Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is the kind of book that gets my juices going. I love thinking and talking about the Bible and how to read, study, and interpret it, and I find Boyd’s book exhilarating. Greg is a wonderful writer, is passionate about Jesus and the Scriptures and relentless in his efforts to look at the Bible in a thoroughly Christ-centered manner.
There are passages in CWG that are luminous. Even when I end up disagreeing with Greg Boyd on many points, as I do, this work will have a place in my library because of the way it exalts Christ and makes clear the gracious, sacrificial, forgiving love of God.
On the other hand, CWG frustrates me. One of the main reasons is that I think Boyd, like so many who do evangelical studies, paints himself into a theological corner from the beginning of his approach. I’ll let our friend Rob Grayson explain one of the fundamental approaches that Boyd takes which ends up requiring him to make many of the decisions he makes when trying to understand difficult texts.
This is from part 3 of Rob’s review of CWG.
It seems to me that much of CWG is, in fact, an attempt to construct a hermeneutic (i.e. an interpretive approach) that is consistent with a particular view of the inspiration of scripture. [emphasis mine] The notion that all scripture is “God-breathed” is a recurring motif throughout the book, and Boyd is quick to emphasise that the Church has “always” held all of scripture to be divinely inspired; I was left with the feeling that he sees belief in inspiration as a marker of orthodoxy, even though the historic creeds make no mention of it.
…To put in another way, Boyd’s view of inspiration feels like an a priori that he has to defend as he grapples with violent OT portraits of God. To my mind, this severely restricts his interpretive freedom and forces him to dismiss other interpretive strategies that might otherwise be entirely valid – some of which, in my opinion at least, have great merit and are worthy of serious consideration.
Let me give an example of how I think Boyd’s commitment to a certain view of what scripture is and how it works forces him down a path toward his conclusions.
…I have argued that as a missionary to our fallen and often barbaric world, God had to stoop as low as was necessary to embrace people as they were if he hoped to gradually transform them to become the people he wanted them to be. This required God to humbly accommodate his revelation to the fallen and culturally conditioned hearts and minds of his ancient people, which means that, to this degree, God had to continue to allow people to view him in fallen and culturally conditioned ways. (CWG II, 763)
So far, so good. In fact, in my view, so far = sufficient. As Pete Enns put it, “God lets his children tell the story” in their own words, according to the socio-cultural perspectives of their day.
But Boyd must continue…
…if the interpretation given by various OT authors as to how God was involved in violent judgments reflects their fallen and culturally conditioned hearts and minds, I obviously must provide some alternative account of how God was actually involved in these judgments. To discern this, I contend, we must return once again to God’s definitive self-revelation on the cross, where we can discern a second dimension of “what else is going on” when biblical authors ascribe violence to God. (Ibid, emphasis mine)
To Greg Boyd, it is “obvious” that he must provide “some alternative account” of OT depictions of God that speak of him as a Divine Warrior, exercising violence in wrathful judgment or instructing his people to wipe out the Canaanites in order to possess their land.
But why is that obvious? Why must something else be going on these stories besides God allowing his people to tell their story in forms and terms that would have been characteristic of the Ancient Near East way of describing such things?
It is only obvious and necessary if one has a certain view of scripture when approaching these stories. Greg Boyd may not be the most conservative of scholars, but his approach here falls squarely within a certain conservative evangelical way of understanding the nature of the Bible. I would call it a more or less “flat” view.
A “flat” view means all scripture, every story, every law, every narrative, every poem is to be viewed as revelatory in the same kind of way: ultimately each tells us something about who God is, what God is like, and in Greg Boyd’s view it tells us that in light of the ultimate revelation of the cross. This foundational commitment puts the emphasis on the divine side of scripture and downplays the human side. It is a univocal understanding of scripture.
And for Boyd, that means if a text is not directly revelatory (a surface portrait of God that is consistent with the ultimate revelation of his character on the cross), one must look further.
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.
In Origen’s words, a church father from whom Boyd finds support for his Cruciform Hermeneutic, we must “dig beneath ‘the frail vessel of the poor letter’ to unearth the ‘treasure of divine meanings'” (CWG I, 440).
But what if, say, the book of Joshua, with its story of herem (total destruction) in Canaan, is just one ancient perspective, one part of a multivocal conversation within Israel about who God is and what he asks of his people, part of a developing picture throughout the Hebrew Bible of what God is really like?
What if it is the whole conversation that’s important, not any single text or book alone? Why this need to harmonize the hard parts, why try and make them all point to Jesus in the same way?
It is not “obvious” to me that we must find deeper meanings in Divine Warrior texts. It seems much simpler and straightforward to take these texts at face value and attribute their disturbing portraits of God to ancient human authors who looked at things much differently.
It is only a certain view of the Bible that requires us to go further. And I don’t think we need to paint ourselves into Greg Boyd’s corner.