Greg Boyd and the Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 2)

Posted: August 7, 2017 in Hermeneutics

513jbdwgepl-_ac_us218_In part one of my reflection I highlighted the core of Boyd’s argument being grounded in his notion of divine revelation being supremely accomplished in the life and particularly the death of Jesus of Nazareth. However, while this might serve as one side of the triangle of his argument, the other two sides are equally as significant. In addition to articulating the crucified Christ as the ultimate revelation of God to human beings, Boyd argues that the key to reading the scriptural passages which portray Yahweh as not only condoning violence but carrying it out, is to read it in light of divine accommodation and redemptive withdrawal.

I remember sitting in a missiology class when I was in seminary (more years ago than I’d like to admit). The professor, who had served on the mission field for many years previous to teaching, told stories of how missionaries addressed particularly difficult situations with indigenous tribal peoples and how they often had to accommodate specific lifestyles (such as polygamy) to effectively introduce the gospel to the community without destroying families and creating a tragic social reality. When Boyd argues for divine accommodation he is clearly arguing that God accommodates the Israelites by allowing his reputation to be sullied by violent characterizations. God essentially bears the sins of this people with whom God has chosen to be in covenant relationship. It is God’s determination to remain faithful to the covenant in spite of Israel’s violence. Boyd makes his argument by demonstrating the how scripture contains dual narratives: one of which characterizes God according to ancient near east depictions of divine beings and the other contrastingly depicting Yahweh in opposition to violence. It is in the non-violent narrative that Boyd finds glimmers of the God who is revealed on the cross. To get there Boyd addresses numerous theological issues that arise if the reader holds to a classical theological understanding of God. Contrary to this view Boyd argues for an understanding of God developed from scripture. To do this he offers critiques of Augustinian and Thomistic theology. It is at this point in his argument that the open theism which has been formative to his own theology begins to come through. Regardless of where one stands in regards to open theism, the argument is well made and sufficiently supported.

rubens_onschuldigen_grtThe third branch of his argument is fundamentally a nuanced re-articulation of divine judgment in the nonviolent response of divine withdrawal. Building off theological/biblical scholars such as N.T. Wright, etc., Boyd argues that God withdraws his protective presence in response to sin. Boyd characterizes this creatively as “divine Aikido.” This is the notion of allowing the power of sin to move destructively upon itself. What this means is that by means of withdrawing God allows for the consequences of such actions to happen upon the subject or state. Boyd points out the many times where scripture refers to God’s judgment being accomplished through a foreign state conquering Israel because of their failure to maintain the covenant relationship. It is in God’s non-action that Israel suffers the consequences of their failure to trust in God’s protective presence.

This is obviously a brief and inadequate explanation of his extensive and multi-nuanced argument. Admittedly, I am quite naturally drawn to Boyd’s arguments. In spite of his seemingly comprehensive argument and an uncanny anticipation for counter arguments, but what surprised me was his engagement with extra-canonical material to develop and support his thesis. I found his use of these texts refreshing. Too often the Anabaptist tradition ignores these texts. While they are not unanimously counted as canon, these texts played key roles in the formative development of apostolic theology beginning with the apostle Paul.

If I were to guess, while Boyd’s argument is clearly targeted toward the North American Evangelical movement (specifically the more conservative sectors of this movement), those who most appreciate his argument are the ones who have been waiting to be convinced or have been waiting for something like this to be written. The point to this is that Boyd has not been alone in his endless defense of the nonviolent/non-coercive image of God. Many sharing his theological tradition have been making similar arguments for centuries. It just happens that Greg Boyd formulated a cohesive and near comprehensive argument in an intelligible way. While I’m certain that there are gaps, as I am convinced that Origen has much more to contribute toward this, I am equally convinced that Boyd’s work has been long awaited (even though no one knew who would be crazy enough to take on such a monumental task).

About two-thirds (469) through the first volume Boyd quotes Hays regarding the gospel call for us to a “conversion of the imagination.” In my mind this was a huge topic that needed to be further explored. Having recently read through Kreider’s work, The Patient Ferment, I couldn’t help but think that if a person is being formed through the practice of loving service as an entrance into theological formation the formative effects would result with the conversion of the disciple’s imagination. What I find to be the single greatest weakness of this thesis is the absence of how practice contributes to the formation of the disciple, particularly the hermeneutical perspective (people like Alasdair McIntyre have much to say on this). 1588_3121_belmontfootwashingw-461x388Particularly in light of such work as Kreider’s, the church must take seriously the affective power practice plays in the conversion process. Modern Western theology often assumes conversion is a one-time event consisting of a changed mind. In fact Reformed theologians such as Stanley Grenz separate soteriology into different works of the Spirit, conversion being but one among several. More recent works, particularly with the influence of Pietism, have emphasized the process of salvation often times merging the categories of conversion & sanctification together. This is referred to as spiritual formation. In his little work, Shaped by the Word, M. Robert Mulholland argues that spiritual formation is “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (25). You might ask, “How is this relevant to the conversation?” I am convinced that the “cruciform hermeneutic” Boyd argues for has less to do with intellectual reasoning than it does to do with formative processes. If, as James K.A. Smith has argued (Desiring the Kingdom, and Imagining the Kingdom), that we are what we love and that our hearts are shaped by practices (not just liturgies as Smith argues), then how we perceive and interpret our surrounding reality (let alone scripture) is fundamentally affected by our practices. In other words if we spend considerable time feeding the hungry and tending the sick, our hearts (desires, aka Love) will begin being shaped and directed toward those people with whom Jesus identifies. I suppose that I could argue that the cruciform hermeneutic is something that must be lived into before our minds ever really get it. It is here that I think Boyd’s argument could have been strengthened. Who knows maybe this two-volume work will develop into such a conversation.

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