Greg Boyd and the God of the Cross

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMGreg Boyd focuses his book on God — that is, on theology proper. How we understand God, A.W. Tozer said a million times, determines everything.  So a critical element of Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is how he understands God.

How does he? At the cross. His God is the Cruciform God, and that means everything to his hermeneutic of understanding everything else in the Bible, including his view of the violence-of-God passages.

He opposes the Cruciform God to the Classic God of Christian theology. Here are some tasty quotations:

In the process of God “breathing” the written witness to his covenantal faithfulnessf God sometimes displayed his triune, cruciform agape-love by stooping to accommodate his self-revelation to the fallen and culturally conditioned state of his covenant people. 644

The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity states that from all eternity, God exists as three Divine Persons who fully pour themselves out for one another and who fully dwell within one another in perfect, other-oriented agape-love. This triune pouring out and mutual indwelling was best expressed in the Cappadocian doctrine of the “perichoresis” of the three divine Persons and, with Balthasar, Moltmann, and others, I contend that this divine perichoresis entails a sort of self-emptying (kenosis) in the very essence of the Trinity. That is, the very identity of each distinct divine Person is found in the unique way each selflessly and completely offers himself up in love to the other two. 646

Along the same lines, when the Son stooped to the infinite extremity of completely identifying with our sin and experiencing our godforsakenness, he was manifesting, and incorporating us into, the perfect, loving holiness and unity that he eternally enjoys with the Father and Spirit. 647

In this chp Boyd goes into great depths about Thomist theology proper, but before he does that he gives a perfectly clear sketch of how his method works on violence-of-God passages:

Consider, for example, the literary portraits of God doing things like causing fetuses to be ripped out of their mother’s womb (Hos 13:16), having parents cannibalize their children (Lev 26:29; Jer 19:9; Lam 2:20; Ezek 5:10), or commanding his people to massacre entire populations (e.g., Deut 7:2). If we remain confident that the cross fully reveals God’s true character, then we must conclude that while the straightforward meaning of horrific portraits such as these reveals a great deal about the fallen and culturally conditioned ways that God’s ancient covenant people sometimes conceived of him, this surface meaning conceals God’s true character more than it reveals it. Yet, precisely by being incorporated into the written witness to God’s covenantal faithfulness, horrific portraits such as these indirectly bear witness to the fact that God has always been willing to pour himself out by stooping to whatever extreme was necessary to remain in solidarity with, and to continue to further his historical purposes through, his covenant people. 651

This is why I say Boyd’s book is about method, but that method is 100% rooted in his theology proper: if he is right about God, then his method and applications carry penetrating powers.

Which is why he asks this:

The all-important question, therefore, is: how are we to arrive at an understanding of God’s true eternal nature? In the classical tradition, this was arrived at through a process of philosophical reasoning, a process that finds its classical expression in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Toward the beginning of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas observes that the contingent, temporal, ever-changing, compound, and imperfect world we experience is not self-explanatory. To account for this world while avoiding an infinite regress, Aquinas argues that we must posit an ultimate reality that is altogether unlike the world we are trying to explain—namely, a reality that is altogether necessary, simple, timeless, unchanging, and perfect. This ultimate reality, he concludes, “everybody takes God to be.” 653

Again, method and substance: Thomist or Cruciform? He critiques Thomist thinking in these terms:

I contend that by disallowing the depictions of God’s sequential, dynamic, personal, mutually influential relationship with his people to reflect the way God truly is, this classical interpretation of Scripture has undermined the most distinctive and most distinctly beautiful dimension of the Bible’s portrait of God. To be clear, I am not at all denying the need to assess the way in which biblical depictions do and do not reflect God’s true nature. What I am rather denying is that the classical philosophic conception of God should be the criterion we use to assess this. 662

To sum up, I have thus far attempted to make clear how the Principle of Cruciform Accommodation reframes the traditional conception of divine transcendence, and thus of divine accommodation. I have argued that this principle reframes the revelatory content of divine accommodations, replaces the classical conception of God’s transcendence with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ as the primary criterion by which we assess divine accommodations, emphasizes the moral character of God’s transcendence over his metaphysical attributes, and locates the most important dimension of God’s incomprehensibility within the revelation of God on the cross rather than defining God’s incomprehensibility over-and-against this revelation. And I trust it is clear from this discussion why this cross-based principle requires us to consider Scripture’s violent divine portraits to be accommodations that conceal God’s true character on their surface while revealing his true cruciform character in their depth. 682-3

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