented strands, has sought to rethink the meaning of justice in ways that see it as more complimentary with peace, pacifism, and love.

This essay, “Healing Justice: The Prophet Amos and a ‘New’ Theology of Justice,” is chapter four in my book-in-process, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case. It addresses the understanding of justice reflected in the Old Testament, specifically, the Book of Amos. It argues for a view of justice that emphasizes justice as focused on healing.