Bless you Ben!
I have a question related to your article "Did God Command Genocide?" And I should probably take the time to read and review the book I am thinking of. But in an explanation of some key points you touch on in your article, Greg Boyd, in his book, "Crucifixion of a Warrior God", alludes to the assertion that the commands God gave regarding genocide (and other acts) were never actually directly and explicitly delivered by God. And that Hebrew theology and supernaturalist philosophy tends to attribute everything as coming from, initiated by, or carried out by God. What are your thoughts on that position?
Thanks for your question. And thanks for your patience as I get around to offering an answer!
I think there are actually several issues at play in your question. And I want to answer them by carefully breaking down my response into three sub-questions:
1. Where is Greg Boyd lately in regard to evangelical theology?
2. How does Boyd argue his case in his new book?
3. How should we read the Divine violence texts?
So I’ll offer answers to all three questions. First, to Boyd’s theology.
1. Boyd’s New Theology: I think that Greg Boyd is heading in a dangerous direction regarding theology in these days. While that may not sound like a “new” problem for Greg Boyd, it’s important to understand where he stands in the context of the broader spectrum of biblical and evangelical theology. He seems to hold to something which I would call a "polyphonic" view of scripture (literally, two voices). This is the idea that the text of the Bible offers a mixture of both human and Divine teaching, in all that it contains. In fact, he is literally presently calling for a corporate revision of many core doctrines of the faith (in a document he calls the “Renew Manifesto”), in which he sees scripture, particularly the OT, as being at odds with the teachings of Jesus. But that appears dangerous to me. So, that’s something we need to appreciate at the outset regarding Greg’s views.
2. The Warrior God Book: Per the next question, I thought it would be good to view Greg Boyd's early description of his book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, prior to its publication. The missive, complete with live interview and Q + A, can be viewed on the church’s YouTube channel. Anyway, as I listened to him describe his “new hermeneutic," I gradually grew more and more concerned. To my surprise, Greg’s own associate pastor, Paul Eddy, voiced exactly the same concern I had regarding his “new theology.” The question is essentially this: If Boyd is claiming that the "sub-Christian" picture of God contained in the Old Testament was indeed tainted with cultural impressions of pagan deities, couldn't the very same tendency to distort the sacred text have infected our impressions of Jesus in the New Testament today?
For example, how could we defend orthodox Christology (that is, our right understanding of Jesus) from the old German comparative religious schools if Boyd's hypothesis is correct? You may or may not recall that all these held that the NT picture of Jesus was tainted by Greco/Roman pagan myths of dying and rising crop deities. But this only cashes out to the early church’s teaching about Jesus’ bodily resurrection as being hijacked from pagan religions and therefore, not something to be taken literally. The problem with holding such a view is that we would then have to systematically work through the sacred texts and figure out which statements genuinely represent God and which do not. Yet the only grounds for making the final call would have to be humanly contrived (as in the case I offer above).
For this reason, Boyd's hermeneutic seems to me to be ad hoc. That is, it is a conclusion drawn without regard for the wider impact. Of course, Boyd would probably take exception with my argument by labeling it as a caricature of his position. For he notes in the video that the "divine violence" texts infallibly portray our tendency to "baptize" violence in the name of God. But I would hold that my critique still stands on the basis of the fact that we are in any case left with the task of re-imagining the character of God based on some kind of humanly devised position. That is, we would still have to start with the mislead idea that we have the authority to decide which prophetic texts show God's character and which do not. I fear that this is a bad guessing game. We should rather treat the text of the Bible with greater reverence and attempt to synthesize what we see in the Old Testament with the New. That said, let’s move on to the final, issue: How should we read the Divine Violence texts?
3. The Divine Violence Texts: It is my understanding that the statements which show God's divine violence commands are revealing God’s permissive will around the issue of infant casualty in the taking of the land of Canaan. Since God clearly says that he does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11), it is my belief that these statements should not be taken to imply that God "wanted" the Canaanite infants to die. Rather, as in the case of America ridding itself of slavery, civilian and even infant death occurred as a result of battles fought around a wholly just cause. Hence in war, the lesser of two evils may be chosen over against the tolerating of gratuitous evils, such as the kind we find in Canaan (or pre-civil war America, for that matter).
Perhaps the easiest way to prove this point would be to compare the following two passages from the Pentateuch:
a. “When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you…” (Nu 33:51-52; ESV; emphasis mine)
b. “You must completely destroy…the…Canaanites…as the Lord your God has commanded…” (Deu 20:17; ESV)
Obviously, it would be impossible for Israel to literally fulfill both of these commandments since they would then be driving out a group of people whom they had already killed with the sword. Therefore, one of the passages is clearly hyperbole, while the other is not. The careful reader taking into account the teachings of Jesus would, in such a case, be justified in concluding that Deuteronomy 20:17 is clearly hyperbole, just as Jesus himself is (at times) given to the same. (cf. Matt 5:29)
For this (and other) reason(s), I think that these Divine violence texts are merely meant to "tip off" Israel to the fact that they may indeed do whatever is necessary to defeat Canaan, including tolerating infant death. In fact, if you stop to think about it, the objections of the new atheists like Richard Dawkins, if strictly adhered to, would render wholly unjustifiable the obliterating of the city of Berlin in WWII. In other words, Dawkins would have to hold, not just that Canaanite infant deaths were unjustifiable but also that WWII or the Civil War were "unjust wars." But that is absurd. Obviously, stopping the Holocaust or freeing slaves were just reasons to tolerate war at it's worst. Thus, God is merely "allowing" or "permitting" these evils because he knows that to do otherwise would be worse in the end.
Incidentally, this outlook not only helps us to see God as just in the case of Canaan, but also God as just in the case of Noah's flood as well (since infants also died there too). The important thing to remember, Brian, is that God never "singularly" targeted babies. In fact, that is what the Canaanites did. Rather God tolerates civilian casualty of all kinds and even communicates his tolerance of these evils through the use of what Christian apologist, Paul Copan, calls Ancient near east war rhetoric. Frankly, despite the revolting outcome, it seems that civilian death was unavoidable.
Incidentally, I'll be writing a review of Boyd's two volume set and making that review available, right here on the website soon. So visit back anytime! Hope this helps! And thanks for your question!
God's blessings brother!
Ben Fischer <><