my last take on Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* and on all such works

In September I wrote a rather enthusiastic preliminary take on Greg Boyd’s recent work, Cross Vision (the shortened version of the scholarly tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God).

First of all, I’m under no illusion that it matters much at all what I think. I’m only one person, and limited both in time and resources. This is a matter especially for scholars to sort out, and those within the church who are so inclined, and perhaps in positions of leadership.

I did read Cross Vision, but not The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

My final take on this latest work from Boyd is not complicated: I simply don’t read scripture that way, nor do most of the Christians I know. Unless scripture itself qualifies something either directly or indirectly, then I think we’re on precarious grounds to do so ourselves. And that’s what I’m afraid Greg Boyd does in this work. In the biblical text God gives commands which Boyd says God really didn’t give. But the text does not say that God corrected the Israelite leaders such as Moses and Joshua. Nor does the rest of scripture, but rather, the opposite. And I also have a problem with how much of the Old Testament is called into question in light of the coming of Christ, not in terms of its inspiration, according to Boyd, and as he explains. But even made to be something sinful, when for example Hebrews 11 cites at least some of that as examples of faith. And there are answers other than what Boyd insists on in terms of God’s grace as to what’s going on in such matters. Not that Boy wouldn’t insist that grace was at play in his answer, either, because he would. The way I read scripture is more straightforward in taking the text at face value, but also with reference to the entire Bible, and to what Jesus himself said.

I do have much respect for scholars who seem favorable to this work, whether or not they agree with Boyd themselves.

My determination from now on is not to wade into matters well over my head. I will read and listen. And I might be influenced in my own thinking by such. But it is not my place, and hopefully no longer my inclination to share my own thoughts on such matters, such as I have in the past. Maybe the best practice for people like me is to simply ask questions. And for all of us to keep going back to scripture to see if what is being said is true.

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a turning point for me

I may have the inclination, but that’s where it ends, to be able to weigh in on controversial matters such as Greg Boyd’s recent work. From now on I want to stick with the simplicity of what I do, with the Bible’s normal reading by the church, as my guide. I’ll let the scholars and theologians grapple with the other stuff, and try to learn from them. And if I make any judgment, I’ll hopefully qualify it sufficiently, so that the reader or listener will put weight on the biblical text and the church’s interpretation, and not on my own interpretation of it.

What I mean is that I am going to do what I think I’m gifted at doing, and what I’ve come to do, given everything, and leave those kinds of matters more to scholars, theologians, and those inclined to take them on. And if I wade into anything controversial, I will try to do so with a kind of disclaimer, which I think I haven’t adequately, if at all at times done in the past. I simply don’t have the breadth of study needed to make such judgments. But I will listen and weigh what others say. I know to say anything at all puts one on a theological fault line. Strictly speaking, there is no one just normal way of reading scripture by the church. But I would say the normal way of reading scripture as the church has, allows for diversity reflecting the richness of the text, as well as some variance in understanding.

We do need those especially gifted in a kind of prophetic way, and others in the wisdom way to be sure. And the church has to develop discernment in weighing everything. And we need some steady feet, not wandering all over the place. But theology does push us sometimes to places we might rather not go. But it must be somehow in submission to and in step with the church. The biblical text will cause the needed affront to us all with the help of the Spirit, as the word of God, and point us to the good news in Jesus. I state what I think is the obvious, which is what I try to do.

And we are all indebted much to gifted scholars and theologians, but the older I get, the more I just want to get back to the text of scripture, what it actually says, and go from there, which I’m sure is question begging/logical fallacy for some. I may be either under or over thinking here, or somehow both. But still reading from scholars and theologians. That’s where I’ll settle, myself. Psalm 131.

scripture and God

“What does scripture say?” is an important question not just for Bible readers, but for anyone who wants to know God and what God says. If one wants to find the intersect of God and life, then one needs to turn to the pages of scripture. In a rather mysterious way, if one perseveres, they will indeed find that, with the challenge and possible blessing which follows.

Scriptural or Biblical interpretation, called hermeneutics, is certainly important in all of this. We exegete in the sense of letting the text speak for itself, taking pains to not read into the text our own biases, or what we want to get out of it ourselves. Instead we determine to “listen”, and we try to both learn and proceed from that.

Scripture by which I mean the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him. That is at the heart of both its point and fulfillment of creation in the new creation. It is essential to simply read it as is, but also to read it in light of its trajectory or goal. It ultimately points us to Christ and to God’s fulfillment of his promises in him. It really is not meant to be used as a guidebook for this and that, like how one handles their finances, or eats. Even if one will find some wisdom in those areas, like be generous and save, and don’t be a glutton.

And so we need to give ourselves anew and afresh to scripture, so that we can find the God who speaks to us in and through its pages. In and through Jesus.

within (orthodox) Christianity thinking outside the lines

I was recently musing with someone over the thought that it would be nice if there was just one church in the world which let people disagree on a host of things, but was intact and centered in what the Bible is centered in: the gospel. The problem would end up being over matters related to the gospel, including specifics about it, and its scope. But that would be alright, if people would just get a grasp of the richness of the faith both in scripture, and in the tradition of the church, particularly in its early centuries.

Yes, lines have to be drawn. God is Triune, something like one Being in Three Persons. Jesus is human and Deity (divine in an equal to God sense, unlike the rest of us). Etc. We have been taking our grandchildren to an evangelical megachurch and have been pleasantly surprised on a number of scores, including both their passion for truth, and their indifference over nonessentials, and I take it, in letting believers disagree over a number of matters.

I get in trouble over accepting evolution and believing in creation and the Genesis account at the same time, and probably on other matters, too. At this stage in my life, I prefer to avoid debate, and trying to influence others that way, so was finding our time at the new church refreshing, because like where I work, they major on what unites us in Jesus, and not on what divides us.

But now Greg Boyd’s Cross Vision, the book adeptly setting forth the message from his massive work, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God sets me up for once again getting into something I prefer to avoid: controversy, and in this case downright disassociation from some, I suppose. And yet if people would read the work, they could choose to disagree, but see that it is not at all departing from the faith, including the truth that the Bible is the inspired, breathed out word of God, it is God’s word written.

Never should teaching like that be made a test of orthodoxy, except where it either departs from the gospel, or puts its teaching in jeopardy. Those who make some new suggestions out of the richness of scripture, and with due consideration of tradition (both very true, in Boyd’s case) should not be automatically dismissed as heretics.

I do see value in churches which emphasize this or that, and I don’t see the end of the world over the diversity of churches, like some people do. We are one in Christ by the Spirit, with one faith (Ephesians 4). While we must contend for the faith in a world of lies and blatant as well as subtle unbelief, we must also hold to it in all its wonder and glory. In the beauty revealed at the heart of it: the good news of God in Jesus.

what does scripture say?

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

1 Corinthians 10:11; NLT

Theology and Biblical interpretation is neither easy nor optional. A definition of theology here might be what paradigm we accept in understanding what we’re reading. I’m not thinking of a necessarily simplistic paradigm, either. There is the Arminian and Calvinist examples, as well as Dispensational and Covenantal. Biblical interpretation is perhaps more basic yet, though each can inform and form the other. Simply put, it’s how we understand any given passage in its own context, and for us today.

One of the best remedies against the weaknesses of theology and biblical interpretation is to simply keep reading all of scripture. I find something like N. T. Wright’s division of creation, fall, Israel, Jesus and church to be helpful, maybe with an additional Jesus’s return and the eternal state added on. To realize what part of the overall story we’re in is surely important. We have to take it as a whole, but appreciate the parts.

I take it that every theology as well as practice of biblical interpretation has its strengths and weaknesses. We can probably learn from each, even if in some cases it might be an example of what we ought not to do, like eisegesis instead of exegesis, which simply explained means to read into a passage what isn’t there, instead of letting a passage speak for itself.

Again the remedy is to read scripture ourselves, and the best case, to do so along with others. Last evening I read the book of Hebrews and found that refreshing in terms of letting that letter speak for itself. Something I want to continue to do, certainly a priority as a Christian who seeks to be a believer and follower of Jesus. All of this in and through him.

losing one’s nerve

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devoursthose living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Numbers 13-14

In this account in Numbers, it was God who commanded Israel to send some men into the promised land to either “explore” (NIV) or “spy out” (NRSV) the land. So Moses sent out one leader from each of the tribes of Israel (minus Levi, Manasseh making up for that as one of the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, the other tribe). We know the story. Ten returned with a firm “but” after praising what was good about the land, and spread among the Israelites “a bad report.” They most certainly lost their nerve.

One can surmise clearly that they were not men of faith. After all, God had promised this land; that Israel was to take it, and settle in it should have been a foregone conclusion. Actually the exploration may have been for a two-fold purpose of encouraging the people to anticipate the blessing they were to soon experience, and to give them a heads up on the faith needed. Unfortunately, even though ten men went in who were leaders of the tribes, not one of them had the sufficient faith to actually believe God’s word. Whatever faith any one of them might have had was surely defective at best. It’s the same as if I would say, “Well yes, Jesus died, they say he rose again, but I really can’t buy the idea that we therefore are saved given all the evil in this world. I can respect religious people who say otherwise, but I can’t go there myself. Let’s either avoid it, or pull out all the stops to make sure as much as possible that we’re not victims ourselves.”

Caleb and Hosea (Joshua) were the two exceptions. Caleb being the older of the two spoke up and plainly contradicted the bad report of the ten. He believed they could and therefore should, certainly because of the promise of God. But he was outnumbered, and the Israelite as a community was unfortunately not predisposed to faith. Even though they had just witnessed mighty signs and wonders in their redemption from Egypt, their default position was to doubt God’s word, and therefore to doubt both God’s goodness, as well as greatness. They essentially saw themselves as on their own. And they had exceedingly short memories, even wanting to go back to Egypt, to the bondage which eventually would again surely overtake them there.

I can lose nerve, too. Where can we begin as to what? There’s no end to it, really. There’s always plenty of reasons to doubt God’s promise in this life, to think of some worse case scenario, or many more likely outcomes which are not good. Rather than to accept God’s promise in Jesus along with the difficulties in this life which come with it.

Depending on how you see what was going on at the time, the Israelites would be moving into a hostile territory armed, and depending on God for God’s deliverance from those entrenched in what was to be their own land. According to the narrative, the time for God’s judgment on the inhabitants had come, and how God carried that out, or wanted to is not necessarily all together clear, biblically and theologically speaking. Maybe the Lord meant to send them packing in some way. But the narrative is clear that at least the Israelites thought that God was commanding them to wipe out all the inhabitants of the land. And since I tend to accept the text at face value, I simply accept what I can’t understand, and frankly try to avoid the subject in public. But see Greg Boyd’s recent book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence for what I tend to think will be a compelling defense of reinterpreting the text of scripture, while I await critiques, and intend to read the entire book myself, which was released just this month.

We must not lose nerve, but hold to the faith, meaning both to our confession as well as our practice of it, continuing to do that. And when we do lose nerve, we simply confess that, and seek to learn from it. Entrusting ourselves to the God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

marriage today in the church and society

“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19

Eugene Peterson, one of the very best Christian writers in my lifetime, himself a pastor had an interesting exchange in the past few days in which he seemed to affirm same sex marriage, and then immediately retracted that, and clarified his position. See this interesting post from Christianity Today.

My own position is to side with what scripture up front seems to make clear both in regard to marriage, and same sex relationships, or homosexuality. Of course scripture itself is nuanced, and challenging on some levels, and always must be read in light of its fulfillment in Christ. That said, it seems pretty clear why the traditional view not only holds strong with most Christian denominations and traditions, but surely will remain so in generations to come. Perhaps what might change is how people who have same sex attraction are received into the church, although that probably varies from church to church now.

Denominations and churches which accept and practice same sex weddings, and ordain those who are thus “married” I have seen, either argue that scripture itself leaves room for “covenant” gay sexual relationship, that when scripture does address this subject the few times it does, it is referring to something else altogether. I have read the arguments myself, and find them less than convincing in comparison to traditional teaching and interpretation of scripture. Or there are those “Christian” leaders who simply question Biblical teaching, even at times suggesting that the resurrection of Christ can be taken either literally or metaphorically, in others words that one can be a Christian without believing Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection. While I disagree, I can respect the former, but not the latter.

I think it’s a tragedy when whole groups are ostracized by the church, and now I’m thinking of the LGBT group. But any church, or Christian who doesn’t hold an affirming view of such relationships, will be seen as attacking the person. I doubt that enough work is being done to reach out to these people. At the very least they should know that they’re loved, and welcomed. I’m not sure myself just how to address this, though I think I know what my tentative suggestion might be. But I would want to be part of a group of men and women prayerfully deliberating on that.

As to my own view for society, I say that the church should not try to dictate what the state wants to do. The state, or government is not the church, and can’t be held to the church’s standards. Nor should the church be forced by the state to adopt the state’s standards. So I would hold to a separation of church and state, at the same time hoping that the church’s influence through the gospel might rub off on the state. But never at the expense of compromising the church’s own complete allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

It is quite a challenging and hot topic today, a sea change having taken place in society, with some impact on some churches. It’s simply a new time for the church to learn to live in a culture which doesn’t define marriage in strictly a traditional way. The church will continue on, but hopefully with new insight in helping those who feel rejected by the only one who can change any of us, and receives us all.