Today I have the privilege of beginning to review the long-awaited new book by Greg Boyd, titled The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, officially released on 1 April 2017.

Weighing in at some 1,400 pages, with no less than ten appendices, an extensive bibliography and copious footnotes throughout, this truly gargantuan work took Boyd around ten years to write: no surprise when you consider that, as well as being a prolific author (with over fifteen books to his name), Boyd pastors a large church in St Paul, Minnesota (USA) and is also an adjunct professor of theology.

To make my review as accessible as possible, I had originally planned to write it in a single post. However, given the size and scope of the book, I’ve decided to break my review down into three parts. In the first two parts, I will attempt to provide a concise overview of the structure and content of the book; in the third part, I will share  some thoughts on the book’s strengths and weaknesses as I see them. (I hope to post parts 2 and 3 over the next few days.)

The topic of the book (which I will hereafter refer to as CWG) is aptly summed up in its subtitle: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. The basic plot goes like this:

(i) God’s essential nature of self-giving love is supremely revealed in Christ on the cross;

(ii) The function of all scripture is to faithfully point to this supreme revelation seen in Christ on the cross;

(iii) Therefore, even those portions of scripture that depict God commanding or committing horrific acts of violence and destruction must in some way point to Christ on the cross and the self-giving God he reveals.

Boyd’s daunting task, then, is to lay out a hermeneutical and exegetical framework that allows troubling Old Testament texts depicting divine violence to be interpreted in such a way that they faithfully point to Christ on the cross, and thus to God’s essential nature of self-giving love.

To accomplish this task, Boyd structures CWG into two volumes consisting of a total of five parts, whose contents I will now briefly overview. (I will cover Volume I in this first part of my review and Volume II in the second part.)

Part I: The Centrality of the Crucified Christ: In this initial 300-page section, Boyd lays an essential foundation for the rest of the book by arguing that, given the many contrasting portraits of God found in the Bible, we need a clear hermeneutical key if we are to be able to reliably discern the truth about God from scripture. Drawing on church history from the Church Fathers onwards, Boyd builds a compelling case that this interpretive key is to be found not only in a Christocentric reading of scripture, but in a crucicentric reading; in other words, while Christ is at the centre of the biblical revelation, the cross is the epicentre of that revelation – the ‘key within the key’, as it were.

Boyd also takes time in this first section to explain why it matters what we believe about God (pointing out that “violent Gods produce violent devotees” [1]), and to emphasise that the vocation of the church is and always has been to wrestle with scripture rather than to simply accept it at face value – especially when what it appears to show us at face value is in stark contrast to the character of God revealed in Christ on the cross. He rounds off this first part by addressing some common objections to his proposed crucicentric approach.

Part II: The Problem of Divine Violence: Boyd begins this section by presenting a detailed (and inevitably somewhat gruelling) survey of divinely sanctioned and/or inflicted violence throughout the Old Testament, describing his goal in doing so as helping readers appreciate “the enormous gulf that exists between the violent warrior deity depicted within the “dark side” of the OT and the crucified God who is at the center of the NT” [2]. In the remaining two chapters of this part, he explores two commonly proposed solutions to the problem of divine violence in scripture: the Dismissal Solution, exemplified by but by no means unique to Marcion, whereby troublesome portraits of God are essentially excised or ignored; and the Synthesis Solution, whereby those same troublesome portraits are taken at face value and understood to stand alongside the revelation of God in Christ as faithful witnesses to the character of God. Needless to say, Boyd finds both solutions wanting, arguing that they are “premised on the post-fifth-century assumption that the meaning any particular divine portrait had for the original audience is the meaning it must have for us. Both approaches thus assume that the revelation of God in Christ affords us no privileged insight into the ultimate meaning of these portraits.” [3]

Part III: The Cruciform Hermeneutic: in the first chapter of this section, Boyd takes an in-depth look at how theologians, particularly in the first few hundred years of the Church Age, have used the allegorical method to reinterpret violent portraits of God in ways that are more congruent with the supreme revelation of the cross. In the following chapter, Boyd further expounds upon his Cruciform Hermeneutic, according to which “the cross, understood as the thematic center of Jesus’s identity and mission, should serve as our critical criterion for determining the degree to which the true revelatory “voice” of God is the “voice” reflected in the surface of the portrait, and the degree to which we should, by faith, locate the true “voice” of God in the depth of the portrait, as God stoops to bear the sin of this author’s fallen and culturally conditioned conception of God.” [4]

In the final chapter of this third part, which also forms the final chapter of Volume I of CWG, Boyd compares and contrasts his Cruciform Hermeneutic with the contemporary Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement. Positioning the Bible as “the inspired witness to God’s covenantal faithfulness” [5], he argues that faithful readers of scripture must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and dig deeper than the plain meaning of the text, and indeed go further than historical-critical analysis can take them.

Volume I concludes with a series of appendices dealing with allegations of anti-Semitism in the Gospels, Jesus and violence, and examples of apparent violence found elsewhere in the New Testament – including, perhaps most notoriously, in the book of Revelation.

In part 2, I will provide a brief overview of Volume II, in which Boyd lays out his “Cruciform Thesis” and demonstrates its application to a variety of problematic OT texts.

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References:

[1] Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 20

[2] Ibid, pp. 332-333

[3] Ibid, p. 413

[4] Ibid, 508-509

[5] Ibid, p. 527