Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Woodland Hills Church Has A Different Gospel

On 4/25/10, Dr. Greg Boyd (senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church) contrasted the gospel as he understands it with the gospel that “is probably the most prevalent version in America.”1 Now even though his articulation of the gospel which focuses on the penal substitution understanding of the cross of Christ was presented with a straw-man setup, he was clearly distancing himself from it.

What straw-man did he use? Briefly: his characterization of God the Father as only angry, his comparison to being put in the garden as putting a cookie in front of a child and telling them not to eat it” 2 , that the nation of Israel was an attempt to “try to fix the problem” by “giving them a bunch of rules” but this plan failed3 , and that Christ coming and dying to appease the wrath of the Father was “plan b”. 4 Now this may be how open theists who reject penal substitution articulate the gospel, but it is not a gospel summary that not many other than the most flippant of relevant church type pastors would characterize in this way.

Dr. Boyd then went on to say, “I submit to you that while that version of the gospel I just gave you bears some resemblance to the true gospel, it’s actually a rather gross distortion.” 5 What is missing, or what is wrong, with the gospel that Dr. Boyd opposes so greatly? He begins to explain it by saying that the fall of Adam is all about changing our worldview from a covenant worldview to a contract worldview. Boyd sees the covenant worldview as one of an undifferentiated universal love and the contract worldview as a quid pro quo worldview that is concerned about rule breaking. He then summarizes the problem inherent with the theology of penal substitution in this way,

“[In the version of the gospel that I reject] we make God out to be the accuser…so we cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ because we’re seeing God as the accuser. Which means that we’re seeing the accuser as God. And who is the accuser? It’s Satan, and that’s been his plan all along – he wants to be God. So if he can get these miserable subjects to think that he is God, then he’s accomplished that.” 6

As best as I can tell from listening and re-listening to this sermon, at best Dr. Boyd just said that I (because I believe in penal substitution) worship a satanic image of God. At worst, he says that I actually worship Satan. Either way would put Dr. Boyd and me on different sides of the Galatians 1 divide.

Disagreeing with Greg Boyd is not and cannot be seen as an intramural disagreement among Christians. Greg Boyd says the gospel I believe in and proclaim is a gross distortion of the true gospel. Either Greg is a heretic or I am – there are no two ways about it.

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:6-10)

Soli Deo Gloria.

1 Quote begain around 10:12 into his sermon
2 10:20
3 10:39
4 10:50
5 11:00
6 26:25


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Jonathan said...

You have made penal substitution itself into an idol, which it was never meant to be. It is a theory of atonement, one of many, that is used to help us understand the mystical reality of our being made one with Christ. Some are more valid than others, yes, but they are all just mere attempts made throughout history to explain a spiritual reality. And, of course, any human attempt to reconcile the whole thing is going to fall woefully short. Penal substitution falls woefully short.

Greg Boyd is not a heretic. He believes in Christ's atonement. You need to be careful when you say someone preaches a different gospel. Very careful.

EJ said...

Thanks for your comment, Jonathan.

Since it’s been over two years since I wrote this, I took the time to go back and review it and think about it before I responded.

First of all, I wonder if you agree with Dr. Boyd’s position and characterization of the gospel and penal substitution. I guess that you do by your description that it falls “woefully short”. Remember, it was Dr. Boyd who characterized what I believe as basically worshipping Satan. If that’s not a worthy of a charge of heresy (from his side or mine)…I’m not sure what would qualify as one. Do you agree with his straw-man characterization of the gospel and substitutionary atonement? Whether or not you believe it is a straw-man is irrelevant at this point, the question is whether you agree with the issue as Dr. Boyd framed it.

So from Dr. Boyd’s standpoint, there can’t be fellowship in what the gospel is between him and those who believe and the bible’s teaching on penal substitution. I would make the same distinctions of orthodox/heresy as Boyd does, but he did it here in what he said, I merely responded to it.

Secondly: To say that Dr. Boyd (or anyone else, for that matter) believes in Christ’s atonement - when the discussion is about the meaning and implications of the atonement of Christ - is a vacuous statement and means absolutely nothing. It’d be something like this: You’re a “trickle-up” economist and I’m a “trickle-down” economist, but we both believe in “economic policy” and therefore there is some unity/common bond in what we believe. That’s foolish and making that statement doesn’t actually mean anything. What he believes the atonement to be is very different than what I believe in.

Thirdly – I’ve penal substitution into an idol? Really? Are the bodily resurrection, virgin birth, eternality, or His status as one Person in the Triune Godhead an idols as well (assuming you believe in these)?

If I preached a message denying Jesus’ bodily resurrection, I’d not be preaching the biblical gospel of Jesus. If I preached a message denying that Jesus was born of a virgin, I’d be denying a key part of who Jesus is and how the Bible describes him and I’d not be preaching the biblical gospel of Jesus. If I preached that Jesus was not a Person in the Triune Godhead or that there infact is no Triune Godhead, I would not be preaching the biblical gospel of Jesus. These are not idols. They are discernable fundamental truths about who Jesus is and what He has done, and denying their truthfulness changes the message to such a degree that the message is no longer the biblical gospel and would be subject to separation on the Galatians divide. In the same way, Penal Substitution is not an idol and is a truth that separates people according to that Galatians divide.

I have not said that there are not many facets to understanding what Jesus did on the cross. There are. But the denial of and disbelief in the primary one pictured in Scripture is one that Christians have – for ages – seen as heresy because of how the Scriptures describe the work of Christ.

I’ve had very lengthy and face to face conversations with individuals who reject penal substituation and I’ve said this: to be unclear/unsure about something is one thing, but to knowingly deny it or teach against it is another.

I stand by my label of Dr. Boyd as a heretic. His position on this issue alone is worthy of that. But other positions would also incur this status (i.e. open theism).

Thanks for your comment, Jonathan.
I hope you see the truth of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for sinners.

Jonathan said...

Wow...just wow...

We're talking about an excellent Bible scholar as well as a fervant-hearted pastor. We're talking about someone who has talked about a radical change of heart at the time of his conversion.

Do you know what you're saying when you call him a heretic? You're saying his theology excludes him from the Kingdom You're saying he doesn't know Christ.

No, I don't agree with Boyd on everything, and I think the theory of penal substitution is helpful to an extent, but it is not meant to be anything more than a tool for understanding the atonement.

It's not found explicitly in Scripture. In fact, penal substitution, or the forensic theory of atonement, wasn't taught in the early church at all. Anselm's satisfaction theory was the closest idea before the reformation, and p.s. seems to be a derivative of that.

Today, the neo-reformers have turned this explanation into a basic doctrine, which is a mistake. It was never intended to be more than an explanation. Check out Christus Victor, Anselm's satisfaction, and recapitulation to get a more complete view.

So, again, penal substitution can be a helpful tool, but it is not more than a theory. Putting in the same category of doctrines as the virgin birth and bodily resurrection (in which I and Greg Boyd believe wholeheartedly, by the way) is nothing short of ridiculous. A quick read of a good systematic theology survey would tell you this much.

Seriously, man, I admire the zeal with which you approach this material, but I would highly suggest you study the history of atonement theory on your own.

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