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...


oldtranslations said...

Very interesting thoughts. A friend of mine recently wrote some thoughts on the idea of the Trinity, and the modern church's interpretation of it:

"I never thought I had trouble understanding the Trinity. I admit, it appears to take a bit of doublethink1. God is both three separate, equal entities yet also just one. Most people don't seem to be exactly sure just how much They/He2 are separated or how much They/He are the same.

The Father
Full of perfect justice. So completely holy that he cannot be in our sinful presence. Quick to anger, and bringer of plagues. Sends the unsaved to Hell.

The Son
Peaceful teacher of acceptance. Only feels love towards everything. Pleads our pitiful case before the Father so we mayn't go to Hell.

The Holy Spirit
God's presence. Makes us happy when we are in church. Is a guiding force, but is limited to being our conscience.

This is how many contemporary Christians think and speak. I pray you disagree powerfully! That is not the God I know. How foolish are they that pray to Jesus to save them from The Father's wrath, or that ignore the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our Salvation!

In Christ Alone3. Shine, Jesus Shine4. In the Name of Jesus5.

I have had a nagging feeling of misgiving about songs like these for a long time, though I have just recently understood why. We mustn't start associating particular traits to one or the other part of God. At best we are a bit misguided but at worst we breaking the big number one6. God is equal in his actions and his essence.

My God is one and the same. All parts are equally involved in our salvation and each have the same qualities. You cannot say The Father is just but The Son is loving. Nay, Jesus cleared the temple and The Father stayed his hand from the Israelites in the desert. The father is not devoid of kindness, nor is the Son less just than His Father. Likewise, The Spirit is God and is exactly as involved in our salvation. All things that God does, he does from all three parts.

I know you think I am overreacting, but think about it: how do you refer to God when you are praying? Do you ask Jesus to forgive your sins, help you to save your friends, and keep you from temptation? Jesus of course does these things and it is well to consider Jesus our foundation of hope, but do not neglect the roles of The Father and Spirit in our daily lives.

Sanctified by God the Father. Jude 1:1

Sanctified in Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 1:2

Through sanctification of the Spirit. 1 Peter 1:2"

Sorry, that was a bit long, but I thought it necessary to copy and paste the thing in its entirety.

Another idea I've been throwing around in my mind lately is this: do humans, perhaps, mimic God's full character? The obvious answer would be yes, because mankind was created in the image of God. However, if this is the case, wouldn't the human spectrum of emotion also be a product of this mirror imagery? I don't really have anything terribly Biblical to back up these ideas, other than those mentioned, but it makes sense in my mind. I don't believe that feelings such as anger were a product of man's fall and original sin. Emotions can lead to or be a product of sin, but I wouldn't say that emotions are inherently evil.

Apologies, again, for the disjointed nature of this comment. Hopefully it will make some sense to you.

Jordan said...

Thanks for the comment, it makes good sense.

The important point I take from it is that God is one. We should not think the Father's nature is different from the Son's or the Spirit's.

I think some care should be taken in remembering why there is a distinction in the Godhead in the first place. It's not because of different natures, but because of different roles. God the Father did not die on a cross, the Son did. That was the Son's role. Christ humbled himself to put on flesh. But are we to say then that the Son is humbler than the Father?

Regarding our being in God's image and emotions, we see in Scripture God displaying many emotions. Yes, He gets angry and grieved. But for us to be angry and not sin (Eph 4:26) is extremely difficult in our fallen nature. So I agree that emotions themselves are not evil, but most times for us they couple with sin.

There's one subtlety with our mimicking God's nature that makes sense in my mind to call asymmetry. More on that soon...