Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Anger of God

Below is my 1,200 word summary of a lengthy treatment of 'the anger of God' by Lactantius (a late 3rd - early 4th century Christian). My posting this is not an endorsement of all his words, but simply a way of making ancient Christian writings more accessible to contemporary Christians.

THE ANGER OF GOD (Lactantius)
To Donatus, in regards to the anger of God, that you might know how to refute those who represent God as being without emotions…

Many believe that God doesn’t get angry. Some believe this because God is ‘good’. Others believe this because God is ‘indifferent’. But both such beliefs are great errors that must be refuted. My refutation comes not from my own intellect (human intellect is actually the source of the errors!), but from the revelation of God. After all, even the greatest philosophers have admitted that, without God, human wisdom is found in recognizing that we know nothing.

To find the truth of the matter, we must abandon polytheism in favor of the one true God and recognize Jesus as the primary source of revelation. In doing so, we can discern which of the following is true: Either God has anger but not kindness, neither kindness nor anger, kindness but not anger, or God has both kindness and anger.

As for option 1 (God has anger, but not kindness), no one has ever said such a thing (for it is absurd). Just looking at the world, we recognize that it is filled both good and evil. If God is only angry (and thus the source of evil), then how did good come into the world? Wouldn’t the source of the good better be called God? So it is clear that this option is deeply flawed.

What about option 2 (that God is indifferent, having neither kindness nor anger)? This is the view of the Epicureans. But what sort of God is never moved? What sort of God is un-involved? How is an indifferent god any different from the god of the atheists? Epicurus backed himself into a terrible corner. The most that can be said for this view is that it is consistent.

What of option 3 (that God has kindness, but not anger)? This is the view of the Stoics. They argue that anger is a negative emotion and, thus, beneath God’s goodness. We come, here, closer to the truth of the matter than the previous options (for it is certain that God is kind). Yet we still fail. For they have both failed to properly distinguish between types of anger and failed to admit its proper role.

So, having left behind the options proposed by the philosophers, we are left with option 4. Here, we recognize that since God is moved by His kindness, anger is a natural byproduct of that love. If God is not angry with the wicked, He is not really kind to the righteous. To be a lover of something is to be a hater of its opposite.

But let’s take a step back and climb the ‘ladder’ of truth by asking three important questions: Does it make sense to believe in God or gods? Is polytheism true? Must the one true God have anger?

First, does it make sense to believe in God or gods? Some might suggest that we need no belief in deity to maintain an orderly society. They might say it is enough to have utilitarian laws. But even if this were true, what would be the explanation for the world? How did it come about? Can all of reality be random? Can nature produce nature? When we start thinking like this, we fall into all manner of foolishness.

Second, is polytheism true? Polytheism cannot be true because a shared power would be a lesser power. There is an obvious unity to the world. Polytheism came about when great heroes of old were deified posthumously. Great thinkers have always known that there is one God. They were just ignorant as to His nature.

Third, must the one true God have anger? What sets us apart from the animals is that we are, by nature, religious. Religion is what brings order. But how can religion itself be maintained without fear? And how can there be fear if god is never angry? The anger of God is actually a virtue, not a vice.

Let us now confront three possible objections to option 4:

First, we must consider the ‘problem of pain’ (as Epicurus has made famous) and how it relates to God’s anger. If there is one true God, then why is there evil? The simple fact of the matter is that God allows evil for the greater good. It is because of the existence of evil that we are given wisdom to know and choose the good. The one cannot exist without the other. But if evil exists, it only makes sense that God is indignant (angry) when we choose it.

Second, Epicurus also objects that once we suggest God experiences affections like kindness and anger, we open Him up to all affections (like fear, sexual desire, etc.). But God has nothing to fear (since He has no authority over Him). And God has no (sexual) desire, for He is complete in Himself and is eternal (no need to reproduce). God has kindness and anger because he has use for such affections, given the diverse choices of His human subjects. It would not be kind for God to leave evil unpunished. He must be angry at evil.

Third, the stoics object by claiming that all anger is wrong or foolish. Because they failed to distinguish between just and unjust anger, they abhorred all anger. Fury and rage, no doubt, are unfit for God (and humans!). But it seems obvious that a good and just God will be displeased (and moved to action) against evil and injustice. This is just anger.

Let me respond, more briefly, to three remaining questions:

Shouldn’t God be too calm to get angry?
Surely God’s anger is not furious with rage, but it is personal (for He is our Creator and the world is His creation). It’s a genuine affection.

Why can’t God just wait for Judgment Day?
God is extremely patient, but His kindness is too great to do nothing about evil until Judgment Day. Besides, in many cases, God’s anger has led to transformation on our parts. Responding appropriately to divine anger is a way to avoid the wrong side of Judgment Day.

If God gets angry, why is it prohibited for us?
God does not completely prohibit anger. He forbids us to stay angry. We can be angry without sinning. Indeed, we should get angry at injustice (provided we find a healthy way to release our anger). God’s anger only lasts against those who continue in sin. When we repent and our morals are reformed, God’s anger passes away. This is God’s preference, for He longs for us to be in right relationship with Him.


Let me conclude with a passionate plea for the truth of God’s anger. All the Spirit-filled prophets have spoken both of God’s favor toward the righteous and anger toward the wicked. Fear of authority brings order to society. And where there is no anger, there is no reason to fear. It is proper for men and women to both love (because He is Father) and fear (because He is Lord) God. Consider both His kindness and His severity. And live in such a way as to never need to personally fear the consequences of His anger.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

What is the Trinity?

Here is a summary and some thoughts on What is the Trinity? by Dale Tuggy...
Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at a State University close to where I live. I have interacted with him a time or two on facebook and visited his website. When I saw he had published a short little book on the trinity, I decided to give it a try.

Introduction
Tuggy believes that most Christians claim to believe in the Trinity, but don't really understand (or understand in contradictory ways) just what it is they claim to believe. In this book, he aims to help us think through the issues by "sticking with the foundational, understandable, and indisputable points."

Chapter 1: Don't be afraid to think about God
Tuggy bemoans that fact that even many serious/mature Christians devote little time to thinking on this subject. He suspects this is due to fear or laziness, but encourages us to dive in. God doesn't want to stay in the dark.

Chapter 2: Formulas vs. Interpretations
The creedal statements, according to Tuggy, are ambiguous and are more question-raising than answer-providing. Since it is unclear what many of the key statements mean, we can't proceed in thinking until they are clarified. It's not enough to just parrot the statement if we don't even truly understand it.

Chapter 3: Trinity vs. trinity
Tuggy believes much confusion would be eliminated (and false-confidence deflated) if we were careful to distinguish between trinity (lower-case, referring to the plural) and Trinity (upper-case, referring to a singular God who simply IS Trinity). He states that, in the 1st three centuries of the church, there was a belief in a triad (trinity), but nothing much like 'God in three Persons' belief in The Trinity.

Chapter 4: The deity of Christ vs. the Trinity
Tuggy says that the deity of Christ need not suggest Jesus is equal to the Father. It is not a building block that necessarily ends in a belief in the Trinity. "The Trinity implies the deity of Christ, but the deity of Christ doesn't imply the Trinity."

Chapter 5: Get a Date
It is not true, says Tuggy, that Christians have always believed in the Trinity. While they have always recognized the trinity (lower-case), the doctrine of the Trinity (upper-case) developed gradually. The term 'God' was generally reserved for the Father. It wasn't until the 4th century that mainstream Christians started talking in Trinitarian terms. And even then, Tuggy says, the consensus was acquired largely by political pressure.

Chapter 6: Persons
Tuggy confesses that it is impossible to ignore the distinction, in Scripture, between Father, Son and Spirit. But we should be careful about any tritheistic conclusions (he's not a fan of social-trinity models) or any model that gives a vague definition of the term 'Person'.

Chapter 7: Substance Abuse
In 325, the Christian council declared that the Father and Son share the same 'ousia' (substance), but what this means was not made clear. The word had at least 9 possible meanings. Tuggy goes through each definition and, basically, concludes that the authors of the creed left things somewhat confused and vague. By 381, belief in The Trinity was more confidently stated (to the chagrin of Tuggy).

Chapter 8: Mystery Mountain
It is common to appeal to 'mystery' when talking about the Trinity. By this many things are meant, but it should never be used as a way to derail conversation about what we actually believe. Tuggy suggests that believers in the Trinity doctrine have worded themselves into a philosophical corner that they can't get out of without admitting they've made a mistake.

Chapter 9: What's a God?
Tuggy presents various ways in which the term 'God' is used. He argues that, biblically speaking, God is one (the Father). There are other deities (in a sense) but the one true God is the Father. Tuggy believes his unitarian position actually has older support from the church and is more biblical.

Chapter 10: Says Who?
Tuggy again expresses concern for why the Trinity doctrine took so long to develop. He suggests that scholars generally won't make the sort of arguments for the Trinity that are often made by apologists and lay-people. We should question their authority and go back to the Scriptures.

Epilogue
Tuggy does believe the correct understanding of the trinity is discoverable. He has concluded that unitarianism is the correct view. Jesus is more accurately (and biblically) described as God's messiah, the Son of Man, and the unique Son of God. In any case, there's a lot of disagreement about the Trinity/trinity. We should run toward those disagreements because doing so helps us to find the truth.

Reaction

I liked this book. I think Tuggy did a good job of clarifying the points of tension in our thinking about the Trinity/trinity. Many of his distinctions may prove helpful for those who read his book and continue to think through these doctrines. I personally found it helpful.

Nevertheless, there are a few areas I would want to push-back on...

First, it seems to bother Tuggy that the doctrine of the Trinity took so long to develop. One gets the impression that this is a point against its accuracy. But I'm not sure why that need be the case. If God is patient and has promised to lead the church into all truth, it should not surprise (or aggravate us) that clarity sometimes arises over time.

Second, throughout the book, Tuggy is critical of apologists for the Trinity. But I wonder if, by the closing chapters, his book couldn't be counted as an apology for the unitarian position. His critique of Trinitarian apologists is that they present a tidier version of their view that fits with reality, but Tuggy's book (by its nature) avoids talking about the nuts and bolts (and apparent weaknesses) of the unitarian position.

Third, in the final statement of the book, Tuggy says that we should begin by asking 'who is the one God?' and then figure out how Jesus relates to him (for Tuggy, the Father alone). However, I think it should be admitted that, biblically, we know the Father best/most through the Son. If we were to start with the Father, we'd have to be doing so largely via philosophy. We must actually start with Jesus to learn best what the Father is like. Starting our theology with Jesus need not demand that we end up with the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is the best way to do theology.

These critiques aside, I really did enjoy (and was helped by) Tuggy's book. I'm personally more inclined toward a 'social-trinity' model, but this book will help me to dig in deeper to think through what I actually mean by that (and what I don't mean). And if I continue to do that... Tuggy has accomplished his goal.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review of Zahnd's Book

This won't be a typical review. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, by Brian Zahnd, is a book asking the most important question: What is the truth about God? So my review will take the form of competing truth claims. From Zahnd's perspective, notions about God (famously popularized by Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, a sermon by Jonathan Edwards) being filled with wrath and capable of violence are false and could only be called bad news. The good news... that God is love... has been revealed by Jesus Christ. My review will simply summarize the contrast between the bad news and the good news as Zahnd sees it before sharing my personal reaction.


Summary

Bad news Evangelism
Evangelism by terrorism. We should threaten people with the wrath/violence of God in order to get them to say the Sinner's Prayer. We must traumatize people with thoughts of the Father (bad-cop) before we introduce Jesus (good-cop) who will save us from the Father's wrath.

Good news Evangelism
Evangelism is about sharing the good news that God is love! "God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus; we haven't always known this, but now we do." God is good/beautiful... and beauty will save the world.

Bad news Hermeneutic
There are strands in the Bible that can be used to paint the picture of a monster God. Since the Bible is our primary revelation from God... and since all parts of the Bible are equally revelatory... the 'monster-god' interpretation is legitimate. God did, indeed, command much violence in the Old Testament. We must balance our theology with both Old and New Testament depictions of God. The truth is thoroughly biblical.

Good news Hermeneutic
Jesus is the best possible revelation of God. Everything in Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Christ. The Bible contains a chorus of voices that aren't always in harmony with Jesus, but all of them point us to the person of Christ. The ancient Israelites assumed God commanded violence when, in fact, He didn't. Christ is the key to interpreting the Old Testament. The truth is thoroughly Christlike.

Bad news Atonement
God has always demanded blood. The events of the crucifixion were orchestrated by God. The Father was angry and needing to be appeased. He demanded a payment for sin. Jesus volunteered His blood as that payment. The Father vented His wrath on His Son. And because the price was paid, God is now willing to forgive us.

Good news Atonement
God never demanded blood. The events of the crucifixion were orchestrated by the principalities and powers. But because Jesus (representing God) offered forgiveness amidst hateful violence, the cross reveals the true character of God. "Jesus did not shed his blood to buy God's forgiveness; Jesus shed his blood to embody God's forgiveness!"

Bad news Hell
Hell is where all non-Christians go to experience the torturous wrath of God forever. God's character toward those in hell is only wrathful. There will be no escape. Hell is the wrath of God justly received.

Good news Hell
We must be humble about hell because not much has been revealed to us. But we can be certain that hell is not God's torture chamber! Hell is for the wicked (and not all 'non-Christians' are wicked). God is always willing to be merciful toward those in hell, should they desire mercy. Only those who refuse to love will end up lonely/tormented souls. Hell is the love of God wrongly received.

Bad news Revelation
The Book of Revelation is like a coded newspaper which foretold events playing out in our day. World history will inevitably trend toward violence, which will culminate in Jesus' 2nd Coming when he comes, as a lion, to violently destroy all who oppose Him.

Good news Revelation
The Book of Revelation is a symbolic book. It symbolizes the war that is constantly going on between beastly Empire and the Kingdom of God. It's a highly political and relevant book, but not in the ways popularly believed. It reveals that Jesus does and will conquer, but not as a lion. He conquers as a sacrificial lamb. If we embrace the way of The Lamb, we get New Jerusalem. If we embrace the beastly way of Empire, we get Armegeddon.

Reaction

I believe Brian Zahnd when he says that he didn't arrive at this 'good news' because of a liberal agenda. He arrived at it by focusing on Jesus, via prayer, and by taking the Bible seriously when it says God is love. I believe this because that has been my experience as well.

I agree with Zahnd that we must move on from the depiction of God contained in this famous sermon of Jonathan Edwards. We must move on from evangelism by terrorism. We must move on from allowing the lesser lights of the Old Testament to blind us from seeing the clarity that is Christ. We must stop seeing the events of the cross as a Father vs. Son fiasco. We must stop imagining that God would torture human enemies (or that God thinks of humans as enemies in the first place). We must unlearn a reading of Revelation that says much about our lack of faith in the way of Christ. We must learn that the good news is scandalously good.

I may not agree with everyone Brian Zahnd said in this book... but I concur with the focus and the direction of his approach, for it is an approach centered on the revelation that is Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Zahnd's Book

Chapter 1
Brian Zahnd used to cherish Jonathan Edward's sermon 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' for utilitarian reasons. It worked. People make decisions out of fear. But since then, Zahnd has concluded that Edward's depiction of God (an an angry God needing appeasement) was inaccurate. God is actually like Jesus (a loving God offering forgiveness). 

The Bible can be used to provide support for belief in a monstrous God. But it shouldn't be used like that. The Bible exists to get us to Jesus. And Jesus, being the fullest revelation of God possible, changes the way we read and interpret the Bible. We must learn to recognize the progressive nature of the revelation. Israel often misunderstood (and misrepresented) God. Wrath, while it may be attributed to God because it has to do with out relationship to God, is actually what we experience when we run away from God's loving embrace... not what we experience in His hands.

Chapter 2
When we consider some of the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament, we are left with only a few options (other than trying to ignore them). We can question God's morality (maybe God IS a monster), God's immutability (maybe God USED to be a monster, but has since changed), or how we read Scripture. Zahnd chooses the latter option. 

We must recognize that the Old Testament is a 'lesser light' than Christ. It's an "inspired telling of the story of Israel coming to know their God." It contains false assumptions about God. But ultimately, it does point us to Jesus. And Jesus helps us to weed out those false assumptions. 

Chapter 3
In this chapter, Zahnd uses the story of Jesus' Transfiguration to further prove his point about Jesus being the center of both our theology and our hermeneutic. "Jesus saves the Bible from itself! Jesus shows us how to read the Bible and not be harmed by it." Christians aim to be Christlike, not necessarily biblical (since many contradictory things can be considered biblical). 

Zahnd is not dismissive of the Old Testament. "I'm a million miles from the second-century heresy of Marcion", he claims. But clearly the Old Testament is not the perfect revelation of God. Jesus is. This is not a low view of Scripture, but a high view of Christ.

Chapter 4
What is God like? How do we know? These are the questions Zahnd tackles in this chapter. And, as should be obvious by now, he's going to turn to Jesus as the answer. Seeing Jesus IS seeing God. And the cross of Christ is the most precise revelation of God. But to understand this revelation, we may have to un-learn some of the 'atonement theories' we have been taught because some of them pit God the Father against Jesus the Son. 

Zahnd speaks passionately against this sort of Penal Substitution Atonement view. The cross is not a transaction to appease God's anger, but a revelation to reveal God's (loving) character. The cross is actually the ultimate death of the monster god mentality (which, Zahnd claims, is a major source of atheism). We need not fear God (in the sense of being afraid of Him). Perfect love casts out fear. In saying this, Zahnd is not driven by liberal humanism, but the revelation of God crucified.

Chapter 5
Continuing his discussion of the cross, Zahnd ask the question 'who killed Jesus?'. His answer is clear: "God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by the principalities and powers". God didn't need to kill Jesus in order to forgive humans. God can just forgive! God never demanded payment for forgiveness (even though Ancient Jews assumed He did). Jesus death embodied, rather than purchased God's forgiveness. Jesus sacrificed His life to show the love of God. He sacrificed himself to end all sacrifices.

Chapter 6
In what may be the most provocative chapter, Zahnd tackles the topic of Hell. For starters, Zahnd focuses on how hell, in an important sense, is experienced here on earth by many people. But he does believe in postmortem hell. That being said, he believes postmortem hell will be experienced only by the wicked (and he differentiates 'the wicked' from 'non-Christians'). And Zahnd believes the wicked, if they were to cry out for the mercy of God from hell, would receive it.

In the end, Zahnd simply believes that we should be more humble about our opinions about hell and who goes there. He's only certain that hell isn't a place where all non-Christians are tortured forever because that thought, according to Zahnd, does not come from Christ.

Chapter 7
The rest of Zahnd's book is about the book of Revelation. As most conservative Christians in America, he started out as a Dispensationalist. He now believes that is the worst possible interpretatio of the book since it rejects the peaceful way of Christ in favor of divine violence. Nowadays, Zahnd sees Revelation as an incredibly important book for modern Americans... not in the sense of newspaper eschatology, but in the sense of its counter-cultural critique of Empire.

Zahnd believes the entire book needs to be read symbolically. The symbols target the Roman Empire. The solution to the problem of Empire is not the 'lion', but the slaughtered lamb. The sacrificial Jesus is The Way.

Chapter 8
In this chapter Zahnd talks about 2 ways. The way of Armegeddon and the Way of the New Jerusalem. If we embrace the way of violence, we get Armegeddon. If we embrace the way of Christ/peace, we get New Jerusalem. Zahnd continues to reject dispensational interpretations of Revelation by showing how each symbol is carefully chosen by the author to show that Christ is a completely different kind of conqueror.

Chapter 9
Zahnd focuses on the New Jerusalem here. It's a place with gates that are always open in his view.

Chapter 10
Zahnd summarizes his work by emphasizing love. Jesus reveals the fullest truth about God. He hasn't changed his views because he went 'liberal'... he changed his views because he encountered Christ in prayer. He calls us to leave behind the terribly violent ideas about God, like that in Edwards' sermon, and cling to the beautifully good news of Christ.

Saturday, August 19, 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
There are powerful creatures of chaos in the cosmic realm. When God withdraws from a given context, these chaos producers have opportunity to wreak havoc. God is capable of accomplishing 'judgment' simply by withdrawing and allowing these cosmic forces to do what they do (as in natural disaster judgments).

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
Chapter 23: When All Hell Breaks Loose
God did no violence to Job or those Outside the Ark
Chapter 24: The Dragon-Swallowing Dragon
God did no violence to Korah, Egypt, or Sodom/Gomorrah

Part 7: The Principle of Semiautonomous Power
Authority and power, once gifted by God, is not controlled by God. Therefore, even some of the 'heroes' of the Old Testament occasionally abused their spiritual power by using it violently.

Chapter 25: Mauling Bears and a Lethal Palladium
When God grants power, it is sometimes abused/misused

Postscript

Appendeces



Friday, August 18, 2017

CWG (Postscript)

Postscript

Boyd uses his interpretation of the Book of Revelation to show how earlier violent depictions of God have been turned on their head by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Foundational to Boyd's project were the twin ideas that 1) The cross is central to theology and 2) the rest of Scripture, particularly troubling OT texts, must be read in a cruciform way. Just as Jesus stooped down to become human and bear the sin of His people, so too was God willing to stoop down in Old Testament times so as to appear to be like other Ancient Near Eastern gods.

Via the 4 principles of the cruciform thesis, Greg's project has attempted to show that the 'warrior God' that we sometimes find in the Old Testament, is not a direct revelation of the Christian God. It is an indirect revelation insofar as it shows how far God was willing to go to stay in relationship with His covenant people. The idea of the warrior God was crucified with Christ.

CWG (Chapter 25)

Chapter 25: Mauling Bears and a Lethal Palladium

In this lone chapter, Greg presents the 4th principle of the cruciform thesis: "When God confers divine power on select people [or even objects], he does not meticulously control how they use it." In essence, the point here is that since God is all about love, and therefore not coercive, He doesn't control the usage of a gift once given.

For Boyd, this principle helps explain stories like when Moses abused (and got in trouble for abusing) the power of his staff, Elisha & Elijah's (wrongful) abuse of power/violence, Samson (if not most of the book of Judges!), and the strange stories of Israel's doomsday device (The Ark of the Covenant).

In all of these cases, Boyd believes that the violence present in these stories was not authorized by God directly, but the authors of the violence were. God granted them power/authority, but the power/authority was mis-used and abused. This runs counter to Christ, who had authority from God, but refused to use it for his own purposes and, most importantly, refused to use it violently. Rather than call down angels to defend Him, He allowed Himself to be crucified.

Reaction
This is an interesting final principle. It makes a lot of sense, but it is not something I've thought a lot about before. I really appreciated some fresh ways of looking at these troubling stories.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Who's Right in the Peaceful Fight over 'Religion'?

Even the best of friends sometimes disagree. This is inevitable even when we share a common goal (Jesus) because we do not share identical starting points, contexts, perspectives, use-of-language, etc. Disagreement isn't even necessarily a bad thing. Iron can sharpen iron. What's more, in a culture of constant conflict, the WAY Christians disagree (and work through disagreement) can itself be a sign of the Gospel. We will disagree from time to time, but we need to show the world that it is possible to disagree well.

A good example of this friendly, iron-sharpening-iron, kind of disagreement may be found in the different uses of the word 'religion' by people like Bruxy Cavey and Brian Zahnd. Two of my favorite preachers, these men have a lot in common. They are both Jesus-centered and peace-loving. They probably don't disagree about very much of substance. But they do disagree about the word religion.

Cavey suggests that the shutting down of religion was a core element of God's plan in sending Jesus. He has stated that the problem with 'organized religion' is the 'religion' part. The church where he pastors has a slogan... 'A church for people who aren't in to church.' He echoes the popular mantra that 'Jesus is more about relationship than religion'. Bruxy believes we needed (and still need) to be 'saved from our religion'. Jesus replaces religions sacrifices, priests, temples, rituals, and rules.

Zahnd, in contrast, recently preached a sermon titled 'saved by religion'. He agrees that Jesus didn't come to start a religion, but that's only because Jesus already had a religion (Judaism). For Zahnd, religion was not only inevitable considering the massive nature of the New Covenant, but it is also necessary if we desire to pass on the Jesus-movement to subsequent generations. He admits, of course, that there is 'bad' religion, but says jettisoning religion because of its distortions is like starving yourself to death because you once got food poisoning.

Those are clearly opposing views of religion.

One could argue that their disagreement is mostly semantics. Bruxy is defining 'religion' as man's attempt to earn a relationship with God (what Zahnd might call empty or bad religion). Zahnd is defining religion as the form one's spiritual life takes in response to God's grace (what Cavey prefers to call 'faith').

But it's not JUST semantics. I think there's some deeper disagreement here. The two men have different backgrounds, pastor in different contexts, have different approaches to liturgy, etc. Ultimately, they both largely reject the same thing (empty religion) and approve of the same thing (a structured and disciplined life of faith), but they probably genuinely disagree on some of the details.

And that's OK. Cavey and Zahnd, who are friends and dialogue partners, know how to disagree well. They've acknowledged their disagreement, but simply prefer to focus on the fact that they share much more in common (without 'ignoring' the subject... they stay friends in the midst of this disagreement).

I believe it's healthy for the body of Christ to hear both men speak boldly on this subject. Bruxy is passionately anti-religious (after all, he considers 'shutting down religion' to be one of the four main elements of the Gospel). Zahnd is passionately religious (He even goes so far as to claims that the anti-religion viewpoint has more to do with Voltaire and Nietzsche than Jesus). I actually appreciate when people speak their opinions boldly (so we actually know what their opinions are).

Personally, I don't think it's important to determine who is RIGHT in this disagreement. I've been edified by both men. I'd encourage readers to check out Bruxy Cavey's books AND listen to Brian Zahnd's sermon. But even if you conclude that one man is right and the other wrong about 'religion'... we can all learn from both men how to disagree well.* Who's 'right' is less important than the fact that they've demonstrating the right way to disagree.

*Evidence of their friendly and affirming dialogue is observable, at the very least, on twitter.

Friday, August 11, 2017

(Re)Union

I just finished reading "(re)union" by Bruxy Cavey.












Summary
This book wasn't primarily written for me (a Christian pastor). It was written "for people who sense they are free-floating kites in need or reconnection to a guiding hand." It's a book about the Gospel (The Good News). Bruxy is making his best-effort to present the good news to seekers, saints and sinners. The good news starts with the fact that God IS love (Trinity). The fact that love requires choice (and risks) created some bad news (sin and death) to which the good news is the answer. He aims to present this good news in a simple manner.

Cavey's most succinct summary of the good news is simply "Jesus". Christianity is, of course, all about Christ. What's our theology? Jesus! What's the point of Scripture? Jesus! There's no real need to add anything after "Jesus" but to clarify matters Bruxy also presents the Gospel in 30 words... "Jesus is God with us, come to show us God's love, save us from sin, set up God's kingdom, and shut down religion, so we can share in God's life." The rest of the book discusses each phrase of this Gospel summary before inviting non-aligned readers to make a decision to follow Jesus.

Highlights...
1. Bruxy begins with a kite analogy. We humans long to soar, but we often think we can do this best by being detached (autonomous). In reality, we do this best by placing ourselves in God's capable hands.
2. Bruxy uses his tattoo (a biblical reference... Leviticus 19:28) as a conversation starter to talk about the difference he sees between religion and faith-in-Christ.
3. Bruxy believes the best 1-word proclamation of the Gospel is "Jesus"
4. Bruxy believes the best 3-word proclamation of the Gospel is "Jesus is Lord"
5. Bruxy believes that many popular methods for sharing the Gospel focus only on certain aspects of the Gospel. He aims for a more complete presentation.
6. Bruxy presents the Gospel in 30 words: "Jesus is God with us, come to show us God's love, save us from sin, set up God's kingdom, and shut down religion, so we can share in God's life."
7. Jesus is the proof that God really is love.
8. Sin separates us in a multitude of ways, but the good news is that we can be reconciled through Jesus. God not only saves us from something, but to Someone.
9. The good news is that there is a kingdom that will never end (because it's Jesus' kingdom). This kingdom is already here. Jesus' people pledge their allegiance to Jesus in the here and now. And His law is love.
10. Jesus came to shut down religion. No more sacrifices, priests, temples, rituals, rules... at least not in a 'do-this-to-get-that' way. It's all about grace and response/celebration now.
11. The end-result of the good news is that we are invited in the love life of the Trinity!
12. Bruxy ends by appealing directly to his readers to make a faith-decision. It's not a blind leap. It's an active trust in Jesus. It's about receiving a gift. It's about learning, step-by-step, to follow Jesus.

Reaction
I was first made aware of Bruxy on a Christian message board. A fellow poster posted a link to a sermon of his. In order to give feedback I listened to the sermon. I didn't totally agree with Bruxy, but I really enjoyed listening to him. Since then, I have listened to dozens of sermons and read, now, both of his books. He seems like a great guy (I've met him on 2 occasions and, though those meetings were brief, they seem to confirm he's a great guy).

I think the main value of this book is that it is a corrective to other presentations of the 'Gospel'. Just within the past couple of weeks I've had some great conversations with people who have a very narrow understanding of what the 'Gospel' is. Bruxy has identified that we've often focused exclusively on the 'saves us from sin' part of the Gospel at the expense of emphasis on Jesus' life of love, His Kingdom, and how what He offers contrasts with religion.

I'm inclined to quibble with a few things here or there in this book, but I'm trying to be less of a quibbler. So I'll simply say that this is a good book that I would recommend to seekers, saints & sinners.

The book is available on Amazon

Thursday, August 10, 2017

CWG (Chapter 24)

Chapter 24: The Dragon Swallowing Dragon

In this chapter, 3 more Old Testament stories are considered. In each of these stories, God is depicted as violent. Nevertheless, based on his project up to this point, Boyd offers an alternative interpretation.

Korah's rebellion is met by 'fire' and 'wrath' from the LORD. But Paul seems to suggest that this judgment was directly administered by a destroying angel. While the original authors thought of God like the other ANE gods (willing to use violence), the revelation of God's character in Christ allowed Paul (and us) to see things differently.

The same holds true for the story of the Exodus. Here, Boyd sees Pharaoh/Egypt as one demonic stronghold and the sea as another (even more powerful) god. Creation was crashing back into chaos in these events. It was only by the hand of God that the Israelite children... and then all the Israelites... were protected from such chaos. Once God removed His protective hand, chaos ensued. God didn't kill the Egyptian army, one dragon (the pride of Pharaoh) succumbed to another (represented by the sea).

There's no getting around the fact that the author of the Sodom and Gomorrah account believed God to be directly responsible for the destruction of those cities. But references from elsewhere in the canon provide clues that confirm a cruciform reading is possible. In all 3 of these cases, there are clues in Scripture that are really only made visible once we have allowed Christ to change the way we read Scripture.

Reaction
I found this chapter very impressive. I think Boyd made a strong case for allowing progressive revelation to alter the way we read early biblical texts. All of his work in the project thus far are coming together well in these case studies.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

CWG (Chapter 23)

Chapter 23: When All Hell Breaks Loose

When God withdraws from a situation, the void is filled with violence (from human and/or spiritual forces). In this chapter, Boyd focuses on the latter while examining the story of Job and the story of the Flood.

Boyd, who believes the story of Job to be largely fictional, focuses especially on the prologue. We find Satan, an adversarial character, making false claims. God essentially has no choice, in the narrative, but to allow Satan to attack Job in order to prove the devil's claims untrue. The book is not so much a theodicy as it is a reminder that we humans are too ignorant to really grasp the cause of evil. The one thing we do know, in light of Christ, is that God is not the cause of evil. Thus, Boyd considers "the book of Job to be a superb illustration of both the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal and the Principle of Cosmic Conflict."

Moving on to the Flood story, Boyd avoids controversies about the nature of the flood (though he does believe it to be historical). He believes that while "the author of this narrative interprets this disaster to be a judgment that was directly carried out [by] God"... we know better in light of Christ. More than that, because we know this, we actually find elements of the narrative that confirm the Christ-centered interpretation. Boyd points out that God's Spirit withdrew once the ark was completed and all the violent activity that constituted the flood was the natural consequence of His protective presence being removed. Creation was undone, as cosmic forces filled the void. God does not run from responsibility for, but grieves the events of the Flood.

Reaction
While I would want to quibble with issues like the historicity of Job and/or nature of the Nephilim, I was generally impressed by Boyd's work here (especially in regards to the flood). I do believe it is possible (and preferable), now, to read these texts in a way that doesn't attribute violence to God and that makes us more aware of the powerful cosmic forces that exist within creation.

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).

Reaction
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).

Reaction
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.

Reaction
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.

Reaction
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.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Tierza's Excuses

Below is a list of Tierza's excuses for coming downstairs after being put to bed.

10/2
I'm scared. I don't know why. I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared...

9/14
I'm trying to sleep but Kenzie keeps trying to read!

8/19
I'm scared. Kenzie goes potty a lot. And she doesn't tell me when she goes.

8/19
I'm scared. Sometimes scary stories... I remember them and then I'm scared.

8/19
I can't sleep. I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared. Sometimes I think that Mr. Grinch is in the closet. I'm scared. I know he's not real, but sometimes it just pops inside my head and I don't know why.

7/24
I can't fall asleep because I'm scared to have a bad dream

7/16
Kenzie's being mean, I can't take it any more up there

My finger hurts

I am too scared to go upstairs alone because I am afraid of monsters still

7/11
I can't go back upstairs without kitty [kitty is 'lost' in her bed]. I'm scared when I'm upstairs, but I'm not scared downstairs. I need kitty.

Kenzie found a spider web and told me about it and I freaked out. I'm scared. I'm really scared.

7/9/17
I can't sleep because the TV is off and there is a red light and it's scary. And I can't sleep if the TV is on because it's too bright.

7/8/17
I forgot if we're supposed to take off our shirts or not

I'm afraid of the dark. I'm too scared.

I'm scared of the part of Veggietales that WAS scary

7/7/17
I can't sleep because I'm thinking of a pretend thing, but when I think about it it's real.

7/6/17

I can't sleep because there's a bug and I think it's a stink bug because it smells bad.

I can't sleep because I'm scared of the Gremlins in that episode of rescue bots that is over

I can't sleep because every time I come downstairs I don't feel scared, but everytime I go back upstairs I feel scared again

I remembered the gremlins again

I tried to stop thinking of gremlins but my imagination's too strong

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CWG (Chapter 18)

Chapter 18: A Question of Divine Culpability

In this chapter Boyd wishes to respond to 4 anticipated rejections to his principal of redemptive withdrawal.

The first objection suggests that withdrawal is not enough to secure an outcome. In other words, if God wants to accomplish at outcome (like judge one nation via another nation) it is necessary that God meticulously controls the details (micro-manages the attacking nation). Boyd rebuts this supposed necessity. It doesn't align with the character of God (since God would be the one doing the violence). What's more, it isn't even necessary since God can essentially secure outcomes by recognizing what Boyd calls the 'solidified character' of certain agents. Besides, it is clear that these agents, in Scripture, are not meticulously controlled (for they sometimes over or under perform compared to God's intention).

The second and third objections are philosophical in nature. Isn't withdrawing protection akin to unleashing a rabid pit bull? Boyd thinks the analogy is flawed insofar as 1) Those being judged WANTED God to withdraw 2) Are not innocent bystanders 3) God withdraws out of love and grieves the results. But isn't God being involved at any level a denial of genuine freedom? Again, Boyd rebuts by reminding us that freedom doesn't (in fact, cannot) mean that freedom is absolute in every sense. Other factors (and other agents, including God) affect the choices available to us and the consequences of our choices.

The fourth objection is that this view lends itself to the idea that every time something bad happens it is the result of God's decision to withdraw from a person or a people (like 9/11... or the Holocaust). But Boyd says we may only speak confidently when we've received revelation from God. Many agents (like the Nazi's) go against God's will. Bottom line: One simply cannot know (given the number of factors) why bad things happen unless we are given direct revelation.

Reaction
The objections mentioned in this chapter were well-anticipated (some of them were forming in me as I read the previous pages). Boyd responds to them well (I found his rebuttals satisfying). Surely his answers won't be satisfying to those who believe in meticulous sovereignty (though it should make them re-think their position). And sometimes Boyd seems to try to have his cake and eat it too (some agents are solidified in their character, but also under or over perform vs. God's expectations?). Additionally, I'm not sure on what grounds Boyd would find it 'dubious' to believe that God STILL (to this day) sometimes withdraws protection from a given nation (maybe because God no longer is working through a particular nation?). But, overall, I think Boyd has defended his position well from possible objections.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

CWG (Chapter 17)

Chapter 17: Doing and Allowing

In this chapter, Boyd points out that the Old Testament literature often contains a 'duel speech pattern' insofar as any given text can suggest both that God perpetrated violence AND that God simply withdrew and allowed violence to take place.

Exegetical considerations may help explain this phenomenon. Greg reminds us that in the ANE, everything that happened under the authority of the king could be applied to the king. In the case of God (the King of kings), this would apply to everything. Further still, God gave His people His name (authority) and they sometimes used it for evil.

But Greg doesn't find such considerations to be capable of getting us around the fact that the OT authors genuinely believed Yahweh was capable of violence. The cruciform hermeneutic is necessarily employed here. In cases where the exegetical considerations don't eliminate the issue, we must remember the first two principles of Greg's thesis.

Over and over in the Old Testament we find God being depicted as violent, but upon closer examination we see many hints that it was not actually God 'doing' the violence (He was merely 'allowing' it). Thus, when it appears that God is 'doing' the violence, we must recognize that as God's willingness to accommodate the fallen views of His covenant people (principle #1). When we get glimpses that God merely 'allowed' the violence, it is often clearly stated that God actually withdrew (principle #2).

Reaction
Boyd is piling on biblical evidence, at this point, for his position. I sense that he suspects this will be a point of tension for those evaluating his thesis (a sense confirmed by the next chapter). I, however, don't personally find the point difficult to accept. To me, this is just a matter of reading carefully. I believe the ancient Israelites, like their neighbors, so emphasized God's sovereignty that (in a sense) everything was attributable to their God. But even from that perspective, we are given hints that God wasn't the source of violent acts.

The chapter did make me wonder, though, if any 'duel speech patterns' can be found in other ANE literature. It would seemingly be damaging to Boyd's overall thesis if other ANE literature contains similar patterns (would Boyd argue that those were moments when God's Spirit broke through the hearts of Israel's neighbors as well?).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

CWG (Chapter 16)

Chapter 16: Crime and Punishment

Boyd continues to develop the principle of redemptive withdrawal with a chapter cataloging biblical examples where divine wrath equals divine withdrawal. In its most extreme form, this happens in hell (where, Boyd believes, annihilation occurs since there is no surviving once the source of life is pushed so far away).

Greg sees examples of this sort of withdrawal in Jesus' ministry, in New Testament church disciplinary practices, and throughout the Old Testament. God doesn't need to (nor would He) utilize violence to punish evil because sin carries its own punishment. We reap what we sow. This connection between sin and punishment is built into the fabric of creation.

Even though the Old Testament (especially) sometimes conveys God as the source of the 'wrath'... "The fact of the matter is that biblical authors very frequently speak as though Yahweh did what their own writings make clear he merely allowed." This quote prepares us for the next chapter which will tackle the thorny relationship being 'doing' and 'allowing'.

Reaction
It was necessary for Boyd to show evidence from Scripture to support his claim that wrath equals divine withdrawal. The chapter was quite repetitive in making the point, but I appreciate that he took the time to provide a foundation and that he anticipates the potential problems with this view (isn't God still responsible if He knows divine withdrawal will equal violence)?

Friday, June 09, 2017

CWG (Chapter 15)

Chapter 15: Divide Aikido

Greg Boyd doesn't believe in redemptive violence, but he does believe in redemptive withdrawal. The second principle of his cruciform thesis is that the withdrawal of God (allowing evil to self-destruct) is the judgment and wrath of God (as opposed to judgment/wrath being a non-enemy-loving side of God's character). On the cross, the Father withdrew from the Son (experientially), but did so with a grieving heart and for the purpose of redemption. This cross perspective is the lens through which we must view judgment and wrath as they are found throughout the Bible.

At the heart of the revelation, according to Boyd, is the Cry of Dereliction. He wants to find a balance between dismissing the genuineness of Jesus' cry and confessing an actual break in the Trinity. Boyd attempts to avoid both extremes by suggesting that 1) This plan was agreed, out of love, by the members of the Trinity before it happened and 2) distinguishing between the divine essence and the divine experience. On the cross, the experience of their relationship was broken, but the essence of the Trinity was not (since that essence IS love and love was what led to the cross).

Boyd believes the cross teaches us four aspects of God's wrath that we can apply to all texts of Scripture. First, God's wrath is not an act of violence. It is withdrawal. Second, God only withdraws in an attempt to redeem (as a last resort). Third, God grieves when withdrawal is the only remaining option. Fourth, when God withdraws, evil ultimately self-destructs. This is why the power of Satan was broken by the cross and why any wicked who persist in their wickedness will ultimately cease to exist.

Reaction
Frankly, I thought this chapter was a brilliant exposition of divine wrath. Interestingly, it seems that Boyd is getting a lot of push-back on this chapter. Some people think Boyd's view breaks apart the unity of the trinity. I disagree. He seemed to go out of his way to show how this is not the case. In the end, he's just taking the cry of dereliction seriously. Boyd's view of divine wrath is seemingly identical with my own view as expressed here.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

CWG (Chapter 14)

Chapter 14: The Heavenly Missionary

Missionary work often requires a great deal of patience and flexibility. Missionaries must sometimes put up with beliefs and practices they may find abhorrent in order to gain the right to be heard. This is never more true than in God's mission to the world. Boyd believes that God accommodated some violent beliefs and practices of the Israelites in order to develop the relationship necessary to bring about change in them and the world.

The Old Testament contains laws, nationalism, and flat-out violence that, according to Boyd, cannot be reconciled to Christ's enemy-love. This shouldn't be surprising since the Bible itself is clear that the Israelites (including biblical authors) were as mistaken in their theology as their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors.

So God revealed the medicine of truth in doses mixed with accommodation to fit the tastes of the people. Occasionally a burst of light would break through the darkness, but more often God revealed only a flicker at a time (slightly improving that status quo). Meanwhile, God was willing to take on the appearance of one who accepted (or even supported) the false beliefs and practices of the people.

Reaction
I think it is inarguable that God is accommodating and that there is evidence for this in what the Old Testament seems to advocate for. I liked the analogy from Gregory of Nazianzus of a physician who blends medicine with what tastes good to the patient. God, being non-coercive, had to work with the tastes of his people in order to give them even small doses of medicine (truth). Sometimes we don't have a 'taste' for what we actually need. The chapter contained many interesting insights into Scripture. I do think many of the Old Testament laws were given because of the hardness of hearts.

There were some points that left me less impressed. Greg seemed to suggest that 'tests' are inherently bad (if so, I disagree). He also seems to take some biblical statements in absolute ways that I think might better be interpreted less absolutely. For example, I don't think the fact that we are called to intimate relationship with God forbids the analogy that we are also servants of God (but Greg seems to think the servant role is left behind).

The strength of the chapter, though, was yet again proving that the Old Testament contains shadowy revelation that must be carefully thought-through.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Athenagoras' Plea for the Christians

ATHENAGORAS’ PLEA FOR THE CHRISTIANS

To the Emperor Marcus Aurelius,

Throughout your Empire, people worship all manner of gods and goddesses in all manner of ways. You grant this freedom on pragmatic grounds, believing it to be preferable for people to fear deities and, therefore, avoid wrong-doing as opposed to being atheists with no moral compass. Why, then, are Christians not granted this same freedom? What is the case against Christianity? On what grounds are we persecuted? A label (“Christian”) is not a crime. Nor should an accusation be a conviction. They accuse us of atheism, incest and cannibalism. Let’s investigate these charges!

It is absurd to call us atheists since we believe in the uncreated Creator. This monotheism is, in fact, much in line with the best words of your poets and thoughts of your philosophers. Even in polytheism, there has to be a unifying principle. The only difference is that the best among you have arrived at God’s unity by reason and we by revelation. How can we deny what’s been made known? And what’s been made known to us is that God is one in unity and three in distinction (Father, Son & Spirit). How can such a belief be called atheism? And what issue could one take with our brand of theism? Does one object that we are too loving (we love even our enemies)?

The real reason we are charged with atheism is that we don’t make sacrifices to the gods of our accusers. Nor do we make sacrifices to the One True God. Why would we? God is in no NEED of sacrifices. God is neither hungry for meat nor thirsty for blood. We respond to God’s goodness by giving our lives rather than trying to appease God through death. So it is true that we don’t believe in the same God (or gods) as our accusers (not that they even agree with each other about the gods), but this is not a matter of shame! In regards to such gods as they believe in, shouldn’t we ALL be atheists? Such gods were created by Orpheus and Homer and Hesiod. What good is a god that was created by humans and acts like humans? “God” must be the source of creation, not part of it.

At this point you may object to my argument by pointing out that there does seem to be power connected to the worship of these gods. I do not deny it. God created angels, gifted them with authority and freedom, and does not force them to use either wisely. Some angels chose to rebel against God, created false gods (using the names of ancients) and religions, and prop said religions up with shows of power in order to keep the blood flowing (via sacrifices). Thus, when there IS power connected to Greek mythology, it is the power of demons.

What of the charges that we, Christians, are incestuous? Vice has always resorted to slander in its attempt to defeat virtue. Truth be told, we Christians live lives more virtuous than their gods and it seems absurd that we would have to defend our chastity against the charges of our persecutors whose sexual ethic could only be called sickening. But to clear the matter up…we are accused of being incestuous because we call each other family and greet one another with a kiss. That is all.

Finally, on the charge of cannibalism, is anyone actually willing to testify to having seen such a thing among us? How could we eat someone if we refuse to kill anyone? We can’t even stomach seeing someone put to death justly, let alone desire to put the flesh of a human in our stomachs! Those who believe in resurrection would never make their body a tomb for another! [this accusation likely was connected to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper].

You are a learned and wise man, Emperor. Our presence in the Empire benefits you. Let us live.

Monday, June 05, 2017

CWG (Chapter 13)

Chapter 13: The Masks of God

In this chapter, Greg Boyd lays down the foundational principle for his cruciform thesis: In some God-breathed Scripture, there was a divine accommodation of the cultural depravity of the covenant people. Insofar as this occurs (as in the violent texts of the Old Testament), it is revelatory in the sense that it shows God has always been inherently willing to stoop to our level in order to stay in relationship with us.

Boyd believes classical theism was essentially inherited from Greek philosophy and prioritizes human reason over divine revelation. Aquinas played a major role in shaping the classic theistic belief that God is, essentially, the unmoved mover. Boyd thinks this approach is littered with problems. Particular germane to his area of interest is the fact that classical theism must assume that when Scripture speaks of God changing His mind, or responding to humans, or other intensely relational terms, these depictions must be instances of accommodations (since God doesn't really do those things. Boyd this this view missed out on the most beautiful aspects of God's nature.

When we start with Christ (revelation over reason), however, we come to very different conclusions (absolute love over absolute power). What doesn't 'change' in God is His moral goodness, but for that very reason God is very open to change insofar as that is the most loving thing to do in a given relationship. In fact, God is willing to put on ugly 'masks' (to use Luther's idea in a very different way) in order to relate to us (even to the point of appearing as a warrior God). The revelation of the cross must cause us to look differently at Old Testament texts in which God appears violent. In such texts, according to Boyd, God was simply stooping to the level of His people and allowing them to put on Him a violent mask and it is that willingness (in order to stay in relationship with His people) that is revelatory.

Reaction
Boyd's project is really starting to take shape here. As a personal aside, after reading this chapter I was feeling comfortable enough with Boyd's overall approach to these texts to attempt to explain his position to my wife in my own words. She's smart and open minded. And I could see questions forming in her mind as I explain Boyd's approach. She was satisfied that he anticipated her concerns and seemed generally favorable to his thesis. I feel about the same way.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Early Christian Apologetics

Below are links to concise versions of early Christian apologetic works. I have greatly abbreviated them and modernized the language while attempting to retain their overall message and tone.

Justin's 2nd Apology

THE SECOND APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR

To the Roman Senate: I, Justin, am compelled to write to you in response to the persecution of Christians.

Let me start with a story (it’s a true story). Once upon a time there was a very wicked married couple. One day, the wife became a Christian. She wanted to separate, but was persuaded to remain in the marriage in hopes that her husband might be led to faith in Christ as well. But his revelries only increased and she did, in fact, file for divorce. His revenge was to accuse her (officially) of being a Christian. But the husband didn’t stop there. He went after her disciple (a man named Ptolemaeus) and officially accused him of being a Christian as well (a point that he, of course, refused to deny). Upon seeing that Ptolemaeus was found guilty simply for being a Christian, another man (named Lucius) made his objections to this unjust condemnation known to the Emperor. In response, the Emperor asked if he, too, was a Christian (which he was and did not deny). Lucius was also sent to death. WHEN WILL IT END? Why is merely confessing oneself to be a Christian an act worthy of death? I’m sure my time, too, is short (it only takes one enemy to be officially accused!). I’ll likely be accused by someone who knows next to nothing about what it is I actually believe.

Some of you, in fact, don’t understand why we Christians don’t simply commit suicide. If we’re willing to die for our faith because we know we’ll pass on to God, then why not just speed that process up by killing ourselves? There are 2 reasons why: First, we believe that we have a purpose in the world. We live for others… to help them discover the truth. Second, we believe that to take our own lives would be to disobey the will of God. When we are accused, however, we will not deny our faith and we will suffer the consequences.

Some of you insist that if God really were on our side, we would be protected from persecution. This insistence assumes that God is in absolute control of all that comes to pass. In reality, God has delegated much authority to both angels and humans… both of which sometimes make terrible decisions. Fallen angels, in fact, have led the world astray (creating the very kind of world where persecutions take place) and are responsible for the existence of these (false) gods.

All such gods have names. That should be a give-away that they’re not really gods. For any god with a name, was named by someone preceding them. In Christianity, God does not have a name. Terms like Father, God, Creator, Lord, Master (Etc.), are not names, but titles. This is also true of the Son (the Word, the Christ, etc.), who only has a name (Jesus) in regards to His role as human and Savior. He was conceived (and given a name) for our sake (and to be the destroyer of the gods, which are actually demons). And His name, and His name alone, still exorcises these demons that your best exorcists, doctors, and drugs can’t even touch.

Ironically, the only reason God doesn’t put an end to all evil (like the persecution of His people) immediately, is because God desires to use His persecuted people to save their persecutors. For as long as the earth endures, there is hope for wicked men (since they have free will). There is no pre-determined fate. We choose between vice and virtue. The best of your philosophers agree on this point. It is no surprise that many of them were persecuted too (since demons rage against the truth). And it is no wonder that we are persecuted even more, since we have even more of the truth.

Some say that we use fear (of punishment) to force others into the way of Christ. It is true that we speak of judgment. The truth of a coming judgment flows from the reality of a good God. Wouldn’t a good God care how people live? Wouldn’t a good God provide people with laws? And must there not be consequences to breaking these laws? Our whole society is founded on these principles.

And anyone who argues that truth is relative is absolutely wrong. Lies have been promoted, by demons, as competing truth claims… but that doesn’t make them true. Truth is not relative, but it is sometimes partial. Socrates possessed the truth in part (and was persecuted for it), but no one was willing to die for his doctrines. We die for Christ because, in Him, the fullness of truth has come. We die because we’d rather choose the truth… virtue… which has ever-lasting rewards than falsity dressed up as the truth… vice… which has ever-lasting punishment.

Even before I became a Christian, I could tell that the rumors against the Christians were simply slander. They were accused of loose sexual ethics, cannibalism, and the like… but why would such people show no fear of death (where opportunity for such things is removed)? The more I looked into the matter, the more I became convinced of the truth of Christianity. In becoming a Christian, I did not have to forsake all that I had previously believed (for there were kernels of truth in many such teachings). But all truth is God’s truth. Seeds of the truth give way to The Truth (Jesus).

So I request that you publish this little book. Let the conversation on these matters be public. Let’s discuss the ‘justice’ of putting our people to death simply for being Christians. Let’s not make decisions in the darkness of ignorance. When we make such judgments, we subject ourselves to the One True Judge.

I wrote this treatise for the good of all. We’re not ashamed of our beliefs. They stand up to sober scrutiny. Indeed, they are of surpassing worth to all other worldviews (most of which have un-persecuted adherents).

I have made my case and shall now be silent. My only role now is to pray for all… including you.

Justin's 1st Apology

THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR

To the Emperor, Senate, and all Romans: I, Justin, native of Palestine, present this address and petition on behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and abused, myself being one of them… a Christian. Those who are truly pious and philosophical should love what is true, not necessarily what is popularly stated. I write this that you may consider whether or not we Christians are what we are accused of being. Investigate us for yourselves. Punish us only if it is just.

First off, by no means should a group of people be condemned merely for their name. Why should the mere accusation that we are ‘Christians’ be enough to find us guilty? Innocence or guilt should be determined by actions! Of course, we could just deny that we are Christians when accused. But we refuse to live by telling a lie. Besides, we are proud to be labeled Christians.

Second, we are sometimes accused of atheism. It is true we do not participate in idol worship (why worship things we make?). Such idols are, at best, nothing and, at worst, representatives of demons. We make no apologies for not worshiping these virtue-less ‘gods’ (consider their lives!). We agree with Socrates (who was also accused of atheism for exposing the falsity of these gods). Reason (Logos) must prevail. And it has prevailed in Jesus Christ (who IS the logos)! We are monotheists, not atheists. And the one true God does not require the kinds of sacrifices these idols ‘ask’ for.

Third, we are sometimes accused of trying to set up a human kingdom in opposition to Rome. But our kingdom is of a different nature (otherwise, why would we be so willing to die?). Indeed, it is actually in Rome’s best interest that people become Christians. For those who believe in an all-seeing God who calls us to virtue will undoubtedly be good citizens of this earth (Jesus even commanded us to pay our taxes!). The only people who should be concerned about our existence, then, are the executioners (for their job security will be at stake if all become good!).

Here’s what we believe:

We believe there that there is one God, that Jesus (crucified under Pontius Pilate) is the Son of God, and that God has a prophetic Spirit. Many can’t fathom why we worship a man who was crucified. Let me tell you why… His word was the power of God and has transformed us into better people (there are countless examples!). We become pure of heart, even to the point of loving our enemies. We help those in need (even the children you leave exposed). Any who claim to be Christian and give no evidence of this transformation… do to them what you must.

We believe that God cares for people. In fact, the reason why God has not yet eliminated all evil has to do with this. He wants more people to be saved and knows they may yet be because He made us with freedom (otherwise we would not be accountable). When people reject the truth that God cares for His creation and grants genuine freedom, they end up either not believing in God at all or believing in a very immoral or inactive God. A good God cares by giving genuine freedom.

We believe in the virgin birth. You have similar tales. We believe Jesus is the Son of God. You believe the gods have many sons and daughters. We believe He was crucified. Your gods suffered too. We believe He did miracles. You believe your gods can do miracles. We believe in resurrection. The best of your philosophers have believed in life after death as well. Whole industries depend on the existence of a spiritual realm. We simply take this all one step further.

We believe the dead will get their bodies back. If this seems ridiculous, consider that fact that we all believe that our complex bodies come from a small drop of seed. The only difference between us and some of your best poets and philosophers is that we believe God is capable of more and we actually have evidence (Jesus’ resurrection) on our side. Given these many parallels, how are we alone guilty? Our beliefs are even more anciently rooted and presently attested. In fact, some of your best writers were Christians--in a sense--before Christ in that they absorbed the beliefs of the ancient prophets).

We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The timing of His coming, the virgin birth, and His miracle-ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension were foretold over many millennia by various prophets (Moses, David, Isaiah, etc.) as they were moved by the Spirit. It was also predicted that many of the Jews would reject their Messiah and that many of the Gentiles would be included into God’s family. And we are that Church—a body of believers made up of every nation on earth! It becomes more than reasonable to put one’s life in the hands of a crucified man if that man’s crucifixion was foretold and came to pass as predicted.

If all of these prophecies have come to pass in Christ’s first coming, then we have good reason to believe the prophesies of His second coming may be relied upon. We believe there will be eternal life for those in Christ Jesus. The demons knew that Christ was coming (from the Prophets) and, therefore, influenced less ancient writers to conjure up mythical tales so that the story of Christ could be said to be just one among many. The part not even the demons could imagine, though, was the suffering of the Messiah. But even after this surprise, the demons did not give up in trying to lead the world astray through false teachings (even some masquerading as Christianity—men like Simon, Meander, Marcion— I’ve written against their heresies already).

And here’s what we practice:

We practice baptism. When someone has been made new in Christ (as many have been), we pray and fast with them. They are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. By dying and rising again, Christ has conquered death. Baptism shows the new believer shares in this victory. We proceed to pray for this new believer and salute each other with a kiss.

We share the Eucharist together (our leader saying thanks to God on our behalves before the deacons distribute the bread and wine) as a family of faith. We share our possessions and lives.

We assemble in a special way on Sundays, for it is the first day of creation and the first day of new creation (Jesus’ resurrection!). We hear the Scriptures together. Our leader will challenge us with the truth of its words. We pray together. We have the bread and wine together. We make offerings to be disbursed to those in need via our leader.

I have shown that the accusations made against us are false. I have clearly stated our beliefs. I have made known our practices. What, in all this, is worthy of persecution and death? And yet, if you insist (which only brings about your own judgment), we are willing to die. If Roman soldiers are willing to die for their allegiance to Rome (which can promise them nothing beyond death), is it any wonder that we Christians will die for our allegiance to Christ (who promises everything!)?

Justin's Dialogue with Trypho

JUSTIN MARTYR’S DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO

Upon seeing my philosophers’ garb, a Jewish man named Trypho introduced himself to me. I was surprised that he was interested in philosophy since the Jews have their own lawgiver and prophets, but he insisted that he was interested in my opinion of matters of theism, providence, and life after death.

First, I told him that philosophy is a noble task and one that leads to God. Unfortunately, in practice, it has led to many different conclusions because some philosophers have been more interested in pursuing affirmation and prestige than the truth itself (such happens in religion too!).

Second, I told him my story… How I had moved from one school to another until I landed among the Platonists and began to think of myself as quite wise and spent my time pondering invisible things… How, one day, as I was off the beaten path (a place of contemplation), I came across an older man. We had a conversation about (my) philosophy, whether it had practical benefits, and how it related to the concept of God (I believed that the term ‘God’ referred to the unchanging source of all things). Slowly and carefully, the old man spoke with me… about how it is that I believe we perceive God and what happens after death. He pointed out some of the holes in my philosophical assumptions. He then shared with me about the revelation of truth that had come through the Jewish prophets of old and encouraged me to pursue Christ (to whom those revelations pointed). From that time on, though I never saw that man again, I did pursue these truths and had since become a Christian-philosopher.

But upon telling him that I was a Christian… I was laughed at (albeit politely). Trypho suggested that it’d be far better to be a ritually observant Jewish-philosopher than a Christian-philosopher. He denied that the Christ had come. Therefore, I told Trypho that he had been wrongly informed about Christ and that I would, presently, make the case for Jesus Christ (which provoked more—less polite—laughter). I was going to leave, but Trypho proved willing to dialogue more about the subject of Jesus.

I began by asking Trypho what it was, in particular, that he found objectionable about Christianity. He said it wasn’t the (false) rumors about Christians (cannibalism, promiscuity, etc.) that he found objectionable (he knew they were false). Nor was it even the moral content of our teaching (which he considered wonderful even if impossible to actually obey). What he truly found objectionable was twofold. First, that we didn’t ritually separate ourselves from the world (keep the Old Testament Law). And, second, that we put our hopes in a crucified man, believing that through Jesus we are accepted by God despite our dismissal of His laws contained in the Jewish Scriptures!

Trypho was very eager to hear my responses to these objections. My response was as follows:

The ancient Jewish law itself predicted the coming of a new covenant. That covenant was initiated by Christ (replacing the previous covenant) and made available to all without regard for ethnicity and/or ritual observance. Christians (both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ) are the new spiritual Israel… the people of God. Those who insist on living under the old covenant are, in essence, living in the shadows unnecessarily (for the light has come!). Forgiveness is available through Christ alone… not religious ritual observance. Those things were merely symbols of what was to come and, in and of themselves, had no power to change the heart or save the soul.

I reminded Trypho that there were plenty of God-pleasing people before the law came. The old laws were given specifically to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts (this much was made clear in the very words of his own prophets). God never has needed such things that the Jewish religion offers Him. The purpose of those laws was not to save you, but to point to Christ (who can save us all). He alone is pure and offers to us a purity of heart (a much more excellent purity). It’s time to come to Christ, not live in the law of the past. The very fact that the Jews no longer had a King or Temple or Prophets (the prophetic gift had been transferred to the Church) demonstrated that the Jewish dispensation had ended and something new had begun with Jesus.

Trypho reiterated his objection that Jesus had suffered and inglorious death (unbecoming of a would-be Messiah), but I replied that this, too, was predicted in the Scriptures and that Jesus was going to come again in glory to fulfill other prophecies. Christ, I argued, was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures (I wasn’t just cherry-picking). For He is King, and Priest, and God, and Lord, and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son. I knew that much of what I was saying (especially about the suffering Messiah) was hard to hear and paradoxical to Trypho, but I also knew he needed to hear it to be saved. This is why I was so willing to share (thankfully, since he had been instructed by his teachers not to dialogue with Christians).

Trypho kept stumbling over the apparent foolishness of the incarnation/cross. How could anyone be born of a virgin? How could the Messiah suffer on a cross (and be cursed)? How could the Messiah also be God? But I showed from the Scriptures (otherwise, he would not have stayed) that even in the Old Testament there are hints of a plurality within God (‘Let us make’, the 3 men who visited Abraham, the burning bush experience, etc.). Trypho found my arguments for a plurality within the godhead persuasive, but needed more evidence in order to believe that one member of this plurality became flesh in Jesus Christ. I questioned him on this (having already provided such evidence… like the virgin birth passage in Isaiah)… was he genuinely open to being persuaded?

At this point Trypho stopped me and asked if I felt the Jews were going to miss out entirely on their assumed inheritance from God. I replied that not all Jews will miss out… only those who continue to persecute Christ and fail to repent of their ways. Only those who believe in Jesus and live for Him will inherit God’s promises (also, those who genuinely pursued God in former times are saved by Christ retroactively). Trypho also wondered if someone who did believe and follow Christ could be saved if they simultaneously kept the Jewish Law (where possible). I replied that they could indeed be saved, but that they must not insist that others do likewise.

After more lengthy conversations about the virgin birth passage and suffering servant passage in Isaiah, the Messianic prophecies in Psalm 22, and a host of other texts that foreshadowed the reality that is Christ (there was a lot of necessary repetition), we ended our dialogue (it had taken nearly 2 days)! Trypho was pleasantly surprised that I had been so prepared to discuss the nuances of ‘his’ Scriptures.

I had presented Trypho with an entirely new way to read the Old Testament (through the lens of Jesus Christ). We left on good terms (both thankful for the dialogue and saddened that it could not continue). Whether he ever learned to read Scripture in this way or, even more importantly, began himself to follow Christ… I do not know. But I pray that it is so.