The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, A First Look

I’m reading through Greg Boyd’s new 2-volume work Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. I naturally don’t want to make any final assessments until I have read it all the way through, but I thought it may be of interest to share what Boyd is saying as I go. So I will largely simply be citing passages from the book, selecting the quotes that stand out to me, and mostly just letting these citations speak for themselves, perhaps adding a bit of context where necessary, and re-ordering them a bit as needed for the sake of clarity here. This is thus not a review nor is it a summary. Rather, it’s stuff I personally found provocative and worth sharing in the hopes of sparking conversation.

In this first post I’ll cover the introduction through chapter two. We begin with the introduction to volume 1 where Greg outlines the basic argument of his book. Greg first recounts how he came to write the book, a journey that led him to part ways with his fellow Evangelicals in regards to the interpretation of violent portraits of God in the OT.

“I can no longer agree with many of my fellow Evangelicals who insist that we must simply embrace these violent divine portraits as completely accurate revelations of God alongside the revelation we are given in Christ.” p xxix

“I was also supposed to accept every other portrait of God in Scripture as revelatory as well, including the violent portrait. Hence, like most Christians, I had a mental picture of a God who was Christ-like to a degree but who was also capable of commanding merciless genocide and bringing about familial cannibalism.” p xxxi

Greg consequently developed what he terms a “Cruciform Hermeneutic” which could be described as the thesis statement of his book,

“The driving conviction of the Cruciform Hermeneutic is that since Calvary gives us a perspective of God’s character that it 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.” p xxxiv

It’s important to note that this does not mean that Greg intends to use this hermeneutic to explain and justify these violent passages. Greg explains that he felt compelled to break with “most Evangelical books addressing this topic” which, as Greg puts it somewhat in tongue-in-cheek fashion, attempt to “put the best possible ‘spin’ on violent portraits of God in the OT” (p xxix). Rather, this hermeneutic aims to completely change how we understand depictions of a violent warrior god found in the OT.

“Scripture’s violent divine portraits become mini-literary crucifixions that function as harbingers of the historical crucifixion. … For when the sin of the world was nailed to the cross with Christ (Col 2:14), the sinful conception of God as a violent warrior god was included. Hence, the revelation of the agape-loving and sin-bearing crucified God entails the permanent crucifixion of the violent warrior god.” p xli-xlii

So what does the “crucifixion of the warrior god” mean practically? As Greg explains in chapter one,

“I am convinced that it is only when our conviction about the supremacy of the revelation of God on Calvary causes us to abandon all attempts to defend the violent behavior ascribed to God in the OT that we can begin to see how these violent portraits actually bear witness to God’s true, cruciform character.” p 36

To put that in perspective, Greg’s goal in writing the book is to show how it is possible to affirm the inspiration of all of Scripture (or as he prefers to say, the “God-breathed” nature of Scripture), including these violent portraits, while at the same time recognizing that they are, at face value, at odds with and opposed to the revelation of God in Christ. Therefore

“We must trust God’s character as it has been revealed in the crucified Christ, to the point that we have no choice but to call into question all portraits of God that conflict with it, even as we continue to faithfully affirm that these portraits are ‘God-breathed.’” p 34

In other words, Greg stresses that if we wish to get to the point of being able to understand how these passages are God-breathed and point to Christ, the place where we must start is in fully recognizing the degree to which these passages are in conflict with the revelation of God we see in Christ.

Key to doing this, Greg argues, is to learn to read Scripture in a way that places absolute normative and interpretive priority on God revealed in Christ. In other words, Greg maintains that in order to read all of Scripture rightly, we must begin with Jesus and the God that he reveals.

“ ‘God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.’ … He is not part of what the Father has to say or even the main thing the Father has to say: as the one and only Word of God (John 1:1), Jesus is the total content of the Father’s revelation to us.” p 40

This revelation of God in Christ should then shape how we read all of Scripture, and in particular in regards to violent portraits of God in the OT, Greg insists that it is Christ who needs to shape our understanding of these passages, rather than these passages that shape our understanding of Christ,

“The centerpiece of the message of the NT is that we worship a God who defeats evil by dying out of love for enemies rather than by killing enemies, and he calls on his people to do the same. … This revelation should never have been qualified by, let alone trumped by, the OT depictions of a ‘god who fights.’” p 24

Greg therefore flatly rejects a common assumptions within Evangelicalism, which is that all of Scripture is equally authoritative. Asserting instead that,

“If anything in the law or prophets fails to agree with Jesus, however, the implication is that it is Jesus who should be followed. Nothing in the law and prophets should be allowed to compromise what Jesus reveals about God’s character and will.” p 51-52

He further comes against a very common practice within Evangelicalism of trying to let the rest of the Bible temper and modulate Jesus.

“How misguided it is for followers of Jesus to allow any portrait of God or any teaching of the OT to in any way qualify or compromise the portrait of God and the teaching we are given by Jesus.” p 73

“The NT presents Jesus as the definitive revelation of God…no sub-Christ-like portrait of God in the OT should ever be allowed to qualify it.” p 36

So in sum, Greg describes the frequent OT depictions of a “violent warrior god” as “sinful” and “sub-Christ-like,” insisting we must “abandon all attempts to defend” these depictions, and instead “permanently crucify” this understanding of God, replacing it with an understanding of God revealed in Christ crucified. Taken all together, those are some pretty bold statements. Personally, I like bold. The world has plenty of dry boring books on theology. Heaven knows I’ve read a lot of them. This book is certainly not that.

I’ll keep reading, and hopefully have further posts to share in the future as I work my way through the book. But I think there is certainly plenty to chew on here, even in these first two chapters. But at this point let me turn it to you: Are these ideas familiar or brand new to you? Do you find his statements affirming and reassuring? Or do you find them threatening and frightening? What are your thoughts?

Derek Flood author Disarming Scripture

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