Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CWG (Chapter 8)

Chapter 8: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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