Greg Boyd’s Problem with God

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMWhat Greg Boyd thinks is a problem — the Cruciformity of God in Christ vs. the Warrior God of some Old Testament passages — others think is not a problem. One specific form of the non-problem-with-God is to pose God as the God of wrath and argue that every human being deserves the wrath of God, deserves the wrath of the Warrior God. Therefore, since the Warrior God was at work in pouring out wrath on Christ on the cross, the Warrior God is the Cruciform God.

But for those who find the Warrior God a problem a satisfying solution has been in the seeking not in the finding. (At least it seems such a solution hasn’t been found.) Boyd’s solution is along the line of divine accommodation, and today I want to look at God’s war on war (Boyd’s useful expression): The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

First, in the OT itself is a counter theme: God’s repudiation of violence and longing for peace. Micah 4:3:

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Thus, God’s intent for humans is non-violence and peace. Again, Psalm 46:9-10:

He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

God’s shalom, Isa 11 teaches, ends violence. When knowledge of God fills the land, violence ends; which means violence is a correlate of not knowing God.

Second, “Another strong canonical confirmation that depictions of God commanding or engaging in violence are literary masks is that we frequently find Yahweh encouraging his people to place no trust in weapons or armies but to rather trust him to protect them from their foes” (740). E.g., Ps 33:16-19; Hos 10:13-14; 2 Kings 6; Isa 31:1.

Third, God curbs violence among his people: “To illustrate, in contrast to the way war was typically waged in other ANE cultures, Yahweh is often portrayed as prohibiting soldiers from using war as an occasion to advance their own self-interests (e.g., pillaging) or satisfying personal decadent desires (e.g., raping)” (745). See also Joshua 5:13-15.

The Israelites were often too hard-hearted and spiritually dull to understand this. And yet, the heavenly missionary was not too proud to nevertheless continue to work in and through his fallen covenant people, bearing their sin, thereby taking on the ugly semblance of an ANE warrior deity in the inspired written witness to his faithful covenantal activity (746).

Fourth, the Warrior God theme reflects ANE Warrior Gods of other cultures. Hence it is a touchstone in culture.

Similarly, Goldingay and others have argued that there is nothing particularly distinctive about Israel’s concept of “holy war” or with their assumption that military victories reflect divine favor. Not only did all ANE cultures view their violent national or tribal military campaigns as “holy,” in the sense that they were carried out in league with their tribal god, but this concept has been a common feature of pagan nations and tribes throughout history, as it has been, unfortunately, for most “Christian” nations throughout history (746-747).

Thus, Habakkuk 3:1-8; Deut 32:43; Isa 34:3.

Similarly, regarding the use of military cannibalism imagery, we might say that the Spirit of the heavenly missionary succeeded in cutting off the belief that Yahweh himself devoured foes and drank their blood, but had to leave in place, at least for a time, their culturally conditioned association of Yahweh’s warfare with military cannibalism by allowing them to associate it with Yahweh’s spear and arrows. 753

Sacrifice ends in Micah 6:8.

Hence, while the unique aspects of the OT conception of Yahweh should never be minimized, it nevertheless remains true that the way Yahweh is often spoken of, especially when he is being depicted as a warrior deity, reflects the very strong influence of the surrounding culture. 757

Fifth, “I submit that the very fact that the canonical depictions of Yahweh as a nationalistic warrior deity cohere so closely to the way ANE people generally thought about their gods confirms the cross-based interpretation of these portraits as divine accommodations, at least insofar as they include violence” (757). This is how ancient exalted their gods: their god was the baddest man in town.

Nevertheless, when we assess the violent dimension of the “common theology” of the ANE with this ultimate criterion, we must conclude that it is not a reflection of a godly intuition; it is rather the product of people’s fallen minds and hearts. Hence, in accordance with the Principie of Cruciform Accommodation, we must interpret the OT’s portraits of God as a violent warrior as bearing witness to the truth that God has always humbly stooped to bear the sin of his people and to thereby take on a literary appearance that mirrored this sin within the written witness to the heavenly missionary’s covenantal faithfulness. 759

I am simply arguing that the revelation of God in the crucified Christ should lead us to conclude that the violent way the OT authors depict Yahweh bringing about his judgments reflects their fallen, culturally conditioned beliefs as much as the way they depict him descending from a mountain top while blowing out smoke and fire. 760

Sixth, “when we interpret these portraits through the lens of the cross, we can discern that the mistake ancient biblical authors made when they ascribed violence to God is precisely the mistake their ANE neighbors made” (761). Notice this: “This identification of humans with cosmic foes is something the NT strictly forbids” (761).


They were not privy to the divine “wisdom” that had been kept ‘secret” through the ages but that was disclosed when God defeated his cosmic foes and liberated creation by offering up his life on Calvary. 762

Only with the depth-perception that a cross-informed faith provides can we look past the sin-bearing literary mask that God stooped to wear and discern the same faithful, sin-bearing, and self-sacrificial God who is fully revealed on Calvary. 762-763

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