Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Reverse-Psychology Hermeneutic of Greg Boyd

Surprise, surprise…I disagree with Greg Boyd...again.

On the face of it, I believe that Greg Boyd’s view of God, if I understand the openness theology correctly that men like Dr. Boyd hold to (i.e. that God knows everything knowable, but that future events are not knowable, therefore God doesn’t know the future), is such a change in the understanding of who God is that he has departed from what can be considered an orthodox theology and is a heretic.

That being said, I would like to address a few of his points from a recent blog post “Jesus’ Repudiation of Old Testament Violence” and then in a separate entry, I’ll offer a few counter thoughts that directly apply to what seems to be the issue when people try to reconcile what they understand as the difference between the vengeful and violent God of the Old Testament and the meek and peaceful Jesus of the New Testament.

From Dr. Boyd’s Blog –

I haven’t been following his blog, but the title of his recent post caught my attention. Apparently he has been blogging about “the problem of reconciling the Old Testament God of war with the God of the cross revealed in Jesus” lately and, for the life of me, I don’t understand how a Christian scholar doesn’t more easily see the resolution to this question. But I guess, there is no reconciliation needed if you properly understand both the Old Testament and New Testament, God, and salvation…but that is where my later thoughts tie into this issue.

Dr. Boyd references Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew when He addresses the Law and its standards,

38 "You have heard that it was said, `AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' 39 "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matthew 5:38,39)

The Biblical context for the eye-for-an-eye standard is found in Exodus 21:23ff and Leviticus 24:17ff and in both cases Moses is writing about legal standards of governing the people. In other words, this is the law given so that an offender would know what his punishment would be if he were convicted of fighting and hurting or killing another (the person in view in Exodus is a pregnant woman’s prematurely born child). If the child is stillborn or dies because of the premature delivery, then the attacker’s life is forfeit. If the child is injured in any way, then you are to deal with the attacker in the same way – if the child loses an eye then so does the attacker.

23 "But if there is {any further} injury, then you shall appoint {as a penalty} life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Ex 21:23-25)

I sincerely reject Dr. Boyd’s categorization of the Law here merely as violence and not as an act of justice for the wronged. On a side note, those concerned with social justice seem most blinded to actual justice in the punishing of criminals…but again, I digress.

This is the standard in their justice system, their penal codes. The parallel passage in Leviticus is the same, but it includes the gracious provision,

“There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 24:22)

This was the law of the land, regardless if you were the poorest of the poor or if you were the richest of the rich or even f you were an outsider. As I understand Jesus’ audience at the time and His words “do not resist an evil person” correctly, then He is not talking about the correct application of the Law as it was to be applied under the rule of Moses and the judges or the kings. Christ is not talking about legal punishment, but about the attitude of the one being offended. If someone is going to take something from you, your attitude as the offended party should not be to resist or fight back, but to give it to them. Christ is not revoking the legal standard or chastising the Old Testament Law in any way. Whatever else may be true of Jesus’ words here to the assembled masses, He is not repudiating the Old Testament Law and its “violent” punishments, although again – I object to the way that Dr. Boyd has categorized this.

Furthermore I think Dr. Boyd does a disservice to the Bible and to his readers in the way that he strings together his various comments. He begins with the punishment of an eye for an eye with its command to show no pity comparing it to Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek (where Dr. Boyd’s asserts that Jesus is telling people to show pity, something the text does NOT say) right before this amazing quote,

“the Old Testament allowed Israelites to hate their enemies and sometimes command them to slaughter them”

Thus, whether intended or not (c’mon, I don’t believe it was unintentional) he is further arguing for the vile nature of the “violence” of the punishments for criminals by linking it to the phantom idea that the Old Testament allowed people to hate their enemies. Yes God did command the utter slaughter of Israel’s enemies primarily in the conquest of the land, that is true. But to say that the “Old Testament allowed Israelites to hate their enemies” without trying to qualify what that means is utterly reckless. Hatred for hatred’s sake was never condoned nor was allowed as some non-wrong in Scripture. There is hatred of God’s enemies because God’s wrath was against them, holy indignation, righteous anger – but not a self-centered hatred of others because of a personal reason. Shame on you, Dr. Boyd.

Regarding Dr. Boyd’s comments relating Jesus’ rebuking of Peter:

Peter is rebuked for striking the ear off of one of the men coming to arrest Jesus because, as Dr. Boyd says, “Peter drew his sword in self-defense — acting in accordance with Old Testament norms.” Old Testament norms?!?!? So Dr. Boyd must believe that He would be Scripturally bound to not defend his wife or children from a rapist or murderer. I sincerely hope that he is hypocritical in his statement here, and that is no joke.

Leaving aside the issue of self defense and whether it only has its basis in “Old Testament norms” or is a belief that is consistent with the New Testament, why was Peter scolded? In both Matthew 26:53 and John 18:11, the reason given is so that Scripture would be fulfilled (Matthew 26:53) and that God had prepared this to happen (John 18:11). That is why it was wrong for Peter to come to Christ’s aid at that time. I am again amazed at the reckless mishandling/avoiding of the direct context of the situation he’s talking about. And by the way, Dr. Boyd, don’t forget to read Luke’s gospel where just before Jesus is arrested He tells the disciples to take a sword when the go out, and if they don’t have one now – to get one (Luke 22:36-38).

And finally, Dr. Boyd leaves us with his teaser thought on perhaps what may be going on in the Old Testament with the violence that is in there.

“Is it possible that some divinely inspired material is not supposed to reveal to us what God is like but what he is not like? Is it possible that some material is inspired precisely because God wants us to follow Jesus’ example and repudiate it?”

I’m not sure where to even begin in commenting on this bizarre hermeneutical idea. But I will deal with the example that he brings up; Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. In an effort to give some sort of footing for his crazy “I commanded those people to do things that were wrong to show you that they were wrong” hermeneutic, here’s his explanation of what was going on in Abraham’s head.

“Abraham believed God told him to sacrifice his child, yet he trusted that God was not really like the bloodthirsty Canaanite god Molech and thus would not make him follow through with his request, even though he had no choice but to move forward in obedience. He trusted that God would supply the commanded sacrifice, if only at the last minute (Gen. 22:8).”

Perhaps I missed something in Genesis 22:8, but Abraham’s comment was “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Now whether or not Abraham had any thought that God would miraculously have a lamb appear for them to use, or if he was looking forward to the coming Messiah, or if he was referring to the fact that God would provide the sacrifice – in Isaac the miraculously born child, this text doesn’t specify. But Scripture does tell us what Abraham believed, and that is found in Hebrews 11.

“19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” (Hebrews 11:19)

I think that it would be more Biblically consistent to say that Abraham believed that since God commanded him to sacrifice his son and he also knew that this son was the promised heir and fulfillment of God’s promises who had to be alive to do those things, then if God made him sacrifice his son He would also raise him from the dead. Hebrews is clear that Abraham’s faith was not in God to provide a substitute lamb at the altar, but for God to raise the dead! Now whether or not these thoughts crossed Abraham’s mind or similar prayers came across his lips, we aren’t told. To base a theology of reverse psychology on this text, or to use this text as a proof text for this wacky idea, is as foolish as…well, it’s as foolish as open theism. So I guess it’s par for the course.

Soli Deo Gloria

1 comment:

alaaji said...

Thank you for this post. Some of my friends are listening to some of Greg Boyd's stuff and I was doing a little research on him and I found your blog. I'm definitely going to have to warn them about his teaching.

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