The Conundrum of a Warrior God (4)

The Crucifixion, John Martin

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)

• • •

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 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.

37 thoughts on “The Conundrum of a Warrior God (4)

  1. I think it’s more that we nowadays don’t know the OT scriptures as well as John did; he is interpreting typologically all over the place, beginning with “In the Beginning was The Word” (Gen 1).



  2. Christ is risen!

    (Apologize beforehand for the length; I was at work yesterday and away from computer – much better day than last Friday!)

    The bullet points Chaplain Mike outlines at the top of the post are pretty much Orthodox theology. BUT, Robert F is right in that the true meaning of the Cross is only known by means of the Resurrection. They go together, but the Resurrection is the lens through which the Cross is viewed. (Flatrocker is also correct in that if there wasn’t an Incarnation, none of the rest would have had any significance, and there wouldn’t have been a Resurrection.) Jesus himself had to explain his death and resurrection to the disciples on the way to Emmaus, and later when they were all gathered together. The disciples didn’t get it, even after having seen the empty tomb, and having been familiar with the OT scriptures all their lives. Jesus had to explain both:

    Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”… Lk 24.44ff

    Interestingly, Fr Stephen, in a lecture he gave recently, noted that there is no place in the OT where it is explicitly written that the Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day, but it’s there; it’s the entire book of Jonah. That’s Jesus himself interpreting the OT typologically. In addition, if Boyd is going to go for a “flat” reading of scripture, he will be essentially dismissing those early theologians he is quoting to support his view. As I wrote a few days ago, they did not interpret Scripture ONLY allegorically (which Boyd seems to note), but that was the level they valued the most. And remember, typology is a kind of allegory that posits the actual “historical” reality of the Antitype (Jesus).

    I would expand what Robert wrote about the Resurrection being about Christ returning in forgiveness and love; that is true, but towering over those things, and the reason we can hope to actually live that way, is that in his death Christ trampled down Death – took away its power to be the period at the end of every sentence. It is why I can completely agree with Robert writing, “But we do know where we will encounter Christ’s cross ourselves: by living in the community of his followers, practicing forgiveness and reconciliation with them and on Christ’s part toward the world. In this way we come to know his not just intellectually but viscerally and existentially. All real theology is visceral and existential.” This is consistent with the Patristic consensus on the matter, as I understand it, and with Leviticus 19, the heart of The Teaching (Torah – it doesn’t have the flat meaning of “law”).

    Finally, I quote a verse that is part of every Sunday Matins service, which illustrates how tightly woven together the Cross and Resurrection are, with the latter on a higher rung of importance. In Orthodoxy, “Pascha” refers to the whole of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday – it’s One Thing.

    Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one.
    We venerate thy cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify thy holy resurrection,
    for thou art our God and we know none other beside thee; we call on thy name.
    Come, all ye faithful, let us venerate Christ’s holy resurrection,
    for behold, through the cross joy has come into all the world.
    Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise his holy resurrection –
    for by enduring the cross for us he has destroyed Death by death.



  3. Boyd’s point is slightly different, and pretty much in line with Luther: it is the cross that, surprisingly, reveals God most fully.

    Yes, the resurrection seals the meaning and significance of the incarnation, Jesus’ ministry, and his sacrificial death.

    But it is the mystery of the cross that we see God’s heart most fully.

    If this is the supreme revelation of God’s character and love for humankind, then we ought to interpret the entire biblical revelation of God through this lens.

    That is Boyd’s point.


  4. Boyd again: “The resurrection is the victorious declaration of the power of the cross.”

    I don’t think the cross has any power; the one who was crucified on it is the possessor of the power, and he made his power known by his resurrection breathing life into a new community of forgiveness and reconciliation. Lives transformed by this power are the Easter miracle; apart from this, we have only a dead man walking.


  5. John likes to speak in mystical code, assuming that his readers have the key that unlocks its meaning.


  6. No one really knows exactly what happened at or on the cross. But we do know where we will encounter Christ’s cross ourselves: by living in the community of his followers, practicing forgiveness and reconciliation with them and on Christ’s part toward the world. In this way we come to know his not just intellectually but viscerally and existentially. All real theology is visceral and existential.


  7. Yes. Boyd is trying to “fix” the Old Testament with his theological approach. I agree with him that it’s broken, but I don’t agree with him that we need to “fix” it. We can let it be, and still live fully in Christian faith.

    For that matter, and this is perhaps where I differ from you, I believe the New Testament is also broken in places. I don’t believe we need to “fix” it either; what we need to do is live as a resurrection community, that has been given the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation by the living Christ, a gift to live and share with all who need or want it.


  8. The church’s work of interpretation, which includes living and worshiping as well as thinking, is done from the perspective of the resurrection of Jesus.


  9. The resurrection is about the risen Jesus coming back to his community in forgiveness and love, something which they would not have expected, given their betrayal of him, and sending them to live lives and speak words of forgiveness and reconciliation in his name to all who need it. What happened in the community of his followers when they encountered his risen presence is what constitutes the new life of the church, and the world. No one had any idea that the cross meant anything until the risen Christ came to them with the gift of this new life; then they reflected back on the things he had said and done, and suffered, looking for the meaning in all of them that led to this new life.


  10. My point is that it is only from the vantage of Jesus’ resurrection that the meanings we attach to incarnation and passion are able to be discerned, reflected upon and expressed. If we see the incarnation, it is from the perspective of resurrection; if we find meaning in the cross, it is from the perspective of resurrection. Without the resurrected Christ going to his community in forgiveness and reconciliation, without their experience of his living, loving presence after death, they stay in hiding, they grieve his death, they try to find a way back to ordinary life, having no idea that he was anything other than just another man who died on a cross. History closes back in over their heads, and remembers nothing of the names John, Mark, Peter. They live the rest of their lives in fear, not that the authorities may at some point come looking for them, a threat that would no doubt diminish with time, but that a righteous God must certainly judge them for their betrayal and abandonment of their former rabbi, surely the most righteous of all the righteous who ever walked the earth.

    None of this has anything to do with rank. It has to do with the only ground, the resurrection, from which anything else that makes up the Christian faith can be seen. This was the experience of the church, and it is ours by inheritance.


  11. And we need to resist the temptation to rank any of this – as if one event is “bigger” than the other.
    For remember, none of this happens if the incarnation doesn’t happen first.


  12. Hmm…maybe not literally, but it seems to me those elements are buried within the words used in that text:

    GAVE His only son (could mean “death”)
    might NOT PERISH (could mean “resurrected with”)
    but have ETERNAL LIFE (see the first two aka death and resurrection)


  13. So with Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic, he’s not arguing that “this is what the OT accounts of violence and genocide say, but that is clearly not consistent with a cruciform hermeneutic, so that must be wrong“. He is saying “this is what the OT accounts of violence and genocide say, but that is clearly not consistent with a cruciform hermeneutic, so that cannot be what it is saying at all, we must look deeper until we find something to affirm and the apparent inconsistency is resolved“.

    Perhaps the difference is inconsequential when it comes to the nature of the cruciform hermeneutic….but (like any hermeneutic) it’s not without its issues.

    To be clear, I really like and appreciate Boyd’s work overall, and the emphasis he places on the issues here in particular.


  14. Has anybody else ever noticed that John 3:16 makes no reference to Jesus’ death or resurrection?


  15. One place:

    You could argue, I suppose, that this is ambiguous. But beyond this (and Boyd has written plenty on his blog), I simply think it’s the clear implication of the hermeneutic that Boyd seeks to employ here. For Boyd (and I think this is an issue with his categories) anything less is “dismissal”.

    But importantly, Boyd’s view of inspiration does not reside at the historical-critical or “original meaning” level – and that’s sort of the point here. That’s great and all, but I think it sweeps some of the messiness and change under the rug. He argues that the hermeneutic behind “inspiration” – the real hermeneutic – is a cruciform hermeneutic. All must be reinterpreted by and within that hermeneutic – and once that is done all can be (necessarily) affirmed. Why wouldn’t it? Once that hermeneutic is employed, what’s left to subvert, rethink, challenge? Inspiration understood in terms of multi-vocality, argument, contrast, change, etc. – even with the culmination being Christ – seems to be ruled out. Seems to be the whole reason for the book.


  16. Jesus said “To have seen me us to have seen the Father” but also (Matthew 5:18) that no “jot and tittle” should disappear from the law, and that he had come to fulfill it, not abolish it. Jesus was plainly able to look at the OT and all the “difficult” passages we do, but nevertheless see the unequivocal, all encompassing love of God he preached. If Boyd has a decent stab at explaining how Jesus managed this, the book should be worth a read.


  17. “Boyd argues in other places that because Jesus quotes the OT, he must therefore approve of it in it’s entirety – every jot and tittle.”

    Where does Boyd argue this, Mike? It’s certainly not something I’ve seen him argue. He argues – in CWG and elsewhere – that Jesus considered the Hebrew scriptures to be “God-breathed”, and thus that we should view them the same way. But that’s not the same as arguing that he “approved” of them in their entirety.


  18. Charles, that’s an interesting theory, but I have no basis upon which to assume its truth. Personally, I’d rather give Boyd the benefit of the doubt and assume that CWG is born out of a genuine desire to articulate something that will help others gain a “healthier” view of scripture consistent with a Christlike doctrine of God.


  19. Having read some of Boyd’s other work, I think his conclusions here are going to necessarily flow from:
    (1) The cruciform hermeneutic (as he understands it)
    (2) The idea that Jesus viewed the Bible as “infallible” (he makes a distinction from inerrancy)

    So the way I see it, Boyd essentially argues for a “flat text”. He just doesn’t think that “flat” can be defined according to “original meaning”. The “true meaning” is the “cruciform meaning”.

    Re (1), there are a lot of folks out there who are going to have an issue with the first one, arguing that the particular cruciform hermeneutic that he puts forth is at best only partially true. At worst you get the “god made in your own image” and “modern sensibility” arguments. Either way, some cruciform hermeneutics are reinforced by and actually need that OT violence. Take it away and you have no “theology of the cross” (which is why atonement theory matters). Bottom line, for some there is no conundrum in the 1st place. But Boyd’s is not a penal substitutionary based cruciform hermeneutic.

    More interested in (2) though. Boyd argues in other places that because Jesus quotes the OT, he must therefore approve of it in it’s entirety – every jot and tittle. So there is only the issue of harmonization and gymnastics, of putting the puzzle together. With that assumption in place, the very idea of “a conversation” or Jesus choosing one understanding over another becomes deeply incoherent. Is that presupposition about Jesus’ hermeneutic and the nature of the Bible correct though? I don’t think it is.


  20. Knowing all the other glowing things that Paul said about the resurrection and the primacy of the risen Christ I think it’s clear that when he says to know him and his crucifixion is to absolutely imply the accompanying resurrection and our following suit in the same pattern. When referencing Jesus there simply can’t be one without the other.


  21. Rob, my sense is that one of Boyd’s main desires is to be allowed to move from the kid’s table and sit with the grown ups at the Theological Table. This book, which is massive, expensive, and sits on the “academic” theology shelf, along with his orthodox bona fides from Yale and Princeton, just might get him a seat, perhaps that of John Howard Yoder. What he perhaps is trying to overcome here is his espousal of “open” theology and his association with the “emergent” movement, both of which I consider self-evident truths and done deals, and both of which have been considered maverick thinking by the establishment. I like mavericks and I like Boyd, tho not enough to buy or read this mighty effort, glad for your Reader’s Digest version and the one here.


  22. +1! God does not seem to inspire works in modern time (unless you consider works like the *other* CWG – “Conversations With God” by Walsch, or “A Course In Miracles” by Schucman) and so there is no reason to assume He did so previously. I like Enns’ approach this way.

    I think that much of theology is an exercise in applying tons of logic on top of faulty base assumptions. And this proceeds from the need/desire you mention to have an inspired work that removes the responsibility for critical thinking.


  23. One of my main difficulties with Boyd’s whole enterprise in CWG is that it seems to me to be ultimately driven by a need (or a desire, if you prefer to be more gentle about it) to maintain quite a strong view of inspiration. Because Boyd comes at the text with a set of strong presuppositions about its inspiration, he is compelled to perform what seem to me to be hermeneutical gymnastics in order to get the theological result he wants (namely that God’s supreme self-revelation is seen in Christ crucified) while also maintaining those presuppositions. This is why, ultimately, I come down much closer to Enns, since I believe his approach allows for much greater freedom to let the text speak to us on its own terms, without as many presuppositions.


  24. But Paul also said that if Christ isn’t raised from the dead we are, of all men, most miserable, and our faith is in vain. So I think it is more of a “to-may-to” vs “to-mah-to” kind of deal. Without the resurrection the cross is another example of the “powers” winning again. But the resurrection was the knock-out punch that sealed the defeat of death and the power of death. The cross is the jui-jitsu move of God, and I use that martial arts term deliberately. “J?” can be translated to mean “gentle, soft, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding.” “Jutsu” can be translated to mean “art” or “technique” and represents manipulating the opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force. Without the cross the resurrection is what… some random guy coming back to life? I don’t think you can really separate them.


  25. I’m with Robert. Paul’s assertion that he was determined to confine his proclamation to Christ crucified has always bothered me, even if taken as hyperbole. If this morbid picture had been all that was presented to people as the Good News, Christianity would have died with the apostles. Resurrection is the necessary other side of the coin, then and now, and it seems like that coin is often being flipped thru the air before landing at our feet as . . . wait, two out of three, okay?


  26. As I said in the post, I’m not happy with the way Boyd lays out these “solutions,” and there are many different kinds of “Synthesists” that he writes about — it’s a broad category.

    What I am not able to agree with at this point is that we need to read “deeper meaning” into any of these stories simply because we “read backwards” from Christ and the cross. I believe we, in some sense, must read backwards because we know the climax of the story and know where these earlier narratives are leading. But I’m not sure that such backwards reading changes the actual meaning of the stories in the Hebrew Bible itself.

    I’m more of an Accommodationist. I believe these stories are sagas passed down in the language and socio-cultural context of the age they are describing. They represent an earlier way that the people of Israel understood their God, an understanding which developed through the conversation we see in the pages of the entire Hebrew Bible and ultimately, for Christians, came to its culmination in Christ. I don’t need to reinterpret the stories themselves to think that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a God who commands genocide simply so that a group of people can take a plot of land. But I also don’t need to deny that people back then thought their God was a Warrior God like that.

    I’m giving away my response to the book, but at this point it’s only tentative, and the full response will come next week.


  27. Robert, Boyd argues it the other way around. “The resurrection is only properly understood when it is thematically centered on the cross,” since “the resurrection is the deliverance, vindication, and exaltation of the Son who had been perfectly obedient, even to the point of death” (Philippians 2:5-11).

    Boyd again: “The resurrection is the victorious declaration of the power of the cross.”


  28. But resurrection life, and specifically life in the church’s experience of Jesus’ resurrection, is life in the knowledge that God is not pissed off, that Jesus is not coming back for blood, even after being betrayed and crucified.

    Could somebody forward that memo to the End Time Prophecy crowd?


  29. Mark me down as a Synthesist. 😉 And to Boyd’s assertion that “(t)he Synthesis Solution (is) 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”, I say this… why could it not have BOTH meanings, the contextual and the typological?


  30. And I’m not promoting a theology of glory rather than of the cross. Life in resurrection is life of humble forgiveness, reconciliation and striving to live together in peace; if you think there is not cross in that, then you haven’t tried it.

    But resurrection life, and specifically life in the church’s experience of Jesus’ resurrection, is life in the knowledge that God is not pissed off, that Jesus is not coming back for blood, even after being betrayed and crucified. He comes back in forgiveness and love, and it is around this experience that a community forms to practice memory of his life, teaching and crucifixion, and to practice the same forgiveness and love that he extends in his resurrected presence. The cross is not an end in itself; to make it such does not lead to a theology of the cross, but a one of masochism, and inevitably of sadism (which is always found close by masochism).

    The conundrum of the warrior God is resolved in resurrection to forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jesus’ resurrection, the course of history is reversed, and the present begins to determine and give meaning to the past. There is no way to see the past rightly except from the perspective of resurrection. Such is the power of the peaceable kingdom of God.


  31. I think the Biblical witness should be approached through God’s “definitive self-revelation” in resurrection. The cross itself would be impossible to begin to understand apart from resurrection; it is resurrection, as found in the halting, fragmentary, disoriented and yet empowering experience of it as reflected in the New Testament community’s witness, that leads to reinterpretation of the cross as more than just another tragic atrocity in the history of humanity. It is resurrection that moves the cross to the place where we seek and find theological meaning in it. The resurrection of Jesus comes first in the theological struggle and life of the church.


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