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



Friday, August 18, 2017

CWG (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.

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


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.