When it comes to evaluations of Greg Boyd’s massive The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, the central topic of discussion ought to be method: Boyd’s method is theological interpretation of Scripture with a Cruciformity Hermeneutic at the center.
A central question, then, is this: How Christocentric, or how Cruciform or Christoform, is your hermeneutic?
When it comes to the wrath of God, how does a cruciform hermeneutic conclude? He turns in chapter sixteen to Jesus’ pattern of withdrawal (wrath is withdrawal of divine presence):
Rather than responding to rejection with violence, Jesus simply set out toward a different village (Luke 9:56). Since every aspect of Jesus’s life and ministry reveals exactly what God has always been like, we must conclude that we are seeing the Father’s way of responding to rejection, which is the essence of all sin, when we see Jesus’s way of responding to rejection (cf. John 14:7-9). And it is no coincidence that this is precisely how the Father responded when Jesus bore the sin of all who have ever rejected God on Calvary, as we saw in the previous chapter. … And, as we should by now expect, the cross is the paradigmatic illustration of this.
Something similar occurs in Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s downfall:
Note that, while the fulfillment of this prophesied divine judgment in 70 CE involved horrific violence, it was violence carried out by Israel’s ‘enemies,” not God. In this prophecy, Stephen Travis notes, “God allows Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem rather than that God inflicts destruction by means of Romans.” Hence, he concludes, in Jesus’s lament, “judgment takes the form of God’s abandonment of his people to their enemies.” For centuries, God’s covenant people had been pushing him away, and they were now about to push him away in a definitive way by participating in Jesus’s crucifixion. By 70 CE, the time had come when God had to, in essence, grant them their wish. And in doing so, God was leaving them vulnerable to the Roman military, who would inflict on them the death-consequences of their sin.
What about hell? I have myself often said hell is experiencing total absence in the presence of God, but Boyd pushes harder:
The general conception of the final judgment as reflected in the NT is consistent with this. As Travis and others have aptly demonstrated, the ultimate “reward” disciples receive is simply being ushered into God’s presence while the ultimate “punishment” the unrepentant receive is being banished from God’s presence.
He sees church discipline in the same category: the principle of redemptive withdrawal.
Just as God punishes by granting people their wish to push him away, so God’s community is to discipline people by simply granting them their wish to live the way they want while making it clear that this way involves pushing God away.
God’s wrath in the OT is divine abandonment of humans who have turned from God, and that abandonment permits humans to go there way. Redemption is proximity to God — to God’s presence. Judgment then is distance or God’s withdrawal. E.g.,
My anger will be kindled against them in that day. I will forsake them and hide my face from them; they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ On that day I will surely hide my face on account of all the evil they have done by turning to other gods (Deuteronomy 31:17-18).
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone (2 Kings 17:18).
And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim (Jeremiah 7:15).
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse…. and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves (Romans 1:19-20, 23-24).
Judgment in the Bible then is essentially intrinsic, rather extrinsic: judicial imposition. Instead, it is permitting sin to have its way, the way of death and destruction and desolation. One reaps what one sows; one dies for sin; evil destroys shalom.
Thus, the punishment fits the crime.
God judges by simply withdrawing his protective presence while also making it clear why this is all God needs to do. It is “hard wired’ into creation that living in accordance with God’s design brings about shalom while living in revolt against this design leads to destruction.
He ends here:
Indeed, what is arguably the most compelling supporting evidence from Scripture that confirms our cross-centered understanding is the fact that many narratives containing violent depictions of God make it clear that the violence they ascribed to God was actually carried by other agents who were already “intent on violence” (Hab 1:9; cf. Ps 37:32; Ezek 22:9; Dan 11:27).