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What follows is a review of  The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd.
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg BoydThis content uses referral links. Read my privacy policy for more information.

Few things in Scripture cause as much embarrassment and confusion among Christians as the Old Testament stories of divine-ordered genocide. While issues surrounding the perceived conflict between Scripture and science often demand greater attention, God’s ordering the wholesale slaughter of Canaanite men, women, and children alike has proved the most difficult to explain.

In his recent work, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, Greg Boyd addresses these issues head-on. In it, he attempts to square the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ with the Old Testament accounts of conquest and annihilation.

I recently finished reading this two-volume tome, and I found Boyd’s premise promising and intriguing. I could not help but think, however, that The Crucifixion of the Warrior God merely pays lip service to Scripture as divinely inspired. Its premise seems to question Scripture’s reliability as divine revelation.

Logical leaps and weak analysis at various points in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God left me with the distinct feeling that Boyd was working backward from a conclusion he desperately wanted to be true, cobbling together weak exegesis and shoddy arguments to reach his desired destination.

The Premise of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Greg Boyd is most famous—or infamous, depending on the audience—for his defense of open theism. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is a different type of work entirely.

Its general premise is that we have in Jesus Christ the full revelation of God. There is nothing controversial about this. The central tenet of orthodox Christianity is that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. It, therefore, follows that Christ is the fullest revelation of God available to humanity.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God builds upon that foundation to argue that we should interpret all of Scripture through the revelation we have in Christ. If something in Scripture does not square with what we know about Jesus, we must suspect that “something else is going on.”

Consistently present throughout Boyd’s work is the idea of progressive revelation. That is, God revealed himself little by little to his people, with each new revelation building upon the former. This progress of revelation then finally culminated in the incarnation. As a result, earlier revelations of God are not as complete as what the New Testament provides.

Therefore, it is not a stretch then to argue that we must reinterpret Old Testament accounts of God that do not square with the New Testament. Boyd explains that the cross, as the culmination of Christ’s work on earth, should be the framework through which we interpret all of Scripture. (Thus, the name, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.)

The Cross as the Interpretive Spectrum

While I do not believe Boyd adequately draws out why the crucifixion should be the central interpretive lens through which we must decipher Scripture—rather than the resurrection or any other acts or teachings of Jesus—the general idea is nonetheless both compelling and rich with historical support.

Boyd points to Origen in particular, who made similar arguments. Here is where The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is the most powerful and compelling. In its Christocentric approach to exegesis, Boyd pulls us away from the morass of a too-focused historical-critical analysis of Scripture. It denounces the reduction of exegesis to an academic exercise.

It also removes Scripture from much of the “Bible wars” that have raged through various Christian thought streams over the last several decades. While maintaining an evangelical approach to Scripture as God’s word, Boyd’s argument nonetheless puts Scripture into its proper context. His work fights the temptation of evangelical Protestants to make Scripture an idol to counter what they perceive as the idols of tradition or the Church itself in some Christian denominations.[1]

Reinterpreting Troubling Passages

Boyd’s main point seems to be that biblical tales of divine-ordered genocide do not match the revelation of God we have in Jesus Christ. We should, therefore, reinterpret these passages through the lens of the cross. Yahweh is the same God revealed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he could not have gleefully ordered the death of innocent children or whole people groups. “Something else is going on.”

Boyd rejects, however, the argument that these events did not happen in history. They are not mere literary flares, exaggerations, or allegory. Instead, Boyd views these passages as accommodations to the original audiences.

Interpreting these texts through the cross—itself a demonstration of God’s willingness to humbly condescend to man’s condition—Boyd believes these passages show God’s allowing his people to understand him in the context of their culture. In this case, God accommodated to a culture in which a higher body meant greater glory to the God they worshiped.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God suggests that the Israelites took God’s commands to conquer the land to an extreme that was inconsistent with God’s desires. It was nonetheless in keeping with the Near Eastern culture in which they lived. God accommodated this Israelite failure. He allowed them to give him glory for things he never desired in the first place.

The Sacrificial System as Accommodation

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God contains some very insightful arguments about accommodation. I found Boyd’s take on the Jewish sacrificial system particularly intriguing.

Cutting through popular—though incoherent—teachings about blood being necessary for the atonement of sin, Boyd claims that the Old Testament system of sacrifice was merely an accommodation to the Israelite people.

Every other ancient Near Eastern religion required animal sacrifice. The belief that the gods relied on them for food or some other form of sustenance was nearly universal. The practice was so widespread that the Israelites would not have been able to understand a religious system in which a deity did not require it.

So, God implemented this system to accommodate the ingrained beliefs of his chosen people. Instead, he settled for less radical revisions of popular thought, such as teaching he did not need sacrifices for subsistence (e.g., Isa 1:11-14, Hos 6:6, Ps 40:6, Ps 50:12-13). Boyd argues that God works with cultures and people groups incrementally. God allows them to maintain some wrongheaded beliefs as he slowly chips away around the edges until they are prepared to learn a higher truth.

This is a brilliant explanation, in my opinion, and fitting with the rest of Scripture.[2] God knew that his people could not accept a system of belief in which animal sacrifice played no role. So, he refashioned it into a harmless—and even beneficial—practice. He then later used it as a symbolic representation of Christ’s sacrifice. Yahweh accommodated the Israelites in their weakness so they could be ready for Christ when the time came.

Rethinking Yahweh

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God uses this same hermeneutic to explain stories of genocide in the Old Testament. According to Boyd, Yahweh was not a blood-thirsty, warlike deity. He had no desire to massacre the inhabitants of Canaan. His people, however, could not comprehend a conquest that did not include the destruction of entire people groups.

Yahweh, therefore, accommodated this belief system. He did not intervene when the people went beyond his commands and perpetuated extreme levels of bloodshed. He also allowed his people to record these violent acts as commands of his in their writings. They simply could not understand his hatred of such violence. Indeed, in providing him with the credit, God’s people believed they were honoring him. God simply did not correct them.

This does make some sense. The shock we feel when we read these passages of Scripture would have been lost on the original audience. They would have likely thought little of them. So, the biblical authors would have felt no need to explain. For Yahweh to have forcefully denounced such actions would have required of his people a radical cultural shift.

God, therefore, settled for slowly moving them away from such violent outlooks, culminating with his most radical demonstration of the non-violent ideal through Jesus Christ.

A Shaky Foundation?

There is some value in the hermeneutic The Crucifixion of the Warrior God proposes. In exalting Christ as the ultimate representation of the Father, it provides us with a consistent and logical test through which to assess our interpretation of Scripture.

There is, however, a danger here as well. Once we make Jesus the lens through which we interpret Scripture, there is a temptation to transform him into our own image. We can then emphasize those aspects of his life and ministry we most admire to accommodate how we want to read the rest of the Bible.

I agree we should interpret Scripture through the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. To leave it at that, however, is to leave us with a shaky hermeneutical foundation. Yes, we should interpret Scripture through Christ. But, how should we interpret the life of Christ?

We approach the New Testament from the context of our own cultural perspective. In addition, ours is a cultural perspective radically different than Christ’s and two thousand years removed. How should we, as modern Western citizens, understand the behavior of a first-century Near-Eastern Jew?

The Old and New Testaments are interconnected and mutually dependent. We cannot accurately understand one without the other. They are two lenses from the same pair of glasses. They present a clear picture only when we look through both simultaneously.

The framework The Crucifixion of the Warrior God provides, however, outside of a proper context, undermines our ability to understand Scripture.[3] Suddenly every passage becomes open for reevaluation and reinterpretation until we have no stability or consistency. Suddenly it becomes easy to disregard those passages of Scripture we don’t like. We simply label them inconsistent with the image of Christ.

Greg Boyd’s Questionable Hermeneutic

While I believe The Crucifixion of the Warrior God presents some compelling and even ingenious insights, I find Boyd’s thesis frequently too forced and underdeveloped. Too often, when Boyd says, “something else is going on,” he really seems to mean, “that passage isn’t true.”

So, for example, Boyd points out that often only one person receives God’s order to commit genocide. That is, the Israelites rely on Moses or Joshua to relay to them God’s commandments. Boyd proposes that this chosen leader must have gotten things wrong.

Boyd’s argument appears to be that God never really said what Scripture says he said. Rather, Moses and Joshua merely relayed an inaccurate representation of the divine order. The basis for this appears to be little more than Boyd’s belief that such commandments are inconsistent with the image of Christ on the cross.

I fail to see how, even in a society where genocide was a regular part of warfare, God’s accommodation extended to allowing Scripture to say things that are just patently untrue. It’s one thing to say God permitted errors in arcane historical or scientific matters—irrelevant to the teaching of broader theological truth—to go uncorrected in Scripture. To allow for the memorialization of inaccurate statements about himself, however, seems to undermine the reliability of the entire Bible.

If God allowed divine messengers, such as Moses or Joshua, to misconstrue divine statements, then what trust can we place in those who recorded the events as Scripture?[4] Which divine messenger can we trust?

Lies as Accommodations?

The name Greg Boyd has always signified to me an effort to adhere faithfully to all of Scripture, even those aspects that are uncomfortable or difficult. I, therefore, find an ironic tinge in his arguments about accommodation.

The power of Boyd’s previous books rests in his insistence on allowing Scripture to speak for itself without forcing it into a predetermined theological box. In The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, however, Boyd engages in the exact type of loose hermeneutic he condemns elsewhere.

So, for example, Boyd elsewhere writes about accommodation in Scripture. Writing against Calvin’s view that descriptions of God changing his mind are mere accommodations, Boyd states,

If God must accommodate himself “because of our weakness” so “we may understand it,” how is it that Calvin is able to argue that we are not to understand God according to his accommodation? Calvin apparently believes that his “weakness” does not preclude him from attaining to God’s “exalted state.” To the contrary, he seems confident that he has attained it and is capable of communicating it to others…But if Calvin is capable of attaining this “height,” his argument is obviously undermined. Clearly, God does not have to accommodate himself “to our capacity so that we may understand.” Indeed, just as clearly, God’s accommodating himself to “our capacity” does not help us understand, according to Calvin. Otherwise Calvin wouldn’t have to work so hard to make sure we do not understand that God changes his mind when God himself tells us that he does.[5]

Cultural Accommodation in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God

I suppose Boyd could argue that arguments for philosophical accommodation are weaker than arguments for cultural accommodation. The former essentially asserts that the ancients were stupid and unable to grasp a sophisticated theology. The latter claims that God did not dispel some assumptions common to the culture into which he revealed himself.[6] Nonetheless, the issue remains.

Of course, we no longer live in a culture that glorifies genocide. Perhaps we, therefore, no longer need the accommodations God provides in these passages. This, however, inevitably raises the question, What other passages of Scripture do require accommodations to our culture? Does Boyd’s view of accommodation prompt us as readers to contort Scripture to fit into our cultural presuppositions? That is, do we label passages at odds with our own cultural milieu as accommodations in order to make Scripture more palpable to our own modern society? At what point does this end?

Subjective View of the Cross

Also, if we accept Boyd’s premise, we run the risk of creating a Christ in our own image. The system The Crucifixion of the Warrior God proposes allows us to determine which passages of Scripture run contrary to the cross by comparing them to what we perceive to be the most essential aspect of Christ’s sacrifice. This inevitably subjects the interpretation of Scripture to our individual biases.

So, for example, Boyd assumes without much explanation that the image of Christ on the cross matches his own pacifist, utterly non-violent view of God. He then reinterprets other passages of Scripture accordingly.

He fails, however, to explain his view of Christ’s death. Could not someone else see it as a valorous act of self-sacrifice? Could not that person interpret it as consistent with a warrior mentality? (See below) From that point of view, someone could use the same hermeneutic as Boyd and still interpret Scripture quite differently.

Questionable Exegesis

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God also encourages shoddy exegesis. Rephrasing Boyd’s argument on open theism elsewhere, I would ask.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that God wanted to tell us in Scripture that he really does sometimes [order or engage in violent acts]. How could he tell us this in terms clearer than he did in [these Old Testament passages]? He says here (and many other places), “[Destroy everything that breathes].” How could he say it any clearer? If this passage doesn’t teach us that God can truly [engage in and order violent acts], what would a passage that did teach this look like?[7]

Naturally, I am being tongue in cheek. I do believe there is much room for interpretation of these violent passages. I am, in fact, just as disturbed by them as Boyd. It’s not, however, as simple as saying they are mere accommodations. That is the same shortcut Boyd rightly condemns elsewhere in the works of Calvin, Piper, and Ware. These passages are difficult, but I am not satisfied with Boyd’s explanation.

Accommodating Culture

I believe there is a difference between making accommodations to cultural presuppositions and permitting the perpetuation of a lie. In a culture in which violence was acceptable and even expected, it makes sense that God would not insist that the culture adjust how it viewed past events. This is particularly true if that view prompted a fickle people to stay faithful to their God.

Had the authors of Scripture insisted after the fact that the ancient Israelites view the conquest as repugnant to the God who had promised them the land in the first place, they may have confused their audience and only distracted from God’s broader message. Therefore, God allowed the human authors, in recounting events, to reflect their own cultural attitudes about what happened.

This is very different, however, than allowing a lie to stand as truth. In the context of divine revelation, allowing people to believe that the earth revolves around the sun is an accommodation. Letting people think God ordered genocide when he did not is simply deceptive.

So, were God to order a violent act because it was a necessary evil—the least vile course of action for the given situation—it would matter little if God allowed the author of Scripture to fail to grasp the pain this act caused God. It would, however, matter a lot if God were to let people believe he did something he did not do.

If we cannot trust Scripture to convey accurately divine acts, what can we trust it to convey?

Attitude v. Narrative

Attitude tells us something about the author; narrative tells us something about God. If we cannot trust the truth of the biblical narrative, then what good is it?

Finally, I find Boyd’s statements about the lone individual conveying God’s messages the most concerning. If we can discount passages of Scripture merely because they reflect the reports of one man, then what parts of Scripture can we not disregard? If we don’t like what a passage tells us about God, we can simply say, “Well, that’s Moses’ opinion,” or, for that matter, “that’s Matthew’s opinion.”

Besides, this “hermeneutic would have us believe we are in a better position to know what God is ‘really’ like than Moses or Jeremiah.”[8]

Greg Boyd’s Warfare Motif

I believe The Crucifixion of the Warrior God fails to appreciate some of the solutions Boyd’s own warfare motif offers. If the cosmos is engaged in a war between the powers of good and evil, as Boyd argues in God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil, and God is not the all-controlling puppet master of hyper-Calvinism, would it not stand to reason that sometimes God only has limited choices available to him? If so, would it not also follow that sometimes all of those options are evil?

Could that not be the ultimate act of divine accommodation: God’s lowering himself to a situation where the corruption and evil that flows from the sinfulness of the world sometimes limits his choices to options that he despises?[9] In such a situation, would God not choose the lesser of two evils? Could that not be the “something else” that is going on?

I understand there may be some discomfort in that position. It does state that sometimes God is locked into doing something that he does not want to do. Yet, if humanity really does have genuine free will, this does not seem far-fetched. If God is not the only free agent at play, the constraints God placed on himself through the type of world he created could sometimes limit his choices.

The Evil of Violence

I would concede that all violence is evil. Consequently, God must hate it in all its forms. Yet, I do not believe Boyd adequately establishes that God, therefore, refuses ever to engage in any violence.[10] The type of world in which we live, the kind corrupted by sin and influenced by evil at every turn, may make violence the lesser evil in some circumstances.

Sometimes violence is necessary to open the gates of Auschwitz or to free the slaves. That does not mean that violence is good, but rather that it sometimes overcomes an even greater evil.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, in my opinion, fails to address this sufficiently.

God’s Glory or a Necessary Evil?

Perhaps that is what we see in the Old Testament. I think Boyd allows his pacifism to cloud his judgment here. He’s looking for a version of God that will never engage in any violence. It seems to me that he must force an unnatural reading of some texts to find it.

This is where The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is at its weakest.

I would point out here that American pacifism is, in my opinion, extremely nationalistic. I remember hearing Christian groups speak out against military action against ISIS in Iraq. They argued that such actions were inconsistent with the Christian message.

I can see their point in that I too believe all acts of violence are contrary to the Christian ideal. Yet, I found their presentation to be too ethnocentric. The choice was not between our bombing our enemy and our choosing peace. We were not the only relevant parties. The decision was between bombing our enemy or allowing the slaughter of innocents.

There was no good option.

Sometimes There is No Good Option

With regard to ISIS, we could have either engaged in acts of violence—evil—or watched as Middle Eastern Christians were massacred—also evil. You cannot bury your head in the sand, close your eyes to the ramifications of doing nothing, and then pretend that you are fulfilling the pacifist ideal. You are, in fact, merely allowing violence against another to secure peace for yourself. There is no peace where oppression exists just because conflict has ceased. The Man in the High Castle is not a portrayal of a peaceful society.

Perhaps God, like us, must sometimes choose between two evils. In such cases, we would expect that he would choose the lesser of the two. Doing nothing can be evil in itself. After all, anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins. (Jas 4:17)

God as Reluctant Warrior

According to Boyd’s warfare motif, before the cross, God had not secured a real foothold in the world. He was instead seeking to begin his plan of salvation through the Israelite people.

Perhaps, when he engages in violent behavior, it is because of the desperation of the times. Maybe violence is necessary to stave off some existential threat to God’s plan of salvation. Such violence, therefore, became the least evil choice available. It was required to prevent the complete loss of Israel and God’s plan of salvation for the entire world.

This does not mean that God is violent. Sometimes peaceful people do things in war they would never otherwise do but for the desperation of the situation. I’m reminded of the movie American Sniper. In one scene, Chris Kyle, looking through his scope, begs a small child holding an RPG not to point it at American forces. Kyle knows if the child does he will have to shoot him. That does not mean, however, that Kyle takes any joy in it.

I think Scripture reflects this attitude, particularly in the prophets where God mourns the sin of his people and their coming judgment.

Perhaps God accommodated his people’s attitude about his behavior and allowed them to think what was happening was a good thing. Maybe, however, it was just a necessary evil.

This is significantly different, however, than saying passages describing divine actions are simply untrue. To me, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is a bridge too far. Boyd disregards those aspects of Scripture he doesn’t like by calling them accommodations. He takes the shortcut for which he rightfully condemns his theological opponents elsewhere.

Misunderstanding Warrior Culture

I noticed in reading through The Crucifixion of the Warrior God that Boyd takes a few leaps of logic that appear apparent to him, but which I fail to grasp. He particularly fails to understand warrior culture. This is most apparent when he points to Christ’s behavior on the cross as a glaring example of extreme pacifism. Boyd assumes without explanation that Christ’s sacrifice demonstrates a commitment to eschew violence in every scenario.

I don’t think this necessarily follows.

Humble self-sacrifice is not necessarily a complete and unequivocal renunciation of violence in all circumstances. Indeed, it forms a central tenant of American military culture.

The quintessential act of valor, the stereotypical deed for which our country awards the Medal of Honor, is not one with high body counts. Rather, it is the use of one’s own body to smother a grenade, the sacrifice of one’s own life to save the lives of others. This nonviolent, selfless act is not contrary to, but consistent with, a warrior ethos of which violence is an essential part.

So, Christ’s throwing himself on the grenade for us on the cross, so to speak, does not necessarily mean that we should reinterpret the violent images of the Old Testament in light of what “we know” about God’s peaceful nature.

Weak but Perhaps Not Wrong

I am not, however, asserting that Boyd is necessarily wrong. Maybe the cross does demonstrate that God will not, under any circumstances, condone the use of violence. The argument Boyd presents in this regard, however, is weak and underdeveloped. It betrays an inherent bias that demonstrates the danger of his hermeneutic.

Boyd assumes Christ’s act on the cross supports his own pacifist philosophy. He then uses that to reinterpret the entire Bible. Yet, in considering this conclusion to be self-evident, he demonstrates the weakness of his argument.[11]

I affirm Boyd’s position that we should interpret all of Scripture through the work of Christ. I recognize that we have in him the full revelation of God. This argument is compelling. We must, however, take care in how far we go with it, lest we merely construct an image of Christ we like and then discount those passages of Scripture that don’t mirror the self-reflective image we created.[12]

What is Violence?

The failure of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God to define violence is another glaring omission.

That is, I am left wondering what type of behavior Boyd believes that God eschews. In some places, he appears to limit his definition of violence to the actual murder of human beings. I found this perplexing.

For example, Boyd argues that God had initially intended to drive the Canaanites out of Palestine nonviolently. Israel’s lack of faith, however, prevented his doing so. He points to passages of Scripture where God says that he will send the hornet to drive out the Canaanites, but then no such event ever occurs.

I fail to see how we could consider God’s sending swarms of hornets to drive whole people groups from their land nonviolent. The Holocaust may have been a much greater atrocity than the Trail of Tears, but that does not make Andrew Jackson a humanitarian.

Both acts were savage and barbaric. In the same way, while God’s using hornets—or other animals—to force people off their land may not be as bad as killing all of them, it is still a “use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.”[13]

However God sought to rid the land of the Canaanites, he still forced them off of their ancestral land. It is not as though, if Israel had had faith, Yahweh would have politely asked the Canaanites to leave and compensated them for their troubles.

Impractical Pacificism

Also, Boyd’s failure to define violence makes a practical implementation of his hermeneutic impossible. How are Christians to live in light of this?

So, for example, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God suggests that a military profession is unacceptable to Christians because of its inherently violent nature.

Yet, Boyd fails to explain how far we should take it. So, the military is off-limits because of the pacifist ideal. So then, what about law enforcement? Are believers barred from being police officers because they may have to engage in violence to protect others? Or is killing an active shooter to save innocent people an acceptable use of violence, while waging war to free Europe from the Nazis is not?

What about prosecutors? Should Christian lawyers[14] avoid serving as prosecutors because their work may result in the forcible locking away of another human being? In fact, should Christians denounce the use of prisons? Is forcing someone into a cage for years at a time an act of violence that Christ would condemn?

Should Christians work for the IRS? After all, the organization takes people’s money with the threat of force against anyone who doesn’t comply. Or does Boyd’s political beliefs make taxes ok and therefore consistent with his hermeneutic?

A Glaring Omission

I am not attempting to be crass or dismissive, as I find many of Boyd’s arguments compelling. I simply see his failure to answers some essential questions problematic for the hermeneutic he is pushing.

If we are going to believe that Christ taught the unequivocal denunciation of violence and we must, therefore, interpret the rest of Scripture in light of that, we should precisely define what violence is.

Boyd’s sympathy for annihilationism, for example, creates an apparent inconsistency with his nonviolent view of God. I understand how God’s snuffing out the existence of nonbelieving souls could be an act of mercy. This is particularly true when compared to the traditional view of hell. Does that then mean, however, that violence can sometimes be an act of mercy? Does it follow that euthanasia can be a nonviolent act?[15]

We must take care that we do not simply pursue a hermeneutic that makes it easier for us to feel good about the God we worship. Perhaps, we should be willing to admit that God cannot be domesticated or otherwise transformed to fit our tastes. Maybe this is where The Crucifixion of the Warrior God fails.

Wrath as Divine Withdrawal

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God also addresses the issue of divine judgment. Boyd’s argument appears to be that God does not engage in any violent behavior in retaliation for sin. That is, he does not sit as a cosmic judge doling out punishments and pouring out wrath. Instead, God simply withdraws and allows sin to run its course. Evil destroys evil by its very nature, he argues. Since God will not force himself on others, he will eventually withdraw from those that reject him.

I find this unpersuasive.

While I tend to agree that sin brings its own consequences, I am unconvinced that all Scripture that speaks about God’s judgment can be interpreted away as God’s merely withdrawing. This view also demonstrates an extreme naiveté and violates my own sense of justice. (In this, I admit my own biases.)

Aikido and The Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Boyd frequently speaks about Aikido, a martial art in which the practitioner turns the force of an opponent back on himself. Boyd argues that this is how God judges sin. Rather than meeting out some divine punishment, he merely withdraws and allows sin to have its way.

I fail to see how this removes God’s liability for the evil consequences of sin. I have a young son that cannot yet swim. Let’s say that, despite my warnings, he persistently tries to jump in the pool. Time and time again, I must save him from drowning. Time and time again, I command him to stop. If, after a while, I merely withdraw and allow him to sink to the bottom of the pool, would I not be culpable for his death?

I simply fail to see how God’s merely withdrawing saves him from the type of violence from which Boyd tries to keep him. His hermeneutic seems to make God like the boy with his thumb in the dike. If he pulls out his thumb and everyone dies, he is still at least somewhat culpable. It doesn’t matter that he did not directly send the water. He is culpable because he could have saved others, but he chose not to do so.

Is There No Need for Judgement?

Again, I am not trying to be dismissive or set up a strawman. I understand that there is a difference between my son and the human race. I also appreciate Boyd’s argument that we have free will. Indeed, God’s accepting our rejection and allowing our sin to have its way with us is consistent with that.

The fact remains, however, that allowing a violent action to occur that you can prevent makes you at least somewhat culpable in that act. Even if God is not, in a sense, to blame, I fail to see how he is not, on some level, complicit.

I also struggle with the notion that God does not ever directly judge sin. Here, however, I recognize that I am perhaps biased.

I am a lawyer, and I have at times in my professional career served as a prosecutor. In that job, I have seen terrible evils. I have seen a case of a young child sodomized to death with a stick by his parents. I have seen rapists that have brutally attacked and forever scarred their victims. And I have seen child pornographers and their images of horrendous cruelty and evil.

I have a difficult time believing that the God of Scripture, the God who states that he is the defender of the orphans and the widows, responds to such things by doing nothing and calling that justice.

Defender of the Defenseless

The suffering of the victims cries out for real justice. If God’s answer is to step back and allow sin to have its way with the perpetrator, for nature to run its own course, I cannot see how this is not just as brutal as the violence from which Boyd seeks to save the God of the Old Testament.

Perhaps it makes sense in the cosmic scheme, as The Crucifixion of the Warrior God seems to argue. But, to the vulnerable individual, to the orphan and the widow, it appears to me to be mere cruelty, a sacrifice of the weak and defenseless on the altar of some ideological purity.


In closing, I highly recommend The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. It is a powerful scholarly contribution and a good start. Yet, it creates a set of questions of its own without adequately addressing the inevitable concerns Boyd’s position raises.

Much is left to be done to work out this system thoroughly. It is yet to be seen whether it is a viable one. Perhaps Boyd will start the discussion that will spur a more robust and coherent system of thought. As the writings of Calvin took years to become what we now call Calvinism, perhaps this is the first step in a long process of development.

As a final note, there is a tendency within the Church today to blame all of its ills on Constantine. Greg Boyd is no exception. The cozying up of Church and State, Boyd argues, resulted in the loss of the Church’s dedication to non-violence. Pacifism was incompatible with the Church’s new position of influence.

Perhaps there is some truth in that, but I find it to be overly simplistic. We must avoid the Protestant trap of believing that everything Catholic—or, to a lesser extent, Orthodox—is a corruption of Christian truth as if the Church locked away the Bible upon the apostles’ death[16] only to bring it back out at Luther’s insistence.

The same Church that produced Leo X produced Francis of Assisi. We mustn’t make broad assumptions, and we must allow the voice of the Church through the centuries to guide us now as we continue to grapple with the beauty, mystery, and complexity that is our faith.

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[1] The wounds of the Reformation still linger strongly within the evangelical milieu.

[2] It also may teach us something about evangelism today.

[3] The proper context, I would argue, is a proper understanding and knowledge of Scripture, particularly what Christ would have considered Scripture. The problem then becomes the inevitable circular logic that results when applying Boyd’s hermeneutic. This method is therefore much less clean than The Crucifixion of the Warrior God suggests.

[4] Here it should be noted that we rely on Scripture to tell us what Moses and Joshua conveyed as divine commands. Therefore, if we say that Moses or Joshua got it wrong, we are really saying that Scripture got it wrong.

[5] Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove, Illinois: InteVarsity Press, 2001) 98-99.

[6] This is not to say, however, that either is that strong. One could quickly bolster Calvin’s argument by stating God needed to accommodate to the Israelites’ cultural assumptions about God. He did not see the need to correct their view that the gods were somewhat fickle. That is, Yahweh revealed himself in a manner that the Israelites could easily grasp. Cultural accommodation could perhaps only make real sense in matters that have little bearing on the message of Scripture. For example, God’s not feeling the need to correct an ancient belief that the sun revolved around the earth. It is difficult to argue, however, that statements about God’s character would be a distraction from the main purpose of Scripture.

[7] Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) 77-78.

[8] Boyd, Satan, 98.

[9] I am not here attempting to argue for my own position but instead attempting to square the violence of the Old Testament with the broader warfare motif Boyd elsewhere presents.

[10] The case of Ananias and Sapphira is a problem Boyd fails to address adequately. (Acts 5:1-11) I am unsatisfied with his explanation. This is a post-crucifixion narrative. It’s hard to argue that we must also reinterpret the New Testament through the cross. Yet, Boyd does. The inevitable conclusion is that the divinely-inspired authors of the New Testament failed to interpret events properly through the cross. Boyd then needs to correct Luke’s perception of things. I have great respect for Greg Boyd, but this appears to venture into the realm of the absurd. Boyd seems willing to reinterpret every verse of Scripture that does not fit his pacifist narrative through his understanding of the cross. At some point, it’s worth asking, If we can reinterpret difficult passages however we like, why do we need a Bible at all? What purpose does it serve?

[11] I would expect that Boyd could perhaps point to my military service as a demonstration of my own bias in interpreting the cross as I did above. This, I would respond, is the very point. It demonstrates the weak subjective nature of the exegetical method he proposes.

[12] The key to proper application of Boyd’s hermeneutic may be interpreting the cross in community with the wider Church, rather than individually. The practice of accepting the authority and insight of the wider community of believers—both living and dead—should not be limited to Roman Catholics.

[13] Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

[14] I assert, with more hope than certainty, that this is not an oxymoron.

[15] I am not attempting to set up a strawman or be dismissive. (The obvious counter is that annihilationism is only violent if human souls are inherently immortal. Otherwise, God would not have to snuff them out for them to cease to exist.) I am rather pointing out gaps that The Crucifixion of the Warrior God fails to address.

[16] Or perhaps, after putting it together.

See Also:

Greg Boyd’s Answer to the Problem of Suffering: A Review

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?



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