Does Greg Boyd Accept Divine Wrath?

Does Greg Boyd Accept Divine Wrath? August 29, 2017

Does Greg Boyd affirm divine wrath? Good question. It depends. There are plenty of strong-minded theologians who proudly announce their affirmation of divine wrath, John Macarthur being one, who unfortunately do not keep wrath in any kind of tension or balance with grace. It won’t do flatly to announce wrath as divine retribution and leave it at that. Wrath, Yes, but how? Whether you like Greg Boyd’s view or not, he attempts to bring the fullness of Scripture into alignment with what he perceives is its center: the cross as a revelation of the cruciform God of gracious redemption.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMGreg Boyd, in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God examines this issue under the category of “divine aikido.” Like it or not, he’s doing his best to examine wrath in the context of the larger sweep of Scripture.

I contend (and have said before) that the biggest problem for Boyd is many of those who disagree with him, perhaps almost all those who disagree with him, do not think his problem is a problem at all! That is, they don’t think divine violence in the Old Testament is a problem because — for the most part — they believe divine violence and retribution are entirely consistent with God’s holy being in the face of sin and that all people deserve that kind of violence. It is not, so they would say, unfair for God to be violent against some sinners; in fact, it is also unfair that God that shows favor to some who escape divine violence. This merciful unfairness is divine grace.

Boyd thinks that view itself is the problem and that the image of God projected in that view is inconsistent with the cruciform shape of God as revealed in Christ.

Here are Boyd’s big ideas:

Aikido means “the way of peace” or “the way of the harmonious spirit.’ Developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the 1920s and 30s, Aikido is a martial arts technique that trains “warriors” to engage in nonresistant combat, turning the force of aggressors back on themselves in order to neutralize their opponent and hopefully to enlighten them regarding the evil in their heart that fueled their aggression!

The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal is anchored in the fact that God the Father did not act violently toward his Son when the Son bore the judgment of our sin that we deserved. Rather, with a grieving heart, the Father simply withdrew his protective hand, thereby delivering his Son over to wicked humans and fallen powers that were already “bent on destruction” (isa 51:13).4 Yet, by abandoning his Son to suffer the destructive consequences of sin that we deserved, the Father wisely turned the violent aggression of these evildoers back on themselves, causing evil to self-implode and thereby liberating creation.

We may thus state the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal as follows: God judges sin, defeats evil, and works for the redemption of creation by withdrawing his protective presence, thereby allowing evil to run its self-destructive course and ultimately to self-destruct.

Yet, we shall see that our cross-based faith also requires us to discern that God is doing this in hopes of eventually redeeming these people and as a stepping-stone ultimately to causing all sin and evil to self-destruct.

So what about divine wrath? I reformat and put in bold:

I will argue that the cross reveals, and Scripture confirms, that God’s “wrath” is

(1) one and the same as his decision to abandon people to their sin,
(2) redemptive in intent (up until the final judgment),
(3) something that grieves the heart of God, and
(4) is his strategy for causing evil to self-destruct.

Put in my terms, divine wrath is not Schadenfreude as some careless preaching clearly suggests or even states. Notice how Boyd attempts to reverse the approach to wrath:

Indeed, rather than interpreting Scripture’s various depictions of God’s “wrath” through the lens of the cross, it is my impression that many theologians throughout history, and espedally since the Reformation, have tended to interpret the “wrath” that God expressed on Calvary through the lens of Scripture’s violent divine portraits. 771

The cry of dereliction is a critical verse in this discussion, leading Boyd to this (777): “In the separation that was experienced on Calvary, therefore, the Trinity experiences ‘the loss of God for the love of God,’ as Gerard Rosse expresses it. And because the love that this loss expresses is the love that eternally and necessarily unites the three divine Persons, we must consider the abandonment of the Son on the cross to constitute the supreme expression of the loving union of the three divine Persons. And … this is precisely why the cross constitutes the definitive revelation of the triune God.” He continues, “Perhaps the best way of thinking about this is to distinguish between the loving unity that the three divine Persons experience, on the one hand, and the loving unity that defines God’s eternal essence, on the other. We could say that on the cross, the former was momentarily sacrificed as an expression of the latter. That is, the three divine Person’s sacrificed their previously uninterrupted experience of perfect loving union in order to express the perfect loving union that defines them as God” (777-778).

At this point Boyd develops each of the four points above as how to understand the wrath of God.

We can summarize this insight by noting that as sin is the act of pushing God away, so God’s judgment of sin is the act of God granting the sinner his wish to push God away. 779

Indeed, this expression of divine “wrath” against sin involved no personal animosity on the part of the Father toward Jesus, let alone any :t of violence on the part of the Father toward Jesus. It was wicked humans, under the influence of demonic powers, who carried out all the violence described in the passion accounts. The Father merely withdrew his loving, protective presence, thereby delivering his Son over to these violent agents, in accordance with the plan the Son had freely agreed to. 781

Boyd next deals with the common view that wrath has as its end retribution:

The second aspect of Jesus’s experience of his Father’s “wrath” that we need to discuss concerns the fact that this judgment was not an end in-and-of-itself. The ultimate purpose of the Father’s abandonment of the Son was rather to redeem humanity and all of creation and to vanquish the kingdom of darkness and sin that has held us captive since the fall (e.g., John 12:31; Col 1:20, 2:14-15; Heb 2:14;1 John 3:8). 782-783

Boyd argues for divine grief over divine wrath: “I would, in fact, go farther and argue that since the cross reveals that the very essence of God is an unsurpassable self-sacrificial agape-love that fully identifies with sinners and that suffers on their behalf (vol. 1, chs. 4-5), we should not only say that the heavenly Judge “mourns’ with those who mourn under his judgments; we should go further and say that the Judge’s mourning in allowing any people to come under his judgment is inconceivably greater than the mourning of those who are being judged. Since God’s love for people is inconceivably beyond whatever finite love they have for themselves or for their loved ones, the suffering that God experiences when he sees he must withdraw his protective hand and allow people to experience the death-consequences of their rebellion must also be inconceivably greater than whatever suffering people experience as they and/or their loved ones undergo a judgment of God” (800-801).

It’s all aikido-like:

God did not overthrow Satan’s realm by relying on the kind of aggressive, coercive power Satan relies on and, not coincidentally, that earthly rulers typically rely on. God rather relied on his wisdom, born out of a love the fallen powers could not fathom, to disarm this kingdom and, in principle, to reduce it to nothing. By withdrawing his protection and delivering over his Son to these wicked powers, allowing them to carry out the violence that was in their hearts, the Father caused their evil intentions to recoil back on their own heads (cf. Ps 7:16), thereby using evil to punish evil. Hence, just as every aspect of the violence done to Jesus was carried out by fallen humans and fallen powers, not God, so too every aspect of the violence that brought about the demise of the fallen powers was carried out by the fallen powers themselves. 803



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  • Brent White

    “… thereby allowing evil to run its self-destructive course and ultimately to self-destruct.”

    When did that happen again? I assume we’re still waiting?

  • There is something deeply true and equally attractive in Boyd’s description of God. It’s too right on center to dismiss.

  • Derek

    I agree. Time to read it for myself.

  • Patrick

    Greg is onto something here.

    God’s wrath may temporarily punitive in some sense even if Greg is accurate(allowing evil to hold sway say at the cross or at 70 AD Jerusalem, etc). However, the strategic intent is not punitive, rather it is transformative.

    Every prophet rails on Israel and ends up declaring God’s love for Israel with an eschatological promise of restoration.

    BTW, I disagree that “God abandoned Jesus” on the cross. Jesus felt that way, so did the prophets at times. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”. He did not abandon Jesus, He suffered with Him.

  • We could say the same about death being defeated. The cross accomplished both in the way that D-Day made V-Day an inevitability.

  • danaames

    I agree, Patrick, and I agree with your disagreement. The Father was also, somehow, on the cross: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In addition, Jesus remained God while he was incarnate – he was still holding the universe together. We may not be able to understand how he did that, but this is what the Church has affirmed through the early Councils. As a person with a divine nature (as well as a human nature), he voluntarily went to the cross. That divine nature is what all three Trinitarian Persons share. We can’t see the Father; the only picture we have of “God” is Christ on the cross; that is what God is like. I think Boyd is trying to deal with “God’s wrath” in the face of that picture. Good for him.


  • Brent White

    I disagree with the analogy as it relates to the defeat of evil. D-Day had an actual sign of the impending defeat that was made manifest on V-Day: the Allies successfully captured the beaches, however tenuously. Jesus’ bodily resurrection is a sign of death’s future defeat. By contrast, where’s the sign that evil somehow “ran its course” on the cross? What does Wright always say? “Evil exhausted itself”? Oh, please! If that were in any sense true, wouldn’t we see some sign of it? In fact, given the Bible’s warning about future tribulation, evil will likely will get much worse before it gets better.

    Do I believe that the cross represents a victory over Satan and the principalities and powers? Of course! Why? Mostly because Jesus succeeded in his mission, which was—primarily—to make a way for us to be reconciled to God. Satan wanted to prevent that. And he failed. Does it also signal Satan’s future defeat? Sure, but Boyd is speaking in the past tense about something happening to evil. Why?

    Honestly, I’m sympathetic with theologian Paul Zahl, who calls Christus Victor the “unicorn” of atonement theology.

  • Phil M

    The analogy breaks a bit when we consider the final judgement. It was deftly avoided here with just a parenthetical reference, but the image of the final judgement, esp. in Rev 14 (grapes of wrath) doesn’t seem to sit well with this idea of Aikido.

  • Regardless, his arguments don’t reference pacifism, but the the primacy of Christ–in his words and deeds–as the highest and best revelation of Christ. The arguments will have to be answered regardless of his private motives. Though I suspect the Christology drove any pacifism, not the other way around.

  • Jesus and his resurrection weren’t just signs that death was defeated, but also that those that trust and depend on evil were ultimately powerless, but that those that follow Christ and his way were not. One cannot defeat just death or evil. They are two sides of the same coin, and each relies on the other for power. Jesus’ righteous life defeated death. We overcome evil in the same way we overcome death: faith in Christ and his power over both.

  • Brent White

    But surely you agree that if evil’s defeat is purely eschatological (as opposed to Christ’s resurrection, which has already happened in history), then it’s not quite correct to speak of evil’s defeat in the past tense. Moreover, evil isn’t self-destructing; rather, God will actively destroy it on the Last Day, per Revelation.

  • It is not “purely” eschatological, anymore than the resurrection. He defeated evil in his person (did not succumb to it, let it do its worst to him, and neither stayed dead nor caved to temptation), just as he defeated death in his body. I would argue further that there is now available a degree of freedom from sin even in us, the Church. There is some victory experienced now, and more to come, over death and evil.

  • Brent White

    I agree that Christ defeated evil “in his person” and by doing so has secured a great victory for us. To say, however, that Christians aren’t quite as hell-bent or sinful as we might otherwise be is far from saying that “evil has run its self-destructive course” and has (now) self-destructed, past tense.

    That’s my only point. Satan and the principalities and powers have not “self-destructed” at all. They did not fight Jesus on the cross, as this language suggests, until the twelfth round when they could no longer lift their arms to punch. They’re still in fighting shape. Is there biblical language that suggests otherwise? It’s a nice picture—I get it. It’s just empirically untrue.

    But as often happens when I comment on Dr. McKnight’s site, I find myself becoming argumentative. So this will be my last post on the subject. You win, I’m sure.

  • Patrick Barton

    The powers thought murdering Jesus would do Him in. They sure did fight.

    “If they had known what they were doing, they would not have murdered The Lord of Glory”.

    That’s the counter intuitive part of this faith, by accepting the worst sin/death/evil could do, Christ exhausted it’s power instead of fighting like normal humanity does.

    Do they still retain power? No, not in and of themselves, they are emasculated like Il Duce hanging naked upside down. They have power only when ignorant humanity worships them and we do that a whole lot. That’s on us. They are in effect a surd.

    In the BC, they had defacto power loaned from God( that’s why the satan could offer Jesus the nations). Not after the cross. It was removed, power was given to humanity to run this place w/o their interference.

  • Brent White

    I’ve never heard the interpretation that Satan no longer has any real power in this world. How does that not contradict Paul’s words about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6?

  • Brent,

    I didn’t take you as if you were being argumentative, but I trust you to know! I get what you are saying, but I do think we get a mix of past, present and future tense for all that we get “in Christ” whether that’s victory over death or over sin.

    I think the point about Satan and the principalities is that they are publicly shamed and disarmed by Christ. And this happened because they threw what had been their best weapons on Christ, including death, and instead of destroying Christ, their weakness was exposed to all, including those they attempt to bend to their will through fear of death. They overplayed their hand and have indeed “run [their] self-destructive course” because they attempted to usurp the God-man.

    But I’m not trying to “win.” I think you are seeing something important and real–the “not yet” of the kingdom. But there’s also an “already” in this area as well. Best to you; thanks for the interaction.

  • Tim H.

    I agree that many judgements are God’s withdrawal, however, there are other prophesies and descriptions of judgements that seem very active on God’s part. Off the top of my head I am thinking of Ezekiel 5-7 where God says he will do acts of judgement and unleash his anger toward the people of Israel. None of the language is passive in those verses. Again, I do think that God does judge by withrawal sometimes, for instance Paul describes this kind of judgement in Romans (chapter 2?) but it seems the burden of proof is on Boyd to say that God is never actively punishing in any of the descriptions of judgement in the Bible.

    In fact I bring up Ezekiel because I have been reading through it along with a commentary by Millard Lind, who coincidentally also happens to be a pacifist as far as I know (he has written on the subject but I haven’t read those writings). An interesting observation he made about Ezekiel is that Ezekiel surprisingly shows not only the other nations as God’s enemies, but defiant Israel as well—though in the end Israel (and the nations) will repent, and that God does not delight in the wicked’s destruction.

    I’m with Boyd on God being sorrowful about men rejection and their need for “wrath” (however you choose to define it) but at the same time most of the depictions of God’s wrath do not look like passivity. God’s wrath/anger is often spoken of in terms of being “poured out” and “unleashed” etc. I haven’t read Boyd’s book but I would be interested in seeing how he deals with that very active kind of language.

  • Patrick Barton


    My view is that passage is stating the power of satan( or the various powers) is at the whim of the church universal. They are helpless and at our command if we desire to make them so by following Christ.

    In effect they all are a big nothing on their own power. Only empowered by our apostasy.

    Previous to the cross, they were something and not under the authority of Gods people nor the nations’ people. They ruled the nations, the Gentiles worshipped them and they harassed God’s people Israel.

    Jesus switched that around, they only rule where we’re irresponsible enough to allow it, fewer and fewer worship them and they can’t harass us w/o our consent.

    They are defeated, God has allowed His people to “allow them to leave the prisoner camp” by our apostasy though.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks, Scot. Quite interesting. Was just reading at least a large part of it to Deb. Wow. I look forward to finishing *Cross Vision.* I like what Boyd is attempting to do for sure, and think he makes what seems to me to be a pretty solid case, even though likely more input from scholars like you and N.T. Wright and others can help.

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