Today I continue with my review of Greg Boyd’s much-anticipated new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (which I will henceforth refer to as CWG).

In part 1, I sketched out an overview of Volume I of CWG, in which Boyd underlines the centrality of the crucified Christ as the paramount interpretive guide to scripture, explores instances of Old Testament divine violence and lays out his “Cruciform Hermeneutic”, according to which the cross must serve as the criterion for determining the degree to which any biblical text explicitly reflects the true revelatory “voice” of God. In this second part, I will briefly overview Volume II, in which Boyd sets out and applies four principles that together form his “Cruciform Thesis”.

Introduction: Boyd kicks off Volume II by asking readers to consider an imaginary scenario in which he witnesses his wife engaging in what appears to be atypical and disturbing behaviour. Based on his several decades of marriage, Boyd knows his wife well enough to be certain that, despite appearances to the contrary, the behaviour he sees is not congruent with his wife’s character. He must therefore conclude that, even though what he sees appears disturbing on its surface, there must be something else going on – some explanatory set of facts that is hidden from Boyd and which, if he were made aware of it, would explain his wife’s apparently disturbing behaviour in ways congruent with what he knows to be her good character.

This introduction deserves particular mention because its fundamental point – the idea that “there must be something else going on” – becomes a kind of leitmotif that frequently recurs throughout the rest of the volume. Whenever the Old Testament appears to depict God in ways that we know are not congruent with the supreme revelation of God seen in Christ on the cross, we should conclude – so argues Boyd – that there must be something else going on. And, as conscientious readers of scripture, we should diligently search for what that “something else” might be.

Part IV: The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation: Boyd articulates the first principle of his Cruciform Thesis as follows:

In the process of God “breathing” the written witness to his covenantal faithfulness, God sometimes displayed his triune, cruciform agape-love by stooping to accommodate his self-revelation to the fallen and culturally conditioned state of his covenant people. [1]

Essentially, what Boyd lays out here is a cross-centred reworking of the well-known and longstanding idea of divine accommodation. According to this principle, God condescends to allow himself to be seen and portrayed in ways that are not fully aligned with, and indeed sometimes blatantly contradict, his true character, primarily as a result of sociocultural factors in operation at the time and place of writing. Boyd roots this principle in “the paradoxical truth that the cross is simultaneously the supreme revelation of God and the supreme example of God accommodating the sin and curse of humanity” [2]. Indeed, he frequently refers to such violent depictions of God as “literary crucifixes”.

In the first chapter of this part, Boyd compares and contrasts his Principle of Cruciform Accommodation first with classical understandings of divine accommodation (focusing mainly on Thomas Aquinas) and second with the Lutherian concept of “divine masks” that God condescends to wear. He goes on to briefly explore René Girard’s understanding of scapegoating, applying it to Jesus as the “arch-scapegoat” who stoops to take on the form of a hapless victim in order to expose the futility of human scapegoating. In the second chapter, he uses the analogy of God as a “heavenly missionary to our fallen world” [3] to explore how God accommodates culturally influenced ideas of the Law, nationalism and violence.

Part V: The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal: in this hefty six-chapter section, Boyd outlines and expounds on the following principle:

God judges sin, defeats evil, and works for the redemption of creation by withdrawing his protective presence, thereby allowing evil to run its self-destructive course and ultimately to self-destruct. [4]

In this part, Boyd makes frequent use of the expression “divine Aikido” to illustrate how what the Old Testament writers often referred to as the “wrath” of God is, in fact, what happens when God simply withdraws his protection, thus allowing individuals, groups and even nations to suffer the consequences inherent in their persistent sin.

Boyd first explores the notion of Christ’s abandonment on the cross, drawing heavily on Moltmann and others, before fleshing out the ways in which he believes God’s withdrawal to be reluctant, redemptive, and an integral part of his strategy for ultimately overcoming evil (by allowing it to self-destruct). In the following chapters, he seeks to apply this principle to various problematic Old Testament texts, notably including the “conquest narrative” that tells the story of Israel’s merciless occupation of Canaan, and responds to common objections to the idea of divine withdrawal.

Part VI: The Principle of Cosmic Conflict: in the opening chapter of this section, Boyd articulates the Principle of Cosmic Conflict as follows:

The agents that carry out violence when God withdraws his protective presence to bring about a divine judgment include the perpetually-threatening cosmic forces of destruction. [5]

Put simply, Boyd contends that the worldview of the Old and New Testament biblical writers was heavily influenced by the idea of ongoing cosmic conflict between supernatural agents of various kinds. He spends two chapters showing how this principle is repeatedly illustrated throughout scripture, and how Jesus appeared to take it for granted. He then takes a chapter to explore the book of Job and the Genesis flood narrative as examples of God’s withdrawing his protective presence and allowing dark cosmic forces to run their course. In the concluding chapter of this part, he combines the three principles introduced so far to articulate a cruciform reading of various problematic Old Testament texts, notably including the biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Part VII: The Principle of Semiautonomous Power: in this part, which consists of a single chapter, Boyd lays out and expounds upon the following principle:

When God confers divine power on select people, he does not meticulously control how they use it. [6]

Boyd uses the term “semiautonomous power” to connote the idea that there are types of power that cannot exist independently of God, but which God confers upon certain individuals with full freedom to use that power as they see fit. He explores ancient Near Eastern examples of this kind of understanding of divine power and, as he did with the Principle of Cosmic Conflict, shows how Jesus appeared to take it for granted. He goes on to apply the principle to various Old Testament texts, focusing on Elisha’s and Elijah’s apparent misuses of divine power, Samson’s persistent abuse of his God-given strength, and the mysterious and seemingly deadly powers of the Ark of the Covenant.

– – – –

The book concludes with a postscript in which Boyd briefly reviews and summarises each of the four principles making up his Cruciform Thesis and calls for us to trust the revelation of the crucified God and “understand his crucifixion to be the permanent crucifixion of the warrior God”. [6] There follow six brief appendices further exploring issues covered in Volume II, and finally a very comprehensive bibliography (running to thirty-four pages!) structured into fifteen core topics treated in CWG.

I hope readers will understand that, given the monumental size and scope of CWG, this two-part overview of its structure and content has necessarily been somewhat cursory. In seeking to provide a broad overview of the book, there is inevitably much depth I have not been able to delve into.

In the third and final part of my review, I will briefly set out what I consider to be the main strengths of Boyd’s work in CWG, as well as my main concerns with it.

References

[1] Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 644

[2] Ibid, p. 642

[3] Ibid, p. 702

[4] Ibid, p. 768

[5] Ibid, p. 1010

[6] Ibid, p. 1261