where Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* takes us: classic Christianity

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12

Far from being heretical, Greg Boyd’s recent work in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 and Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence simply directs us into the full classic Christianity. Not to say at all that one has to accept his view of how to read the violent texts of the Old Testament to be Christian. But simply to say that the less than constructive critics likely to arise may be removed a bit from that Christianity themselves due to their metaphysics or epistemology, which is simply to say the philosophy they’ve added to the biblical text, unlike, I might say, Paul, who knew nothing else except Jesus and him crucified. And actually the only things I’ve seen so far from the scholarly world is just a bit of constructive criticism, and not much even in the way of that, but that will likely change. I use the word “classic” here in the sense of what conforms to the teaching of Christ himself in scripture, and which the church has acknowledged, even if often not living up to its light.

The chapter on the centrality of the cross for the gospel, knowing God, and for the Christian life, “A Cruciform Through Line” alone is easily worth the price of the book. It gets us back to “what is of first importance,” what is basic to the Christian life if one is to be in Christ and a follower of Christ.

A major stumbling block for some will be Boyd’s view on scripture, which while he says holds to its infallibility, does not mean for him that it’s inerrant in all matters. Inerrancy might hold depending on what you mean, and how that’s explained. I don’t know, myself. I’m inclined maybe a little more toward the view that without a doubt the Bible is inerrant in its main point, the point of it all, what it’s trying to do: lead us to Christ and the good news in him, and specifically, as Boyd would put it, and as scripture itself seems to indicate: Christ crucified. While our view of scripture is surely important: it is the God-breathed word, the written word of God, nevertheless the emphasis from many defenders of that in my lifetime in part has to be tied to a Modernist mindset which seems foreign to the Bible itself in the effort to defend its every part from the charge of error. Every word is important in its place for sure, Boyd tying that to its testimony of pointing us toward the cross of Christ either in God taking on himself the sin of his people and of the world, as well as God in Christ giving himself completely into the hands of sinners and evil, and by that reconciling the world to himself. Of course the cross always includes the resurrection, the resurrection deriving its meaning and significance through the centerpiece of the cross.

We’re saved through Jesus’s death, and we’re to live out that same death even now, a crucified life (Galatians 2:20, etc.) as God’s resurrection people in Jesus.

So please don’t jump to the conclusion that either Boyd, or others who may accept his proposals have jumped off the wagon of Christianity. Just maybe they might be closer to the essence and fullness of it in their emphasis on seeing Christ and him crucified as central to it all.

Earlier post: what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

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Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

the importance of the church

There is no doubt that the individual and individuals are important to God. In fact we can say that every individual human being matters to God. God created each of us in his image, and treats every human being with respect as such. Even though so many evils in a world of hurt we have to leave with God, since life often seems unfair, quite broken, our own difficulties that way not even close to the plight others experience. So what is said here is not at all to disparage the importance of the individual before God and in the world.

But while the individual in scripture is far from ignored, in fact, just the opposite, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of community, or individals together in communion in knowing each other, living with each other’s interests in view, and not just their own individual interests. On the most basic level this happen in families in which the spouses inevitably should put their partner’s interest at least on the same level as their own, and surely higher, in the way of Christ. And of course good parents inevitably sacrifice their own wants and desires for the good of their children.

In scripture God called an individual, Abraham, to call a people to himself. Yes, a people. Human beings are meant to live in community. To be human in significant part is to be in relationship to another human; it is not good for the human to be alone. God is creating a people in Jesus who not only enter into communion with God, which by the way is a Trinitarian communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but into communion with other humans in reflecting something of that Triune communion in God himself.

We find the formation of the nation of Israel meant to be a light to the world, in showing God’s light of truth and love to the nations. Blessed to be a blessing, that calling realized in its fullness in Christ’s fulfillment of it. And now the church in Jesus together is to proclaim and be a witness to that fulfillment to the world, by gathering together for the word, the sacraments, and the common life. Everyone who is a member of Christ through faith and baptism, is also a member of his body, the church. We in Jesus not only belong to him, but to each other.

This isn’t easy, given our culture in the United States, the first nation built on the Modernist Enlightenment in which at least one of its pillars is indiviual rights. It becomes all about my rights. And we’re already broken because of sin, not only a personal brokenness, but along with that a brokenness in relationships, even if by common grace much good still goes on. We want to be left alone, but that urge mirrors our bent to want God to leave us alone, or meet us on our own terms. But that is not the way in Jesus, as we see over and over again in scripture. It isn’t easy, but there is no other option in really following the Lord, in truly being Christian.

 

reading the Bible with modern sensibilities

First of all, just as Christianity is not- tried and found wanting, but rather, untried, period (G. K. Chesterton), so the Bible is not- read and found wanting, but actually not read at all. As a rule. But it’s true that the Bible was written in a different day with reference to a different time. Also the Bible itself I think carries us along in what has been said to be a “redemptive movement hermeneutic” (William Webb), God moving his people toward the goal of his kingdom, fulfilled in King Jesus himself. So that the ethic of that kingdom which is to be lived out and explored in each culture and time ought to show the world a better way, even while ultimately such an ethic can be fulfilled only in and through Jesus, through God’s saving work in him.

Modernism in some ways has simply hidden the evil present, which Jesus taught precedes from the heart into our actions (or inaction). So that we fail to love God with all our being and doing, and we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course none of us will arrive on those scores, but the point is that we can directly violate them, failing for example to be a neighbor to those in need (Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25-37).

To think that modernism hasn’t been guilty of barbarism is not to know history. Of course we are better off with modern dentistry, medicine, etc., etc. In this world via “common grace” there indeed have been some good advances. But such things, while potentially helping the poor, still leave the heart unchanged.

The whole point of scripture is the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And it is fulfilled through a people, Israel to begin with carried on now by what has been called the expanded Israel, the church. Yes, we have yet to arrive ourselves, but that’s not the fault of scripture, but rather our fault to a significant extent. But with the fact and factor that we are in process toward the final goal in this life.

Perhaps in a certain sense and in a good number of ways it’s not the Bible that needs critiqued, but instead the times in which we live. Postmodernism, arguably existent as a reaction to modernism, while carrying some weight, has enough problems of its own. One shouldn’t think they can slide on without factoring in the need for truth, having a basis for what’s right and wrong. But the answer we say as followers of Jesus is found in God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. And God’s will in him. The Revelation at the end of the Bible is a bracing judgment of the evil in the world, a putting an end to it in bringing in God’s good salvation.

And so rather than us standing in judgment of the Bible, we need to let the Bible stand in judgment of us as God’s word, leading us to God’s final Word, Jesus.

“add to your faith goodness”

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

From our modernist heritage we put the emphasis not on virtue, but on knowledge. One would think by now that we would understand that knowledge alone does not make one better, or the world better. It is of course what we do with that knowledge which counts.

I am one who likes to know as in learning as much as I can and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Notice the passage itself lists adding knowledge right after goodness. It is important and sometimes despised in reaction to our Modernist, Enlightenment world. Of course knowledge needs to be couched in the right context. Here it is couched in the context of of God’s divine call and enabling in and through Christ. The entire list is instructive for us. In fact rather ironically to read and consider such a list is toward knowledge, or an intellectual understanding of the same. But that does little good unless goodness accompanies it.

The heart of the matter in the life in Jesus is to live a life of love, of course in terms of our calling in Jesus. The world won’t necessary see all that we do and say with reference to that calling as good. For example Jesus is our king, and earthly masters have no total absolute authority over us. That’s not going to sit well in many places. And our confession that Jesus is Lord and the way to God along with the confession that there is one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is not going to be tolerated in some places. While there is indeed significant overlap in the goodness referred to here which Christians are to live out, there are some significant differences as well. What is crucial is that our lives are pleasing to God and that people have nothing justly bad to say about us.

We don’t stop at goodness of course (and the list is not strictly speaking sequential, though I find the order in some ways possibly suggestive), but we add the rest of what is on this list to our faith as well. And so we in Jesus should be known for our goodness in and through him.

 

the text and life

Postmodernism emphasized the subjective, whereas modernism emphasized the objective. Maybe we’re somewhere into post-postmodernism, whatever that is. But while each is erroneous, there is truth in both.

There is no way when I read (or listen to) scripture that my life does not impact what I am reading. It is good to ask God to remove all distractions so that by grace we may attend to him,*  give him our full attention, be still in his presence. Even so I am imagining, and I actually believe that God speaks into our lives, our circumstances. That what God says to us, what is impressed on us, will have an impact on us, on our lives and experience.

Scripture I take as God’s written word. It is a living document which somehow speaks into our lives here and now, into the lives of every generation and culture. God meets us where we live, in and through Christ. There is a sameness about that, even in all the differences that addresses.

Scripture helps us live beyond circumstances without denying them. Somehow in some way that is really beyond us, we come to settle down into a rhythm in which the truth from God in Jesus meets us and our world, even the world as well, and new creation begins to set in. In the midst of the old world that is dying, a new world is coming and will come.

And so I am in the word everyday. I want to read it with others, as well. That God might speak his truth in Jesus. A truth for life, that shapes our lives, and life in this world.

*A necessary aside: God is neither male nor female. Although both male and female in their differences are made in the image of God. I simply use male pronouns for God, as in scripture. I struggle with using God’s Self, or something of the like, grammatically.