Greg Boyd Talks God's Non-violence, Theology and Evangelical Christianity

Dr. Greg Boyd is the keynote speaker for the upcoming Adventist Forum Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland titled Non-violence and the Atonement. In this Q & A with Adventist Forum board member Carmen Lau, Boyd describes his ministry and his views on God's non-violence, and why he is hesitant to self-describe as Evangelical.

You are an author, academic, teacher, pastor, apologist and have spent much energy engaging with fellow Christians and also the secular world. Could you give a brief explanation about what excites you and what drives you to stay so busy?

We live at an exciting juncture of history. The traditional triumphant understanding of the church, known as “Christendom,” is crumbling. Out of its rubble is rising a grass-roots global movement of people who are captivated by the vision of a Jesus-looking God raising up a Jesus-looking people to transform the world in a Jesus-kind of way. And as this new kingdom wine is bursting the old wineskins of Christendom, believers and skeptics alike are being forced to rethink everything they thought they knew about the Christian faith and life.

You have a fascinating website and I notice you post a steady stream of challenging articles. Tell me about ReKnew.

At the center of ReKnew is the very-old-yet-new idea that the love Jesus demonstrated on the cross is the full revelation of the true, non-violent, self-sacrificial character of God and of the character that God’s people are called to cultivate. This stands in stark contrast to what most people believe about God and how most people understand what it means to be “Christian.” Sadly, throughout most of church history Christians have frequently allowed the simple and beautiful revelation of the cross to be hijacked by religion, politics, and the philosophical assumptions of the day. This is how the beauty of the God revealed on the cross and the beauty of the movement Jesus came to birth were transformed into something that was often very ugly and violent. This is the sad legacy of Christendom.

Fortunately, we are today witnessing a vast multitude of people around the globe becoming captivated by the beauty of the old-yet-new revelation of the cross. ReKnew aims to serve this rising revolution by encouraging people to critical scrutinize long-held theological assumptions, by offering fresh and relevant theological proposals for consideration, and by motivating people to seriously rethink what it means to follow Jesus. Our heart is to educate, inspire, expand, and help network this growing movement of Jesus followers so that increasing numbers may come to experience, and be transformed by, the beauty of the humble, self-sacrificial God revealed in the crucified Christ.

You have agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Spectrum Conference in Silver Spring MD this September on Non-Violent Atonement. Would you summarize your thoughts about atonement and salvation?

The majority of Evangelicals today believe that the main significance of what Christ accomplished on the cross (the atonement) is that he satisfied the Father’s wrath against sin by being punished in our place, thereby allowing the Father to accept us despite our sin. While the church has always understood that Jesus died in our place, the depiction of the Father venting his wrath on Jesus instead of on us — the “penal substitution” view of the atonement — originated with Luther and Calvin (though it was in some respect anticipated by Anselm in the eleventh century). And while the church has always allowed for a variety of atonement theories, it’s worth noting that for the first 1000 years of church history the dominant view was that “[t]he reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn3:8; Heb.2:14). This is called the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement.

With the historic-orthodox church, I believe that Jesus died as our substitute and experienced the death-consequences of sin in our place. But I do not believe this means the Father needed to “satisfy” his own wrath by violently pouring it out on his Son in order to forgive us and reconcile us to himself. And while I affirm that Christ accomplished a variety of things by his life and death and resurrection, I think that Christ’s victory over Satan and the powers of darkness lies at the base of them all. I thus consider the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement to be the foundation of all other views.

With the rise of the penal substitution view of the atonement, the western church began to think of salvation increasingly in legal categories. God has thus come to be viewed as the judge, humans as the guilty defendants, and Jesus as our defense attorney who allows us to be acquitted by suffering our sentence in our place. As a result, salvation has come to be thought of primarily as an acquittal (escaping hell) that people receive when they simply believe that Jesus did this for them. Among the many unfortunate consequences of this view is the fact that Christianity has become much more focused on how we benefit in the afterlife from what God has done for us in Christ than it is focused on the beautiful things God wants to do in our present life—the relationship God wants with us, the character that God wants to cultivate in us, and the things God wants to accomplish through us now.

While legal metaphors are sometimes used to express salvation in the New Testament, the dominant way of expressing salvation is as a marriage covenant. Salvation is not primarily about being acquitted by God. Nor is it primarily about the afterlife. Rather, salvation is primarily about becoming part of “the bride of Christ” and participating in—and being transformed by—the fullness of God’s life that he opens up for us in the present. For this reason, salvation is not merely about believing in Jesus; it’s even more profoundly about being empowered to follow Jesus’ example.

Salvation thus cannot be divorced from the call to follow Jesus’ example of loving enemies, refraining from violence, and caring for the poor and oppressed. Moreover, salvation is about manifesting God’s fullness of life by cultivating a counter-cultural lifestyle that revolts against every aspect of society that is inconsistent with the character of God and of his will for the world. And finally, salvation is about living and praying in a way that actualizes the fullness of the Lord’s prayer that the Father’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).

Do you consider yourself an “Evangelical Christian”?

I hold to a high view of biblical inspiration and most of my theological views are in line with what would be broadly considered “evangelical.” So in this sense, I consider myself an “evangelical.” But the word “evangelical,” as well as the word “Christian,” has become associated with many things that are radically inconsistent with the example of Jesus’ life, which we are to emulate. So I’m very hesitant to identify myself with either term until I know what my audience means by them.

Many of our readers will recognize some commonality of beliefs between you and Seventh-day Adventist theologian, Rick Rice, of Loma Linda University. Could you explain Open Theism?

I believe God knows everything, including the past, present and future. But I also believe God created us as free agents, which means we are empowered to resolve possible courses of action into an actual course of action. And this, I contend, entails that the future is contains possibilities, in contrast to the past which is irrevocably settled. So I hold that, precisely because God’s knowledge is perfect, God knows the future exactly as it is – that is, as containing possibilities. Some things about the future are “maybes,” and God knows them as such.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Love Greg!!! What is sad is that Adventism was discovering and preaching his message way back in the late 1800’s by several prominent Adventist teachers and authors but, it was hijacked by Buttler, Uriah Smith, and even Daniels. Meanwhile, for the next 100 +years, the direction our church took was that of preaching more law keeping and Andreason style last generation perfection theology. Lucky for us God never gives up!


That reminds me of something A. Graham Maxwell said in a talk he gave at the Azure Hills SDA Church in 1990:

“…if someone asks me, ‘Are you a Seventh- day Adventist?’ I say, ‘You tell me what you think one is and I’ll tell you if I am one.’ And sometimes when they’re through, I say 'I like to call myself a Seventh- day Adventist, but I’m certainly not one of those that you just described.'
So when someone says, ‘Do you believe in the atonement’, I’m cautious about that, too. And I
ask people, ‘Tell me what you think the atonement means, and I’ll tell you if I do.’”

We should all be equally cautious and not assume that we are talking about the same things just because we are using the same words.


Thanks, Carmen, for this provocative interview. The AF conference this fall is going to be about…CHRIST, about the very center and pivot of any (biblical) Christian faith. Just for that reason, the conference will call our certainties into question and celebrate the one certainty that faith knows best of all: the God-ordained life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I can’t wait to listen in and ask questions and be inspired.



[had to get my 20 characters in]
There are Babylonian Christian denominations who proclaim"
"God the Father loved so much that he GAVE…
"God the Son [Jesus Christ] loved so much that he GAVE
"God the Holy Spirit love so much that he GAVE [to Mary]"
This IS NOT PUNISHMENT redemption.
This is NOT and ANGRY God.
We are NOT in the hands of an angry God.
This is God who wants to call us Brother, Sister.
This is a God who wants us to Sit on Their Throne Bench, to see the Universe as They see it.

Yes, Babylonian Christians have discovered a Loving Trinity that Seventh day Adventists have NOT discovered.
So we NEED Greg Boyd.

EDIT–Elaine and others
If you want a marvelously excellent sermon on the Resurrection you need to listen [and watch] Tony Compolo’s sermon – It’s Friday but Sunday’s Coming!
It is the Resurrection which actually Destroyed Death!

What we fail to remember and DO NOT PREACH is that there were a number who were resurrected on that week-end and went about Jerusalem proclaiming the Word of God. Unfortunately, we have no idea of Who they were, or What they said, or much of the response of the people. It is written as almost an after thought to the story.


It is helpful to understand the hermeneutical relationship between the past and future. The German historian Leopold von Ranke correctly sets forth that the entire sweep of time is a text. Inasmuch as the part of the text we read informs the whole and our sense of the whole informs our interpretation of the part of the text–(this is the hermeneutical circle)–the past informs our understanding of the future and the future informs our understanding of the past. We are pretty good at realizing that knowledge of the past is requisite for predicting the future, but most of us fail to understand that knowledge of the future is requisite for understanding the past.

Suppose that you have no knowledge of the future; you have read the first 100 pages of time, but the last 40 pages of the text have been ripped out of the book. How can you possibly claim that you understand what you have read? You cannot accurately interpret the textual part you have read, because the entire text that is indispensable to such interpretation is uncertain and unknown.

The past is not “irrevocably settled” if the future is not irrevocably settled. If the future “contains possibilities” so does the past. There are many diverse possibilities regarding what the death of Jesus means if there are many diverse scenarios about what the future holds. The meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross is inextricably linked to and informed by what occurs in the future. If God does not have knowledge of the future, then Jesus is hanging on the cross with the thought in His head, “What am I doing here? What is the meaning of this?”

For most Christians, their understanding of the atonement is limited to one page–Jesus’ death on the cross. For Seventh-day Adventists, our understanding of the atonement is also informed by the OT sanctuary material, events in heaven that precede the fall of Adam and Eve, apocalyptic reality, i.e., our knowledge of the future, and everything that is comprised in the entire sweep of time. We can rest assured that our understanding of the atonement in this respect is hermeneutically sound.

If you want to improve your life, you should study the past but you should also study the future. If you want to become a better historian, you should more thoroughly study the past but you should also study the future. If you want to understand the atonement, you should study what Jesus has done but also study what Jesus will do.


Greg’s thoughts are useful and lead followers of Jesus in the right direction. His giving the better picture of God in the person and character of Christ is Biblical. While teaching that God’s character of self-sacrificing love is manifested at the cross, Greg, like most traditional theologians, seems to miss the Gospel emphasis on the centrality of Christ’s Resurrection. In the Book of Acts, the Resurrection is what the apostles preached. Check it out, the cross is not their theme. It is Christ’s Resurrection that assures believers of salvation.


Bingo! Somebody gets it! There would be no Christians, the largest religion in the world were it not for the Resurrection. But is is almost forgotten in the list of Adventist doctrines but particularly in practice. For many years as a child I noticed that in all the other Christian churches, the celebration of Resurrection Sunday, a.k.a. Easter, was a special religious event that rivaled Christmas. But Adventists called it a “Catholic” event and it was almost completely ignored by the church.

The Adventist church did not display the cross (too Catholic) but had other symbols: the Bible, or three angels, the latter having no meaning to anyone but Adventists.

But the Bible giving the account of Jesus’ life was not written until several hundred years after Christianity began; and it wasn’t the cross as it was a common form of execution at that time. It was ONLY the Resurrection that Paul first preached to the Gentiles which spread the message throughout the known world within the Roman Empire and beyond. The cross did not extend hope; but the Resurrection gave hope of life beyond the grave.

Why did Adventists downplay rather than celebrating the Resurrection? It would have to recognize that the first Christians began celebrating the Resurrection day and did not adopt the Sabbath of the Jews.


St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians 4:13-17

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

In the Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem, ca. 348 a.d., it is acknowledged that the Sabbath was still sanctified in one’s private worship of God, at least in the East, even though the West - Rome, Lyons, Carthage, etc. - forbode it because of the affiliation with Saturnalia, though I have no understanding why Somnambulism was tolerated.

Glory to God in ALL Things.


Which is a roundabout way of saying that God is not omniscient, and therefore cannot make predictive prophecy. If God only knows the future as “maybe’s,” then please explain how He could name Cyrus well in advance, as well as pinpoint the arrival of the Messiah down to the very year, not to mention all the other predictions about the Messiah which came to pass. And that only scratches the surface of the difficulties which arise by limiting God to foreseeing only “maybes.”


Many who resonate with Greg’s view of foreknowledge believe God, being omniscient, can cause various events in history to take place. (I don’t mean to “speak for Greg” - I mention the above because of my perspective on God’s foreknowledge.)

Cyrus, for instance, could have had parents who “heard from God” in much the same way John the Baptist’s parents did about their unborn son’s prospective role in history and the name God wanted to give him.

As I understand it, “God knows the end from the beginning” in that He can “see around corners to the nth degree,” but He doesn’t necessarily know what choices people are going to make. Hence the conditional, unfulfilled promises for Israel we read about in scripture. In spite of people’s decisions, though, God can still steer history as He sees fit.

I don’t mean to argue about this subject in any way - just to respond to your question by sharing the perspectives of many who embrace an “open theology” of God’s foreknowledge.


Dear Author;

You seem to believe that the primary essence of God is Lamblike. While His Son became a lamb for a time, there are many more dimensions to His character and identity. The God of the Old Testament and the Jesus that is to come as described in Revelation is just as much to be believed in as the Lamb on the Cross.

I am a father of four. I am tender and loving and protective, forgiving, but I am other things as well (if you know what I mean), when my beloved kids run contrary to the rules of our home. I could cite scores of Scripture that would testify that this is also descriptive of the Lord as well.

I worry that your teaching may lead people to believe that even though a holy and just God said not to do behavior A, B, and C, that because He is primarily a tender loving God, that He most likely will overlook a person’s habitual violation of A, B, and C.

Is the blood of Christ strong enough to qualify a lifetime of willful, open defiance?

The laws of the Lord are perfect, they revive the soul. They bring life and light and are sweet. We should be embracing the God of justice who requires righteousness from those who call themselves followers.


The NT writings are believed by most reputable scholars to have been completed by the end of the 1st c…John’s gospel being the latest, about AD 95. Where does the idea come from that they were written several hundred years after Jesus?

Secondly, Paul said of himself ( in a letter to a Gentile church) that he preached Christ and him crucified. The idea that he preached the resurrection exclusively doesn’t square with this statement. With that said, Christ and him crucified was shorthand for his death and resurrection, as 1 Cor. reveals. Adventism has traditionally preached the cross far more than the resurrection, truncating the good news. Maybe its because of the fear that the first day event, commonly referred to by early Christians as the Lord’s Day, would undermine the emphasis of the seventh day Sabbath?

Without the resurrection, our faith is futile. Is it any wonder that by the end of the first century or beginning of the second, early believers were already meeting on the first day,apart from the seventh day Jewish synagogue services, to celebrate the Lord’s Day…the resurrection?




Yes ! I think the word you MIGHT be looking for in your next-to-last sentence: "God knows the future exactly as it is – that is, as containing possibilities [MIGHT I SUGGEST THE WORDS “PREGNANT” & “BURSTING”?]…or like unzipping a file on your computer & it “explodes” into view. Every teachable moment is like a little “big bang” of potentiality.

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As I see it, the idea of “Christus Victor view of the atonement” is in direct contrast to EGW who unquestionably taught the “penal substitution” view of atonement (see quotes below). How can we have it both ways? While we hold to an all encompassing inspiration of EGW, yet publicly suggest new ideas of atonement not supported by the prophet?

Paying lip service to EGW while we question her view of anointment, requiring a re-writing of Desire of Ages—is hypocrisy. Is it not? Unless we redefine EGW’s inspiration at the same time?

“He must suffer the penalty of the broken law, and bear the Father’s wrath.”

“It was the crushing weight of the sins of the world, and a sense of His Father’s wrath.”

“It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath on Him as man’s substitute, that broke the heart of the Son of God.”

“Divinity clothed in humanity was dying beneath the wrath of an offended God. Were any of the vials of God’s wrath reserved from falling on the head of our Substitute and Surety?”

“He transfers his sins to Jesus, the sinner’s representative, substitute, and surety.”

“ The sins of the world weighed heavily upon the Saviour and bowed him to the earth; and the Father’s anger in consequence of that sin seemed crushing out his life.”

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Couple of thoughts -
The Bible is a melding of the Hebrew concept of “righteousness” as being all abut what we DO and DON’T DO, coupled with the Greek considerations of motive and spirit behind the the actions. If the Hebrew view had been sufficient, Jesus would possibly have appeared in the closing pages of the Old Testament as the literal fulfillment of the Messiah prophesy. As it is, God waited to introduce the full measure of His message to a fallen world in the person of His Son, until there was a language capable of defining His redemptive act more fully. It was the Greek expressions and thought patterns that needed to be added to the Hebrew in order to better understand the meaning of Christ. This is why we need Paul’s explanations - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works; so that no one may boast. Taken together, we can assume that one, leads to the other.

It has been the Adventist emphasis on the Old Testament ritualistic faith system that has produced the concept of perfectionism. Striving for perfect obedience to a set of prescribed laws does not easily result in spirit directed life; but rather a legalistic one. On the other hand, a focus on the spiritual connection to God would inevitably lead to one that falls in line with the laws we find in the Hebrew paradigm - maybe not obviously to anyone needing instantaneous visual confirmation of obedience. This may be why, we find Jesus saying Man looks on the outward appearance; God looks upon the heart.


In theology, as in science, one has to look at ALL of the available evidence, and come away with an explanation that is consistent with everything observed. Space constraints don’t permit anything more than well-chosen excerpts, as you have done. But there are other EGW remarks that simply can’t be forced into supporting your conclusion: “Christ exalted the character of God, attributing to him the praise, and giving to him the credit, of the whole purpose of his own mission on earth,-to set men right through the revelation of God.” ST 1-20-1890 Reading the entire article makes it even more difficult to harmonize these words with penal-substitutionary atonement.

Now we can collect all of our evidences into a heap, like Isaac Newton did with the particle theory of light and like Christian Huygens did with the wave theory of light, and then yell at each other as to who has the better collection of evidence, but that’s not honest science. That isn’t an honest approach to theology, either.

It’s eventually obvious to the careful observer that the Bible and EGW offer passages that can be used to support more than one exclusive view of how God saves us. If that bothers us, we can wring our hands in despair and wish for something more definitive, or, we can commit to a life-long journey of considering the evidence, not feeling that we have to quickly walk away with an absolute conclusion.

By the way, we still don’t know what light is.


To borrow an analogy from Scot McKnight (who wrote an excellent and very accessible book on the atonement entitled A Community Called Atonement), insisting on a single view of the atonement (e.g. penal substitution) makes as much sense as insisting on playing golf with a single club. Different circumstances, perspectives, individuals, situations, etc… call for different clubs. My seven iron happens to be my favorite. I could play an entire round with just that club; but, it would be more fun, less limiting, and I’d play better if I used every club in the bag. In addition, as new and better clubs are created, incorporating them improves the experience rather than insisting that the old clubs are the only way to play.

Penal substitution may be your preferred way to understand what Jesus death on the cross means. And, I would submit that this perspective should not exclude other models of the atonement. For example, in our disturbingly violent world, a non-violent theory of the atonement is an essential view to have and to share. This view reveals human violence as the primary problem that it is, exposes the faulty reasoning which would justify violence, and calls us all to follow a better way of loving others.


If Greg sees the Cross as non-violent, I suppose he would see hell as non-violent too. If Jesus had no pain on the cross, those who are punished then will have none either. If God really wished us to understand how non-violent the matter of our redemption was, why did He choose the most violent manner of capital punishment in use at that time to illustrate His love? Why not just come and die of some form of “natural causes”? In fact, why die at all?

The truth is not so pleasant as the “Non-Violent Atonement” believers might have us believe. In fact, as soon as one diminishes the agony Christ endured by such charming talk, just as soon one has diminished the intensity of love which it can portray–and in turn, make it less attractive to sinners in desperate need of a loving Savior. Ironically, the violence is needful, and without it, we might never be saved. Who would really believe that God loved us without such a gripping demonstration of it?

Did you read the article? This view does not claim that Jesus didn’t experience pain[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:11157”]
I do not believe this means the Father needed to “satisfy” his own wrath by violently pouring it out on his Son in order to forgive us and reconcile us to himself. And while I affirm that Christ accomplished a variety of things by his life and death and resurrection, I think that Christ’s victory over Satan and the powers of darkness lies at the base of them all.

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