I have recently finished the first volume of Boyd’s latest work, Crucifixion of the Warrior God Volume 1 and thought I would review this volume now and the second upon its completion. If you are unfamiliar with this work then you should know that this is Boyd’s magnum opus. It is 1301 pages in length (not including end notes, suggest reading, etc. at which point it is 1445 pages) and, in my opinion, deals with a lot of important and timely material. Before I talk about that, however, I want to speak about the author himself for a moment.
Two relatively recent books have called for ministers to begin to bridge the divide between the church and the academy. VanHoozer and Strachan released The Pastor As Public Theologian in 2015, Hiestand and Wilson released The Pastor Theologian the same year. Both books, though visionally nuanced, are after the same thing: a call for pastors to produce theological works and reclaim their place as pastor-scholars. Boyd is a great example of someone who is bridging these two worlds which are now, for the most part, distinct. He is what Hiestand and Wilson call an ecclesial theologian. That is, he is producing work that is birthed out the church, intended for the life of the church, but also engages other scholars. You can see Boyd as “Pastor Theologian” very clearly at various moments throughout the book. For example, he speaks of a hermeneutic that repudiates “the surface meaning of the ‘God-breathed’ violence in Scripture” as “very much needed in the church today.”1 At another point he writes, “perhaps it is the pastor in me, but I would also like to offer a brief cautionary word, especially directed to readers from more conservative backgrounds.”2 He even cautions about John Howard Yoder’s personal life in an footnote after siting his work.3 I don’t think I’ve ever seen another scholar do this and Yoder is quoted all over the place.4 Whether one ultimately agrees with Boyd’s conclusion, it should be acknowledged that he is doing the church and the academy a service through his Pastoral-Theological work. Speaking of agreeing (or not), Boyd also acknowledges writing from within his specific (Anabaptist) tradition. I am impressed with his “community hermeneutic5” approach. Boyd is submitting his work to the church for discernment. I heard him in an interview claim that if this work was of God he prayed it would stand and edify the church, yet if it was not, he simply said ‘let it fall.’
On the work itself I would first acknowledge my gratitude for a well developed cruciform hermeneutic. A couple of years ago I was drawn toward a cruciform hermeneutic. Boyd spends nearly 630 defining and defending his. As he develops this hermeneutic you quickly become aware that Boyd not only has the cross in view but also has a very high view of scripture. I appreciate his caution with the historical-critical method. He has certainly not dismissed the method, rather he notes “my insistence on the necessity of the historical-critical method to discern the degree to which any narrative corresponds to ‘actual history’ sets me apart from those postmodern readers who hold to the importance to the question of whether they contain any concrete historical.”6 Yet he is cautious of historical-critical being the end-all-and-be-all. So what is Boyd’s approach?
Boyd is drawing his method primarily from Origen. In chapter 10, one of my favorite chapters in this volume, Boyd really digs into Origen’s allegorical understanding. As a product of my time I was skeptical of the allegorical method for quite a while. A few years ago, however, a friend pointed me to Origen’s On First Principles. I must confess that I am drawn more and more to Origen’s view of scripture. It is neither dismissive of historical work nor nervous of probing for “deeper” meaning. This is not to say that Origen’s views are perfect, but I believe he may in fact be an important voice for the church to rediscover. Boyd has convinced me further. I will briefly note that Boyd’s work with Torrence was also very clarifying in terms of what he means when he speaks of the cross.
Very important to Boyd’s hermeneutic is his understanding of revelation, and it is here that I assume people will either jump on board or jump ship. For Boyd, revelation is not dictation but rather a two way street in which God uses the uniqueness of the human person (in all of their fallenness) to reveal himself. He therefore says that “the reason Jesus was the perfect reflection of God’s character was because in this one instance, there was absolutely no sinful resistance in him that conditioned what God wanted to ‘breathe’ through him.”7 Again, this is where I suppose some will part ways. I have, in fact, already entered into dialogue with others on this very point.
One of the other reactions that I anticipate in this Reading Backwards approach (a term coined by Hays – you can read my review of this book here) is a wariness of what this will mean for Jewish–Christian dialogue. In particular, I think that many within OT studies – particularly those related to Judeo-Christian studies – will be leery. A Christian friend of mine who is a Hebrew scholar once told me that now, having taught both Jewish students training for the Rabbinate and Seminary students training for Christian ministry, she has noticed that her Jewish students knew far more about the Patristics than her Christian students ever did. The reason, of course, was that the Jewish students wanted to know what they were up against with certain anti-semitic teachings. Boyd has dealt with this anticipated reaction a bit in V1, but I am curious to see how it is further addressed in V2. It does seem that this will be become an important part of future dialogue on such a hermeneutic. Still, as a fan of Rabbinical writing (ancient and modern), I can’t help but notice the similar approach to scripture that Boyd is taking. It strikes me that he is within the Rabbinical mode of interpretation just not within the belief system. For example, Rabbi Eliezer wrote:
“Why did the Holy and Blessed One, in revealing Himself from the highest heavens, speak to Moses out of the thorn bush? Because just as the thorn bush is the lowliest of all the trees in the world, so the people of Israel had sunk to the lowest level of degradation and the Holy and Blessed One descended with them and redeemed them as it is written, ‘I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians’ (Exodus 3:8)”8.
Discerning the meaning beneath the text (without ignoring what is on the surface) seems to be what is missing in much of our interpretation9. As a friend of mine said, “I’m glad someone is taking Origen seriously.” Me too.
Towards the end of V1 Boyd begins to speak of “literary crucifixes.”10 I will be very curious as to how this plays out practically in V2. There are certainly people who are infinitely more capable of entering into dialogue with Boyd’s work and I look forward to seeing the interaction on this important topic. My personal perspective thus far? I’m a fan.
1 Gregory A. Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Volume 1: The Cruciform Hermeneutic) p. 550).
2 ibid. 287
3 ibid. 23, endnote 41
4 The exception to this would be Hauerwas’ account in his autobiographical Hannah’ Child: A Theologian’s Memoir
5 ibid. 17
6 ibid. 355
7 ibid. 494
8 Abraham Heschel, Heavenly Torah pp. 105, 106
9 As a Pentecostal I will have to admit that there is a lot of this that happens in all the wrong ways. But Boyd is not speaking of individual interpretation but truth that becomes discernible to the church universal.
10 Boyd, CWG p. 510