Friday, July 21, 2017

Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Introduction to volume 1

Part 1: The Centrality of the Crucified Christ
Jesus is the center of the Christian faith. And the cross is the center of Jesus' ministry (and revelation of God). Therefore, we must view violent portraits of God (in the Old Testament) through a Jesus lens with a cross focus.

Chapter 1: The Faith of Jacob
It's OK to wrestle with Scripture as Scripture
Chapter 2: The True Face of God
Jesus is the revelation of God
Chapter 3: Finding Jesus in the OT
Christians read the OT through the lens of Christ
Chapter 4: The Cruciform Center 1
God is love. Love is defined by the cross.
Chapter 5: The Cruciform Center 2
The New Testament is thoroughly Cruciform
Chapter 6: Is [The Thesis so far] Defensible
The Cruciform Thesis stands up to scrutiny

Part 2: The Problem of Divine Violence
The problem of divine violence (especially in the Old Testament) is real. We can't simply dismiss God-breathed texts that we don't like (there are too many of them!). Nor can we make them fit with the revelation of Jesus (they are contradictory!). While both of these attempts are well motivated (and demonstrate healthy 'wrestling' with Scripture), they are ultimately unsuccessful insofar as they fail to show how these texts point to Jesus.

Chapter 7: The Dark Side of the Bible
The Old Testament is filled with ugly depictions of God
Chapter 8: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence 1
It won't do to simply dismiss these texts as non-revelatory
Chapter 9: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence 2
It won't do to try to synthesize the violence with Jesus

Part 3: The Cruciform Hermeneutic
The Cruciform Hermeneutic equips us to see how all of Scripture (even the violent texts of the Old Testament) points us to Jesus. When we interpret such texts with this method, we are able to remove the veil and see the Jesus-like beauty contained deep within.

Chapter 10: A Meaning Worthy of God
Origen was on the right track... there's a deeper meaning!
Chapter 11: Through the Lens of the Cross
This hermeneutic removes the veil and find the beauty
Chapter 12: Interpreting Scripture as God's Word
Let's read all passages as passageways to Christ

Introduction to Volume 2

Part 4: The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation
When God breathed Scripture to the covenant people, the revelation was given gently and with much stooping on God's part. Like a good doctor, God was able to administer the medicine that would lead to future healing, but was willing to give it to the people in a flavor they could handle (even if that 'flavor' was in otherwise bad for them... a reflection of their corrupt taste-buds, if you will).

Chapter 13: The Masks of a Humble God
God accommodates us even to divine detriment
Chapter 14: The Heavenly Missionary
A good tutor teaches at the pace the students can handle

Part 5: The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal
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 self-destruct. This is exactly what happened in Canaan and would later happen to Israel itself.

Chapter 15: Divine Aikido
God's wrath is non-violent withdrawal aimed at redemption
Chapter 16: Crime and Punishment
Scripture is filled with examples of wrath equaling withdrawal
Chapter 17: Doing and Allowing
God is sovereign, but doesn't actively engage in violence
Chapter 18: The Question of Divine Culpability
This principle stands up to scrutiny
Chapter 19: Defending Divine Genocide
Copan's defenses fall short in multiple ways
Chapter 20: When God's Nonviolent Plans Fail
God's original plan for Canaan got distorted by violence

Part 6: The Principle of Cosmic Conflict

Chapter 21: The Battle of the Gods
Powerful wanna-be God's exist
Chapter 22: Caught in the Cross Fire
God's secret plan is what wins w/o a fight

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CWG (Chapter 22)

Chapter 22: Caught in the Cross Fire

Boyd believes that the New Testament amplifies and clarifies the 'cosmic conflict' worldview of the Old Testament. Jesus viewed Satan as a powerful agent and functional ruler of the earth. Indeed, Jesus ministry was about overcoming the rule of Satan and establishing a new rule. And His crucifixion is the act by which this overcoming was accomplished.

Boyd's view is similar to that of C.S. Lewis. The devil simply did not understand the 'secret' plan that God was carrying out via the cross of Christ. Selfish Satan could not comprehend selfless love. Violence done to Jesus isn't what saves us. Jesus willingness to love without limits is what saves us, for it reveals the true character of God (destroying the devil's false-teachings about God's character).

In the remainder of the chapter, Boyd touches on the fact that we DO have, within us, an image-of-God bearing warrior instinct. It was never meant to be directed at people. It is intended toward the cosmic conflict. Because this instinct is legitimate, there are valuable lessons we can learn from the violence in the Old Testament (actual violence and imprecatory Psalms).

This chapter felt a bit scattered in nature. Authors sometimes like to try to keep the chapter lengths close to the same when, to my mind, it's okay to have numerous short chapters.

In any case, I did find what Greg had to say about the 'secret' nature of God's plan intriguing. This is not a motif that is talked about all that often, but it is present in Scripture. I think his criticisms of (at least) the popular versions of Penal Substitution Atonement are valid. I think he's right that there is a legitimacy to the 'warrior instinct' and that that is relevant to the usefulness of these Old Testament passages.

I'm not with him on the imprecatory Psalms, though. I think it is far easier to interpret them as simply honest expressions from human beings. They are 'inspired' in the sense that God is pleased when we deal honestly with HIM instead of taking out our anger, frustration, and hatred on others.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

CWR (Chapter 21)

Chapter 21: Battle of the Gods

Boyd believes that "the most fundamental thing that the cross accomplished... is that it in principle defeated Satan and all other forces of destruction that had held us captive and corrupted the creation for eons." The third principle of the cruciform thesis is thus: "The agents that carry out violence when God withdraws... include perpetually-threatening cosmic forces." In other words, when God withdraws, it is these forces (not God) who actually carry out or are behind the carrying out of) the violence.

Boyd spends time, in this chapter, showing how the Old Testament talks about these powerful forces (the raging sea, cosmic monsters, chaos, etc.). In a real sense, they are rival gods... part of the heavenly counsel. They have free will and some of them are in rebellion against God. These truths do not deny God's sovereignty. Boyd wouldn't even say they threaten it. But they do complicate it in relation to how many Christians today imagine the spiritual scene (most seem to ignore the reality and power of these forces).

I have read Boyd on this subject before. I think he makes some very strong points about the nature of monotheism and the reality of powerful spiritual beings other than God. He does a great job of showing the form this cosmic conflict takes in Old Testament literature. He also suggests (as will be made clear in the next chapter) that this motif isn't pushed to the side in the New Testament. The opposite is true. The nature of the cosmic conflict is clarified and amplified in and through Jesus.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

CWG (Chapter 20)

Chapter 20: When God's Nonviolent Plans Fail

Finally, in this chapter, Boyd puts his cruciform hermeneutic to work as it is applied to the 'herem' command (specifically, the command to annihilate the Canaanites). Starting from the cross, Greg knows that God is non-violent. Given this fact, certain elements (even inconsistencies) from the Old Testament story of Israel's conquering of Canaan come to light like never before.

For instance, Boyd observes a thread within the story that God's original plan was to bring the Israelites into the land (and take the Canaanites out of the land) non-violently. God planned to use non-violent phenomena to slowly remove the Canaanites. But when the Israelites (Moses & Joshua) received this plan from God, it got distorted by their pre-conceived notions that violence would be necessary to accomplish such a task. Nevertheless, elements of God's original plan were preserved in the text. When we look at the text with 'cross-vision', we find them.

The remnant of the original (non-violent) command actually produces a number of 'inconsistencies and incoherencies' in the text once it is mixed the typical ANE violent worldview. Again, those with 'cross-vision' are able to recognize such things and attribute them to God's accommodating nature. Since the people of Israel rejected God's non-violent plan, God stayed in relation with them in spite of their violent behavior.

God did intend to 'judge' the Canaanites... just not via violence. But because Israel disobeyed God, He instead had to endure their judgment being performed violently by Israel. And God did intend to bring Israel into the land promised to them... just not via violence. But because Israel disobeyed God, He instead had to endure their violence against the Canaanites (and His reputation being attached to violence). God was willing to endure all this to stay in covenant relationship with His people for the good of the entire world.

It was nice to see the various elements of Boyd's approach (so far) brought together in a case study (of sorts). I think Boyd made a good case that the original plan, from God, was for Israel to be given the Promised Land in a non-violent way. I think it is very believable that Moses and Joshua, being men from the ANE, misunderstood and distorted God's plan.

Nevertheless, it is still difficult (for me) to think of Moses and Joshua being so wrong about so much and their stories still being considered holy Scripture. What's more, they seem to be praised as heroes in Scripture (and in Sunday School classes today). It would be difficult, to say the least, to convince a typical person in the pew of this view. That's not to say the view is wrong.

Of course, Boyd does have an answer for how such texts are still inspired Scripture. It's the answer he's been giving throughout the 2 volumes. These violent stories are still Scripture in the sense that they show God stooping to our level to stay in relationship with us, just as He did on the cross through Jesus Christ. They reveal how far God will go to be with us.

Friday, July 07, 2017

CWG (Chapter 19)

Chapter 19: Defending Divine Genocide

Here, Boyd narrows in on the 'herem' command (the call to annihilate the Canaanites) and how it is 'defended' by, especially, Paul Copan. He starts with Copan's defense of a literal reading of the text and then moves on to Copan's suggestion that the commands were heavily hyperbolic.

Copan argues that 'genocide' isn't an appropriate label for what happened (Copan does believe it happened) since 'herem' was also applied to Israelite towns who fell into idolatry and because some Canaanites were purposefully spared. Boyd thinks these minor points are not enough to overcome the obvious parallels between this motif in Scripture and what we would normally call genocide. He believes defending this violence opens the door to violence today.

Copan suggests God has the 'right' to take lives (being the Creator), but Boyd responds that it's not about God's rights. It's about God's character. It's not whether God 'could' take lives. It's about whether God 'would' command His people to slaughter other people.

Copan says it was necessary to destroy the Canaanites to protect Israel from their idolatry. While Boyd recognizes this rationale is given in Scripture, he points out that it didn't really work (even in the world of the text). Or, in a similar argument, Copan says it was necessary to destroy the Canaanites because they were SO evil. Boyd asks what could be more 'evil' than annihilating an entire people group!

Moving on to Copan's claims for Hyperbole, Copan believes the conquest of Canaan mostly involved the defeat of military strongholds. Women and children were not actually killed. Boyd considers this line of defense much more compelling than the first. But, ultimately, he lists a number of reasons for rejecting it. Perhaps most importantly, the hyperbole interpretation would STILL not be Christlike. Boyd recognizes that ANE people exaggerating the 'numbers' of those killed in military battles, but argues that they didn't exaggerate the 'type' of people killed (women and children really were killed). He questions whether God would happily endorse such violent hyperbole.

But Boyd's lengthiest argument against the hyperbole defense involves the numerous passages which seem to clearly demonstrate that women and children were the victims (in the text, at least) of the 'herem' command.

In the end, Boyd thinks Moses got it wrong. What Moses claimed God said doesn't match up with what we know about God through Jesus. What is needed is not a 'defense' of the violent command, but an 'explanation' for how this violent command may actually reveal (indirectly) the God of the cross.  God accommodated the violent worldview of His people in order to stay in covenant relationship with them as He attempted to pave the way to peace.

I don't think Boyd was entirely fair to Copan in this chapter. For instance, on page 922 he says that Copan's view would open the door for people today to practice violence so long as they feel called by God to do so. But in the previous chapter (page 910), Boyd seemed to shut the door on that very way of thinking.

Additionally, I thought Boyd's critique of Copan's insistence that all babies go to heaven was lame. Greg uses the way he has organized the chapter (literal defenses followed by the 'hyperbole' defense), to force Copan into a box that he's not really stuck in (since he doesn't have to separate his arguments like that). I say it is a 'lame' argument because it doesn't actually seem like Boyd disagrees with Copan on this point to any significant degree.

In any case, I ultimately think Boyd is right when he says that Copan has argued in the wrong directon. "Copan should have started with the revelation of God on the cross and then moved on to interpret the defective divine portrait in the conquest narrative in this light." Boyd offers his strongest critique of Copan's strongest claim when he points out that there are some texts in which it seems inarguable that women and children were present on at least some of the occasions involved in the conquering of Canaan.