Book Review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God

The post 9/11 environment, in which terrorists are seen as having acted on a religious understanding, has created a platform where articulate voices have coalesced into a “New Atheism.” This group critiques all religion, particularly Christianity, and especially Christianity’s reliance on the Bible. Sam Harris, one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism,” offers this perspective:

“We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God’s teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).”

Mark Twain, 150 years ago, offered a commonsensical observation about the troubling passages in the Bible: “It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

What is to be done with certain parts of the Bible?

As a pastor and theologian, Greg Boyd meets this moment in history with a project to create continuity between the descriptions of God in the Old and New Testaments, acknowledging that numerous examples of God-endorsed violence in the Old Testament are barriers to reaching a growing number of people. Boyd took ten years to write the two-volume treatise, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross, that describes his proposition of a cruciform hermeneutic (viewing all scripture through the lens of the agape love shown at the cross) as the optimal way to interpret difficult passages in the Bible and forge a more unified view about the character of God. Boyd sees this project as having particular relevance now when believers are weaponizing sacred texts in dramatic ways to justify violence. Some use the Quran to rationalize violence (radical Islam). Some use the Bible to excuse violence (Nazis, abortion bombing, lynching).

Central to Boyd’s quest to know God’s character is the conviction that something else must be happening to explain how a God of love does what is described in some scriptural passages. How does one deal with 1 Samuel 15 or Joshua 8 or the last part of the book of Judges? These are passages in which God urges the Hebrew people to engage in destruction and purging, and adds specific instruction to save the virgins or destroy the children. Boyd describes the logic he used in developing a cruciform hermeneutic:

The famous American philosopher Charles Pierce referred to the type of reasoning I would be forced to engage in as “abductive logic.” In contrast to deductive logic, which moves from assumed premises to necessary conclusions, as well as to inductive logic, which draws generalized probable conclusions from specific observations, abductive logic postulates a hypothetical scenario that, if true, would render otherwise puzzling data intelligible (631).

As an example of this logic, Boyd invites the reader into a thought experiment considering a hypothetical incident of how Boyd might respond if he were to see a snapshot of his wife behaving in an uncharacteristic way with a stranger. Boyd says he would be willing to consider a variety of rationales to explain his wife’s behavior. Since he knows his wife, he would search for a reason that made sense in light of what he knew about her character. In like fashion, if Jesus clearly reveals God, then Boyd postulates that it would be wise to consider a variety of possible explanations to explain what is happening in the Old Testament portraits of God that are incongruent with God as revealed in Jesus Christ. He labels the violent actions of God in the Old Testament as cruciform accommodations. Boyd believes that a believer must first understand the nature of the Son of God before she can understand the nature of God. Thus, Boyd advocates viewing scripture through the lens of the life of Jesus.

Having written numerous essays and books easily understood by lay readers, Boyd undertakes something different with his task in Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Six hundred twenty eight pages in length, the first volume describes Boyd’s synthesis with the subtitle, “The Cruciform Hermeneutic.” The second volume uses 800 pages to expand the application of the hermeneutic under the subtitle of “The Cruciform Thesis.” For those preferring an abbreviated approach, Boyd has also published a shorter, less comprehensive book entitled Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence with 280 pages.

The two-volume Crucifixion of the Warrior God is divided into six major parts:

1) The Centrality of the Crucified Christ 2) The Problem of Divine Violence 3) The Cruciform Hermeneutic 4) The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation 5) The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal 6) The Principle of Cosmic Conflict

Also featured, are appendices to discuss such issues as “hardening people’s hearts” and “Jesus and violence” and “the escalation of violence in the promised land” and more.

Building on the idea that the cross has beautiful and ugly aspects while revealing God, Boyd extends the notion to propose the idea that a God-breathed scripture also has two sides, since it is a treasure in earthen vessels. Scripture reveals God’s love while simultaneously showing, what can be construed as, an ugly portrait of God. Just as God was willing to stoop to humanity and “be sin,” He also was willing to put truth in words that are suboptimal and likely to be misconstrued, because that is the way of earthly life—things do not always clearly appear and the truth can seem murky depending on the viewing angle.

One example to advance this idea comes from 1 Chronicles 10, a segment that describes King Saul’s death. First, the passage states Saul took his own life, but a few verses later the passage concludes with the assertion that God slew Saul. Which one is the most accurate description of what happened? Boyd demonstrates that a cruciform hermeneutic allows the reader to make sense of this (and other difficult passages). He proposes that rather than validating what some see as a two-faced (Janus-faced) deity, the different accounts of God in both testaments show how different cultures perceived Him. Old Testament scripture shows God’s interaction with the fallen, ancient Near East culture. Boyd reports that in the ancient era the way to worship a god was to ascribe violence to that god. In that culture, no one would have actually been an eyewitness to a god performing violence, but the way to worship those gods was to recount, triumphantly, every act as evidence of the gods’ power and violence. Thus, Boyd argues that the violent depictions of God in Old Testament scripture are examples of stooping to meet the culture, though it makes God look bad in 21st century culture.

Boyd adopts the premise that Jesus clearly demonstrated his superior authority over the Old Testament with numerous teachings and explanations (John 8:28, John 12:49-50, Matthew 5:33-36, Luke 8:43). Citing contemporary theologians, such as Walter Brueggeman, Jurgen Moltmann, and N.T. Wright, who use a hermeneutic that pushes against the firmly entrenched Augustinian approach of a God of power and retributive justice, Boyd continues the trajectory.

Boyd builds on the Anabaptist hermeneutic that sees a grand sweep of scripture that culminates with Jesus as the direct revelation of God who inaugurates a sort of upside down kingdom that subverts worldly hierarchy.

Boyd’s work supports the idea that God’s wrath means that God will let sin take its course and does not involve an administration of violence as punishment. Using an understanding of Revelation in great alignment with Sigve Tonstad, Boyd applies Tonstad’s premise that assumes God has a non-coercive character, and this assumption is key for a hermeneutic to help interpret all of scripture.

As a student of A. Graham Maxwell, I see Boyd’s work as buttressing many of Maxwell’s assumptions. Whereas Maxwell paired study of original biblical languages with a generous peppering of Ellen White’s writings, Boyd comes to similar conclusions based on, what seems to me, to be an intellectually rigorous deep plunge into the biblical text and a broad consideration of numerous theologians. In my study to understand Greg Boyd’s latest book(s), I found this podcast useful in which Boyd is in conversation with Paul Copan, author of Is God a Moral Monster?

Boyd and Copan are two contemporary scholars trying to make sense of the difficult passages of the Old Testament with regards to the nature of God. Copan, like Maxwell, sees God’s urging Hebrew people to destroy their enemies as a rare act in an extraordinary circumstance. Maxwell called these passages examples of God’s “emergency measures.” However, Boyd uses a hermeneutic that seems to say something else was happening here. These are not portraits of God using uncharacteristic violence, but are recorded in “earthen vessel” type framework of the ancient culture. This may troublesome, but I like it.

Many are satisfied to refuse to grapple with God’s involvement in Old Testament atrocities saying such things are a mystery of God and, as such, beyond the grasp of humanity. I disagree. As an advocate for peace and a student of human nature, I see how easy it is for a person to be duped to participate in violence for a so called “good cause.” A person trusts that she perceives the reality of a certain situation and is able to discern who is right and who is wrong, but, later, when one sees a broader perspective, one realizes the earlier error. If one believes that in the direst of times, God changes His stance to participate in violence, then there is space for one, at the direst of times, to do the same. This is a vital point. I cannot hide behind God killing people as an excuse for me to take up emergency measures against my enemies.

Since this is a difficult topic and worth the time, I prefer Boyd’s two-volume set, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I savor the footnotes that, in my view, show Boyd to be well read and willing to consider many contemporary and ancient voices that have tried to make sense of the entirety of scripture.

Particularly since Boyd esteems Sigve Tonstad’s work, I believe Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic deserves consideration by people in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. In the copious footnotes of Boyd’s two-volume set, one will see the names of other Seventh-day Adventist scholars and teachers as well.

All believers and seekers would benefit from some engagement with Boyd’s work on the issue of how to interpret biblical passages that describe God’s violence. I suspect that some will find that Boyd’s hermeneutic is too flexible, but in my view, frequently such critics are unwilling to recognize their own implicit subjectivity in deciding which verse in the Bible is the one that trumps the others.

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

Image courtesy of Fortress Press.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8663
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The Warrior God’s hateful, hurtful, homophobic anti gay “clobber texts” in the Bible have caused misery, persecution and yes, death to gays over many millennia.

The latest irrefutable, conclusive medical evidence, now (belatedly ) accepted even in Adventism, is that gays/lesbians are genetically programmed to have same sex desires.

Despicably, for decades, God allowed his most ardent followers to proclaim and pretend that gays voluntarily CHOSE to be an “abomination”.

All the while he was genetically programming their same sex desires, with NO CHOICE INVOLVED —sadistic!

God, the ultimate geneticist, knew from the get go (creation?)
that He was programming four per cent of the population (one In twenty five) to be gay/lesbian.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism Sikhism , all have no such “clobber texts “. in their sacred writ, and homophobia is rare in those cultures.

Only the Judéo/ Christian /Islamic God. (one and the same ) genetically progams gays with same sex desires, and then deliberately inflicts misery on them with these poisonous pronouncements.

Unlike the Catholic clergy, who choose celibacy with an informed adult free will choice, gays, with no choice in the matter, have celibacy thrust upon them—sadistic!

The hurt and harm experienced by gay teenagers is incalculable —eviction onto the streets by their families, higher suicide rates, higher rates of alcoholism and generally untold misery —gleefully engineered by a sadistic god, who creates them and then delights in persecuting them, with His pernicious “clobber texts”…

God had two chances to redeem Himself from this hurtful potential:

Firstly when these texts were written, He could have “inspired “ the words otherwise.

Secondly, when the canon of Scripture was formed, He could have chosen not to include them in the holy writ.

He chose otherwise, creating misery for millions.

Not surprisingly, this same God, authored an enthusiastic exuberant endorsement of human trafficking in his Holy Word : SLAVES OBEY YOUR MASTERS——— thus giving carte blanche to slave traders and slave owners for centuries.

He obviously derived a perverse pleasure, watching teenage slave girls, “obeying”. their slave owners while being raped and brutalized.

Modern historical research indicates that one third of slaves from Africa,
manacled and hand cuffed in the holds of slave ships, lying in their own excrement and vomit (from seasickness), died before even reaching the lands where they were sold like cattle.

This sadistic God, who engineered this calamitous barter of human souls,
could have prevented it twice, by editing Paul’s egregious endorsement, but chose not to do so.

Not surprising, since it was He who inflicted four centuries of beatings, brutality and worse on His “chosen people”, under an egregious Egyptian enslavement.

Precious little love evidenced here!

Subjugated, abused wives, pulverized to a pulp by husbands operating on the rule: WIVES SUBMIT YOURSELVES TO YOUR HUSBANDS, must make this sadistic God gleeful!

Christians try to “.white wash “ these horrific scriptures, pretending that they have a hidden meaning and are not to be taken at face value.

If they were not to be taken “ at face value “. why was God not more transparent and clear in His statements ?

These same Christians pronounce that God is omniscient .

If God is omniscient, He clearly knew the future negative, malignant, malicious outcomes of His homophobic, misogynist texts.

Surely.He was well aware of slave owners exonerating their actions with Biblical endorsements .

The only plausible position, is that He gets a perverse pleasure out of engineering misery for millions.

Without these Biblical affronts/indignities/provocations
to human decency there would be
no gay bashing, no gay bullying, no gay brutalizing,
no pulverized Christian wives,
no perpetuation of human trafficking!

Our Judeo-Christian God, has a mean, cruel, savage sadistic streak under his cloaks of “righteousness”.

If all Scripture is God derived, then surely God must be held ultimately accountable for any malicious outcomes from His writings.

If Scripture is mere “literature”. like a Shakespeare play, God is “off the hook” .

The lovely, peaceful, gentle Buddhists do not manifest meaness because their holy writings have no homophobia, nor misogyny nor perverseness.

No wonder the atheists are having a field day with certain parts of the Christian Bible!!

What Christians - and non-Christians don’t seem to admit - and especially SDA Christians, is that Christianity comes out of the New Testament. Just because the OT and NT are in the same “book”, doesn’t make them equal as a faith statement for Christians. - Adventists, especially, have a hard time focusing on the Christ-centered gospel because the basis of the SDA Christianity IS the OT."

We don’t get to our distinctive doctrines reading the Gospels, or even Paul. The focus for SDAs in the NT is the book of Revelation - and that, because it connects to Daniel, as it’s taught. Maybe because the Gospel, as it’s defined by the cross event, is assumed, that it’s not emphasized at all. The SDA faith is all about the OT commandments - direct and indirect (clean/unclean etc.issues).

J.B. Philips, after describing all the “inadequate” descriptions of God, devotes the second half of his book Your God is Too Small to Jesus as the lens through which we see God clearly, another way of saying,

“Jesus is the direct revelation of God who inaugurates a sort of upside down kingdom that subverts worldly hierarchy.”

Biblical scholarship has made inroads to SDA scholarship, and SDA biblical scholars have been bending backwards trying to combine the 19th century (rather unscholarly) interpretations, fit the Gospel, as it’s taught in the NT. It’s assumed that in order to truly understand the “cross” and the NT teachings, one has to struggle through the OT history and its prophesies. Gone is the idea that anyone, in any circumstance, should be able to relate to Jesus, as the Christ, and respond to the “call of the cross” without being any kind of scholar.

It’s not the simple altar call of “Just as I am”, but a pretty intense study of the OT book of Daniel, coupled with the book of Revelation, that gets you into the baptismal tank, and membership into the “remnant” fellowship. After that, there’s a lot of busywork, reorganizing your life - in what you don’t wear and don’t eat; as well as what you read and don’t read, all tied to the sun-down calendar for your specific latitude and longitude. What gets lost is the Gospel (“good news”).

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I have come to read the Bible, especially the OT, more as a story of the search of and by a “called” people, for their God. They explain in their own words and worldview what they discover, as it applies in their culture. So what we read is wrapped up in the times when they wrote. I know some would say this is not a “high” view of the Scripture, but it is the only way I can read it and still honor God.

I believe God sent His Son (who was the essence of God himself) to try to show what He is really like, because they had gotten it so wrong in the OT. And yet, three years was not long enough to explain God completely. So He told his disciples they had not been able to “bear” all the things He wanted to tell them, so He was going to send them a Comforter who would guide them into all “truth.” And slowly, over the centuries, He has been revealing new “present” truths, as humanity has grown in understanding. Some of these truths: Slavery, tribalism, and subjugation of women are not His way, not part of His kingdom. And today we have learned enough about homosexuality that we can find new and better ways of interpreting those few but painfully difficult texts.

I believe all the heartache and misery in this world as we have struggled forward in learning God’s truth will someday be reconciled and restitution will be made. And when there are some people who have grown and accepted the new truths about God, He will bring this world to an end and save those who have been able to accept and follow Him.

But, BUT…I also believe that those who haven’t yet been able to understand and accept all the truth, will also be saved and continue to grow, as will we all, in heaven! JOY!

Heresy? So be it! The God I know is a God of Love, not of retribution.

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God in the OT acted in the way He did in order to balance His justice and fairness with His love and mercy. After Adam sinned he lost his position as the ruler of Earth to Satan. Satan subsequently instituted rules which he demanded God had to follow. Satan claimed rulership over the entire Earth and all of humanity. In order to be fair to Satan, God had to agree to follow his rules. Since Satan was complaining that God had punished him for his sin, God consequently had to punish individuals and nations when their cup of iniquity was filled.

God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and was able to claim the people of Israel as His subjects. Although some non-Hebrew individuals and nations were able to be under God’s suzerainty, everybody else was under Satan’s control. This paradigm did not change until Jesus’ death and resurrection when Satan’s lies were fully exposed. This resulted in Satan losing his position as Earth’s ruler to Jesus. Jesus subsequently repealed Satan’s bloodthirsty vengeful rules and reinstituted His original rules of love and mercy perfectly balanced with justice and fairness. He is now able to give sinners a longer probation and delayed punishment since Satan can no longer claim that God is not being fair to him as the ruler of the world since He lost that position to Jesus.

JSKMD, Is your post your distillation of the Conflict of the Ages series? After reading the entire post I tried to understand the source for each sentence separately and I can’t get anywhere. Just considering your first paragraph, you seem to make a series of assumptions which you weave together a construct a coherent narrative. My problem with it is that it seems a stretch, a big one, to prove what you have asserted using scripture. Would you please quote scripture to support each sentence (the first paragraph would be enough) and explain, also, using scripture, how you justify uniting each separate assertion together as a part of a common theme?

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God “chose otherwise, creating misery for millions.”

The truth in Robin’s comment is that the Bible can be read disastrously. What critics misunderstand is that when the concept of “inspiration” is taken to mean that God is somehow the author of all (!) the Bible’s thoughts, the book must cease to be a “authoritative” for sensitive and morally aware readers.

In the Bible itself “inspiration” is a barely mentioned metaphor, and is nowhere developed into a theory of how the Bible was written. Much better than obsession with “inspiration” is consideration, as Edward W. H. Vick has emphasized, of why the Bible even has “authority” for Christian readers. And the answer is fully coherent, I think, with what, according to Carmen, Greg Boyd is arguing. The Bible has authority for Christians because when it is read in light of Christ’s ultimate authority, it is “useful” (2 Tim. 3:16) for the personal and communal renewal associated with discipleship.

A “cruciform hermeneutic” is crucial for faithful reading Scripture.

Chuck

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There is no doubt that the words in the Bible have caused lots of pain and atrocities when people lift them up without an understanding of a loving God who promises a Holy Spirit to guide. This is the “weaponizing” of the text.

Words without the Spirit are dead.

Boyd, I think, and others in recent years are making the case that people in their culture and as products of their culture wrote the Bible. The Holy Spirit directed the process. The words were written by ancient people and for the use of ancient people. Our usage will be based on learning the lesson intended then and applying it now…under Spirit guidance. But putting anything about God into language does invite misunderstanding and potential misuse.

Perhaps, you agree that it is time to “Crucify the Warrior God?”

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My wife and I became a member of a particular SDA Church in Oregon a while back. We were having a conversation with the Pastor not too long ago. He said that what we probably need to do is just send a bomb down on North Korea. We were very saddened by such a statement. But come to find out the leadership of this local church is pro war, pro military, thus are pro nationalism. So I talked about the enemy love of Jesus. I decided to email the Pastor and some leadership sharing this theme from scripture. Next thing I know the church board met and took away the funds for my wife and I’s women’s prison ministry. Here is an interesting statement by E.J. Waggoner:

The work of the Gospel is to make peace between men and God, and wherever a heart surrenders to God the spirit of militarism and nationalism must go. {November 26, 1896 EJW, PTUK 755.8}

Your experience exposes what I believe are two truths common in US Christianity now:

  1. Jesus admonition to love one’s enemy sounds foreign and, perhaps, heretical to Christians in the US who have been formed in an era of an alliance between evangelicalism and political power.
  2. People who seek to apply Jesus’ words in contexts beyond individual life are accused of being political and an anathema to the cause of Christ. Thus, the prophetic voice of Christians has been neutralized.

I am trying to sort out the tension between keeping a separation of church and state vs. being an authentic voice to speak for God’s kingdom. Jesus’ era did not have the idea of democracy or the outsized information platforms to which we have access. So, we must consider the value of persuasion to convince others to vote to better the common good, and what will be our role in this?