Chapter 9: Wrestling with Yahweh's Violence Part 2
Having dismissed the 'dismissal solution', Boyd moves on to the 'synthesis solution' which takes the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament at face value (as does the dismissal solution), but accepts them as accurate revelations of God (rather than repudiating them, like the dismissal solution does). In other words, those in this camp try to synthesize how these portraits are true pictures of God alongside the clearest picture (Jesus Christ). In this chapter, Boyd addresses the four most common defenses of God's violent behavior in the Old Testament.
Some synthesizers argue that we, as humans, have no right to question the 'goodness' of God in these divine portraits. The Bible says God did these things so, by definition, they must be good (even if in ways that are mysterious to us). Our moral compass is a fallen tool for evaluating God's actions. Not surprisingly, Boyd finds a host of serious issues with this perspective (eight to be exact).
Another attempt to justify God's OT violence (Boyd calls it the most common attempt) is to suggest that it reveals the 'justice' side of God. But Boyd wants to point out that some of the violence in the OT don't even seem just.
A third attempt is the 'greater good defense'. The idea here is that the ends justify the means. God had to (for instance) remove the Canaanites in order for Israel to survive in order for the Messiah to come through Israel. But why? Archaeologists suggest the Canaanites were no worse than anyone else. The Israelites turned wicked anyways. And why kill the women and children?
Finally, Boyd addresses the 'Progressive Revelation' explanation. In this view, God acquiesced to violence because there was no other choice (given the limitations and fallen nature of humanity) while slowly steering them toward non-violence. The problem, here, is that sometimes it seems that God is the one maximizing violence in these passages. Boyd thinks it has not been clearly enough pointed out that the very concept of progressive revelation suggests that earlier revelation was mixed with that which is false. He prefers an understanding of progressive revelation that sees progress not in the way God acted, but in the way ancient people conceived of God acting.
Overall, Boyd appreciates the efforts of the synthesizers and hopes to use a number of their points (though with some variation) in his approach.
It's hard to complain about brevity in a 1400 page, 2-volume work, but I did feel like this chapter could have been longer. Boyd, in my opinion, addressed some of the poorer arguments of people like Paul Copan, but didn't touch on his best arguments (which I consider to have been discussions of the ancient military literary genre). In the end, though, Boyd is correct that this approach is trying to justify (to one degree or another) violence.
I felt Boyd gave a bit too much attention to the 'beyond-our-categories' defense (10 pages plus) and not enough to the 'divine punishment' and 'greater-good' defenses (about 3 pages each).
I really enjoyed the section on progressive revelation and divine accommodation. He made a good point that while many think of the latter in regards to God's 'transcendent' attributes, revelation is more typically about God's moral character. And on the former (progressive revelation), I think Boyd had a real insight in claiming that we haven't considered (enough) the fact that progress suggests falsity in the past. What I read Boyd saying here, then (when we combine the two) is that Old Testament 'revelations' of God are sometimes warped by the immature views of the covenant people that God is accommodating. In other words, the Old Testament contains true revelation, but it is 'packaged' (inevitably?) with that which is false.
But this doesn't mean our task is to pick and choose which parts are true and which parts are false. The whole 'package' is God-breathed in the sense that all of it points to the revelation of Jesus and the cross. With Boyd's cruciform hermeneutic, we'll be able to see how.