September 19, 2019


The Lamb and the Lion: Review of Boyd's Crucifixion of the Warrior God (J. Daryl Charles, September 19, 2019, Providence)

Gregory A. Boyd's Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament's Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross is a massive, almost 1,500-page double volume that represents the author's attempt to resolve the tensions between a Jesus who is thought to reveal "an agape-centered, other-oriented, enemy-embracing God who opposes all violence" and the many Old Testament (OT) "portraits of Yahweh violently smiting his enemies" (xxviii-xxix). These tensions, which are very real and confront any serious reader of the OT, are magnified for pastor and theologian Boyd, who professes to stand within the Anabaptist tradition (15-17, 205, 260, and 544, n. 80) and who attempts their resolution with a pre-commitment to ideological pacifism (xxvii-xxxiv). This pre-commitment is stated from the outset and guides the entire project, governing the author's use of a "cruciform hermeneutic" and the author's treatment of all OT texts and narratives.

This task, of course, is complicated by numerous factors, not least of which is Jesus' and the New Testament (NT) writers' authoritative citing of OT figures, events, and categories. But it is further complicated (1) by the NT's unqualified recognition and acknowledgement of the OT scripture's inspiration and authority (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:1-12; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 11:1-40; James 2:8-13; 2 Pet. 1:19-21); (2) by Jesus' acknowledgement of the continuity of moral law as revealed in the OT (Matt. 5:17-20), which Boyd misinterprets (75-78); and (3) by the NT writers' constant and authoritative use of the OT in myriads of ways, some of which are at times baffling to the modern reader. These realities create for Boyd a "conundrum" insofar as his own view, to be developed below, is lacking support from the historical Christian tradition (hereafter, HCT).

Boyd's project, then, requires a hermeneutic that begins with the presuppositions of ideological pacifism and works its way backward. It works its way backward (1) through the NT, in which John the Baptist, Jesus, the evangelists, and the apostles are made to espouse pacifism; (2) through church history and the early church in particular; and then finally (3) through the texts of the OT itself, whether found in the Pentateuch, the historical narratives, the Psalms, or the prophets. In light of the clear commands of God given to the leaders of Israel of old, this will not be an easy interpretive task. Along the way, Boyd finds one church father, the pacifist Origen, to assist him in reinterpreting the Old Testament and thereby helping to furnish a "new perspective" (xxxii-xxxiv) on a difficult question.

This "new perspective" wrestles with canonical material in the OT that seems "unworthy of God" (xxxii) and finds a "solution" (xl) to the theological tensions that emanate from OT "texts of terror." It does so in the following manner: "the Spirit," Boyd informs the reader, "will enable us to see beyond the surface appearance of things, where the conundrum resides, and find a resolution in a deeper, more profound, revelatory truth" (xxxiii). "Prayerfully contemplating Scripture's violent portraits of God," as Boyd retells it, he "suddenly began to catch glimpses of the crucified God in them" (ibid.). What he calls the "Magic Eye" approach to understanding the OT (xxxv-xxxvii) becomes for Boyd the key in interpreting those ethically knotty accounts in the OT of God supposedly destroying human beings. In a nutshell, what is this "Magic Eye" approach? "God, who is indiscriminate in his love and non-violent, had to accommodate his self-revelation to the spiritual state and cultural conditioning of his people in the ages leading up to Christ" (xxxv). This starting point for Boyd becomes the essence of his "crucicentric" reading of scripture. In the end, he realizes, "Origen's advice" (i.e., a mystical interpretation) "proved right" (xxxiii). With this inspiration in place, Boyd begins to apply his "cruciform hermeneutic."

Briefly summarized, Crucifixion of the Warrior God[i] (hereafter CWG) attempts to argue that the OT accounts of God's "violence"--i.e., "texts of terror" (279)--are not true portraits of the character of God. Rather, they are misconstrued and culturally conditioned--i.e., fallen--accounts that "mask" God's true character and self-revelation. These accounts, therefore, are to be understood as "literary artifices" (548) and not to be taken at face value. Let the reader beware: Boyd's argument consists of seven parts, 25 chapters, 10 appendices, one postscript, 100 pages of indices, and 40 pages of suggested reading, all of which consumes 1,445 pages of print. Wading through this project is not for the faint in heart.

The Magic Jesus reading is by far the silliest.  Just take the story on its own terms and the Bible describes how God learns from Man and by becoming a man.

Posted by at September 19, 2019 6:16 PM