Greg Boyd is co-founder of Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical fellowship in St. Paul. He is also president of ReKnew.org. Greg is a pastor, theologian, and author of more than a dozen academic and popular books.
I asked Greg if he would share his Kingdom vision with my readers. He was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about his ministry at Woodland Hills and talk about his upcoming books.
Did you read Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part I?
This is the second installment in a three-part interview. Enjoy!
Greg, speaking of violence, you’re currently working on a big book project called, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Reinterpreting Divine Violence in Light of the Cross (IVP). That’s a provocative title!
What’s the thesis of the book?
Greg: I’d like to address your question in a round about way.
Throughout Church history theologians have made a lot of use of the concept of divine accommodation. Whenever they came upon passages that seemed “unworthy” of God, they surmised that God was condescending to communicate at a level that we finite, fallen people could understand.
The main criteria these theologians employed to discern when God was accommodating himself was “the classical view of God” — that is, the view that God is above time, change, movement, passions and being affected by anything outside himself.
With this presupposed view of God, of course, most of the Bible had to be viewed as an accommodation, since the God of the Bible moves with humans through time, interacts with them, responds to them, changes his plans in response to them, is affected by what they do and experiences deep emotions in relationship with them.
I am largely opposed to this view of accommodation, since I don’t espouse this view of God. But what I find particularly interesting is that, for all their talk of divine accommodation, after Augustine, theologians never struggled with portraits of God acting violently or engaging in violence.
This despite the fact that traditional theologians have always confessed that Jesus is the definitive revelation of God, and despite the fact that enemy-loving non-violence is at the center of his teaching and example.
If ever we were going to apply the concept of accommodation, I would think it would be to portraits of God that seem to contradict what we learn about God in Christ.
What I am doing in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is essentially claiming that we should read the entire Bible through the lens of the cross and that, when we do, we can discern that God is accommodating the limited and fallen worldviews of the people he’s dealing with when he allows himself to be depicted as engaging in or commanding violence.
I’m arguing that the cross reveals what God is truly like and thus what God has always been like.
Since God entered our fallen humanity and bore our sin on Calvary, taking on the appearance of one who was much less beautiful than God actually is, we should read the OT looking for other ways in which God entered the humanity of his people, bore their sin, and took on appearances that were far more ugly than what God is actually like.
So I’m basically arguing that all the violent divine portraits in Scripture are examples of divine accommodation and are harbingers of God’s ultimate accommodation on Calvary.
Now, the book is presently over 600 pages, and I’m quite a ways from being finished! So there is obviously a whole lot more going on than what I could communicate here. But this is the most basic idea.
What motivated you to write this book?
Greg: I am writing this book primarily because I have for decades been bothered by the radical difference between the God who gives his life for enemies on Calvary, on the one hand, and the God who commands his followers to “show no mercy” and slaughter “everything that breathes,” on the other.
The more clearly I’ve seen the centrality of loving enemies and non-violence in Jesus’ life and message, the more troubling these violent portraits of God in the OT have become.
I believe the whole Bible is divinely inspired, so I can’t simply reject these violent portraits as many liberal theologians do. Yet, I can’t with integrity deny that these violent divine portraits seem to contradict what I learn about God in Christ.
In fact, inasmuch as Jesus taught that ALL Scripture points to him (e.g. Jn 5:39-45), the problem is not just to show how the genocidal portrait of God is CONSISTENT with the God revealed in Christ, but to show how it and similar violent portraits actually POINTS TO Jesus!
About four years ago I decided it was time to stop all I was doing (I’ve had several book projects on hiatus for the last four years) and figure this out. But its not just for myself that I researched and wrote this book.
So what do you hope to accomplish?
It’s my impression that this is among the most pressing problems Christians today have, especially those who affirm the inspiration of the OT and yet grasp the centrality of non-violence in the teachings and example of Jesus.
And I’ve found its one of the main reasons many today won’t give the Christian faith serious consideration.
If I can provide a plausible way of explaining the brutally violent OT portraits of God and of showing how they point to the God revealed on Calvary, I believe I will have offered many people a great service.
NOTE: Greg plans to have a popular version of this book made available after the initial printing of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (IVP, 2013). I will be responding to these books after their publication.
D.D. Flowers, 2012.