Greg Boyd Adjusts Martin Luther

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMIn perhaps Greg Boyd’s deftest of moves, the theology of the cross of Luther is both absorbed by Boyd but centralized even more than Luther’s version. In so doing, Greg Boyd virtually contends — with proddings from Alister McGrath — Luther’s theology of the cross was not consistently applied by Luther.

All of this is in Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

The issue is how Luther poses Deus revelatus (the God who reveals himself) over against Deus absconditus (the God who hides himself in the revelation). Here is the progress of Boyd’s thought, and it begins by quoting Luther on the God who is control of everything:

[Luther:] For the will of God is effectual and cannot be hindered The will of God is immutable and infallible, and it governs our mutable will.

God was deterministically behind every single event in history, he sometimes referred to particular events as “masks of God” (larva Dei). But Luther most frequently used this concept to talk about the work that he believed God deterministically accomplished by controlling the thoughts and actions of evil agents. 684

… he nevertheless believed the devil was “nothing other than a mask of the almighty God in his terrifying hiddenness.” 684

Alien as it was, however, Luther insisted that God “nevertheless … binds himself to be present in these masks in a particular way.” 684

And, as we shall now see, this is precisely why Luther acknowledged that the work that God deterministically accomplishes through evil agents was a terrifying mask behind which God is hopelessly hidden from us. 685

God is hidden in two ways:

First … Luther often speaks about God remaining hidden in the shocking, paradoxical, unfathomably beautiful way God is revealed in Christ. 685

Second … elates to Luther’s famous concept of Deus absconditusy and, as McGrath notes, it expresses a “God who will forever remain unknown to us, a mysterious and sinister being whose intentions remain concealed from us.” When Luther speaks of the hidden God in this second sense, the emphasis is “especially ‘on] God’s absolute control over all creation.” More specifically, this concept expresses “the riddle of divine predestination, where faith is forced to concede the existence of a concealed (occulta) will of God.’ 686

Alister McGrath uncovers the problem:

McGrath is on the mark, if in an understated sort of way, when he argues that there is a “total antithesis” between Deus revelatus and Deus absconditus, for God’s concealed will “may stand in contradiction to his revealed will.’ 686

Rather, Luther rightly saw that the NT calls on us to be theologians “of the cross” who only seek to comprehend “what is visible of God (visibilia et posteriora Dei) through suffering and the cross.” In short, for Luther, “the cross alone is our theology.” 687

As McGrath points out, Luther’s second concept of God’s hiddenness not only suggests “that Luther … abandoned his earlier principle of deriving theology solely on the basis of the cross… it [also] suggests that the cross is not the final word of God on anything.” 687

So Boyd steps in to say consistency is in order, a cruciform hermeneutic can resolve the tension in Luther’s theology:

Against this inconsistency, I submit that we should rather resolve to know “nothing . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (l Cor 2:2) and that we should interpret Scripture in this light, as Luther himself taught. 688

Boyd adjusts, adapts and turns around Luther’s masks:

While Luther was motivated to speak of God wearing masks because he assumed God meticulously controlled agents, I contend that we need to speak of God wearing masks precisely because God refuses to control agents. 688

Hence, whereas Luther held that God intentionally puts on masks that mysteriously conceal his Christlike character as he determines agents to carry out evil aspects of his sovereign plan, I contend that God stooped to wear masks only because his people were not capable of viewing him as he actually is. 689

Hence, in my view, God’s masks are nothing over and beyond the manner in which God’s revelation was necessarily conditioned by the fallen and culturally conditioned medium through which he “breathed” it. 689

In contrast to Luther, who understood God’s masks to be historical in nature, I understand them to be literary in nature. 690

When I state that God’s masks are literary rather than historical in nature, I am simply denying that God actually engaged in or commanded the violence that the mask ascribes to him. 690

That is, now that we know God’s true cruciform, sin-bearing character, we are able to identify the literary masks God allowed to be placed on him to be the masks that they are and to see through them to discern the true, humble, sin-bearing character of the One who wore them. 692

The literary masks God allows to be placed on him in the narrative leading up to the crucified Christ mirror his people’s sin, and especially their proclivity toward violence, by reflecting the fallen and culturally conditioned way his people viewed him. In these literary masks, therefore, God is portrayed as a guilty perpetrator of violence. By contrast, the historical mask God stoops to wear when he becomes a human and sacrifices himself on the cross mirrors his people’s sin by portraying God as a guilty victim of violence. And, as I will now attempt to show, this difference discloses an important aspect of the way the cross exposes the OT’s violent depictions of God to be the literary masks that they are. 693 [Yes, he uses Girard in some ways.]

He takes Luther’s masks, he stands with McGrath in seeing the tension in Luther’s inconsistent crucicentricity, he finds resolution in a consistent cruciform hermneutic, and he supports it by appealing to Girard’s scapegoat mechanism.

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