Greg Boyd’s “Cruciform Hermeneutic”
The cross does not just happen to be the place where God decided to concretely illustrate the kind of love he eternally is. The cross rather contains within itself a logic that necessitates that we embrace it as the definitive, unsurpassable revelation of God’s loving nature. (CWG I, p. 154)
The crucified Christ…is nothing less than the key that unlocks all the secrets of Christian theology. (J. Moltmann, quoted in CWG I, p. 159)
The claim I will be defending throughout this work is that there is a way of interpreting Scripture’s violent portraits of God that not only resolves the moral challenges they pose but that also discloses how these portraits bear witness to God’s non-violent, self-sacrificial, enemy-loving character that was definitively revealed on Calvary. (CWG I, xxxiv)
I have argued that Jesus is “the center and circumference of the Bible” while the cross is the center and circumference of Jesus. And this means that everything in Scripture should be interpreted through this lens, including the OT’s violent portraits of God. Moreover, it means that while there are other criteria by which proposed interpretations of passages can be evaluated, such as their correspondence to the teaching of the whole canon, the ultimate criterion that interpretations must be assessed by is their correspondence to the revelation of God on the cross. (CWG I, p. 227)
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It’s hard to know where to begin when responding to a 1400 page, two volume work. So I’ve decided to cut right to the chase in looking at Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. The heart and soul of Boyd’s argument is what he calls the “Cruciform Hermeneutic.” I simply want to try and set this out before you as best I can today for your consideration and our discussion.
The Cruciform Hermeneutic can be summarized like this:
- The heart and center of Jesus’ identity and mission is the cross.
- On the cross, Jesus provided the definitive revelation of who God is — a God of self-giving, non-violent, enemy-embracing love.
- We are to read all scripture and its portrayals of God in the light of this supreme revelation on the cross.
- If we do that, even the Bible’s violent depictions of God as a Divine Warrior must in some way point to the cross and the loving God it reveals.
Thus, the subtitle for Greg Boyd’s book is “Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross.”
If you’ve been reading the past two days, I think you can see some differences between Boyd’s approach and the ones we’ve discussed from John Polkinghorne and Pete Enns.
Those scholars emphasize principles of accommodation and development. The violent depictions of God in the Hebrew Bible such as those in Joshua regarding the conquest of Canaan represent ancient ways of understanding God that remain intact in scripture. God accommodates himself to the points of view of the authors of scripture and allows them to tell his story.
Furthermore, the Bible shows a process of growth and maturation in the knowledge of God as Israel’s story develops. Since, in Enns’s words, “God lets his children tell the story” in their own words and out of the socio-cultural context in which they lived, we read many things in the Hebrew Bible that represent more immature perspectives. But one characteristic of the Hebrew Bible is that it contains an ongoing conversation in which these perspectives are debated within Israel. For example, the Israelites under Joshua could hardly conceive of God showing mercy to their enemies as they seized their land, while prophets like Isaiah envision a time when all nations will live in peace. The prophet Nahum calls down judgment upon Assyria, while the story of Jonah emphasizes God’s mercy toward the Ninevites. And so on.
Greg Boyd discusses these ways of reading the Hebrew Bible along with some of the other ways the church has wrestled with such violent portraits of God and their incongruity with the self-giving love of God revealed in Jesus. He lists two broad categories of approach:
- The Dismissal Solution, as represented by Marcion, who simply set aside the Hebrew Bible as having any authority for Christians.
- The Synthesis Solution, in which interpreters accept that Christ is the supreme revelation of God, but because of a “high” view of scripture, believe that we must simultaneously accept the Hebrew Bible’s violent depictions of God as accurate revelations.
I have difficulties with the way Boyd defines and describes these “solutions” and delineates their adherents, but we’ll save that for another day. The main point is that Boyd rejects these approaches as insufficient for a proper theological reading of the Bible.
The Synthesis Solution, as well as the Dismissal Solution, are premised on the post-fifth-century assumption that the meaning any particular divine portrait had for the original audience is the meaning it must have for us. Both approaches thus assume that the revelation of God in Christ affords us no privileged insight into the ultimate meaning of these portraits. And this is why these approaches assume that the only options available to us are to either reject these portraits and hold fast to the absoluteness of the revelation of God in Christ, or to embrace the surface meaning of these portraits and to thus allow them to qualify the revelation of God in Christ (p. 418).
Boyd’s alternative to these options is what he calls “The Reinterpretation Option.”
If, as I have argued, all Scripture must bear witness to the crucified Christ, and if we can neither dismiss nor simply embrace the OT’s violent divine portraits, our only remaining option is to look for a way of interpreting these portraits that discloses how they reflect the self-sacrificial love of God revealed on Calvary.
He sees this option reflected in the writings of a number of early church fathers, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Cassian, and especially Origen. Boyd’s approach differs somewhat from these witnesses, in that they interpreted the offensive materials in the OT allegorically.
Origen, for example, saw the conquest narratives “as types and shadows of the spiritual conflict Jesus had to engage in and, therefore, that his followers are to engage in” (p. 445). This, according to Boyd, reflects the church father’s “spiritual warfare worldview,” an apocalyptic perspective that sees the conflicts throughout creation as cosmic battles between God and the unseen powers of evil and sin.
What Greg Boyd shares in common with Origen and others is a theological approach to the biblical texts. In setting forth his cruciform hermeneutic, he does not try to actually engage the difficult texts of the Hebrew Bible and offer any novel interpretations of them. In fact, he does not deny that, in many of those texts (though not all), the authors intended to ascribe violence to God or to portray him as commanding it.
Rather, here — and at this point in my analysis I think this is the key to understanding Boyd, as well as the ultimate reason that I don’t think he can fully justify his approach — Boyd is encouraging us to come at the text indirectly, through a particular theological lens that allows us to see a deeper “meaning” in it. To read the Bible correctly (and thus come to terms with these texts), we must take up an explicitly theological way of reading.
Here is one of the key passages of CWG. Read this carefully; it is central.
Rather, as I mentioned in the introduction to this volume, the hermeneutic I am proposing is theological in nature, for it is premised on the conviction that God’s definitive self-revelation on the cross gives us a perspective that can discern a dimension of truth in OT passages, and especially in its violent depictions of God, that the authors of the passages could not have discerned. I will argue that as we interpret these violent portraits through the lens of the cross, we can discern that what God was doing when he “breathed” these violent portraits through ancient authors anticipates, participates in, and thereby bears witness to what God did in a decisive manner, and for all humanity, on the cross. We can, in a word, discern in these violent portraits that God was bearing the sins of his people and was thereby taking on an ugly literary semblance that reflected that sin, just as he did in a historical way for all humanity on Calvary. (p. 457)
Next week, we’ll talk more about this remarkable book, and I will try to give more of an analysis and response to Greg Boyd’s approach.