Greg Boyd is a charismatic Anabaptist with a passion for theology, preaching, writing and playing the drums. He is the Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in S:t Paul, Minnesota, and has authored several best-selling books, including Letters from a Skeptic and The Myth of a Christian Nation.
His most recent books are Crucifixion of the Warrior God and Cross Vision, both of which argue that we need to reshape our view of the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament. PCPJ managed to interview Boyd on
What have the main reactions been to the books?
So far the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Some of the testimonies I’ve received have been so awesome – and so humbling! For example, I have had a number of people tell me that they felt like Crucifixion of the Warrior God (or Cross Vision, which is a popular version of the more academic Crucifixion of the Warrior God) finally set them free to fully trust that God is as beautiful as he’s revealed to be in the crucified Christ.
Up to this point, they were haunted by the idea that God was capable of commanding genocide and commanding and engaging in other forms of horrendous violence. I have even had several people tell me that Crucifixion of the Warrior God (or Cross Vision) salvaged their faith!
Do we really need to change our perception of the violence in the Old Testament in order to be pacifist Christians? Isn’t it enough to say that the Sermon on the Mount trumps all previous commands?
That is certainly an option. Indeed, it’s the position I held for a number of years. But there are three reasons why I now don’t believe this position goes far enough.
First, Jesus commands us to love enemies and refrain from violence because this is what the Father is like. This is why Jesus says we’re to love and refrain from violence “so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:45). But if we accept the surface meaning of the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament, then God is not altogether non-violent. In fact, if we accept that the Old Testament’s violent depictions of God are accurate, then we must also accept that in commanding us to refrain from violence, God is basically saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Second, the way in which we conceive of God affects our relationship with him and affects the quality of our kingdom life, for better or for worse, for we tend to take on the characteristics of the God we worship. So it makes a huge difference whether a person believes God actually commanded his people to mercilessly slaughter babies as an act of devotion to him, as the Conquest narratives depicts him, or whether they rather believe God was stooping to bear the sin of his people, just as he does on Calvary. when he allowed them to believe he commanded this.
And third, as I show at length in Crucifixion of the Warrior God as well as in Cross Vision, Jesus and Paul teach that all Scripture points to Jesus, and especially to his suffering on the cross. So we have to ask, how do violent portraits of God point to the cross? Just saying that Sermon on the Mount trumps the Old Testament doesn’t help answer this question.
You identify as both charismatic and Anabaptist. Do you perceive that combination as rare? If so, why is that?
It seems to be quite rare. The was a little charismatic revival among Mennonites in the 70’s, but it didn’t gain widespread acceptance and was rather short-lived. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that Anabaptists have traditionally been quite emotionally reserved and have viewed any alleged Spirit-inspired emotional displays with suspicion.
In fact, while there are exceptions, Anabaptists have historically never placed much emphasis on the Spirit’s work. As I told one Mennonite pastor several years ago, I believe traditional Anabaptists tend to be “pneumatologically challenged.” I hope this changes in the future.
Do you think Pentecostals and charismatics can become more supportive of nonviolence and pacifism?
Thanks to your organization, it seems so, though pacifists are obviously still a small minority, especially in America with its long (and unfortunate) love affairs with guns! In the case of Pentecostals, this is rather tragic because the majority of early American Pentecostals were committed to non-violence.
Thank you so much, and God bless!
Follow Greg’s work at reknew.org, and listen to his sermons at Woodland Hills Church.
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2 thoughts on “Greg Boyd: How the Violent Portraits of God Can Point to the Cross”
I am a Pentecostal and a pacifist. God in fact tells us in Deuteronomy 20:17 why people were destroyed in the promised land. There is a price to pay for worshipping other gods. One could say that God exhibited mercy to children that were slain, if one considers an age of accountability in which those children would not be held accountable for their parents sins. The scripture say vengeance is mine I will repay does In fact lead me to believe that God does say at time do as I say, not as I do. We are human and for us to tell God He must abide by our sense of justice is arrogant to say the least. He tells us His ways are not our ways and our ways are not his ways. Christ himself will return and as a conquering king. By his word those who would battle against Israel will be destroyed. My commandment is to reconcile men to God. My job is not to destroy evil. That is something only God can do at the appointed time.
My immediate thought regarding ‘do as I say not as I do’ was the same as Frank’s – what about ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay’? Do as I say not as I do is not always wrong, it is a matter of responsibility – eg a teacher telling a student not to do something that is the teacher’s job – and of what is good for us – eg a parent telling a child to go to bed at 7 when the parent goes to bed at 11.
However I do think portrayals of God do lean to the too-vengeful side and I’m also not married to viewing scripture the way it is viewed in this particular time period. I really do believe that Jesus is the very image of God so Greg’s point is very true that if Jesus behaves a certain way, that is also how God behaves. It is interesting food for thought.
Regarding the scripture ‘my ways are not your ways’, that you brought up Frank, the context of this is how much more forgiving God is than us. So I don’t think this one can be used to show God as punishing. It should push us toward a more merciful view of God.
Interesting article, thank you!