If you teach college students who tell you what they think, you will hear about this problem. My first semester at North Park many years ago meant teaching Joshua and Judges, to name but two of the locations. It means confronting the God of war in the Old Testament, and students who are honest are troubled — at least troubled, and some are flat out scandalized — by what they read.
I have read a number of treatments in the last 20 years on this topic because of the queries of students, and I’m not sure I ever read one that satisfied: Peter Craigie, Dan Reid and Tremper Longman (one of the best still), Eric Siebert, Paul Copan.
Some today just want to junk the OT — and that is why we need Brent Strawn’s new book, The Old Testament is Dying.
Pastors are putting their hands on the table on this one, and the one who has gone at it with might and mane is Greg Boyd in his new colossal book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. It’s big, it’s earnest, and it may well chart the path for many. Here’s what he’s on about:
How are we to reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who chose to die for his enemies rather than to crush them, with the many OT portraits of Yahweh violently smiting his enemies? How are we to reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who made swearing off violence a precondition for being considered a “child of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:45), with the portraits of Yahweh commanding his followers to slaughter every man, woman, child, and animal in certain regions of Canaan (e.g., Deut 7:2, 20:16-20)? How are we to reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who with his dying breath prayed for the forgiveness of his tormenters (Luke 23:34) and who taught his disciples to forgive “seven times seventy” (Matt 18:21-22), with the OT’s portraits of God threatening a curse on anyone who extended mercy toward enemies (Jer 48:10; cf. Deut 7:2,16; 13:8; 19:13)? And how can we possibly reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who expressed profound love for children, promising blessings on all who treated them well and pronouncing warnings for all who might harm them (Luke 18:15-17; Matt 10:42,18:6-14), with the OT portrait of God bringing judgment on his people by having parents cannibalize their own children (Lev 26:28-29; Jer 19:7,9; Lam 2:20; Ezek 5:9-10)?
Because Jesus affirmed the inspiration of the OT, I cannot agree with the many today who argue that we must simply reject such violent portraits of God, even though I cannot disagree with their claim that some of these portraits “strike us as sinister and evil.” Yet, because I believe that Jesus reveals an agape-centered, other-oriented, enemy-embracing God who opposes all violence, and because I have become convinced that the New Testament (NT) presents Jesus as the revelation that surpasses all others, I also can no longer agree with many of my fellow Evangelicals who insist that we must simply embrace these violent divine portraits as completely accurate revelations of God alongside the revelation we are given in Christ.
I am thus caught between the Scylla of Jesus’s affirmation of the OT as divinely inspired and the Charybdis of his nonviolent revelation of God. This is the conundrum that motivated me—that forced me—to write this two-volume work. With Jerome Creach and many others, I am convinced that resolving the conundrum created by the OT’s violent portraits of God constitutes “one of the greatest challenges the church faces today.”
Will Boyd avoid Marcionism? Will he avoid Christomonism? Will he sustain the value of the OT for the Christian today? Will he be a supersessionist?
Greg Boyd is unafraid because he pursues truth; join me in reading this book. I promise there will places to disagree and agree, and overall he will force the issue onto us with urgency. (I’ll also be looking at Brent Strawn’s new book on the blog.)