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ReKnewing Hermeneutics, Part 3: A Review of Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd

discover this info here Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereafter CWG) is a two-volume, 1,300-page tome written by Greg Boyd. It addresses the dilemma posed by the contradictory portrayals of God’s relationship to violence between the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament’s testimony to Jesus. In the Hebrew Bible, God is portrayed as committing and commanding violence. But in the New Testament, the crucified Messiah who eschewed violence is portrayed as the definitive and final revelation of God’s character and nature. This creates tension within the text itself for those, like Boyd, who are committed to both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as “God-breathed.” It is that tension that Boyd seeks to resolve by use of a Cruciform Hermeneutic and with his Cruciform Thesis, which form Volumes I and II of CWG.

In my sources part one of this review, I summarized and commented on Volume I: The Cruciform Hermeneutic. In Tadalafil Tastylia orally disintegrating strips part two, I summarized and commented on Volume II: The Cruciform Thesis.

Originally, part three was meant to be something close to a comprehensive collection of the top objections to CWG and responses. But, after attending the ReKnew: Cross Vision conference last week, I am more than satisfied that Greg has addressed the most pressing concerns that have been raised. ReKnew will be releasing Greg’s responses in chunks in the weeks to come. So, stay tuned for those.

However, from my involvement in a 500-member Facebook group discussing the book, I have gotten a good sense of who are Greg’s primary critics. In this post, I’ll survey the landscape of criticism in a non-comprehensive way, then I will home in on the criticism that has been the most pernicious and divisive.

The Three Camps of Critics

There are three primary camps of CWG critics. Here I’ll elucidate each group and their distinctive angle of attack.

1. From the Right: The Fundamentalist Critique

As usual, Greg’s willingness to rethink traditional theological positions and traditional biblical interpretation has once again garnered him criticism from Traditionalists or Conservatives. No one is really shocked by this. By now, given Greg’s advocacy for Open theism and nonviolence, most Conservatives have already “farewelled” him long ago. But, this time around, a new accusation is being leveled against him: the charge of Marcionism. For those of you not familiar, Marcion was a second-century heretic who is famous for rejecting the God depicted in the Old Testament, claiming that God was instead a “demiurge” (a lesser, created being that is not wholly good or perfect). Some also note that he also rejected much of the New Testament as out of line with his preferred portrait of God, which centered around the Gospel of Luke and Paul’s letters. Today, when Conservatives want to shame and condemn free thinkers who dare to question the violent portraits of God in the Hebrew Bible, they immediately go to their new favorite accusation: Marcionism.

One of the reasons this accusation falls completely flat is that Greg goes out of his way in CWG to argue extensively that Christians are not free to reject any of the canonical Scriptures. He argues that, on the authority of Jesus’s trust in them as God’s word, we who are Jesus’s followers are not allowed to merely dismiss them. Greg even goes to great lengths, employing many creative and new frameworks (e.g. speech-act theory), to claim that all of Scripture, including the Old Testament, is “God-breathed.” Much of his hermeneutic/thesis rests on this, in fact, as he argues that in the Scriptures’ “God-breathed” nature lies its “cross-shaped” dimension.

One would think all this would be enough to repel the accusation of Marcionism, but one would be wrong. That assumes that such an accusation is made by folks who have thoroughly read the book, and from firsthand experience I can testify that this is typically not the case. Instead, the accusation is made reflexively by those who read or heard somewhere that Greg reinterprets the portraits of divine violence and these folks immediately slam down the Marcionite button without thought. Polarization isn’t just something that has heightened in North American, partisan, political area, it is also something that has heightened in the North American, partisan, religious area as well.

The folks in this camp largely hold the solution Greg rejects in CWG, which he called the “Synthesis Solution.” This rejected solution seeks to hold in tension the violent portraits of God in the Hebrew Bible together with the nonviolent life and teachings of Jesus. For these “Flat Bible” folks, both are equally valid and authoritative revelations of God’s character and nature.

One very unfortunate aspect of this critique from the Right is the implications it has for discipleship in the local church. When the Bible’s teaching is flattened in the way that Greg’s Fundamentalist critics have, any story of ethnic cleansing in the Hebrew Bible holds the same weight for Christian discipleship as the Sermon on the Mount, for example. The effect is to completely nullify any weight Jesus’s teaching might have for discipleship if it runs counter to what we find in the history of Israel’s wrestling with God. Instead of taking Jesus seriously, this way of reading Scripture sets “Love your enemies” alongside “Eye for an eye” and allows them to cancel one another out. In this view, Jesus is not the “Word made flesh,” Jesus is simply one word among many.

This is where Greg’s Neo-Anabaptist convictions have sharpened his hermeneutics and made his approach to interpreting Scripture incredibly vital for Christian discipleship. For a Neo-Anabaptist like Greg, the teachings of Jesus are not on the same level as Joshua’s Canaanite massacre. In fact, any modern person employing a “narrative” hermeneutic, will recognize the error of the Flat Bible approach. The canonical Scriptures form one, unified story that culminates and is fulfilled in the life of Jesus. Therefore, to hold any part of the Old Testament on par with the life of Jesus is misunderstand the metanarrative the Bible provides. It is only when we recognize the rightful, privileged place Jesus’s teachings occupy for the equipping and edification of the church, will we even begin to read the Scriptures in a faithful and useful way.

2. From the Left: The Liberal Critique

Greg’s work naturally attracts many Post-Evangelicals because, like him, they are rethinking traditional ideas. However, many Post-Evangelicals have simply drank the Liberal Kool-Aid but may not be educated enough to realize it. Many Post-Evangelicals have absorbed demythologization by osmosis. They haven’t studied Bultmann per se, but they are his disciples nonetheless. Others have simply followed the lead of other, more-educated Post-Evangelicals who have rejected the Fundamentalists doctrine of “Inerrancy” with prejudice. For them, Greg’s cogent, thorough, and nuanced defense of the “God-breathed” nature of Scripture fell on unhearing ears. All they heard was “Inerrancy” and stopped listening.

The folks in this camp largely hold the solution Greg rejects in CWG, which he calls the “Dismissal Solution.” Recently, several very gifted and intelligent scholars and writers have produced books which demonstrate that Christians needn’t be concerned about the portraits of divine violence in the Old Testament because they either didn’t happen (from the historical and/or archeological records), or they are dismissed by Jesus and the apostles. For many of Greg’s Post-Evangelical readers, these books have brought great comfort and ammunition against their former Fundamentalist comrades. These books have provided a very clean and neat washing of their hands of those messy and ugly parts of the Bible that “good” Modern Christians want to pretend aren’t there. These books have also complemented well the teachings Greg and others have pioneered which reject any moral ambiguity in God’s character. For these folks, for God to be truly Good, these aspects of the Bible must be cut out.

As with the Fundamentalist critique, this end of the spectrum also has a problem with discipleship. Teaching people that what they don’t like they can simply discarded may be a very attractive prospect for people formed by consumeristic and wasteful Western culture, but it fails to form disciples in the patient and faithful Way of Jesus. In other words, Western Christians are accustomed to having a faith that caters to them—“McChurch” as some have called it. Typically, Post-Evangelicals lead the charge against such a distortion of true Christianity. But, the reality is that the Left has just as big of problem with self-indulgence. Both ends of the spectrum tailor their faith to their liking in the same way that our cable channel packages are tailored to our viewing preferences and our Facebook news feeds are tailored to our political preferences. In the same way that people have created echo-chambers and thought bubbles in their social lives, these Post-Evangelicals seek to create a biblical bubble and an exegetical echo-chamber. They want the Bible to be a “safe space” with no “triggers.” But it simply isn’t and no amount of Jeffersonian editing will change that.

3. From “Above”: The Purist Critique

The Liberal Critique has also given birth to a third and more pernicious camp that are even more upset by the Cruciform Hermeneutic/Thesis than the Liberals. These are those who are 99.9% on board with Greg’s ideas, but spend 99.9% of their time and energy critiquing the .1% with which they disagree. Theirs is a strain of the Liberal Critique, but a much more virulent one. Instead of simply wanting to excise large portions of the Bible from the Christian faith, they want to also excise large portions of Christian theology as well.

In particular, these “Purists” want to completely expel that nasty part of Christian theology which relentlessly contends that Jesus suffered in his human nature, because Jesus was a united person, not a half-human/half-god hybrid person. They want a god who never suffers at all and instead lives impassible bliss, high above the sorrows and woes of humanity. They couch their critique in Patristic fidelity, but they fail to grasp that early church thinkers wanted to be faithful to the life of Jesus, not to Greek concepts. If there a points at which these two clash—the life of Jesus prevails, not Plato! What the early church thinkers thought it most important to preserve was the unity of Christ’s person: One Person, Two Natures. They did not want a schizophrenic Jesus! But this camp wants a Jesus who is never touched by human infirmities, never counted among humanity in our fallen state: “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph. 2.12) In short, the Jesus they want can’t help us because he has no clue what we’re going through. As Bonhoeffer famously put it, “Only a suffering God can help.” (Letters and Papers from Prison)

Along with their need for a Jesus cut off from the human experience of alienation, this camp also chaffs at the notion of divine judgment. Greg’s game-changing Cruciform Hermeneutic/Thesis, which contends that God is never violent, doesn’t go far enough to insulate them from bad feelings. They need a God who never judges, period. No judgment whatsoever!

You might be thinking: But the Bible speaks of God’s judgment …a lot. Yeah, they know. They just don’t like how that makes them feel. So, it’s got to go. And if they can’t just cut those passages from the Bible (as in the “Dismissal Solution”), then they will seek a way to simply explain all judgment away. Some even attempt to extend Greg’s work in that effort. Their logic sounds like: “If the Cruciform Hermeneutic/Thesis can be used to reinterpret the portraits of divine violence, why can’t they just reinterpret all judgment away, so we don’t have to worry about it at all?”

The reason why is fairly simple, actually. Unlike the Purist Critique, the Cruciform Hermeneutic/Thesis isn’t an attempt to rid the Bible of everything that offends Liberal sensibilities to create some sort of “safe” Scripture. No, the Cruciform Hermeneutic/Thesis is, instead, an attempt to faithfully interpret the Scriptures in accordance with their climatic revelation—the life of Jesus. The life of Jesus, which itself is climatically summarized in the Cross—is not devoid of divine judgment. No, the life of Jesus is the breaking in of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that stands in judgment of all other kingdoms. The life of Jesus is the invasion of the holy into a world that has been hijacked by principalities and powers at odds with God. This life, particularly on the Cross, exposes, disarms, makes a spectacle of, and defeats the kingdoms of this world, characterized by their anti-God, anti-creation corruption. God’s Kingdom must judge if it is to redeem. God’s Kingdom must judge if it is to liberate. God’s Kingdom must judge if it is the truth entering a world of lies. God’s Kingdom must judge if it is the rightful Kingdom.

What’s ironic is that Greg has championed nonviolence and unconditional love for decades. He has been such an outspoken proponent of God’s unending agape that he has been judged by Conservatives as a Liberal who rejects all judgment. But, with the publication of CWG, now Greg is judged by the Purists as not being enough of a proponent of God’s love.

That’s the problem with Purists; you can never measure up to their impossible standards. Their idealism ruins the very progress they claim to want, but doesn’t happen fast enough or completely enough. With Purists “the Perfect” is the enemy of “the Good.” And when Purists succeed in vilifying the Good in contrast to “the Perfect,” evil wins. Ask Hilary Clinton.

Defending Redemptive Withdrawal

The number one complaint from the Purist camp is that Greg’s “Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal” is mean. They don’t like it because it seems negative and gives them bad feelings. Instead, they want a God who never judges anyone, never exposes evil, never stands against injustice. Just a big, soft Teddy Bear god who only hugs people.

Problem is: That’s not love. Love doesn’t only embrace the broken or lift up the oppressed. Love also holds a mirror up to the ugliness of the world. Love also forms a contrast to that which is hateful, destructive, indifferent, impassible, and corrupt. Without malice, love judges. Love is a standard up to which evil does not measure. That’s not love’s fault—that’s evil’s fault.

I remember when I was a teenager and had not surrendered my life to Christ. The last people on the planet I wanted to spend time with were goody two shoes Christians! This wasn’t because I’d had horrible experiences of emotional abuse or judgment by Christians. That’s actually not the case at all. The Christians I knew were incredibly loving and compassionate people. But the reason I wanted nothing to do with them is because their very existence reminded me of my alienation from God. Their love reminded me of my rage-filled, self-destructive depression. Their forgiveness reminded me of the people I’ve hurt. And on and on and on. They never had to mistreat me at all for me to want nothing to do with them. Their love judged me. This is the love the Purists want nothing to do with. They only want the part of love that washes away sin, the part that welcomes and accepts.

As someone who cares deeply about those who suffer from injustice and labor under systemic oppression, I don’t want the love that only accepts and never judges. In fact, I’d say a love that never judges but only accepts, isn’t truly love at all. Only a love that stands against evil is true love. Only a love that condemns injustice is true love. Anything less is enablement and co-conspiracy. God and the devil would be in league together. Anything less is unworthy of the God revealed in Jesus.

Love Makes Space

Divine Redemptive Withdrawal is the most loving way God can judge free agents. When God created a world populated by semi-autonomous beings, God withdrew some of God’s say-so over the universe. God withdrew out of love to make space for other beings who are not controlled by God. In order for God, who is all in all, to have not-God, there had to be a withdrawal. Human agents need space to be free. Without space—space to fail, space to sin, space to reject God, space to mistreat creation—there could be no true freedom. Open theists like Boyd aren’t the only ones who believe this. All non-determinists believe this. This is the Libertarian concept of Free Will.

In this act of making space for the other, God’s love is manifestly demonstrated, even when the space results in the human other experiencing the consequences of misusing that freedom. The Purist camp hates parenting analogies, because they have all kinds of impractical theories about parenting borne of modern psychology. But, it remains true, regardless of what parenting guru says otherwise, that human development happens through experiencing the consequences of our actions. If we never experienced the consequences of our actions, we could never learn what actions are harmful or which are beneficial. A good parent makes space for their children to develop to maturity. There is no possibly way for a human being to develop to maturity without that human experiencing the consequences of their actions.

The alternative is a “Helicopter God,” from the term “Helicopter Parent.” The Helicopter Parent is one who hovers over their children shielding them from experiencing the consequences of the child’s negative actions. It comes from a deep desire to protect the child—which is good—but it is a perverse overreaction. Instead of protecting the child, it insulates the child from important feedback that will help the child grow. In time, this can have long-term negative effects. A person who is shielded from the consequences of their actions may never develop the necessary empathy to become a healthy person—a person who understands how and why their actions may hurt others.

The God of the Bible—the God revealed in Jesus—is not a “Helicopter” God.

Similarly, in relationships there is a need for healthy individuation. Even in the closest relationships, like those between marriage partners or those between parents and children, healthy individuation is necessary to prevent codependency. Codependency has been identified as a major source of social and emotional illness. In order for participants in these relationships to individuate, they need space to fail, space to experience the consequences of their actions. One of the most acute and painful examples of this is when one member of such a relationship struggles with addiction. The loving thing for the other person in the relationship to do is not to become an enabler. This can mean that the other person in the relationship may need to make space for the addict to get help that requires separation. To an outside observer, this could appear unloving. But, in reality, it is the most loving thing to do. It is most loving to make space, not to enable the actions that are destroying the beloved.I won’t belabor the point anymore. Hopefully not even the Purist camp would argue for the virtues of codependency.

The God of the Bible—the God revealed in Jesus—is not an enabler.

Conclusion

Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God is a game-changing approach to reading Scripture. For years to come, everyone who studies the relationship between the portraits of divine violence in the Old Testament and the nonviolent life and teachings of Jesus will in some way have to engage with this work. My hope is that it will receive as wide acceptance as possible, because I haven’t encountered an approach that is more faithful to the climatic self-revelation of God in Christ yet.

 

 

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ReKnewing Hermeneutics, Part 1: A Review of Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

— Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.51

Advancing the Conversation Once Again

Most people are unlikely to have as much vitriolic contempt for the God of the Bible as Richard Dawkins. But even sincere people of faith, though they might live in the violence-saturated culture of America, sometimes recoil at the portraits of divine violence (hereafter “PDVs”) in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). We tell our children censored versions of its stories so often that we end up believing our own versions. Then, when someone points us to the actual text, we’re shocked. “Was that in there the whole time?” we think. For at least some of us who are repulsed by these portrayals of God, it has caused significant doubt. We’ve asked, “Is God really as loving and beautiful as the portrayal of Jesus in the New Testament—or have we been duped?”

Defenders of the Bible’s PDVs will likely claim this is merely a modern dilemma caused by moral decay, secularism, or some other excuse. Those with vested interest in preserving the idea that God carries out violence, because it justifies their own use of violence, will claim that it’s only in recent times that anyone has questioned the interpretation of these passages. They’re incorrect. As far back as Christian thinkers have written about the Bible they have wrestled with the obvious tension between God, as revealed in the Hebrew Bible, and God, as revealed in Jesus. It may be that today the tension is again highlighted in a world that has extreme violence fatigue due to the ubiquity of violence in our media. But whatever the cause may be, today, millions of Christians are deeply troubled by PDVs, as the many solutions on offer in academia and the local Christian bookstore can attest.

Maybe there are Christians for which PDVs pose no challenge whatsoever. But that’s certainly not my story. When I began to follow Jesus as a teenager I exited a very violent lifestyle with a lot of trauma caused by the violence of which I’d been both victim and perpetrator. For me, following Jesus necessarily meant embracing Jesus’s peacemaking, enemy-loving nonviolence. There was no other “Way” of Jesus. The idea that God could be anything other than who God is revealed to be in Jesus was unthinkable to me—and still is. Back when George W. Bush was claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, I vividly remember talking with a seminary-educated Christian pastor and hearing her say that the United States’ invasion of Iraq was justified because God commanded wars in the Old Testament. I’m just as offended by that reasoning today as I was then.

Problem is, the solutions to this tension on offer until now have been unfortunately insufficient. Each one I’ve read has left me wanting. Some offer insights meant to reduce the recoil, reduce the repulsiveness of the PDVs. Others have encouraged me to simply ignore them as the hyperbolic rhetoric of primitive peoples. Either the solutions proposed have not gone far enough, or they’ve gone too far. I’ve been in search of a proposal that preserves the Bible’s integrity as a God-breathed canon of scripture, while also providing a robust hermeneutic that can be applied to these texts in light of the world-changing Jesus event.

Enter: Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereafter “CWG”) by Greg Boyd.

This work is ten years in the making and is borne from the same mind that has labored over questions of theodicy, providence, and politics with scholarly acumen and pastoral sensitivity for decades. While researching and writing this book, Boyd has written several other works in the intervening years. More than just a prolific author, Boyd is also a pastor with a heart for everyday people who have genuine questions. His books aren’t all massive, 1,300-page tomes like this one. Many of his books are tailored to a lay audience and are on subjects like imaginative prayer (Seeing is Believing) and judgmental religiosity (Repenting of Religion). But Boyd is also known for advocating controversial ideas that have made him a target of attacks from self-appointed gatekeepers of American Christianity.

In the late 90s, in addition to pastoring a rapidly-growing church, Boyd was also a professor at Bethel Seminary along with John Piper. Due to Boyd’s controversial views on divine providence, Piper attempted to have him ousted. Since then, it seems he’s been a lightning rod for criticism for one reason or another. It happened again in 2004 when Boyd began a sermon series at the church he serves, Woodland Hills, on the distinctiveness of the Kingdom of God from all other “kingdoms,” including the United States. That series resulted in over 1,000 people leaving the church and in the publication of Myth of a Christian Nation, a New York Times bestseller.

CWG is no exception to this pattern. In this two-volume tome, Boyd merges many of his break-through theological insights into a new break-through approach to the problem of PDVs. While this book is geared more toward serious theology nerds, later this year Boyd will release a condensed version geared more toward everyday people with questions. So, if you were discouraged when you read that the book is 1,300 pages long, I’d highly recommend grabbing Cross Vision next month.

Until then, I’d like to offer some thoughts on CWG for those considering whether to dive into the deep end. In this first post, I’ll summarize what Boyd calls the “Cruciform Hermeneutic” (Volume I). In the next post, I’ll summarize what Boyd calls the “Cruciform Thesis” (Volume II). Then in a final post, I’ll unpack some of Boyd’s ideas the way they landed with me, address some common objections, and offer some thoughts of my own.

Who Does Greg Boyd Think He Is?

Before I describe the layout of the physical book and summarize the Cruciform Hermeneutic, perhaps a word needs to be said in anticipation of those critics who will question Boyd’s qualification to advance this proposal at all. This is an odd phenomenon I find all too common today. What qualifies a theologian to write theological works? Well, in one sense anyone is entitled to wax theological and their proposal should be judged on its own merits. I have no doubt there are brilliant theologians among the lay members of congregations the world over. However, there is a particular gift given to the church of persons who are called and especially gifted to study, teach, and write theology. Boyd is such a gift. Yes, Boyd is a pastor; he’s also a legit scholar. Not only has he completed rigorous theological programs at both Yale and Princeton (with honors), he’s also taught theology at the seminary level for many years. He’s written or co-written over 20 books, and he’s contributed essays to another 16, at least. Boyd is a rare breed of theologian; both academically gifted yet grounded in local church ministry.

Furthermore, CWG is flanked by endorsements from some serious heavy-hitters. Scott McKnight, Terrence Frietheim, Walter Brueggemann, and Michael J. Gorman all lent their support to this project. Not to mention, Boyd draws on the work of several of the most influential and groundbreaking thinkers in modern theology: Moltmann, Urs von Balthasar, Torrance, and many more. CWG’s bibliography is 37 pages long! If you’re going to mount a counter-argument to this proposal, you’d better eat your Wheaties!

In reality, there are few people (if any) alive today more qualified than Boyd to write this book. He is a highly sought-after speaker on nonviolence, also regularly writing on the subject at his ministry’s website (ReKnew.org). He’s also one of the most vocal proponents of a Jesus-looking picture of God, with corresponding biblical interpretation. With all of his qualifications in mind, there is little doubt Boyd is eminently qualified to write this book. He might even be uniquely qualified.

Navigating the Physical Book

Now, before one can even begin processing the thoughts and concepts contained in CWG, he or she has to find their way around the physical book. The organization of this book has the potential to be a bit confusing at first. There are two main ideas in the book: The Cruciform Hermeneutic and The Cruciform Thesis. While one volume has been devoted to each, there is a quite a bit of overlap of ideas. And, already, one might ask, What’s the difference between the two anyway? Truth is, it wasn’t immediately or always clear to me since each idea seem to inform the other. But, at minimum, the Cruciform Hermeneutic is Boyd’s attempt to explain how he conceptualizes his method of biblical interpretation, before addressing the specific PDVs in question. Boyd wants readers to understand where he’s coming from before he begins explaining the conclusions at which he’s arrived regarding the interpretation of particular passages. The Cruciform Thesis is composed of four principles which inform Boyd’s theological interpretation of biblical passages.

It was helpful for me to think of the composition of the book in terms of its division of “parts.” There are seven parts to CWG, three in Volume I and four in Volume II.

  • Volume I: The Cruciform Hermeneutic is divided into the following three parts
    • Part 1: The Centrality of the Crucified Christ
    • Part 2: The Problem of Divine Violence
    • Part 3: The Cruciform Hermeneutic
  • Volume II: The Cruciform Thesis is made up of four parts that are each a principle
    • Part 4: The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation
    • Part 5: The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal
    • Part 6: The Principle of Cosmic Conflict
    • Part 7: The Principle of Semiautonomous Power

Laying a Foundation

Before I can get into a summary of Boyd’s arguments in parts 1-3, I can’t neglect Boyd’s work of laying a foundation for the proposal he’ll advance. There is a metaphor he uses as an imaginative guide to the approach he’s taking (A). Then there is a foundational approach to Scripture that undergirds the entire project (B).

A. The Cruciform Magic Eye

Magic Eye

Boyd begins Volume I with an analogy that frames his aim well. If you’ve ever struggled to see the 3D image pop off the page of a “Magic Eye” poster (as I have!) you’ll understand why Boyd’s use of this metaphor makes so much sense. Boyd contends,

“The driving conviction of the Cruciform Hermeneutic is that since Calvary gives us a perspective of God’s character that is superior to what people in the OT had, we can also enjoy a superior perspective of what was actually going on when OT authors depicted God engaging in and commanding violence. If we remain committed to the conviction that all Scripture is inspired for the ultimate purpose of bearing witness to the revelation of God on the cross, and if we therefore humbly look for the crucified God in the depths of the OT’s violent depictions of God, my claim is that we do, in fact, find him. Like a beautiful three-dimensional object rising out of a two-dimensional mundane pattern in a ‘Magic Eye’ book, I believe the Cruciform Hermeneutic enables us to discern the beauty of the crucified God rising out of the portraits of God that on the surface appear profoundly ugly. The crucified Christ, in short, gives us the ‘Magic Eye’ to discern him in the depths of even the most horrifically violent portraits of God.” (xxxiv-xxxv)

Time and again as I read, this analogy helped me when the rich layers of Boyd’s method began to feel overwhelming. He’s suggesting that there is a surface view to Scripture that is immediately apparent. It’s two-dimensional. But, with patience and a little guidance, one can adjust their focus in such a way as to see a picture emerge from the surface as if it’s leaping off the page. That image is the Cross. I think if readers keep this analogy in mind, it will help prevent getting bogged down in the complex techniques Boyd is exploring. But there is still one more foundational element to cover before getting to a summary of the the Cruciform Hermeneutic.

B. Wrestling with Scripture

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One of Boyd’s core convictions is that “faith” is not mutually exclusive with “doubt” (cf. Benefit of the Doubt). He demonstrates this through his own scholarship, which in large part is driven by his own wrestling with Scripture. It’s what Boyd calls “Israelite” faith.

“[..]the essence of faith in Scripture is not about blind submission to authoritative traditions or the quest for psychological certainty. It is rather an ‘Israelite’ faith in which the depth of a person’s faith in God is sometimes reflected precisely in their willingness to authentically ‘wrestle’ with him.” (13)

It’s important to keep this in mind as one reads CWG. Otherwise, more conservative readers will be tempted to view Boyd’s exploration as disrespectful. It isn’t. As a member of the body of Christ, Boyd views himself as a covenant partner with God. As the Scriptures themselves attest, God doesn’t want a ‘Stepford wife’; God wants a fully and freely participating covenant partner. Therefore, Boyd writes with the boldness of a partner and the humility of a finite human being on a journey. In proposing this well-researched approach to a serious theological conundrum, he doesn’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, I found it particularly humble for Boyd to present CWG this way:

“[…]I will constantly place my own perspectives in dialogue with the views of others, past and present. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason I am now submitting my proposal to the larger body of Christ for consideration.” (17)

Boyd fully expects to receive push back, and he has. The question is: Will his interlocutors be as humble as he? If the early discussions I’ve witnessed online are any indicator, I’m not hopeful.

Part 1: The Centrality of the Crucified Christ

The rest of part one can be further divided into three parts. Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate Boyd’s radically Jesus-centered hermeneutic. He argues that the New Testament authors present Christ as the supreme and definitive revelation of God. This will strike some readers as wholly unnoteworthy and others as completely insane. It’s quite remarkable to me how often I’ve witnessed both reactions. I’ve read people who basically yawn at this suggestion and others who completely freak out. But this suggestion really shouldn’t be shocking. A cursory introduction to the New Testament makes this point emphatically. There is no space here to support that claim. I think Boyd does a fantastic job supporting it in CWG. So, I’d suggest you read the book!

In this part, Boyd draws on some of the church’s most groundbreaking theologians like Martin Luther and Karl Barth. For example, Boyd quotes T. F. Torrance:

“In Christ, what God communicates to man is not something, but his very self. This is distinct from all other acts of God. This is God’s unique act, his reality-in-the-act … in Jesus Christ God acts in such a way that he is himself in his act, and what he acts he is, and what he is he acts… Jesus Christ as act of God in humanity is identical with God’s own person.” (39, emphasis added by Boyd)

However, Boyd’s approach is a bit more novel than the typical “Christ-centered” hermeneutic. Not only does Boyd argue (thoroughly!) that the New Testament authors describe Jesus as the pinnacle of divine revelation, he also argues (thoroughly!) that the Cross is the thematic center of the New Testament’s testimony about Jesus. He does this in chapters 4 and 5.
In this part, Boyd draws on the work of such luminaries as Richard Baukham and Jürgen Moltmann. For example, he quotes Moltmann:

“The death of Jesus on the cross is the centre of all Christian theology… All Christian statements about God, about creation, about sin and death have their focal point in the crucified Christ.” (159)

Unsurprisingly, some have already expressed objection to this radically cross-centered approach. They argue that Jesus’s entire life must be considered. This is a simple misunderstanding of what Boyd is saying. Boyd is certainly not saying the rest of Jesus’s life is unimportant; only the cross. Boyd is saying “we must understand the person and work of Jesus as a perfectly integrated union.” (161) With Torrance, Boyd is arguing that “in Christ, ‘Person, Word and Act coinhere indivisibly in one another.’ ” (162) “Incarnational union was also an atoning union, in and through which our lost and damned humanity is redeemed, healed and sanctified in Jesus Christ.” (163) Boyd summarizes this way:

“[…]everything about Jesus’s ministry leads up to, and culminates in, his sacrificial death, and all of it is about the Atonement. […]the crucifixion and the message of the kingdom ‘belong together’ and ‘explain one another. The kingdom comes through Jesus’s entire work.’ […] this work ‘finds its intended fulfillment in his shameful death.’ […]the cross is the quintessential expression of who Jesus was and of everything Jesus was about. The indivisible and perfectly integrated wholeness of the one in whom God became human is oriented, from start to finish, around the cross.” (164-5)

But someone will object saying, What about the Resurrection? Boyd isn’t discounting the Resurrection either. For Boyd, resurrection power is “cruciform,” as Michael J. Gorman has emphasized in his work.

“[…]it is only because of the resurrection that we can know that the self-sacrificial love that was supremely revealed on the cross reveals the true character of God. Only because the Son was delivered can we know that this self-sacrificial love reveals the character of the life God calls humans to live. And only because the Son was vindicated can we know that the sacrificial love that Jesus exemplified throughout his life, and especially in his death, is the way God saves us and overcomes evil and the way God calls his followers to life and to overcome evil.

The resurrection is thus not to be understood as manifesting a kind of triumphant domineering power that replaces the power of the humble, obedient, self-sacrificial love that Jesus displayed on the cross. […]we cannot think of the cross as an inglorious temporary interruption to the way God is otherwise sovereign. The cross is rather the quintessential manifestation of the glorious way God is always sovereign.” (168-9)

For Boyd, the cross is the center of gravity for all of Scripture because the cross is the climactic expression of God’s character and nature of love. This love is embodied in Jesus’s life from his Incarnation to his Ascension and sending of the Spirit. This crucio-centric focus is not exclusionary of the other aspects of Jesus’s life and ministry: it summarizes it all.

Still, some will have difficulty with this essential aspect of Boyd’s method and so their journey into the remainder of CWG will be hindered. If one is unwilling or unable to grant this crucio-centric point, the rest of CWG will likely strike them as fatally flawed. That’s why it was smart for Boyd to include an entire chapter of responses to potential objections (chapter 6). I’d encourage critics to read this chapter before posting an objection to which Boyd has already offered a response; save yourself the embarrassment.

Part 2: The Problem of Divine Violence

By establishing the cross-centered topography of Scripture, Boyd exacerbates the contrast between the revelation of God in Christ and the revelation of God in portraits of divine violence (PDVs). That is what part two is all about. Boyd builds the tension to highlight as clearly as possible the need for a solution.

Part two has three chapters (7-9). In chapter 7, Boyd provides a survey of the so-called “texts of terror,” (PDVs). But, he doesn’t start with the PDVs, because, contrary to the claims of critics, Boyd is no Marcionite. He believes God is revealed in the Hebrew Bible as beautiful, loving, and redeeming. Boyd believes the normative picture of God in the Old Testament is one of a God of covenantally-faithful love. Nevertheless, Boyd must invite readers, with him, to wrestle with the “dark side of the Bible.” And as you’d expect, all the usual suspects are present: so-called “holy” war, the genocidal ‘herem’ command, violence in the psalms, using nations against one another, etc.

The next two chapters survey solutions to this tension, which Boyd frames in two categories. The first he calls the “Dismissal Solution” (chapter 8). The second he calls the “Synthesis Solution” (chapter 9). Already some have predictably objected to Boyd’s characterization on both sides, but I have read several of the books in these categories and I found Boyd to be fair. An entire book could be devoted to surveying the solutions on offer. Boyd has to get to his proposed solution and the book is long enough already!

As an example of the Dismissal Solution, Boyd points to a paradigmatic statement from Eric Seibert’s book Disturbing Divine Behavior: “Acknowledging that there are some things in the Bible that did not happen, effectively exonerates God from certain kinds of morally questionable behavior.” (342) Does it though?

I agree with Boyd that, while Peter Enns is incredibly insightful, he too falls into this category when he writes, “[…]the Bible’s version of events is not what happened.” Within the confines of the historical-critical method, Enns’ conclusions are completely justifiable. But, as Boyd will contend, we need not be so confined. Others Boyd cites as examples are also scholars for whom Boyd has deep respect: Dennis Weaver, C. S. Cowles, Derek Flood, and more. Boyd does not condemn these scholars, as others have. Boyd simply contends there is a better way forward.

But, before he gets to his proposed hermeneutic, he must also survey those of the “Synthesis Solution.” Honestly, this solution has never appealed to me. Even as a new Christian, whenever I heard arguments that God was both mercilessly violent and revealed in the crucified Christ, such a notion was entirely unacceptable. Nevertheless, if Boyd is going to accurately survey the solutions on offer, he must draw attention to some of the most common arguments for synthesis. Two of these are the “Beyond-Our-Categories” defense and the “Might-is-Right” perspective.

As you can probably guess from their labels, these arguments aren’t very persuasive to anyone with the conviction that Jesus’s Way is a way of nonviolence. Were God to be utterly beyond our categories, Jesus’s Incarnation would be incomplete at best but more likely a complete hoax. If God were utterly beyond our categories how could the church claim with any integrity that God is revealed in Christ? And if might made right, then Paul’s characteristic way of talking about Jesus and the cross’s power-in-weakness (e.g. I Cor. 1) would likewise make no sense.

I found Boyd’s straightforward rebuttals of these arguments more than sufficient.

“[…]there is no basis for thinking that our moral compasses were so completely obliterated [by the fall] that we cannot know that certain behaviors (e.g., commanding people to mercilessly kill infants) are always wrong.” (386)

“In Christ, God does not coerce our submission with an unassailable divine authority; he wins our allegiance by displaying his humble, self-sacrificial character.” (391)

One of the best parts of this section was Boyd’s exposing of the hypocrisy with which classical theists treat PDVs. Classical theists are those who privilege divine characteristics derived from philosophical reflection over divine characteristics derived from the biblical narrative. While the Bible provides straightforward accounts of God regretting outcomes in the narrative, changing God’s mind, and speaking as though the future is partly open, the classical theological tradition has taught Christians to reinterpret these passages as not reflecting the truth about God’s nature. Since their philosophical assumptions are incompatible with these portraits, they teach us we must read such anthropomorphisms as devoid of any actual correspondence to the divine nature. However, when the same narrative speaks of God committing or commanding grotesque violence, in clear contrast to the nonviolent revelation of God in Christ, those in the same tradition teach that these PDVs are meant to be taken quite literally. (409)

While the Synthesis Solution attempts to preserve the integrity of the Bible, it compromises the unique and supreme revelation of God in Christ. And while the Dismissal Solution attempts to preserve the unique and supreme revelation of God in Christ, it compromises the integrity of the Bible. That’s why Boyd believes he must forge a new way forward. This “Reinterpretation Solution” is what Boyd calls “The Cruciform Hermeneutic.”

Part 3: The Cruciform Hermeneutic

Part Three of Volume I is made up of three chapters (10-12). After first establishing the crucio-centric paradigm of Scripture in part one, then setting up the problem of PDVs in part two, he now turns to constructing a positive proposal. He has already shown the insufficiency of both the Dismissal Solution and the Synthesis Solution. So, what strategy is left? Answer: the Reinterpretation Solution.

The ‘Origen’ of the Reinterpretation Solution

Chapter 10 is largely devoted to exploring the contribution of one of the church’s most brilliant thinkers. Origen lived from late second century to the middle of the third. Boyd’s interest in Origen is as the “most prolific” and “most insightful proponent” of the early church tradition of allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Origen is an important precedent-setter for Boyd for several reasons. First, Origen was committed to the Scriptures as divinely-inspired. This didn’t, however, commit Origen to accepting surface readings of troubling passages. For Origen, an interpretation needed to be “worthy of God.” This meant that when he encountered a passage that, on the surface seemed to contradict the revelation of God in Christ, Origen searched for a deeper meaning.

“ ‘The Holy Spirit supervised’ the writing of Scripture, Origen says, such that there are things that ‘at first glance,’ seem ‘neither… true nor useful.’ These are inspired ‘stumbling blocks,’ ‘interruptions of the historical sense,’ ‘impossibilities,’ ‘incongruities,’ and things that ‘could not have happened at all.’ Such things, Origen holds, ‘present a barrier to the reader and lead him to refuse to proceed along the pathway of the ordinary meaning.’ By ‘shutting us out’ and ‘debarring us from that [literal interpretation],’ the Holy Spirit motivates us to consider ‘another way’ that ‘can bring us, through the entrance of a narrow footpath, to a higher and loftier road and lay open the immense breath of the divine wisdom.’ In cases such as these, Origen continues, we are forced to ‘search for a truth deeper down’ as we ‘try to discover in the Scriptures which we believe to be inspired by God a meaning worthy of God.’” (428)

Throughout CWG, Boyd will make frequent use of Origen’s language and concept here. Like Origen, he will contend that the treasure hidden in the text is discovered when we uncover the meaning worthy of God in its cruciform depths, not on the violent surface. Boyd recognizes that allegorical interpretation will seem “forced” to Modern readers. He isn’t advocating a return to that particular method. Instead, Boyd is proposing a species of reinterpretation in the same genus.

“[…]while the particular way in which Origen and other early Christian thinkers found nonviolent interpretations for violent depictions of God is no longer feasible, I am convinced there assumption that there had to be a Christ-centered, nonviolent way of interpreting these portraits was absolutely correct.” (456)

Cruciform Forerunners

Chapter 11 starts out with a section I really enjoyed. Boyd highlights six “forerunners” whose thought mirrors and in some cases has contributed to Boyd’s own. In each case, the forerunner has made the connection between the cruciform nature of God revealed in Christ and the way the Scriptures are intended to be interpreted. One of the reasons I loved this section was because so many of these thinkers have been influential for me also. I confess that I have not read as much of their work as I would like, but I have read enough to taste a sampling of what Boyd points to and I have savored it.

For example, I’ve been very grateful for John Goldingay’s contribution to the For Everyone series of commentaries on the Old Testament. As I’ve read his writing in that series, I’ve been struck time and again by his commitment to the biblical narrative over and against systematic theologies and metaphysics. In that series, as well as in other works, Goldingay follows the evidence the narrative gives to its reasonable conclusions, regardless of how troubling those conclusions might be to Reformed theologians, for example. In the tradition of Walter Brueggemann, Goldingay is not beholden to such theological constructs. This means that Goldingay routinely comes to conclusions that are in line with those of Open theists like Boyd and myself. Where those who are beholden to a particular systematic theology feel compelled to interpret passages which depict God in dynamic relationship with human history in a way that directly contradicts the text, Goldingay is more inclined to contradict such traditions instead. For that reason, I have appreciated his scholarship for many years.

Likewise, Richard Hays has been a voice in academic theology that I have appreciated for many years. In his writings, I have sensed his deliberate attempts to take a fresh look at biblical passages untethered to theological traditions. Where I’ve seen this most evident has been in his willingness to reimagine the Judaism of Paul’s day in light of the best scholarship available today, rather than relying on traditions which impose foreign ideology upon the text.

Finally, I was excited to see Jürgen Moltmann on the list. Of those on the list, he is by far the thinker who has most challenged me and stretched my theological imagination. One of the aspects of his thought that has most impressed and inspired me is precisely the aspect which gains him place on this list: his crucio-centrism. For Moltmann, the cross is the clearest window into the character and nature of God. So too, the cross is the key to the interpretation of the biblical narrative. With the immense depth that Moltmann captures in his writing on this subject, it’s no surprise Boyd writes, “[…]I consider him to be the thinker who most keenly anticipates the hermeneutic I am putting forth[…]” (476)

Nevertheless, as pioneering as each of the six forerunners are, none of them applies their crucio-centrism to the PDVs as Boyd does in CWG. Boyd sees himself as someone in the same stream of thought as these six, but allowing himself to be carried further down on the current. “The hermeneutic I am proposing is simply attempting to take the insights of Moltmann—along with those of the previous five thinkers—and apply them consistently to all Scripture, and hence to the OT’s violent portraits of God that none of these thinkers addressed.” (480) Adding T. F. Torrance to the three names mentioned above, I find Boyd to be in very good company.

God-breathed

In chapter 12, Boyd begins to make some very specific claims about the way his unique contribution will give rise to the 3D cross from the two-dimensional text. The first of these claims is that the “God-breathed” nature of Scripture is a two-way street. This means that not only did God breath the Scriptures in the sense that God acted upon the characters in the narrative and upon the authors of Scripture, but that God was acted upon by them. This means that the stories are not one-sided. God is not the only actor in the drama. God is not the only agent at work. This is tacitly affirmed by many, if not most, Christians. But Boyd will flesh out its implications to an extent that will make some feel uncomfortable and others feel liberated.

The cross reveals that God only acts in history to demonstrate God’s love, it also reveals that God also allows Godself to be acted upon by human agents. Boyd is saying this relational self-giving and self-taking is indicative of the cruciform character and nature of God. And, Boyd is saying this cruciform character is reflected directly in the way God is depicted in the text itself.

In the same way God reveals God’s love by allowing Godself to be crucified in the Son, God reveals God’s love by allowing Godself to be crucified in the Bible.

Here’s how Boyd puts it:

“Given that God is a relational God, even within his own eternal being, and given that the biblical narrative as a whole reveals that God accomplishes everything—including, especially, the crucifixion—by working through non-coercive mutually impacting relationships, it ought not surprise us that his revelatory ‘breathing’ is accomplished by this means.” (482)

Just as the cross involved human beings sinfully acting upon Christ, crucifying him, and just as the cross had God acting toward human beings by the Father giving over the Son and the Son giving up himself for our sake, the biblical narrative also reflects this dialectical nature. The divine author acts upon the chapter of God in the text of Scripture and human authors act upon the character of God in the text of Scripture. Just as the cross is a two-way street, so is Scripture.

“God certainly takes the initiative as the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of the human authors, but he also leaves the personhood of the human authors intact, which conditions the results of his ‘breathing’ through them. Hence we find, to one degree or another, something of God and something of the human authors in all biblical writings.” (484)

At this point, astute critics will shout “Aha! I found a flaw in Boyd’s logic!” They will connect the dots and claim that even the New Testament which claims Christ is the climax of revelation would also bear the conditioning of its human authors. To this, Boyd offers two arguments why this does not undercut his premise.

First, as he has argued in many places, including earlier in CWG, Boyd has reasons beyond the inspiration of Scripture to center his faith on the person of Jesus Christ. These reasons include, but aren’t limited to historical, philosophical, and existential. Boyd’s faith, and thus, Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic is not itself solely reliant on the inspiration of the New Testament. By contrast, Boyd’s faith that the New Testament (and the whole canon of Scripture) is inspired by God is instead reliant on all of Boyd’s reasons for believing that Jesus is Lord and Christ.

Second, Boyd argues, along the same lines as the apostle Paul in I Corinthians chapter 1, the cross upends typical human conceptions of power and wisdom. Thus, the counter-intuitive nature of the cross supports Boyd’s claim that its revelation is the criteria by which all other portions of the canon are to be judged.

“[…]far from reflecting people’s fallen and culturally conditioned views of God, the revelation of God on the cross contradicts not only the dominant way first-century people viewed God, but the dominant way fallen and culturally conditioned people have always tended to imagine God/gods.” (490)

So, Boyd’s contention in this portion of the chapter is that the Scriptures themselves demonstrate a quality that is reflected in the cross event itself. Namely, the Scriptures possess the quality of revealing human sinfulness acting toward God, and God’s revelatory love acting toward humanity. Boyd argues that both of these aspects of Scripture are entailed in what is meant by “God-breathed”.

Seeing Scripture in 3D

Yet, there is still another point Boyd wants to make in this chapter. It’s not enough to merely acknowledge that Scripture contains both a sinful, human-facing aspect as well as a revelatory, God-facing aspect. To begin employing the Cruciform Hermeneutic, one must begin to differentiate between that which is human-facing and that which is God-facing, with the cross as the criteria. The cross is a model for seeing in 3D because on the two-dimensional surface the cross is a horrible picture of human cruelty and terrorism. There’s nothing redemptive about the story on the surface. Yet, for Christians, the cross takes on an entirely different meaning from the surface appearance. “The revelatory content of the cross, is located not in the ugly, sin-mirroring surface appearance of the event but in God’s loving condescension to take on this ugly surface appearance.” (497) So, how does the cross take on an entirely different meaning from what the surface shows? Boyd’s answer is faith.

Faith is a lens that allows those with it to see what is hidden to those without it. Faith has an unveiling effect on those who have been gifted with it. Faith is what changed Saul of Tarsus’s “worldly point of view” on Jesus (II Cor. 5.16), and it’s only faith that changes any person’s “worldly point of view” on Jesus or anyone else. As Boyd writes,

“[…]we must exercise faith to see beyond the sin-mirroring appearance of the crucified, godforsaken criminal to behold God stooping out of love to bear our sin and to thereby take on an ugly appearance that mirrors that sin, so too we must be prepared to exercise faith when reading Scripture to see beyond the sin-mirroring literary appearances of a violent God in order to behold God stooping out of love to bear the sin of his people and to thereby take on these ugly literary appearances.” (497)

Faith is what grants a person access to “indirect” revelation in the Scriptures, to borrow again from Origen, and faith is what allows readers to hear the “voice behind the voice.” (504) Boyd points out this is what Paul is getting at with his contrast of the “letter that kills” and the Spirit that “gives life” (cf. II Cor. 3.6). Also, Paul assumes this with this discussion of the “veil” that has been taken away in Christ.

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. — II Cor. 3.13-16 NIV

Paul taught that there is a Christological meaning to “Moses” (i.e. Torah) that is “unveiled” by faith in Christ. That is precisely what Boyd is saying. But, so that readers are able to track with him, Boyd will go into more detail in the next chapter (13), the final chapter of Volume I.

A Question of Method

To understand what Boyd is teaching, some will need to be convinced by more in-depth scholarly support. That is what chapter 13 is all about. In this chapter, Boyd goes into great detail regarding the relationship of the Cruciform Hermeneutic to other hermeneutics. This chapter gets very technical at points and that is probably why many of the objections I’ve read to CWG either ignore this chapter or grossly misunderstand it. Few people want to admit they read this chapter but didn’t fully grasp what Boyd was saying. I get that; it’s not the easiest chapter to understand. So, let’s try to walk through it slowly.

First, Boyd introduces readers to a school of hermeneutics called “TIS,” which stands for “Theological Interpretation of Scripture.” Since it’s likely some of CWG’s readers will not be familiar with this approach, they will likely find it suspicious. I think this is why Boyd goes to great lengths not only to explain what TIS is, but also to show that it has proponents from “the entire liberal-conservative spectrum” (518). But there really is no reason to be suspicious of TIS. In short, TIS is simply an acknowledgment that the Bible is unlike other “books,” and must be read with “the eyes of faith within the community of faith.” (520) This is in direct contrast to the historical-critical method that developed in the context of the Enlightenment’s scientific fervor. Because of the Enlightenment values such as the power of reason to obtain truth apart from religious tradition, the discipline of biblical scholarship came to be treated no different than scholarship of any other ancient literature. Faith commitments came to be viewed as a corrupting influence on what could otherwise be “objective” analysis. Boyd points to Karl Barth’s contribution as a major catalyst for a shift in this regard. Barth’s work reinvigorated an interest in scholarly study of the Scriptures as the “word of God,” within and for the church. In fact, Boyd will go as far as to say that a strictly historical-critical hermeneutical approach even changes the nature of the Bible for the one studying it since it rejects submission to the divine authority which underwrites the Bible (521).

However, Boyd is also not prepared to go as far as what he calls a “radical postmodern” approach which, with Vanhoozer, Boyd thinks falls into a “muddy ditch” (523). Boyd nobly attempts to split the difference by acknowledging the impossibility of flawlessly discovering the originally intended meaning, while simultaneously reaffirming the pursuit of that originally intended meaning, within certain reasonable limits.

“I do not mean to suggest that it is possible to fully enter the ‘horizon’ of the original meaning of a text. This is not even possible when reading contemporary works, let alone when reading ancient works whose culture and worldview is vastly different from our own. But I am convinced that discovering the original meaning of a passage must nevertheless remain an ideal to which we must asymptotically strive.” (523)

This section reminded me of the view expressed by both John Polkinghorne and N. T. Wright, which they call “critical realism.” This view holds that there is an objective reality (hence, “realism”). However, it also contends that none of us will arrive that that reality perfectly (hence, “critical”). Boyd prefers to call this conviction the “Conservative Hermeneutical Principle.” This means that, while he holds that one must seek the originally intended meaning of a passage, there will be times when he will advocate that one go beyond that meaning because it conflicts with another principle. For example, he writes, “[…]if anything should be allowed to move us beyond the original meaning of a passage, it should be when we find anything ascribed to God that conflicts with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ.” (525)

With these things in mind, Boyd makes a couple more qualifications of his view. He wants readers to know specifically what he means by “infallibility,” since that can be a hot-button word for some. What Boyd means by it is constrained by what he has previously proposed. Namely,

“[…]if we approach Scripture with a humble and respectful attitude, interpret it in an informed way and within a community of believers, and trust it to bring us into an ever-deepening, covenantal, life-giving relationship with God through the crucified Christ, then Scripture will never fail us.” (527)

This a far cry from the claims of evangelicals who appeal to the Bible’s inherent “inerrancy.”

Boyd also wants readers to know that he is assuming that the Cruciform Hermeneutic is deeply shaped by the covenantal nature of Scripture. Covenant is the intersection of history and divine revelation. God’s covenantal faithfulness is what the story of the Bible is all about—and that story culminates in the story of Jesus, and particularly in his cruciformity. As Boyd puts it, “[…]every depiction of God within the written record of God’s covenantal faithfulness is ultimately intended to either directly or indirectly express the same covenantal faithfulness that is fully revealed on the cross.” (529) As more and more of these qualifications are added, it becomes clearer and clearer what the Cruciform Hermeneutic entails. That is why, as difficult as it may be, readers will need to forge through this chapter or they will limp into Volume II.

Nerd Level: Overdrive

If you’ve stuck with Boyd this far, you may have just enough energy to get through the last few sections of chapter 13, which are highly technical. Boyd goes into great detail regarding a way that Scripture can have multiple meanings for different audiences at different times, without succumbing to the “muddy ditch” of radical postmodernity. He does this with two final hermeneutical considerations: Speech-Act Theory and the Reader Response approach.

In short, speech-act theory proposes that there are three dimensions to every act of communication:

  1. The Locutionary Act — i.e. the act of vocalizing or inscribing words
  2. The Illocutionary Act — i.e. what the act is intended to accomplish
  3. The Perlocutionary Act — i.e. what the act actually accomplishes

Where multiple meanings enters this theory is at the point of illocution. As Boyd writes, “[…]a single locutionary act can involve any number of different illocutionary acts and can result in any number of different perlocutionary acts, depending on the context in which it is communicated and received.” (532)

As Brevard Childs puts it,

“[…]the ability of biblical language to resonate in a new and creative fashion when read from the vantage point of a fuller understanding of Christian truth […]is not intended to threaten the sensus literalis of the text, but to extend through figuration a reality which has been only partially heard.” (533)

This results in multiple “senses” in which Scripture speaks to us, and so we must discern not only what God said to the original audience (as near as we can), but also what God is saying to us today. (534)

Christ, the Supervening Act

Within the canon of Scripture itself, there is evidence of this sensus plenior as the authors of the New Testament reflect upon the Hebrew Bible in light of the Jesus Event. They viewed the story of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel culminating in the story of Jesus. From a speech-act theory point of view, this could be stated this way, a “[…]central illocutionary act may supervene in such a way that it creates an entirely ‘new’ illocutionary act that the human author could never have understood or intended.” (541) This means that the authors of the Hebrew Bible did not need to “predict” Christ’s coming in any specific detail for the supervening act of Jesus’s incarnation to create new illocutions which would “fulfill” their writings. This way of thinking also pairs nicely with what Boyd next introduces into the mix: Narrative hermeneutics. Jesus’s cruciform life is the “supervening act” that opens up an entire new world of illocutionary acts within the narrative itself. It is the conclusion toward which the story has been moving and aiming all along. It’s the plot twist that resolves and makes sense of all that came before it.

Speech-act theory, coupled with canonical and narrative approaches, gives parameters to what Boyd means when he proposes that the Bible can have multiple layers of meaning without sacrificing its God’s breathed nature, it’s authoritative-in-community nature, and its correspondence to its original meaning (as far as that can be discerned). But there is one more remaining piece to the hermeneutical puzzle: Reader Response.

Developing a Mature Response to Violence

For some CWG readers, “reader response” will set off alarms. Boyd wants to make sure he properly situates his own Cruciform Hermeneutic in relationship to reader response so as to not over-identify while capitalizing on its most valuable aspects. Not unlike speech-act theory, reader response recognizes the reality of many different accomplishments which are possible because of the text. Reader response simply gives more labels to what happens when we read the text from our multiple social locations in time, class, race, gender, etc. Boyd points out that the divine intent of the text may entail a rejection of the text as a means by which the text aids in our maturing process. The Bible itself may give us reason to reject some aspects of the Bible as an expression of our faith in the God of the Bible. An example might be that, due to the biblical message of gender equality and the human dignity of women, we are called to reject portraits of divinely sanctioned oppression and dehumanization of women. Or, for example, due to the trajectory of liberation the Bible teaches, we are called to reject depictions of divinely sanctioned slavery. In the same way, the Bible itself points to the supreme revelation of God’s character and nature in the crucified Christ, calling us to reject depictions of God as a violent warlord. Because we are meant to approach the Bible within the context of covenantal faith, humility, and submission to God’s Spirit, we are called to act upon what the Bible teaches, even if that act includes critically engaging with the Bible itself. (548)

This calling to respond to the Bible itself, according to what the Bible teaches about God and humanity, is part of the training program the Bible itself outlines. Perhaps one could say that one of the perlocutionary acts of the biblical call to cruciform discipleship is the reinterpretation of PDVs. This is what Boyd is contending, going all the way back to his foundational concept of “Israelite” faith. We are called not to blindly obey God’s commands, but to wrestle with God’s word as covenant partners who bear God’s image and who will one day reign with Christ. This means we are called to critically engage with God’s word as Moses and Abraham did, when they negotiated with God or reminded God of God’s own faithful character. In renouncing the sin-mirroring surface meaning of PDVs, we are demonstrating fidelity to the cruciform love of God revealed in the crucified Christ.

Volume I Summary

In Volume I of CWG, Greg Boyd has charted a course toward a groundbreaking new interpretive approach that makes nonviolent hermeneutics a real possibility. He has established important foundational principles like our call to wrestle with Scripture as covenant partners of God and Scripture’s multi-dimensional nature due to its essential relationship to its culturally conditioned authors, the narrative that runs through it, and the people of faith called to read it. And Boyd has meticulously detailed the way that his Cruciform Hermeneutic fits within the broader tradition of Christian hermeneutics going back to Origen and on through to modern developments like TIS, speech-act theory, and reader response. Boyd doesn’t totally discount the role of the historical-critical approach, but he also doesn’t fully embrace a radical postmodern approach. Instead, he forges a new way forward that is both critical and realistic. He isn’t the first to emphasize the cross-shaped nature of God and of divine revelation in Christ, nor to apply such a cruciform hermeneutic to the Scriptures. He highlights six forerunners of this approach, upon whose work he builds. But Boyd’s unique contribution is carrying forward the Cruciform Hermeneutic into the uncharted territory of PDVs. And this is a great need today, when America’s violence-saturated culture has enveloped much of the Christian church and blinded it to the cruciform Way of Jesus. Boyd’s proposal is a breath of fresh air to those who have felt trapped on the horns of a dilemma between a commitment to the “God-breathed” Scripture on one side and fidelity to the nonviolent, crucified Messiah who supremely reveals God’s character and nature in those same Scriptures on the other. Boyd’s Cruciform Hermeneutic acts as a “Magic Eye” bringing into focus the 3D cross that leaps off the two-dimensional page of the Scriptures. And it is this 3D cross that draws us into the heart of God and develops our maturity as Jesus’s disciples. The Cruciform Hermeneutic isn’t only an academic exercise, but also an exercise in discipleship. Will we submit even our hermeneutics to the Lordship of Christ, and humbly seek to follow his cruciform Way, even if it means wrestling with our strongly-held beliefs about the Bible?

Stay tuned for parts two and three of this review as I summarize Volume II, the Cruciform Thesis, and then offer my thoughts on some of the more challenging aspects of the book.

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Conquer Like the Lamb: Cruciform-centrism in Revelation (For Everyone) by N. T. Wright

For Christmas I was gifted with N. T. Wright’s “For Everyone” commentary set on the New Testament thanks to my wife and members of the New City Covenant church plant. THANK YOU!!! I’ve wanted this set of commentaries for my library for several years now, and it’s clear now that it was well worth the wait. Just as soon as all the shredded wrapping paper was collected and recycled, I was hard at work digesting the first book from the series I pulled from the shelf. I decided to start with Revelation. For one reason, I recently read Reversed Thunder by Eugene Peterson and loved it. 1 Also, having read a fair amount of Wright’s other work, I felt that Revelation might be where his theological insights would shine brightest—and I think I was right.

revelation_for_everyone_nt_wrightWright’s commentary on Revelation is excellent! It’s accessible, thorough yet brief, and clearly organized. Wright remains true to his signature areas of insight, expounding on the historical-cultural, as well as the socio-religio-political, contexts of the book; the Person of Jesus in relationship to Israel’s God (including, obviously, a healthy dose of insight from Second Temple Jewish theology); the nature of the Jesus Movement out of which this text emerges; and the nature of the ‘salvation’ this book (and the rest of the New Testament) proclaim. Wright’s unique perspective on justification makes a few important appearances, and his hallmark critique of Platonic dualism in Western visions of the afterlife also shows up from time to time. Even his now common exposés of violence and systemic injustice make their way into the book. This commentary has all the things which have made N. T. Wright one of my favorite theologians to read.

Above all, Wright’s commentary on Revelation is most praiseworthy for its explicit Cruciform-centrism. 2 Five discernible themes in Wright’s exposition of Revelation make this clear:

  1. Jesus is the Lamb at the Center of God’s Throne;
  2. The Powers War Against the Lamb, the Followers of the Lamb, and God’s Good Creation;
  3. The Lamb is Victorious Over the Powers in and Through the Cross;
  4. Jesus’s Bride Conquers Like the Lamb—Through Self-giving Love;
  5. God is Faithful to His Covenant Through the Lamb, the Followers of the Lamb, and New Creation

As Wright plainly states upfront: “…the whole point of the book. Jesus himself won the victory through his suffering, and so must his people.” – p.10

1. Jesus is the Lamb at the Center of God’s Throne

The first major theme Wright highlights in Revelation is John’s scandalous locating of Jesus within the divine identity. For John, Jesus is no demigod nor mere creature, Jesus is worthy of praise due only unto God Almighty. Commenting on chapter 1, verses 9 through 20, Wright writes,

“When we are looking at Jesus, [John] is saying, we are looking straight through him at the father himself.” – p.8

“Throughout the book the focus has been on the uninhibited worship offered by the whole creation to ‘the One on the throne and the lamb’ (5.13). Jesus shares the throne of God; Jesus shares the worship which is due to the one God and him alone.” – p.170

“The lamb shares the praise which belongs to the one and only God. This is John’s way of glimpsing and communicating the mind-challenging but central truth at the heart of Christian faith: Jesus, the lion-lamb, Israel’s Messiah, the true man — this Jesus shares the worship which belongs, and uniquely and only belongs, to the one creator God.” – p.58

In classic Wright fashion, however, Jesus’s divinity is not simply formulated in vanilla, systematic language. No, Wright sticks close to text of both chapters 4 and 5, drawing out from them a more robust and biblical explanation for how Jesus and the creator God of Israel share the one divine identity—and what that means for “followers of the lamb.”

“But notice what this means. The affirmation of the full, unequivocal divinity of the lion-lamb comes, and only comes, in the context of the victory of God, through the lion-lamb, over all the powers of evil. It isn’t enough just to agree with the idea, in the abstract, that Jesus is, in some sense or other, God. (People often ask me, ‘Is Jesus God?’, as though we knew who ‘God’ was ahead of time, and could simply fit Jesus in to that picture.) God, as we have already seen in Revelation, is the creator, who is intimately involved with his world, and worshipped by that world. God has plans and purposes to deliver his world from all that has spoiled it; in other words, to re-establish his sovereign rule, his ‘kingdom’, on earn as in heaven. It is at the heart of those plans, and only there, that we find the lion-lamb sharing the throne of the one God. The church has all too often split off a bare affirmation of Jesus’ ‘divinity’ from an acceptance of God’s kingdom-agenda. To do so is to miss the point, and to use a version of one part of the truth as a screen to stop oneself from having to face the full impact of the rest of the truth. We discover, and celebrate, the divinity of the lion-lamb Messiah only when we find ourselves caught up to share his work as the royal priesthood, summing up creation’s praises before him but also bringing his rescuing rule to bear on the world.” – p.58-59

Wright’s criticism hits home. It is far too easy to talk about Jesus’s “divinity” in an abstract sense—distancing ourselves from our responsibility to embody Jesus’s Kingdom Way in and through our lives. It’s not enough for us to simply acknowledge Jesus’s divinity in theory, Wright is saying, we must also acknowledge Jesus’s divinity in practice.

2. The Powers War Against the Lamb, the Followers of the Lamb, and God’s Good Creation

The second theme Wright draws out from Revelation is the reality of opposition to God’s purposes. Revelation is full of “monsters” (as Wright calls them). The satan is depicted as a dragon, there is a monster that rises up out of the sea, and there is also a land monster. Together they form what Wright calls, an “Unholy Trinity,” “the ghastly combined parody of God, Jesus and the spirit.” (p.120)

Wright skillfully draws out the meaning of these apocalyptic images, and gives us much-needed insight into both the ancient world, as well as our contemporary world.

“The profound problems within that creation mean that the creator must act decisively to put things right, not because creation is bad and he’s angry with it but because it’s good and he’s angry with the forces that have corrupted and defaced it, and which threaten to destroy it (11.18)” – p.49

“The monster is Rome. Or rather, as we shall see, the monster is the dark power of pagan empire… John sees behind the pomp and purple to the dark spiritual reality of satanic rule which has enabled the empire to impose itself across so much of the world.” – p.116

“As often in the world of realpolitik, or underworld dealings, so in the world of spiritual warfare: the ultimate powers prefer not to show themselves, but to act through others. They choose secondary and tertiary intermediaries; they give them some of their power; they back them up where necessary. We are today perhaps more aware than some of our forebears of how what we call ‘dark forces’ go to work.” – p.115

This is not just a history lesson either. Wright draws the connection from the message of Revelation to the application for Christians and churches today.

“…the abiding and overriding lesson for the church, then and now, should nevertheless be clear. The brutal but seductive ‘civilizations’ and national empires, which ensnare the world by promising luxury and delivering slavery, gain their power from the monster, the System of Imperial Power. Some have called this ‘the domination system’, a system which transcends geographical and historical limitations and reappears again in every century.” – p.157

As usual, Wright challenges readers to overcome the compartmentalization that is part and parcel with modern Western culture, seeing instead that the ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ realities of our world are interrelated. The message of Revelation applies just as much to the suburban U.S. homemaker unknowingly enslaved by the unseen system of materialistic idolatry as it is to the first-century pagan peasant consciously aware of her domination by Rome.

3. The Lamb is Victorious Over the Powers in and Through the Cross

The Good News is that the powers have been defeated! Try as they might to cling to the last vestiges of power, the forces of darkness have been conquered in principle by the powerful, self-sacrificial love of God demonstrated supremely in Jesus’s Cross.

“The reality is that the creator God and the lamb have already won the victory, the victory which means that those who follow the lamb are rescued from harm.” – p.73-74

“…the blood of the lamb, the sacrificial Passover-like death of Jesus himself, has rescued them from slavery to sin, making them able at once to stand in the presence of the living God.” – p.75

“John believed in the God of the Exodus, the God who sets slaves free. A huge amount of his book, as we have seen, was built up on the basis that what God did in Egypt he will do again, this time on a cosmic scale — and that the basic act of slave-freeing has already taken place with the sacrificial death of Jesus. ‘With your own blood you purchased a people for God’ (5.9). That’s Exodus-language, buying-slaves-to-set-them-free language. Now, John looks at Rome/Babylon and sees, with this mind’s eye, the slave-market.” – p.165

4. Jesus’s Bride Conquers Like the Lamb—Through Self-giving Love

God’s people, “followers of the lamb,” live like their Lamb-Shepherd, giving their lives away, courageous even unto death. Through their sacrifice, through their demonstrated love, they participate in the once-for-all victory of the lion-lamb, Jesus. This way of life is “cruciform”—a life shaped and molded by the power of Jesus’s Cross. In the same way Jesus humbled himself, served others, loved others, and gave his life for others, so too will his followers. And in so doing, they too will “conquer” the powers of death and hades. They too will participate in the victory of God over the dark forces of anti-creation!

“They are to ‘conquer,’ not by fighting back, but by following Jesus himself, who won the victory through his own patient suffering. Some in these churches will suffer. Some will die. All must bear patient witness to Jesus, thereby ‘conquering’ the evil forces that surround and threaten them.” – p.14

“We are told, again and again, that the lamb has conquered through his blood, his sacrificial death, and that his followers are to conquer in the same way.” – p.134

“The lamb has won the victory over the dragon and his sidekicks, through his own sacrificial death. Now he calls his people to put that victory into practice, by following him down the same path. Jesus had stressed this during his public ministry: if anyone wanted to come after him, they should deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. Somehow, the way to victory is the way of the cross. It was strange and challenging then, and it is just as strange and challenging today.” – p.124

“For some reason, all those talks and sermons I used to hear never got around to the second half of the verse: ‘I will come in to them and eat with them, and they with me.’ No early Christian could have heard those words without thinking of the regular meal, the bread-breaking, at which Jesus would come powerfully and personally and give himself to his people. Such meals anticipate the final messianic banquet (see 19.9). They are advance ‘comings’ of the one who will one day come fully and for ever. Those who share this meal, and who are thereby strengthened to ‘conquer’ as Jesus ‘conquered’ through this death, will have the most extraordinary privilege. It is already quite mind-blowing to think of Jesus sharing the throne of God — though the early Christians saw this as the fulfillment of Psalm 110 and Daniel 7. But now it appears that ‘those who conquer’ are going to share Jesus’ throne as well. They will (that is) share his strange, sovereign rule over the world, the rule to which he came not by force of arms but by the power of suffering love.” – p.40-41

“What we are dealing with is several different angles of vision on the one single great reality: that through the awful turmoil and trouble of the world, God is establishing through Jesus a people who, following the lamb, are to bear witness to God’s kingdom through their own suffering, through which the world will be brought to repentance and faith, so that ultimately God will be king over all.” – p.103

“[Revelation] is not about private spirituality in the present, or an escapist ‘salvation’ in the future. [Revelation] is about the living God confronting the powers of the world with the news that he is now in charge, and that the mode of his rule is that which was established by ‘his Messiah’, the lamb. ‘Suffering love conquers all’ is the message, as powerful as it is unwelcome (unwelcome, sadly, all too often in the church, as well as in the world).” – p.104

“The heavenly reality of the victorious battle is umbilically joined to the earthly reality of the martyrs’ deaths. As followers of the lamb, they believe that they have already been saved by his blood, and that his self-giving to death is the pattern which they must now follow. And that is what wins the battle.” – p.112

5. God is Faithful to His Covenant Through the Lamb, the Followers of the Lamb, and Through New Creation

Death is not the final word for the followers of the Lamb. The Lamb is the Word of God made flesh, and he will have the final word!

God’s judgment is against all the powers of anti-creation, every force that would seek to deface or destroy God’s good world. God will not abandon creation; God will be faithful to his covenant promises and will reign and rule in justice.

God has sovereignly chosen to fulfill his covenant in and through his Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and through Jesus’s disciples: the followers of the Lamb. In and through them, God will remake the world, he will re-establish his rule and reign on earth as it is in heaven.

“So many Christians have read John’s book expecting that the final scene will be a picture of ‘heaven’ that they fail completely to see the full glory of what he is saying. Plato was wrong. It isn’t a matter — it never was a matter — of ‘heaven’ being the perfect place to which we shall (perhaps) go one day, and ‘earth’ being the shabby, second-rate dwelling from which we shall be glad to depart for good. As we have seen throughout the book, ‘earth’ is a glorious part of God’s glorious creation, and ‘heaven’, though God’s own abode, is also the place where the ‘sea’ stands as a reminder of the power of evil, so much so that at one point there is ‘war in heaven’. God’s two-level world needs renewing in both its elements. But when that is done, we are left not with a new heaven only, but a new heaven and a new earth — and they are joined together completely for ever.” – p.187-188

“…the central reality of God’s future is Jesus himself, and because Jesus is not merely a future reality but the one who lived and died and rose again and even now reigns in glory and holds the seven stars in his hand, the reality of the new city, though still a matter of hope, is something to be glimpsed in the present, especially in the ways sketched throughout this book: worship and witness. The new city is not just a dream, a comforting future fantasy. Those who follow the lamb already belong in that city, and already have the right to walk its streets.” – p.195-196

“God’s generous love is the source and goal of all things. How can the city where he and the lamb are personally present be other than the great wellspring of life, flowing out to those who need it!” – p.199

“In the new creation, there is no room for anti-creation. In the world of life, there is no room for death.” – p.195

“It is from the city, the city where is the bride, the bride which is the lamb’s followers, that healing restorative stewardship is to flow. This is how the creator God will show, once and for all, that his creation was good, and that the himself is full of mercy.” – p.200-201

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all!

_______________

1. Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination by Eugene Peterson.

2. “Cruciform-centrism” is a neologism combining “Cruciform” (shaped by or into the form of Jesus’s Cross) with “centrism” (to make central). By focusing his commentary around the centrality of the Church being formed into the image of Christ—particularly in his Cross-shaped, self-giving love—Wright’s book can aptly be called “Cruciform-centric.” For books on “cruciformity,” check out The Cruciform Church by C. Leonard Allen, Cruciformity and Inhabiting the Cruciform God by Michael Gorman. For more on “cruciform-centrism” check out my reflections on Revelation and Greg Boyd’s cruciform-centric hermeneutic, as well as Greg Boyd’s posts on making sense of the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament.

Photo credit for the lamb fountain: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twostoutmonks/ used in accordance with Creative Commons license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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The Lamb at the Center of Worship: St. John’s Revelation and Greg Boyd’s Cruciform-centric Hermeneutic

Intro: Christians Who Don’t Worship Christ?

Until recently, I took it for granted that all Christians understood and agreed on at least one simple fact: That the Bible teaches Messiah Jesus of Nazareth (his life and teachings) is the definitive, perfect, and final revelation of God. After all, the writer of Hebrews makes this much clear:

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
– Heb. 1.1-3 (NIV, emphasis added)

Or consider Jesus’s answer to Phillip’s request to see the “Father” (God) to whom Jesus keeps referring,

“Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
– John 14.8-9 (NIV, emphasis added)

Or, if Jesus’s words don’t impress you (as has especially become the trend among Calvinists), and you need Paul’s didactic teaching style to convince you, consider this gem:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…
– Col. 2.8-9 (NIV, emphasis added)

What a fool I’ve been: I presumed there was at least one common area of agreement among those who call themselves “Christians”—that we worship Christ!  But, from recent discussions online and offline, it appears I was wrong. Instead, what I’ve learned is that some look for a god behind and beyond Jesus. For them, other revelation must be added to Jesus in order for them to receive God’s “full” self-revelation. Why they insist on calling themselves “Christians” then, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps a more appropriate label might be “godians.”

greg-boyd_croppedIn particular, the “Christians” with whom I’ve been discussing are angry about Greg Boyd’s proposal of a “cruciform-centric” hermeneutic 1.  Boyd is unabashedly influenced by (Neo) Anabaptist theology, which has historically advocated for a Christ-centered (“christocentric”) reading of Scripture. This is nothing new. Even (New) Calvinists claim to be Christ-centered these days. 2  What Boyd adds to this interpretive methodology is the biblical idea that discipleship is the process of emulating one’s Master. (Shocking, I know!) Since Jesus laid down his life, and we are Jesus’s disciples, we too are called to lay down our lives—to demonstrate radical, self-sacrificial love (Eph. 5.1-2; Phil. 2.1-11; I Jn. 3.16). This process is now being called “cruciformity”—being formed by the cross, living out cross-shaped love. 3

The objection from some is that this approach is an external grid being imposed on the Scripture, and is therefore eisegesis (importing meaning to the Text), rather than exegesis (drawing meaning from the Text). Objectors also claim that such an approach undermines Scripture’s inspiration and authority. By applying the lens of Jesus’s cross to passages where God is depicted as violent (for example), these objectors also claim Boyd is attempting to ignore portions of Scripture or cut them out of the Bible entirely. 4

In what follows, I will demonstrate that the Bible itself, namely the book of Revelation, teaches Jesus-disciples to apply the cruciform-centric hermeneutic that Boyd describes. In so doing, I will prove that the cruciform-centric hermeneutic is not some external grid being imposed upon Scripture, but is instead Scripture’s own teaching for Christians. Therefore, the cruciform-centric hermeneutic is the appropriate interpretive methodology for Christians (i.e. those who worship Christ).

The Parallel of Worship in Heaven and Worship in the Church

Throne-Room-Heaven-RevelationThe Apocalypse (“Revelation”) of St. John is a widely misunderstood book. Many Western Christians, influenced by popular forms of Dispensationalism 5  the likes of which can be found in the Left Behind books and movies, think of it as a future prediction code to be deciphered. Many search the book looking for clues about what will happen in the “end times.” While John certainly does speak of Christ’s return and sees a vision of the final telos of history, the primary flaw this approach suffers is that it overlooks the immediate and pastoral context. Revelation was written for us, but it was not written to us. Instead, it was written to seven churches by their pastor, the apostle John.

With this fact in mind, we can begin to understand John’s authorial intent. By reminding ourselves of the historical context, we can begin to piece together the meaning the book had for its original hearers. Then we can attempt to draw application from that meaning for our context today.

The setting is late first-century, Roman-occupied “Asia Minor,” where Christian congregations have been formed, and where severe persecution has afflicted the followers of the Way. Nevertheless, these courageous believers (many of whom are Jewish) gather together weekly to worship on the “Lord’s Day,” which is Sunday—the day Jesus rose from the dead. Why Sunday and not Saturday? The answer is both simple and profound: the Resurrection changed everything! The Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is alive and reigns forever! He has defeated Satan, the powers, and death itself! The early Christians worshipped on Sunday because the early Christians worshipped Jesus!

Add to this what we know about the structure of early Christian worship:

  • First, early Christians were baptized with water as a sign that they have died with Christ to their old live and have been raised with Christ to new life. Christ is at the heart of this ritual, which serves as initiation into the Church, the family of believers.
  • Second, early Christians studied the Scriptures (the Hebrew Bible) and received teaching on their meaning. In light of Christ’s coming, the meaning of the Hebrew Bible has been complete transformed. Every apostolic author in the New Testament quotes the Hebrew Bible to teach that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. The Advent of Christ into the world has completely changed the way the early Christians approach the Hebrew Scriptures. In them, they now find Christ. 6
  • Third, early Christians celebrated a meal together called a “Love Feast” or what some call an “Agape Meal.” At this meal, believers in Christ shared in table fellowship regardless of socio-economic status in the world’s eyes, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of age, and regardless of gender. During this meal, the Christians would remember the death their Lord and Savior suffered for them. In the participation of the Eucharistic meal, the early Christians worshipped Christ—weekly.

Eugene Peterson writes,

“The throne, the sea, and the altar are the glorious originals of the pulpit, font, and table in the house churches where St. John’s congregations gathered week by week in their Lord’s Day worship.” 7

Who is Worthy to Open the Scroll?

hebrew-scroll-torahAt the center of the heavenly worship gathering sits a throne—the throne of God. By the way some Christians speak of God, the throne should be empty. Seated on the throne should be an amorphous cloud of undefinable yet all-encompassing god-ness. But that is not what John sees. Standing at the center of the throne, the seat of power and sovereignty and rule, the center of all worship, all power, is the crucified Lamb: Jesus of Nazareth (Rev. 5.6). This should shock and arrest any Christian who does not think Jesus is the definitive revelation of God. This imagery is clear: Jesus is God! There is no god behind, beyond Jesus the Messiah! There is no god behind, beyond the Crucified One!

What happens next boggles and perplexes many modern readers.

I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered…
– Rev. 5.1-6 (NIV)

For many modern readers, the “scroll” John speaks of here is mysterious. Theories abound and are filled with symbolism, secrets, futuristic woes and blessings. But because we have set out to understand what the Text meant to its original hearers first, before we attempt to apply its meaning to our context, we do not suffer from such delusions. Instead, we remember that the worship of the early Christians prominently featured the scrolls of Scripture. In fact, the people of God have worshipped God with the reading of God’s Spirit-inspired Texts for hundreds of years. In Jewish worship, the Torah was read aloud in synagogues every Sabbath day, and also the scrolls of the prophets. In Christian worship, the same scrolls were opened, but with new meaning and a new Subject: King Jesus, the Lord of Lords, YHWH Incarnate.

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
– Luke 4.16-21 (NIV)

The Scriptures that the Jews read every Sabbath day were sealed, shrouded in mystery, bound up waiting until the Word, the One by Whom all things were spoken into existence, would stand before humanity and declare that the time has come for them to be fulfilled! The hearts of the Jewish believers were veiled, and a veil remained each time the Hebrew Scriptures were read. That is, until Jesus came! Jesus lifts the veil, revealing the Truth, uncovering mysteries. (II Cor. 3.7-18)

Jesus is the One who reveals the Truth of the Scriptures. Jesus is the One who uncovers the mystery long sealed in the Sacred Text.

[Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
– Luke 24.25-27 (NIV)

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
– Acts 8.29-35 (NIV)

Only Jesus is worthy to open the scroll, because only Jesus has suffered and laid down his life for humanity. Only Jesus is worthy to open the scroll, because only Jesus is the embodiment of YHWH’s Wisdom.

Again Peterson illuminates,

“Scroll” to a first-century Christian would mean scripture. The scrolls they were most familiar with were the great scrolls of scripture in the synagogues. Scrolls were respected and valued. God’s people believe that God speaks, that he tells us who he is and what he does. He is not a deus absconditus but a deus revelatus. His words are spoken to his people so that they will know his actions for them, his will in them. And these words were written in scrolls. It is to be expected in the act of worship that a scroll will appear. But the scroll is sealed. […]

In the midst of the great act of worship, St. John had wept because there was no one to unseal the scroll and proclaim God’s word personally to him (Rev. 5:4). Then Jesus Christ, in the form of the Lamb, came forward to unseal the scroll, that is, to preach to him. Immediately his weeping ceased: God reveals his word as Christ preaches to us. Is there meaning in the evil chaos of history? We hope there is a clue tucked away in the rubble. The unsealing of the scroll—the revelation of Jesus Christ whereby God’s will is known among us—is a proclamation of this good news in the midst of history. There is a correspondence between what is going on in the midst of worship and what is going on in the midst of history, and Jesus Christ, unsealing the scroll, provides it. We do not have to wait for the future revelation to find the meaning. We do not have to unravel a puzzle to figure out the meaning. It is presented to us. And Christ is the one who presents it.” 8

The Cross-Shaped Hermeneutic of Obedience

cruciform-lightJesus calls his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (Mt. 10.38, 16.24; Mk. 8.34; Lk. 9.23, 14.27). To follow Jesus means to live like he lived (I Jn. 2.6). To live as Jesus lived, we too must lay down our lives for others (Eph. 5.1-2; Phil. 2.1-11; I Jn. 3.16). For Jesus-disciples, the cross is more than a historical event—it becomes a Way of Life (Gal. 6.14). This is the “cruciformity” to which Boyd and Gorman refer.

The Jesus-disciple lives a life formed by their Master’s example, emulating Jesus’s cross-shaped love. Not only is our interpretation of Scripture informed by this fact, but it informs our interpretation of all life! Every person we encounter, every obstacle we face, every achievement is another opportunity to love like Jesus—to die to ourselves and the world, growing in the life of the age to come. The more we live it out, the more the Scriptures become clear. The Anabaptists call this the “hermeneutic of obedience.” Jesus didn’t say the truth will set us free, then we will hold to his teaching. No, he said we must hold to his teaching—then we will know the truth and be set free (Jn. 8.31-32). Obedience precedes the liberation of enlightenment. “Doing” the Scriptures reveals their truth. And “doing” the Scriptures means obeying Jesus. He is our Teacher, our Master. He is the Lord—the Crucified One.

Conclusion: Christians Worship the Lamb Who Was Slain

The life of Jesus’s disciples is a life of worship. We demonstrate our loyalty, our allegiance to Jesus by following his example and holding to his teaching. In dying with Christ, we live. Being in Christ means living crucified lives—lives formed by the cross—lives of demonstrative, unconditional, self-sacrificial love.

In worship, now as in the first-century, we read the Holy Scriptures. Only now, because of our discipleship, we read them anew. They have been opened to us by the Messiah, the only Worthy One. Only the Lamb is worthy to open the scrolls because only the Lamb has been slain for us. And only in the Lamb’s sacrifice is God fully revealed. Now the veil is lifted, mysteries are uncovered, and the seal is broken.

At the center of Christian worship is the Lamb who was slain. Whether we are celebrating baptism: our old lives being buried with Christ, and being raised with Christ to a new life; or whether we are sharing in the Eucharistic meal, celebrating the Final Passover Lamb, slain for us; or whether we are reading and teaching from the Holy Scriptures, the scrolls now open by the Wisdom of God; Jesus the Messiah is the starting place and telos of worship—the Alpha and the Omega.

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  1. “Hermeneutic” refers to interpretation, especially of the Bible. Boyd’s proposal is that Christians interpret the Bible with a Christo-centric (Jesus-centered) lens. But more than that—that Christians remember that the Jesus through whom God is perfectly revealed is the Jesus who died on the cross. And we, his disciples, are to follow his example. That is what “cruciform” means: to be formed by the cross. Therefore, Boyd’s suggestion is that our discipleship informs our biblical interpretation. You can read first-hand about Boyd’s proposal for a “cruciform-centric” hermeneutic in his upcoming book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (IVP 2014?), and on the ReKnew Ministries blog here:
    Christ-Centered or Cross-Centered?
    Answering an Objection to a Cross-Centered Approach to Scripture [Q&A]
    Cruciform Aikido Pt 1: Jesus and the Violent God
  2. Matt Chandler, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (The Village Church, 2012); “In Defense of a Christ-Centered Hermeneutic” by Mike Leake http://sbcvoices.com/in-defense-of-a-christ-centered-hermeneutic-or-a-reply-to-dr-eric-hankins/;  “Jesus Centered Reformed Theology” http://www.acts29network.org/sermon/jesus-centered-reformed-theology–san-diego-2006/.
  3. Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Eerdmans, 2001); Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009).
  4. Ultra-conservative Evangelicals (or more accurately: Fundamentalists) routinely confuse the rejection of their interpretations of passages in the Bible with rejection of the Bible itself. They make the mistake of considering their interpretation to be authoritative, rather than the God whom the Bible reveals. What is gained by such tight control on interpretive methodology is political power. By insisting that their interpretative methodology is the only valid methodology, they maintain the status quo and preserve their gatekeeper positions. This is at the heart of the objections to Boyd’s proposed hermeneutic.
  5. Dispensationalism
  6. John 5.39; Luke 24.25-27; Gal. 3.8; I Pet. 2.6-8; Heb. 1.5-13; Rev. 19.15.
  7. Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (Harper Collins 1988), p.63.
  8. Ibid., 64, 73-74.