Saturday, May 27, 2017

Crucifixion of the Warrior God


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

Chapter 10: A Meaning Worthy of God
Origen was on the right track... there's a deeper meaning!

Friday, May 26, 2017

CWG (Chapter 10)

Chapter 10: A Meaning Worthy of God

Part 3 of Boyd's 2-volume work begins considers Origen's 'reinterpretation' of violence in the Old Testament as a historical example of the type of solution that Boyd is pursuing going forward (though Boyd's proposal will differ significantly). If we can't dismiss these texts (because they are God-breathed) and we can't accept them at face value (because they don't conform to the revelation of Christ on the cross) then our only remaining option is to re-interpret them. And that's what Origen did by using an allegorical method of interpretation for such texts.

Origen believed that troublesome texts existed to challenge readers and motivate them to dig for deeper meanings. God buried meanings below embarrassing dirt not just to challenge truth-seekers, but also to accommodate the dirty conceptions people of those times had about Him. So while the surface level meaning (like command to conquer Canaan) were not congruent with Christ, the deeper meaning (like the importance of spiritual warfare) were revelatory.

Boyd does not think that Origen believed most of the violence in Scripture actually happened in history. What was true about a passage was in the mystery (the deeper meaning) moreso than the history (whether it really happened). Boyd disagrees on this point. He accepts the literal events recounted in the biblical narrative and denies that the authors of these texts had allegorical intentions when they wrote. They were writing from their own fallen and culturally conditioned understandings of God.

This was an interesting chapter. Truth be told, I've always been fascinated by Origen and the early Christian writers. Their hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament is very different from modern approaches. I enjoyed learning about the rise of the allegorical method and the motivations behind it. And it makes sense to me that God would accommodate His people (ie. recognizing that they got 'used' to animal sacrifices in Egypt and, therefore, accommodating that practice but directing the sacrifices to Himself rather than to many gods).

As intriguing as Origen is, I think Boyd did a good job of pointing out some of his weaknesses as well. Like Greg, I don't think Origen was right to so quickly dismiss a historical basis behind the text. And some of the allegories come off as hermeneutic gymnastics. Greg's proposal to offer another 'species' of Origen's re-interpretation solution is attractive.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

CWG (Chapter 9)

Chapter 9: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence Part 2

Having dismissed the 'dismissal solution', Boyd moves on to the 'synthesis solution' which takes the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament at face value (as does the dismissal solution), but accepts them as accurate revelations of God (rather than repudiating them, like the dismissal solution does). In other words, those in this camp try to synthesize how these portraits are true pictures of God alongside the clearest picture (Jesus Christ). In this chapter, Boyd addresses the four most common defenses of God's violent behavior in the Old Testament.

Some synthesizers argue that we, as humans, have no right to question the 'goodness' of God in these divine portraits. The Bible says God did these things so, by definition, they must be good (even if in ways that are mysterious to us). Our moral compass is a fallen tool for evaluating God's actions. Not surprisingly, Boyd finds a host of serious issues with this perspective (eight to be exact).

Another attempt to justify God's OT violence (Boyd calls it the most common attempt) is to suggest that it reveals the 'justice' side of God. But Boyd wants to point out that some of the violence in the OT don't even seem just.

A third attempt is the 'greater good defense'. The idea here is that the ends justify the means. God had to (for instance) remove the Canaanites in order for Israel to survive in order for the Messiah to come through Israel. But why? Archaeologists suggest the Canaanites were no worse than anyone else. The Israelites turned wicked anyways. And why kill the women and children?

Finally, Boyd addresses the 'Progressive Revelation' explanation. In this view, God acquiesced to violence because there was no other choice (given the limitations and fallen nature of humanity) while slowly steering them toward non-violence. The problem, here, is that sometimes it seems that God is the one maximizing violence in these passages. Boyd thinks it has not been clearly enough pointed out that the very concept of progressive revelation suggests that earlier revelation was mixed with that which is false. He prefers an understanding of progressive revelation that sees progress not in the way God acted, but in the way ancient people conceived of God acting.

Overall, Boyd appreciates the efforts of the synthesizers and hopes to use a number of their points (though with some variation) in his approach.

It's hard to complain about brevity in a 1400 page, 2-volume work, but I did feel like this chapter could have been longer. Boyd, in my opinion, addressed some of the poorer arguments of people like Paul Copan, but didn't touch on his best arguments (which I consider to have been discussions of the ancient military literary genre). In the end, though, Boyd is correct that this approach is trying to justify (to one degree or another) violence.

I felt Boyd gave a bit too much attention to the 'beyond-our-categories' defense and not enough (10 pages plus) and not enough to the 'divine punishment' and 'greater-good' defenses (about 3 pages each).

I really enjoyed the section on progressive revelation and divine accommodation. He made a good point that while many think of the latter in regards to God's 'transcendent' attributes, revelation is more typically about God's moral character. And on the former (progressive revelation), I think Boyd had a real insight in claiming that we haven't considered (enough) the fact that progress suggests falsity in the past. What I read Boyd saying here, then (when we combine the two) is that Old Testament 'revelations' of God are sometimes warped by the immature views of the covenant people that God is accommodating. In other words, the Old Testament contains true revelation, but it is 'packaged' (inevitably?) with that which is false.

But this doesn't mean our task is to pick and choose which parts are true and which parts are false. The whole 'package' is God-breathed in the sense that all of it points to the revelation of Jesus and the cross. With Boyd's cruciform hermeneutic, we'll be able to see how.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CWG (Chapter 8)

Chapter 8: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence Part 1

By now, Boyd has attempted to demonstrate that certain (numerous) depictions of God in the Old Testament appear to be in-congruent with the revelation of God in Christ (and specifically the cross). In this chapter, he critiques one attempted solution to this problem (the dismissal of such OT passages... often on the grounds that these violent events didn't actually take place in history).

Boyd traces the dismissal of the problem texts back to the ancient heretic Marcion. Similar (though not identical) approaches have become commonplace in the past hundred years or so. Boyd applauds both Marcion & these contemporary scholars (Siebert, Enns, Weaver, Flood, etc.) for recognizing the seriousness of the problem, but considers their solution (that we can dismiss these texts as non-revelatory) to be unacceptable.

This 'solution' is unacceptable to Boyd for four main reasons. First, Christ treated the entire Old Testament as divinely inspired. Second, there's so much of this material (see chapter 7) that dismissing it would be dismissing much of the Old Testament (even texts the NT authors utilized as Scripture). Third, these troublesome texts actually show God entering into the fallen world, so their removal would seemingly leave us with less hope that God is at work amidst human violence. Fourth, the dismissal solution jettisons the concept of biblical infallibility (which Boyd considers a core belief for Christians).

In emphasizing the essential nature of the doctrine of infallibility, it should be noted that Boyd isn't necessarily claiming that all these violent events did, in fact, happen in history (at least not in the way depicted in Scripture). But, for Boyd, the historicity of most of these stories isn't the issue. Whether they really happened (as written) or not is beside the point that they are 'God-breathed' Scripture. Boyd's view of Scripture is not that it is without error (in regards to historicity), but that it infallibly points us to (especially the cross of) Christ.

In essence, I am in agreement with Boyd's point here. I do not think it is appropriate to 'dismiss' whatever Old Testament texts we don't like (even if we have good reasons for not liking them!). We should wrestle with them. We should consider how they might point to Christ.

I'm not so sure that some of the authors Boyd engages with, here, are actually guilty of the 'dismissal' solution. I've read Enns, Flood and Weaver on this subject. I'm not sure any of them could rightfully be said to be dismissive of the text (in my estimation).

Enns believes the texts in question are terrible. He also believes the terrible stuff didn't really happen. So why did God allow Himself to be mis-represented in the Old Testament? If Enns were God, he wouldn't have made that choice (bottom of page 62 in The Bible Tells Me So)... but he realizes that he is not God. God, in His wisdom, decided to let His children tell their story their way. For Christians, living in the light of Christ, we simply must recognize that their (Old Testament authors) words were not the last word. We are obligated not to follow those words. "The story of God's people has moved on, and so must we." This does come across as somewhat dismissive of the Old Testament (though, knowing Enns' work, he certainly does wrestle with it).

Flood specifically says (page 105 of Disarming Scripture): "What do we do with these 'texts of terror'? Should we simply toss them out as Marcion proposed? Unfortunately, this has become the de facto strategy most of us have adopted... we simply avoid reading these deeply troubling parts of Scripture at all- effectively creating our own personal 'canon within the canon' of texts we focus on, and texts we prefer to ignore... But ignoring a problem does not make it go away. We need to shine light on it, not cover it up." Flood seems to speak more about wrestling with them and realizing they are wrong whereas Boyd wants us to wrestle with them and see how they point to Christ. That seems, to me anyways, like a fairly technical difference. In any case, I don't think Flood's view (wrestling) can fairly be labeled dismissive of the texts.

Weaver addresses the issue, too, by pointing out that there's a wrestling match, of sorts, going on in Scripture. There are different (contradictory) depictions of God. Weaver thinks we should wrestle with them. But, ultimately (like Boyd), he believes we should choose the way of Christ and non-violence. I would not call his view dismissive of the texts he doesn't choose insofar as he says (page 137 of The Non-Violent God): "To identify the side of the conversation that most truly represents God is not a 'picking and choosing' of preferred texts, nor is it discarding a part of the Bible. Nothing is being read out of the canon. Reading from the perspective of Jesus' life requires seeing the entire text of Scripture. Only with the complete text in view does the conversation in the text about divine violence become visible." That just seems, to me, like something Boyd would wholly endorse.

In any case, while it is possible Boyd hasn't fairly evaluated some of the scholars he engaged with in this chapter, I still think his central point is correct. We shouldn't just dismiss troubling texts. We must wrestle with them in the light of the cruciform hermeneutic. It seems that Boyd intepreted a lack of emphasis on seeing Christ in those troubling texts as evidence of dismissal.

Monday, May 22, 2017

CWG (Chapter 7)

Chapter 7: The Dark Side of the Bible

In part 1 of the book, he focused on just how beautiful God in light of the revelation of Jesus. Boyd has deliberately delayed taking us on a tour of the 'dark side' of the Bible until that task was done in order for his readers to clearly see the astounding contrast. And in light of his cruciform conclusions, the task of Christian readers of Scripture must be to interpret (not dismiss) the 'dark side' by the light of Christ (not put a good spin on them).

Before beginning this dark tour, Boyd makes sure to note that these passages do not represent the primary way God is depicted in the Old Testament (covenant love and peace). He believes the normative conception of God in the OT is perfectly consistent with the God who is decisively revealed in the crucified Christ. But the 'dark side' must be dealt with and (at least initially) dealt with at face value.

Boyd continues by cataloging numerous places where God comes across as ugly in the Old Testament. It depicts God has commanding genocide, calling for and accepting child sacrifice, utilizing and sanctioning violence, destroying the world and, later, particular cities, sending destructive agents, acting capriciously, and using nations as weapons. The Old Testament contains the Psalms which include many notes of hatred (not love) toward enemies and numerous stories of God's people committing incredibly brutal and violent acts.

Boyd believes that we can't dismiss these texts (as not God-breathed). Nor will putting a good spin on them be enough to redeem these texts. They must be re-interpreted, somehow, in light of the cross of Christ.

I'll admit, I struggled with this chapter in two different ways. First, I struggled with the Old Testament material Boyd covered in the way he intended his readers to struggle with it. The ugliness and violence of certain Old Testament passages in impossible to ignore and extremely troubling. Second, however, I sometimes struggled with Boyd's presentation of the material. It seemed, to me, that while he specifically stated that he had no interest in exaggerating the revolting nature of the material, he actually did that to some degree.

In other words, while I agree we shouldn't do the impossible task of trying to put the 'best possible spin' on all these passages (I think his project is worth attempting), it seemed to me that sometimes in attempting to create a no-spin-zone, Boyd was actually just not dealing with the texts in context.

Interestingly, in footnote 28 (page 288), Boyd admits that some of the conservative Christian resources that put a positive spin on the 'dark side' of the Bible succeed to some degree. He admits these resources are helpful. But at other times in the chapter, he views this attempt as not 'respectful' to the Bible (in that it does not deal honestly) and concludes that such attempts actually hinder our ability to read these texts well.

To some degree, my evaluation of chapter 7, then, will have to wait until I read chapter 9 (to see how fairly Boyd reads the positive spin interpreters).