29 July 2008

Boyd and Christ's Scope, Pt 2: God as Being vs. Qualities

Last time we looked at some thoughts from Greg Boyd regarding the apparent contradiction in Christ's "love" nature in the New Testament and God's "warrior" nature in the Old Testament. I gave two reasons why I feel Boyd is struggling: his knowledge of Christ's qualities is incomplete, and he is mistaken on the scope to which we are to imitate Christ. I got going on the problem of reducing our view of Christ to unconditionals instead of viewing him as God, a being. And God is big. So I guess another way to formulate this first mistake is that we need to view God (and Jesus) as a being instead of reducing Him to qualities. Let me elaborate on this.

Here is how I would instead formulate the problem presented by Boyd:

- God commanded, "Thou shalt not kill," Deu. 5:17.
- Then God commanded, "You shall kill him," Deu. 13:9.
- God also said, "I kill," Deu. 32:39.

So we see contradictory commands from God to the Israelites, and that God is somehow above the law that he instituted. If the command is not to kill, then killing must be sin. But if God commands to kill, He is commanding sin. And if God kills, He would be sinning. What's going on here?

If there is a moral law over-arched by a principle of love, then why is God a killer?

(In my formulation of the problem, I didn't even present Christ as part of it. I don't think we need to. If we understand Christ's full nature and the proper scope of his teachings, the problem is the same. The fullness of the problem is in the OT, just as I believe God's full nature is seen in the OT.)

The problem, again, is that we tend to try to reduce God to a set of qualities instead of seeing Him as a being. It is important to see the inherent asymmetry when comparing humans to God. He is the Creator; we are the created. He seeks His own glory; we seek not our own glory, but His. Not my will, but His will be done. This helps us understand why it seems that God is above the law. If there is a moral law over-arched by a principle of love, to require God to abide by that law puts God under it. God, by definition, is not under anything. We would need to worship that law as the highest, not God. This is the distinction between God as being and God as mere qualities. As Arthur Pink wrote:

We affirm that he is under no rule or law outside of his own will and nature, that God is a law unto himself, and that he is under no obligation to give an account of his matters to any... In the final analysis, the exercise of God's love must be traced back to his sovereignty, or, otherwise, he would love by rule; and if he loved by rule, then is he under a law of love, and if he is under law of love then is he not supreme, but is himself ruled by law.

So I suggest a different approach. Let's start with the principle that God, being the Creator, is owner of all things and all people (Ps. 24:1, Exo. 19:5, Job 41:11, etc.). All is His. Then, He can kill because life is His to give and His to take. We cannot kill because life is not ours to take. God can command us to kill in specific instances if that is what He desires. After all, it's His stuff. This requires us to understand God as an active being whose ways are higher than ours, instead of reducing him to abstract qualities or unconditionals. It requires us to trust Him.

If this is the case, does God just do whatever He pleases for no reasons at all? I don't think so. His ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:9), but that alone says that He has ways. And Scripture helps us grasp those ways. So while we should not demand of God a reason for all He does (but understand that He does have a reason), we can seek to understand God's reasons through His qualities as Scripture describes.

What's more in dealing specifically with killing is that man is made in God's image: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image," Gen 9:6. So for a man to kill another man is a stab at not only God's stuff, but also God's nature. But for God to kill a man is not a stab at Himself because we now bear a tainted image, one stained with sin. We know that God is just, so for God to take life from a sinful being is entirely proper for Him to do.

So to seek understanding for why God kills and commands the Israelites to kill so brutally, I suggest considering three qualities, or attributes, of God: faithfulness, justice, and love. To proceed we can look directly at the reason God Himself gave:

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deu 9:5

God says the Canaanites are to be destroyed because of their wickedness: this is His justice. God says He made a promise and He will fulfill it: this is His faithfulness. God says He will do this despite the stubbornness of His own people: this is His love.

So we see God's qualities showing through His actions, even those actions we might find terrible. We should not turn this on its head by starting with simplified qualities and then force God to adhere. Let's remember the asymmetry, that He is Creator and we are created. And if we ever think that we can reduce the Creator's being to fit in created heads, it is only by His love as shown ultimately in Jesus that we may be humbled to our proper place.

This includes me.

25 July 2008

Boyd's Confusion on Christ's Scope and Nature

A couple posts ago we talked about this thing called Kingdom theology and addressed the concept of imitating Jesus. The fundamental idea we came to is that there is a proper scope and extent to which it is right to imitate Jesus, and a scope or extent to which it is improper.

To further entertain these matters, I have read all of Greg Boyd's blog posts up to the present (starting back on March 14 here) in which he addresses the problem of reconciling the warrior nature of God in the Old Testament to the love nature of Christ in the New Testament. He does not have an answer presently, but rather his blog posts are his thinking-out-loud to hopefully reach a solution. He says, "In my opinion, this is the most challenging objection to the Christian faith and most difficult theological question of the Christian faith."

Let me state right now why I feel Boyd is struggling with this issue. He is mistaken on the scope to which we are to imitate Christ, and his knowledge of Christ's qualities is incomplete.

Let me also say that Boyd is a very smart guy and far better read than me. A better 'riter, too. There's still hope however that I am better at 'rithmetic!

In Boyd's theology:

Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God, superseding all previous revelations (Heb. 1:1-3). With his radical teachings about unconditional love for enemies and unconditional refusal to engage in violence, Jesus brings to a pinnacle the unfolding peace tradition of the Old Testament while further confirming that this tradition (not the war tradition) expresses the true heart of God. This beautiful revelation of God’s heart in Christ contrasts with the grotesque divine commands to slaughter people in the strongest possible way.

So to know the true nature of God, he says we are to look at Christ. Any understanding we can get of God's nature from the Old Testament must conform to what we see in Christ. In discussing a book authored by Eller, he says:

Eller rightly sees that we must read the Old Testament in light of Christ, not qualify the revelation of God in Christ on the basis of the Old Testament. He rightly sees that the Old Testament is authoritative to disciples of Jesus only insofar as it points toward, and concurs with, what we learn about God and the Kingdom through Christ.

I can't help but wonder if this whole discussion is nothing more than Boyd trying to figure out why he carries around the Old Testament in his Bible. The only reason he seems to have is that Jesus quoted from the OT, and so in imitating Christ he must use the OT somehow. Sadly, I think many Christians do not think there is much point to the OT either. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." But I guess even that does not have much force when Boyd throws around the possibility that parts of the OT aren't inspired... oh well.

First, let me address the mistake of an incomplete understanding of Christ's qualities. Notice Boyd was quoted above to say Christ taught "unconditional refusal to engage in violence." This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, I assume, where Jesus teaches, for one, to "turn the other cheek." This certainly seems to be unconditional. But how does this jive with Jesus turning over tables and driving people out of the temple with a whip (Jn 2:15)? Is this an unconditional refusal to engage in violence? I don't see it.

And for you tree-hugging types, you ought to take issue with Jesus cursing a fig tree to its withery death (Mat 21:19). That's not a very gentle Jesus.

So part of the problem with seeing a contradiction between God's warrior nature and Christ's love nature is that Jesus is painted to be void of a warrior nature, when in fact that is incomplete. Kingdom theology seems to have reduced Christ's person to ideologies of pacifism and hippie love. We must agree that Christ "is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (Heb 1:3), but that does not warrant us to reduce Christ to unconditionals and call it God's nature. God is not as simple as we might like Him to be.

And in an attempt to keep each post finishable for you in one sitting, I'll have to continue later...

20 July 2008

Spirit-controlled self-control

I have determined to display self-control.

Part of the motivation is that at a certain point sin simply becomes ridiculous, and I say to myself, "Enough! This is stupid."

Another motivation is to live in accordance with 1 Pet. 2:3-11 where we find, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with... self-control."

Most times when I determine to do something I follow through, just because of my personality (or maybe German blood). In this case though I knew something had to be different. Here's why: should I overcome sin because of my determination, I might become quite proud of myself. "God must be proud of me! Aren't you pleased with me, God!" would be my response. Something isn't right here.

A part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is self-control. So I have come to understand that only when I am in submission to God and "drunk" (Eph. 5:18) in His Spirit can I be empowered to display self-control. It is also important to consider what precedes "for this very reason" in 1st Peter 2. Then I came across this quote of Charles Spurgeon, "Beware of mistaking excitement for the Holy Ghost, or your own resolutions for the deep workings of the Spirit of God in the soul."

With this, the response to a moment of sin overcome becomes, appropriately, "God must be proud of Himself!"

That I find fascinating.

15 July 2008

Two Lefts Don't Make a Right, But...

Imagine you are driving a car that can only turn left. (I guess it would make sense for this car to be blue.) You come to an intersection and need to turn right. What can you do? Assuming the streets are laid out in basic city blocks, you can go straight and then make three consecutive lefts, circling the block (squaring the block?...). Upon returning to the original intersection, you can continue on in the desired direction. Apparently three lefts make a right.

Right?

Well, not always. This is only true for flat space (or in better math terms, 2-D Euclidean space). If the space we are talking about is curved then things change. Consider embarking on a journey that begins at the North Pole. You head due south and then make a 90-degree turn east when you hit the equator. After traveling 1/4 around the earth, you make a 90-degree turn back north. Following this path will lead you right back to the North Pole. So we find that two right angle turns will bring us back to where we started. In the city block situation, it took three right angle turns. See the difference? This is the basics of curved space (or space-time).

This means that two lefts can make a right.

For much better pictures than my MS Paint work, see Wikipedia's Non-Euclidean geometry.

11 July 2008

WWJD

I am thinking about the validity of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). My motivation is that in becoming familiar with "Kingdom Theology" I've found many arguments made from looking at what Jesus did and attempting to emulate him. A defining statement of what I'm talking about is from Greg Boyd in Myth of a Christian Nation: “To the extent that an individual or group looks like Jesus — dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process — to that degree they can be said to manifest the kingdom of God. To the degree that they do not look like this, they do not manifest God’s kingdom.”

For example, this type of reasoning can be seen in Derek Webb's lyrics. I recently acquired his latest album (free download at noisetrade.com). In "I For An I," in arguing for pacifism he says:

this may not work and I don’t guarantee that it will
but I’ve got no choice unless you tell me who Jesus would kill

The argument here is that since Jesus in his life on earth as recorded in the gospels never killed anyone, never advised to have someone killed, and indeed seemed the very opposite in giving of his own life for his sheep, that there is no just basis for going to war if we are to imitate Christ. (Said at Southern did a complete review of the album as well as interviews with Webb.)

Revelation 19 shows us Christ wielding a sword. An image of king Aragorn in battle flashes in my mind.

Rev 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Rev 19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
Rev 19:21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Now some may argue that this is figurative. That is another discussion. The basic fact here is that Jesus is depicted as one going to war and killing flesh.

Aside from trying to figure out who Jesus would kill, we need to determine if imitating Christ is how we are to live, and to what scale and what depth. By scale I mean one's individual actions versus something like the policies of a country. By depth I mean becoming like Christ in character versus in physical appearance, for example.

One obvious problem with WWJD is illustrated in Urban Dictionary's example usage:

"I saw this guy in the theater talking on his cell phone. I thought about chunking popcorn at his head until he shut up; then I saw my wrist band that said 'W.W.J.D.' So I lit him on fire and sent him to Hell, I really did feel better to [sic]."

Of course it is my personal desire and goal to become like Christ in his character. But I do not think the depth should go any further. Should we all grow out our hair to look like Aryan Jesus? Should all females become male? Should we all move to the middle-east and hang out at Bethany? An article in Christianity Today 6 years ago titled "Why I Don't Imitate Christ" tells of some radical actions taken in history by people attempting to imitate Christ, such as being willingly whipped bloody to identify with Christ. Isn't this ridiculous?

In a recent post I addressed some of Obama's statements on the Bible. He said that he doubted the Department of Defense would survive application of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. I do not think that is the scale to which Jesus intended anyway. Jesus was not a politician running for president discussing public policy; part of his mission was to change the hearts of individuals. Boyd lumped "individual" and "group" together, as though there is no distinction. Unfortunately such an approach just doesn't hold up in finding a consistent understanding of all Scripture. Do we forget that "eye for an eye" was instituted by God? Can we reconcile it with "turn the other cheek"?

All believers collectively make up the Body of Christ, with Jesus himself as the head (Col 2:19, Eph 5:23). Though as Christians we are to be "little Christs," each of us individually are incapable of exactly emulating him. Do we each have different gifts because Jesus could only handle one at a time, or because we aren't supposed to be exactly like him? The Body is not a fractal. My hand does not look like my head.

I have even come across arguments that say since Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality or abortion that we shouldn't either. Um...what?

Please comment if you have any thoughts on how we are to imitate Christ, in scale and in depth.

10 July 2008

Aryan Jesus


You've probably seen depictions of Jesus. We don't really know what he looked like, so it is safe to say that most images are inaccurate. This particular one and others like it I find disturbing for more than its inaccuracy: Jesus, a Jew, depicted as a blond-haired blue-eyed Aryan. I'm not making any implications; I just think it's messed up.

Image taken from www.jesusposter.net

07 July 2008

Biofuels and the Global Food Crisis

According to UK newspaper The Guardian, "Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian." The article may be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/03/biofuels.renewableenergy.

I believe that biofuels are a contributing factor to the food crisis. If its effect is as high as 75%, clearly it's a really big deal. However, I am skeptical that 75% is true for the simple reason that this information came from the World Bank. The World Bank very likely has vested interests in preventing any form of energy source other than oil taking root. "Accidentally" leaking information so condemning of biofuels is suspicious. I guess it is possible, but I can not imagine the World Bank making such a mistake. Yes, I am implying that this move was deliberate. I will not be surprised if this "accident" by the World Bank spells disaster for the biofuel market. It's all speculation, I know.

Whatever the case, I do not think biofuels will be the energy crisis savior. There are better technologies in existence. The situation is extremely complicated on both economic and political levels, making the implementation of any alternative energy technology difficult. The solution must come from a change in people: either those in charge of the world stop being selfish, or we in our communities get fed up with it.

As a final word this moment, none of this is a cause for despair. The incliner of hearts is still in control.

06 July 2008

Things you ought to know #2

You ought to know that the Latin phrase "et cetera" is abbreviated etc., not ect. Just try to pronounce what you are abbreviating, and it should be easy.