Alien Portraits of God: Greg Boyd

Alien Portraits of God: Greg Boyd April 24, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMThe forces at work in Greg Boyd’s new book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, include passages about God in the Old Testament — warrior God images — and how those relate to the revelation of God in Christ of the cross — the supreme revelation of God’s nature — as well as how to read the Bible in light of that full revelation in Christ. Those are the issues.

Let this be emphasized: this is a book about hermeneutics. It is a book about the tension between one depiction of God in the Bible and another.

For many — including Greg Boyd — one issue flashing its sword of “don’t go past this point” is the doctrine of inspiration, or what Greg calls “God-breathed.” He believes in the God-breathedness of the whole Bible because Jesus did.

[Boyd:] The theological reading of Scripture simply takes the final “God-breathed” form of the canon as its starting point, and it allows the interpretation of every particular passage to be influenced by the canon as a whole. 6 [And] , it is the “God-breathed” nature of the text that renders it authoritative, not the relation a text may or may not have with “actual history.” 7

Any framing of these issues as Boyd does — which involves reading the OT in light of the revelation of God in the cross of Christ — creates doubt for some. Boyd is not afraid of doubt. The standard view of Scripture itself “may feel so obvious to readers that to question it is tantamount to questioning the divine authority of Scripture itself” (9).

To prevent this, I would like to help readers understand that biblical faith does not equate the strength of a person’s faith with their level of psychological certainty. It thus does not view doubt as the antithesis of faith. And it therefore does not assume that questioning the way God sometimes appears in Scripture is sinful. To the contrary, it views our willingness to wrestle with God as virtuous. 9

Which is what “Israel” means: the one who struggles with God. So he sees Jacob as his examplar for this study. Our Bible has laments and it has Job; it does not have 100% certain figures. This highlights how Boyd moves in this book:

A different way in which Scripture arguably illustrates the wrestling-with-God motif concerns the manner in which certain canonical traditions challenge and/or qualify earlier canonical traditions.19 For example, while an earlier tradition depicted Yahweh as enjoying animal sacrifices (e.g., Exod 29:25, 41; Lev 1:9, 13, 17), later authors make it clear that Yahweh placed no value on them (e.g., Ps 51:16-17; Isa 1:11-14; Mic 6:6-8; Amos 5:21-25; Hos 6:6; Matt 9:13; Heb 10:8). While I will later offer a crucicentric interpretation of this alteration that discloses how it bears witness to the cross (vol. 2, ch. 14), for the present we need only note that its inclusion within the canon illustrates that the biblical understanding of faith does not rule out calling long-established traditions—including biblical traditions—into question. 11-12

Why have others not taught what Boyd teaches here? (Which is not to say no one ever has said things like this.) His responses:

… as I noted in the introduction, there is in principle nothing new about the claim that Scripture should be interpreted through the lens of the crucified Christ.

As I also mentioned in the introduction, the only novel aspect of my approach is that I am applying this practice to violent portraits of God. 14

Here’s the central question:

The question for Christians is this: Will our view of God be completely determined by the self-sacrificial love revealed on the cross or will it also be influenced by portraits of God doing things like commanding capital punishment for homosexuals (Lev 20:13) and rebellious children (Deut 21:18-21; Exod 21:15, 17; Lev 20:9), commanding genocide (e.g., Deut 7:2,16), incinerating cities (Genesis 19), and striking a servant down for trying to prevent a sacred object from falling (2 Sam 6:6-7)? 19

So long as we worship gods who fight, Volf is arguing, wewill inevitably follow suit and feel justified fighting in their name. 21

While historians may dispute the extent to which particular violent campaigns were motivated by politics versus religion, it is nevertheless indisputable that Christianity’s tragic “criminal history” is only intelligible against the backdrop of the remarkable violence found in Scripture. 23

Sadly, the mythic identification of America with Israel and its enemies as Canaanites continues to exercise an influence on how contemporary leaders frame warfare. 28

What will he propose?

In our case, I shall argue, this means we must trust God’s character as it has been revealed in the crucified Christ, to the point that we have no choice but to call into question all portraits of God that conflict with it, even as we continue to faithfully affirm that these portraits are “God-breathed.” 34

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