I’m sure as pastors we’ve all faced the tough questions:
“Will my dog go to heaven?”
To which we reply, “I hope so but the Bible doesn’t really speak into that.”
“Will my cat go to heaven?”
To which we reply “No!”
But joking aside – the toughest question I was frequently asked, and to which I have constantly hunted for a satisfactory answer was how we can connect the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ and the God of horrendous violence in the Old Testament.
As I continue my 2017 series of reviewing insightful theological reads this one is a chunk of a book! I want to invite you to read Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross, Volumes 1 & 2, by Gregory Boyd, 2017.
It’s two volumes in one and was written by a progressive, relevant theologian. It deals with the vexing question of the violence of God – still one of the most pressing problems for Christian thinkers, and Christian attackers. Boyd tackles such without the easy answers of wishful thinking or of dismissing quickly texts that can’t be simply dismissed. This is a remarkable engagement – remarkable in how it reimagines reading the Bible in a new way through the cross of Jesus.
And so Boyd starts.
He starts with a stunning confession. He is caught between “the Scylla of Jesus’ affirmation of the Old Testament as divinely inspired and the Charybdis of his nonviolent revelation of God.”
This ‘God is love/ God shows violence’ conundrum has bothered me over three decades of preaching and teaching. I’m tired of putting the best theological spin on it. I need a new way. A new way that will help my postmodern sons hold to a high Scripture and an even higher God.
It’s a two-volume, 1400 page, ten appendices, and extensive bibliography and copious footnotes. No wonder it took him 10-years to write! But there is something good happening in the soul when we step away from a twitter-shrunk world to read a solid, chunky, thorough theological, impressive work. As pastors we primarily interpret God for the people. We should not shy away from quieting our souls and with notebook, dictionary and critical thinking pull apart a book that challenges how Evangelicals have historically handled the terror texts. We need to because Millennials (and people like me) cannot cope any longer with the classic answers. If we don’t reimagine this aspect of God’s revelation we risk Millennials and others ignoring God.
According to Boyd, the Bible is true, but what it attributes to God being violent isn’t quite as true as you were led to believe.
I’m not suggesting you will agree with everything Boyd says. You will however be significantly fed by the wealth of information and insight you glean in its pages. This will be a ‘THEO-ological’ workout. Your preaching and teaching will be impacted – as will your missiology.
The main plot revolves around “redemptive withdrawal”. God withdraws so that evil will be destroyed by evil. The sub-plots are also significant: many aspects of the Old Testament are historically accurate but not literally true. God inspires the narratives that wrongly attribute violent acts to his instigation. It’s about taking the Bible seriously but not always literally.
In Boyd’s view hermeneutics are always Christocentric and Cross-centered. The Bible is read backwards. The cross-event is the key to understanding God’s character and the whole of God’s revelation in the whole of Scripture. When you read it, you could be led to conclude that Boyd wants to have his cake and eat it – Scripture is inspired but not all Scripture is true.
It is an imaginative interpretation of a problem none of us have liked the answers we’ve been offered.
So, do yourself and the young members of your church and community a favor – get the book and use it to again grapple with this still present Scylla and Charybdis.