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Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence Hardcover – August 15, 2017
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"What if the harshest aspects of God in the Old Testament actually help us see the most beautiful aspects of Jesus on the cross? Sound like wishful thinking? Reading Cross Vision is like staring at a two-way mirror and suddenly being able to see what's happening on the other side. This book will show you how to read the Bible with fresh eyes and cause you to never see God the same way again! Easily one of the best and most transformative books I've ever read." --Jeremy Jernigan, lead pastor of Abundant Life Church, author of Redeeming Pleasure
"In Cross Vision, Gregory A. Boyd asks all the right questions about violence in the Old Testament, answering them in a unique and compelling way. The book is engaging, tightly written, and possesses theological integrity. My favorite part of the book is Boyd's discussion of cosmic principalities and powers active in the world today, a theme that gets far too little airplay in theological circles. This book is a must-read for all who have an interest in the topic of God and violence, as well as the hostile spiritual powers that operate in this present evil age."—Frank Viola, author of From Eternity to Here and Jesus Now
"If you love the Bible but are torn by its violence, use this book as your therapy. Turn its pages and allow Boyd to unwind the majesty of the way God works. Afterwards, you'll find yourself more in awe of the God of Israel and even more confident that this God has inspired the Scriptures as his word. You'll agree with me that Cross Vision was a book well worth your time."—David Fitch, Northern Seminary, author of Faithful Presence
"How shall we read the Old Testament with and through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ? Gregory A. Boyd is a welcome, leading voice in today's urgent discourse and development of cruciform hermeneutics. This concise follow-up to The Crucifixion of the Warrior God makes Boyd's unique contribution to that conversation accessible to any thoughtful Bible reader. An important point of reference from here on."—Brad Jersak, author of A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel
"Christians have long wrestled with understanding the violence attributed to God and God's people in the Old Testament, especially considering the contrasting picture of the loving, peacemaking Jesus seen in the New Testament. We reject Marcionism: we cannot accept that there are two different Gods in the two Testaments. Boyd has done Christianity a tremendous service by demonstrating respect for the scripture text, reverence for the character of God, and offering a way that we might understand the picture of a violent God."—Dennis R. Edwards, senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, author of 1 Peter: The Story of God Bible Commentary
"I don't judge you, I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do, once retorted Ned Flanders to his wayward neighbor, Homer Simpson. Cross Vision gets right to the heart of a predicament that has befuddled generations. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, so how come God, as presented in all those Old Testament stories, didn't seem capable of keeping his own rules. An extraordinarily thought-provoking introduction to one of the biggest questions asked by those both inside and outside the church around the world today." —Steve Chalke, founder and leader at Oasis Global and senior minister at Oasis Church Waterloo, London
"For those struggling to reconcile the character of Jesus with the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament, Cross Vision is a priceless gift. Within these pages, Boyd uses vivid imagery and approachable storytelling to systematically unwrap a Calvary-centered, scripture-based explanation that will resonate with the heart while satisfying the mind. In short, this powerful work presents a beautiful picture of God that can revolutionize one's life and faith."—Jessica Kelley, author of Lord Willing?: Wrestling with God's Role in My Child’s Death
"Many thoughtful Christians are dissatisfied with the usual alternative approaches to the Bible and theology. They are told they can be either liberal or conservative, but both approaches carry baggage many find too heavy to bear. Gregory A. Boyd's greatest contribution to contemporary Christianity is to provide a completely different alternative neither liberal nor conservative but thoroughly Christ and cross-centered. Cross Vision, like so many of Boyd's other books, presents an alternative paradigm to the usual ones and does it with charm and challenge."—Roger E. Olson, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University
About the Author
Gregory A. Boyd is an internationally recognized theologian, preacher, teacher, apologist, and author. He is the cofounder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood, Minnesota, the founder and President of ReKnew Ministries, and the author and coauthor of twenty-one books, including The Myth of a Christian Nation.
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As I read through the longer two-volume work, I found myself thinking about "Cross Vision" and what Greg Boyd should take out and leave in. While I liked the 2-volume work, I found much of it to be rather repetitive. He spent SO much time in "The Crucifixion of the Warrior God" (most of volume 1) defending the idea that the crucifixion of Jesus should be our guiding lens through which to read the entire Old Testament, including the violent portions of the Old Testament. Most of Greg's readers were probably already on board with this idea, and so this made much of what he wrote in the 2-volume work unnecessary. That is why this present volume, "Cross Vision," is such a breath of fresh air.
In a concise and easy-to-read way, Greg Boyd presents the central ideas of his cruciform hermeneutic (how to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ and Him crucified), while addressing some of the major issues related to this approach.
Also, this book includes more "illustrations" and stories than does the more scholarly work. This helps generate interest in the average reader and helps show why Greg's cruciform hermeneutic is helpful for life, theology, and ministry.
However, as with the two-volume work, although I agree with nearly everything Greg writes in the book, I once again found myself disagreeing with the central idea ... that God withdraws from Jesus on the cross, and therefore, in the violent portions of the OT, God is withdrawing Himself from the people and nations who experience/suffer violence. While Greg is absolutely right that "something else is going on" in those violent texts, I do not think that the "something else" is that God is withdrawing from Jesus or from other people.
I too have a cruciform hermeneutic, and I do not believe it is necessary to read Jesus' statement from the cross "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" as a statement about God withdrawing from Jesus. Therefore, I do not believe that it is necessary to read the violent portions of the OT as God withdrawing from other people/nations. I do not believe God ever withdraws from the objects of His love, whether it is Jesus or humans. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and since Jesus fully reveals God to us, then we must not say that God ever leaves us or forsakes us either. He did not forsake Jesus, and God does not forsake (or withdraw from) humans.
Anyway, ... yes, read this book. I recommend you read it before the two-volume work, "The Crucifixion of the Warrior God." Greg presents a spectacular vision of the love God has for all people, as revealed in the crucified Christ. Understand that Greg is absolutely correct that we must understand God, Scripture, and life through the lens of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But if you are uncomfortable with the idea that God withdraws when people need Him most, just recognize that there are other ways of understanding what happened to Jesus on the cross and what His crucifixion reveals about the violent portions of Scripture.
In chapter two, Boyd lays the foundation for his thesis: God is like Christ, exactly like Christ. In the words of Michael Ramsey, “God is Christlike, and in him is no unChristlikeness at all.” Since “the Son is . . . the exact representation of his [God’s] being” (Hebrews 1:3), Christ is the looking-glass through which we must see God. Paul writes, “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9), which means that Christ is the full reality of God. Everything else and, in particular, everything that came before him was a mere shadow. Now that the reality has arrived we shouldn’t understand God by what we see in the shadows. As Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Chapter three focuses on how Christ’s death reveals God. The hour of Christ’s death was the time when God was glorified or revealed (John 12:27–28). Boyd proceeds by emphasizing the centrality of the cross in Paul’s thinking: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The point is that God is not merely like Christ; God is like Christ crucified. God is cruciform love. And that idea exacerbates the problem with which Boyd began: “How do macabre portraits of God, such as the portrait of Yahweh commanding Israelites to mercilessly engage in genocide, reflect and point to the nonviolent, self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love of God that is supremely revealed on the cross?” Boyd believes the reality of Christ crucified should lead us to stop justifying the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament. What do we do when we are troubled by depictions of divine violence? Fully trust the revelation of God in Christ.
Chapter four shows that the idea of going beyond the surface meaning is a key aspect of the Christian faith, especially in relation to Jesus’ death. Something more was going on in the crucifixion of the first-century Jew named Jesus of Nazareth. On the surface, it looked like another criminal being executed by the Roman authorities. But with the eyes of faith, we know that the death of Jesus was God stooping down to take on the sin of his people. Likewise, Boyd views the Old Testament divine warrior texts as “literary crucifixes that bear witness to the historical crucifixion when interpreted through the looking-glass cross.” As “literary crucifixes” these passages display the extent to which God descended to allow his people to view him through their “fallen and culturally conditioned state.” They were making God look bad and even crucifying him in their writings.
Chapter five opens with two quotes from Martin Luther: “The cross alone is our theology” and “I see nothing in Scripture except Christ crucified.” In this chapter, Boyd’s goal is to show that although his proposal is new to most in the church, it has precedents in church history.
1) Luther clearly emphasized the crucified Christ in his interpretation of Scripture.
2) The New Testament authors didn’t settle for the surface meaning in their application of Old Testament texts. By noting this point Boyd is not suggesting that we should overlook the original meaning. He adheres to what he calls the Conservative Hermeneutical Principle, which he defines as sticking as close as possible to the original meaning of the passage. How does this principle work with the Old Testament texts ascribing violence to God? The cross requires him to reject the divine violence, but this principle compels him to affirm every other aspect of the Old Testament narratives.
3) The idea that God breathed out his Scriptures through the unique personalities and cognitive limitations of the human authors is firmly rooted in Christian thought. And that leads to the concept that many of the depictions of God are divine accommodations—they do not show what God is really like, only how he appears to be. How do we know God’s true nature? From the cross.
4) The concept or progressive revelation, which is nothing new in Christian theology, asserts that God revealed more of himself over time. Boyd acknowledges that his understanding of this concept differs from many Evangelicals who do not believe God accommodated error in the process.
Chapter six buttresses Boyd’s argument by providing evidence that God acted like a heavenly missionary reaching out to his people who were practicing immoral things and in the process had to accommodate to nonideal circumstances. How so?
1) God accommodated his ideal for marriage with the people’s practice of polygamy, concubinage, and divorce.
2) God accommodated to Israel’s desire for a human king (1 Samuel 8). He then continued working with the institution of kingship.
3) God accommodated to the common practice of animal sacrifice. Everyone in the Ancient Near East practiced animal sacrifice long before the Hebrews arrived on the scene. Although the Hebrews embraced the same practice, later biblical authors describe God as despising animal sacrifices (e.g., Isaiah 1:11, 13; Hosea 6:6; Hebrews 10:8). What does this mean for the topic at hand? If God was accommodating to the practice of animal sacrifice, what do you think he was doing with violence against humans?
4) Finally, Boyd shows that God was accommodating to his people with the entire Mosaic law. The law was a temporary guardian intended to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:23–24), and it has now become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
Chapter seven introduces the psychological concept of projection—we see in others what we expect to see. Therefore, “the way God appears to people says at least as much about them as it does about God” (see 2 Samuel 22:26–27). The revelation of God then is adjusted to the spiritual level of the audience (John 16:12; Mark 4:33–34). Similarly, there are different levels of spiritual teaching (1 Corinthians 3:1–2; Hebrews 5:11–14). This idea helps to explain why God was depicted as a violent deity by Old Testament authors—that’s the way they saw him and in response that’s the way they acted. Moreover, if the Israelites had completely trusted in Yahweh they wouldn’t have had to lift their swords. How would the Israelites have moved into the land of Canaan? Perhaps through hornets driving out the Canaanites (Exodus 23:28–30) or through the land becoming unfruitful (Leviticus 18:24–25). Boyd concludes that those removal methods look a lot “more Christlike than the massacre-them-all strategy!” What about the command Moses heard from Yahweh to destroy the people (Deuteronomy 7:1–2)? Boyd believes Moses rightly heard God say that he wanted his people to dwell in the land, but Moses wrongly assumed God wanted them to slaughter the people.
Chapter eight identifies parallels between the Old Testament portraits of God and other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures. The Canaanites, for example, depicted their god Baal as rebuking the waters and causing them to flee, as ascribed to Yahweh in the Psalms. This chapter continues by showing how the conflict-with-chaos motif in the Ancient Near East is evident in the Hebrew Bible. Boyd believes this shows that the biblical authors, therefore, were influenced by their surrounding culture. Every nation in the ANE believed their chief god helped them win battles and Israel was no different.
Chapter nine is focused on the meaning of Christ’s death or the atonement. Boyd asserts that God the Father did not actively kill Jesus, rather God withdrew from Jesus allowing other agents to do what they wanted to do. The cross reveals that “God judges sin by turning people over to the consequences of their sin” and it shows “how God defeats evil,” which Boyd calls an “Aikido-style of judgment.” By connecting certain dots, Boyd says that God set up an event that got “the kingdom of darkness to orchestrate . . . its own demise.” Divine judgment is divine withdrawal allowing evil to punish evil.
Chapter ten differentiates between judicial and organic punishment. With organic punishment, the consequences are built into the act itself, such as the harmful effects of taking drugs. Boyd says, “The Bible generally construes God’s punishment of sin as organic in nature.” God does not actively punish because God’s judgments are described in terms of “divine abandonment.” He then marshals an impressive number of Scriptures in the Old Testament to support his point followed by New Testament examples, such as Romans 1 where God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts” (vv. 21–23).
Boyd says chapter eleven provides the strongest evidence for his cross-centered approach to biblical interpretation. He highlights biblical clues that support the idea that God was not actually the one doing the work of destruction. For example, in the killing of the firstborn Egyptian males it was “the destroyer” who served as the executioner (Exodus 12:23). Likewise, the judgment that Jeremiah initially ascribed to God (Jeremiah 13:14), was actually carried out by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 21:7). And while Yahweh threatened to crush Judah (Lamentations 1:15), he actually only withdrew (2:3) and abandoned his sanctuary (2:7). In the process of withdrawing, “what the true God actually did was humbly allow himself to appear guilty of things he in fact merely allowed.” The disasters that came on Israel were not the result of God attacking his people; they were the consequence of God forsaking his people (Deuteronomy 31:16–18). Boyd then cites several more Scriptures to support his argument.
Chapter twelve demonstrates that when the violence ascribed to God in Scripture cannot be attributed to human agents, it must be attributed to cosmic agents. Boyd points to many Scriptures to show that the New Testament authors viewed the world as filled with demonic agents. He then focuses on Paul’s statements ascribing violence to cosmic forces, such as the destroying angel (1 Corinthians 10:10), referring to the story in Numbers 16.
Chapter thirteen zooms in on the Genesis flood story. After explaining how all of creation is linked together in Scripture, Boyd concludes “the people of Noah’s day experienced God’s wrath in the same Aikido-like way Jesus did on Calvary.” God withdrew and the forces of chaos were released.
In chapter fourteen, Boyd conveys a cross-centered interpretation of the account of the Egyptian army drowning in the Red Sea. His primary evidence is that subsequent biblical authors interpreted this story as a conflict-with-chaos passage (e.g., Psalm 74:13–14; Isaiah 51:9–10; Habakkuk 3:15). Boyd concludes, “It was the sea monster, not God, who devoured Pharaoh’s army!”
Chapter fifteen engages with other Old Testament texts, such as Elijah calling down fire on a group of men, Elisha calling down a curse on forty-two boys who were subsequently mauled by bears, and Samson’s acts of violence. Boyd’s interpretative conclusion in this chapter is predictable.
Chapter sixteen examines the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. In this chapter Boyd departs from his usual interpretative strategy by arguing that God didn’t merely stoop down to allow Abraham or others to believe he gave the violent command to Abraham, but that he actually gave it. God had to help Abraham experience a paradigm shift. And he did so by playing the role of a pagan deity, who commonly required child sacrifice, but then he clearly showed Abraham that he was different. Rather than demanding child sacrifice, God provides the sacrifice. It was a lesson Abraham would never forget.
Regarding Boyd’s proposal, he has rightly placed his finger on a sensitive area in Christian thought. Since the beginning, Christians have been employing various interpretive strategies with morally revolting parts of Scripture. In the third and fourth century, for example, Ambrose and Augustine allegorized disturbing texts. In fact, that type of interpretation helped Augustine move closer to the Christian faith. Moreover, the idea that we know God from Christ is so clearly expressed in many New Testament Scriptures that it should be uncontroversial. I also believe Boyd is right to highlight the death of Christ as the supreme act of divine love.
However, at points it seemed like the emphasis on the cross excluded other parts of Christ’s life. When Jesus said, “The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (John 12:45), he wasn’t on the cross. His entire life reveals the Father: birth, teachings, healings, eating with sinners, confrontation with religious authorities, death, and resurrection. Again, I think his death is the supreme act of love, but if “God is love” and Christ reveals the God who is love then we have to see divine love from beginning to end, from his birth to his resurrection. It’s like seeing a mountain range with one mountain that towers over the others. It’s right to highlight the one prominent mountain, but not to the neglect of the entire range. Why is this important? Because if we only see God in Christ on the cross, we will conclude that God’s love is only expressed in that one way. That and only that is divine love. But love takes different forms depending on the situation. When Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees that was also an expression of divine love. And the resurrection was divine love because it was the loving God vindicating his beloved Son. I don't think there is a recipe to get the right proportion, but I believe all the ingredients from Christ's life must be added to the mix.
I agree that the concepts of divine abandonment and the organic nature of judgment are thoroughly biblical. However, when it comes to God’s presence it’s important to distinguish between various aspects. For example, God’s sustaining presence is with all living creatures and in that sense, God is always with us, no matter what. That's why Paul was able to tell his idol-worshiping audience, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But of course, there is another sense in which God is not with the person carrying out murder in the same way God is with the person serving the poor. I’m not sure what to call that, maybe God’s supportive presence. Furthermore, in Christ God did not ultimately leave sinners, but reached out to us, and lived with us. We can call that God’s incarnational presence. The point is that it may be too simplistic to talk about divine abandonment without referring to other dimensions of divine presence.
I also appreciated Boyd's insights on the idea that other agents rather than God were carrying out the violence. There really is some interesting biblical data to support that point. But, as others have noted, if God backs away and allows destructive forces to work, isn't God still part of the process?
Perhaps these concerns are addressed in "The Crucifixion of the Warrior God," which I haven't read. I think Boyd did an excellent job of condensing his 1400-page work into this book. It’s always difficult to decide what to leave out, and he had to leave out a lot with this book. Overall, I found his interaction with Scripture and secondary sources to be thought-provoking and I enjoyed how he began each chapter with an interesting life illustration. I have two degrees in biblical studies and I almost felt like reading this book gave me a third degree.
In conclusion, Boyd's proposal is based on the idea that God is completely nonviolent. How do we know? Because Jesus taught and practiced nonviolence and Jesus is the full revelation of God. If you can crack that foundation, the entire proposal would fall to the ground. Consequently, Scriptures that depict divine violence must be reinterpreted. And Boyd’s way of interpreting these disturbing texts is to see them as “literary crucifixes” requiring readers to go beyond the surface meaning. In particular, they show us that God allowed himself to be viewed as a pagan deity or a warrior God, but when the full revelation of God arrived in Christ that perception was shattered.
(Boyd's book gives a unique view of Old Testament violence. For other perspectives on the challenging topic of hell, see my book: Surprised by Hell: Unexpected Discoveries in the Bible and Church History.)
But I wasn't expecting the devotional quality of this book. I found it was a surprisingly uplifting read... I guess that is what happens when you get new insights that confirm that God is as good as you hoped. The real character of God shines through.
I appreciate Greg's honesty at actually dealing with those troubling stories from the Old Testament in a Biblical and readable way.
Most recent customer reviews
Home run, he sheds light on many contradictions between the OT and the NT.