Greg Boyd: It’s about Method

Greg Boyd: It’s about Method July 3, 2017

Whether you like Greg Boyd’s proposal for reading what the Bible says about God in passages of violence or not, you are almost certainly using the same method of Bible reading. There are, in the end, only two basic methods of Bible reading:

  1. Read the Bible with the historical critical method.
  2. Read the Bible with the theological interpretation of Scripture method.

There are combinations of the two — most do combine the two somehow — but one of the two one must choose. Either one reads the Bible by bracketing out traditional theological conclusions — Creed, Lutheran theology, Westminster confession, some denominational orientation (I’m looking at you Restoration Movement churches) — or one admits that one is using one’s theological methods. Many who claim the former are constrained by the latter.

What may well be the most important conclusion of those who read Boyd or criticize Boyd could be the more forceful recognition and admission that not only do we all read the Bible through the lens of our theology but that we need to be more candid about how that theology influences us. Even more, perhaps we need to learn that the historical critical method cannot lead us to a church-ly reading of Scripture.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMWhere Greg Boyd differs is not method but the content that is at work in his method. We are look at The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Tim Keller uses a Reformation justification by faith vs. religion and works to read the Old Testament, Graeme Goldsworthy a christological center, Walter Brueggemann a social democrat economic theory … I could go on. Each is using a theological lens through which they look to see what the OT says. Boyd uses a cruciform center.

Even those trained in the historical critical method will need to fess up more cleanly what socio-pragmatic or theological method they are using. Ever notice how similar the Jesus of the historical critics is to the critic’s own beliefs? Read Dom Crossan, Marc Borg, AJ Levine, NT Wright … just read them and you will see the correlation.

What grates the nerves for many a scholar is that Boyd knows the historical critical method, knows it well, looks it in the eye, and says “No.” I begin with his observations of the HCM, and I quote him:

It has been a standard assumption of many contemporary Christian interpreters of Scripture, especially within Evangelical traditions, that the only legitimate meaning a passage can have for us is the meaning that was intended by the human author for the original audience.

Indeed, it arose as part of an academic revolt against the church’s traditional way of reading Scripture as an inspired book that uniquely communicated the word of God and that could therefore contain meanings beyond what the original human authors intended.

Whereas Christian interpreters before this time had consistently read the Bible as the inspired word of God that was to be read through the interpretive lens of the church’s rule of faith, and especially through the lens of the cross, scholars now began to embrace a model of exegesis that intentionally bracketed out the faith of the church by approaching canonical writings the same way one would approach any other ancient document.

As a result, the way of reading Scripture that supported the church’s rule of faith, that bore witness to Christ, and that was intended for the spiritual transformation of God’s people was also delegitimized.

What was the theological method (TIS) prior to the HCM?

First, The Bible as God’s Word begins with The Uniqueness of Scripture.

More specifically, Scripture is intended by God to be read as the word of God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and with “the eyes of faith within the community of faith” (quoting Hays).

[But the HCM ends up] “reading a different book than the one the church reads and submits to.”

He believes in the importance of authorial intention as expressed in the text, but he affirms the “Conservative Hermeneutical Principle”:

Hence, while I affirm that God may have intended meanings for passages that go beyond the original meaning intended by the human author, as I will argue below, I believe the interpretive quest to discern this “surplus” of meaning must be premised on the originally intended meaning of a passage, not conducted at the expense of this original meaning.

And he affirms The Bible as the Inspired Witness to God’s Covenantal Faithfulness.

My impression, however, is that most if not all TIS advocates would concur that at the very least, this conviction entails that followers of Jesus must consider this collection of works to be authoritative insofar as it is interpreted correctly and in accordance with the church’s rule of faith. And this is a conviction that I obviously passionately embrace.

In my view, if we approach Scripture with a humble and respectful attitude, interpret it in an informed way and within a community of believers, and trust it to bring us into an ever-deepening, covenantal, life-giving relationship with God through the crucified Christ, then Scripture will never fail us.

More specifically, I submit that to interpret Scripture through the lens of the cross means we must assume at the start that every depiction of God within the written record of God’s covenantal faithfulness is ultimately intended to either directly or indirectly express the same covenantal faithfulness that is fully revealed on the cross.

Second, Sensus Plenior.

since Scripture is authored by God as well as humans, passages may contain a divinely intended surplus of meaning (sensusplenior) that goes beyond their literal sense (sensus literalis).

there is no reason to assume the divine author who “breathed” these words intended to restrict their illocutionary force to what the original author intended or to what the original audience understood.

Whatever illocutions and perlocutions God intended for the original recipients of the locutions of any given passage, this tradition stipulates that we must read Scripture with the assumption that the ultimate meaning God intends them to have for us will be, in one way or another, oriented toward the crucified Christ.

The Cruciform Hermeneutic thus interprets canonical portraits of God commanding or engaging in violence to be permanent literary testaments to the obstinate fallen dimensions of his people’s conception of God and thus to God’s covenantal faithfulness and humble self-sacrificial love in stooping to accommodate the obstinate sin of his people.

To the degree that we waver and suspect that God is actually capable of the horrific things his ancient people sometimes ascribed to him, we will be unable to see God’s true character in the depths of these portraits for the same exact reason God’s ancient people were unable to see it.

We can, in short, discern God’s cruciform beauty in the depths of Scripture’s ugly divine portraits only to the degree that we believe God really is as beautiful as the cross reveals him to be, regardless of the way God’s people in ancient times sometimes depicted him.

Third, he affirms the Unity of Scripture, which for him is profoundly cruciform in orientation.

Fourth, he affirms the Christocentric Purpose of Scripture. Christ is the ultimate supervening act — and others use justification by faith or the law-gospel tension:

In other words, I will argue that when the cross is understood as the ultimate “supervening illocutionary act,” it ends up reversing a fundamental aspect of the original illocutionary and perlocutionary force of these three foundational features [national boundaries, Sinai law, violence] of the first covenant.


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