Texts in travail: reviewing Crucifixion of the Warrior God—Part 5

crossvisionSomeone recently shared with me a review of Greg’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God written by Emory U grad student Collin Cornell and published by the Christian Century. The sheer size of CWG (1,400 pages) places high demands upon any reviewer. Ted Grimsrud over at Peace Theology is 15 posts into his review and he’s just over half way through it. Cornell, however, reviews Cross Vision, a condensed version of CWG published a couple months ago. He comes at things from an interesting perspective that I haven’t run into in any of the reviews I’ve read thus far, and I thought I’d like to engage that perspective a bit. I’m not, however, taking this up to further review CWG.

Cornell expresses admiration for Greg’s vision and pastoral concern as well as his Chris-centered focus, and he does a good job of summarizing Greg’s main points, but it is his responses to Greg that interest me. As I read him, Cornell’s main points are these:

First, on the whole, Greg’s view doesn’t comport with Cornell’s experience of reading the OT. Greg often shares the story of a woman who found it impossible to love and worship the violent God depicted in the OT and whose faith was saved after learning from Greg of a way to avoid attributing such violence to God. Without wanting to ignore the problem passages, Cornell nevertheless feels that Greg represents a very one-sided vision of God as he’s depicted in the OT. Cornell explains:

To this charge of theological error on a nearly testamental scale, my first objections is simply this: I have found the God of the Old Testament stunning—beautiful and worthy of worshipand not just in the handful of passages that Boyd approves. I got into studying the Old Testament by reading a mentor’s paper on the golden calf story. In that debacle of human idolatry at the very moment of covenant making, in God’s rage and Moses’s intercession, in God’s final, precipitous new commitment to stay loyal to God’s people—I met a God I recognized: the one who absorbed the anguish of ultimate rejection and then, three days later, moved toward impossible new loyalty yet stronger than death. More than that, I felt I understood more deeply the tempestuous drama of divine long-suffering and human recidivism at the core of the Christian confession. The same held true for other texts of this older testament: far from being false and sub-Christian, I perceived in them a vast, continental theological consonance with the God made known in Jesus Christ.

Fair enough. There are many religious believers whose view of God is not disturbed by the violence attributed to God in the OT. But in fairness to Greg, part of his vision in CWG is precisely to provoke or awaken a sense of disturbance about these passages. How successful Greg is at this depends in part upon how readers respond to God contemplate as doing and commanding such violence. If no discontinuity is generated on an affective level, then so be it. But for those who can’t integrate such violence with the truth of God revealed in Christ, the question of how God is present within Israel’s Scriptures is acute. Cornell continues:

This is not to shrug off the troubling theology or ethics of the Old Testament. But it is to contend that the Old Testament holds more (and much more) than just such troubles. This is more than Boyd seems to grant…he treats these books and the Old Testament at large as an almost unrelenting train of horrors….

I didn’t get the sense that Greg painted a picture of the OT as cancerous through and through with a merely violent view of God. Greg recognizes within the OT a portrait of God as good, merciful and loving, and he’s eager to grant that this comports entirely with the character of God revealed in Christ. But since Greg’s task is to awaken people to to the discontinuity between this portrait and violent portraits, it’s only natural that his emphasis falls on the latter and how such passages cannot, in any simple or straightforward way, be harmonized with the gracious portrait of God found in the OT. That’s part of Greg’s project, to establish the incompatibility between God’s being the kind of God revealed in Christ, on the one hand, and also the subject of the violence and genocide attributed to him by OT texts. So for Greg it’s not whether the OT contains both motifs or themes (it does); it’s whether being found in the text alone tells us that both types of passage reveal God in the same way.

Secondly, Greg’s view has unacceptable consequences for our understanding of Judaism. Cornell comments:

Besides the fact that this view of the Old Testament does not comport with my own reading experience—nor that of many Christians in many generations—it may also yield unsettling results for a Christian theology of Judaism. Boyd considers all of God’s instruction given to Israel on Sinai and gathered up in the Pentateuch as a sprawling instance of divine condescension: “the law-oriented portrait of God, which constitutes a foundational aspect of the OT, is a divine accommodation”—and so a product of human projection that God did not in fact do or reveal. Boyd radicalizes, as it were, Paul’s claim that the law was “ordained by angels” (Gal. 3:19) and ascribes it in effect to those “a little lower than angels.” So, too, does Boyd humanize “all depictions of Yahweh as uniquely belonging to Israel.” For him such depictions are theological falsities, which God with Christlike humility deigned to tolerate.

…Boyd is alert to the problem; the final appendix of his two-volume work defends his approach against the accusation of supersessionism. But Boyd seems to understand the term narrowly: he condemns the idea that Jews are under God’s wrath and he renounces replacement theology. What he does not comment on is the extent to which Judaism knows God—or does not. Could it be that in Boyd’s view, Judaism knows God only slightly, since it treasures a testament so saturated with theological untruth?

From my own reading and review, I didn’t sense that Greg denied OT believers truly knew God, or that God is not truly revealed in the OT. However, the extent to which – and, indeed, how – Israel’s Scriptures reveal God is something determined Christologically. In one sense, there really is an inherent incompleteness to the OT. The OT cannot stand alone. Christ is where Israel’s calling and history tend. The OT is meant for Christ, and until it is read in/through Christ, its meaning remains unfulfilled, uncovered. For Paul there is no usefulness to the OT texts outside of Christ (cf. 2Cor 3.7-18 where Paul contrasts the OT with Christ). This usefulness for teaching, rebuking and correcting is, thus, Christologically shaped. The OT can contributed to the formation of Christlike character and to empower the doing of good works when read Christologically. That’s its purpose. So in response to Cornell, yes, God is “slightly known” prior the advent of Christ and the bestowal of the Spirit in the sense that any anticipation fails to embody the fuller reality of what is to come.

Lachish-battering

Thirdly, Greg’s view undermines our ability to trust God’s promises. Cornell expresses a further concern:

Boyd means for his book to cleanse the theologically polluted imagination of Christian readers and to catalyze a breakthrough of trust in God. But trusting in God means trusting in God’s faithfulness to abide by God’s promises. And Boyd has placed a large question mark—if not a strikethrough—over God’s promises to Israel. Boyd’s regimen of Sachkritik systematically doubts the veracity of the Old Testament vis-à-vis the character of God. This makes it nearly impossible to utter an “Amen” to all God’s past promises that are “Yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). For Boyd, Christ does not so much fulfill God’s promises and match God’s character, known already from Israel’s scriptures, as reveal a previously unknown (or half-unknown) God.

Boyd’s proposal also casts a shadow over God’s faithfulness to New Testament promises. The fires of theological criticism, once kindled, will hardly stay contained to one testament. Boyd realizes this. He writes: “Since we are dependent on the NT for our knowledge of God’s definitive revelation in the crucified Christ . . . one [might] question how we can be assured that God did not have to accommodate aspects of the NT authors’ fallen and culturally conditioned worldview.” In fact Boyd admits in principle that God could have made such accommodations: perhaps the New Testament, too, falls into theological error, which God endures with Christlike silence. But Boyd does not in actuality think that this occurred, and he apologizes vigorously for New Testament texts that appear to promote chauvinism or violence.

I wonder if Greg does think this has happened in the NT. Would his reading of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and the blinding of Elymas (Acts 13) count as an example? Cornell continues:

I say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: theological criticism cannot be set loose on one testament and muzzled for the other. Rather we must acknowledge that in whatever ways the Old Testament is caught up in human fallenness and cultural specificity, the New Testament is also.

Cornell is quite right. The NT authors are just as fallible and culture-bound as the OT writers, and so are not exempt from the limitations and constrains of a ‘dialectical inspiration’. And though I don’t pretend to speak for Greg, I think Greg would agree. So Greg will have to explain how he integrates that fallibility into his view of NT texts. For myself, I’d suggest that where the OT witnesses to divine acts of deliverance and judgment, the NT witnesses to a fundamentally different kind of divine act (Incarnation). Christ is God-incarnate, personally present. Nothing roughly parallel to this is being testified to by any OT text. The revealing act in the NT, then, is not a text per se, but the personal presence of God as Christ. This in turn shapes something of the ‘dialectic’ at work in NT vs OT texts (see my Inspiration the presence of final causality). As Heb 1.1 suggests, God spoke in many different ways in the past, but now he has spoken [finally, definitively] to us in his Son. While NT authors remain fallible and not exempt from individual errors, the apostolic deposit reflects an entirely different sort of relationship between those who testify, on the one hand, and the divine act being witnessed to, on the other. God incarnated, in part, because the divine voice in the OT was dependent upon human fallibilities in a way not so dependent in Christ. In Christ, God ‘speaks for himself’, we might say, and that closes the interpretive gap at play in the ‘dialectic’ that defines divine inspiration.

Moreover, I don’t think Greg is guilty, as Cornell suggests, of “placing a question mark over God’s promises to Israel.” What I read Greg as saying is that Christ defines what God’s genuine promises in the OT even are. Christology redefines the question. No longer do we simply ask ‘What the the OT text explicitly promise?’ Rather, on what basis do we determine the nature and scope of God’s promises in the OT texts? Greg is arguing that Christ is how we define Israel’s traditions as divine promise. Christ reveals how well the OT approximates that promise and where it gets that promise right. Cornell and Greg may just disagree on this, but I’m not sure it means Greg doesn’t think we can trust God’s promises. It just means Greg limits God’s promises to Christ. “Christ is the end/telos of the law for all who believe” (Rm 10.4), and “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘yes’ in Christ.” (2Cor 1.20) That said, even those OT texts that ‘get God wrong’ function as promisory notes that anticipate a revelation of God (Incarnate) who ‘gets God right’.

In the end, though, I’m unsure what Cornell does with the violence attributed to God in the OT. He explains:

“I can’t love the God who ever demanded massacre,” the woman in Boyd’s story said. But if God’s faithfulness authorizes the treatment of these other, particular texts as promissory, then the same may hold for violent passages; even texts about divine aggression could then signify something enduringly true about God and life before God. Such an approach would not bypass the difficult plain sense, but would look expectantly through it and beyond it.

I’m not sure what it means to say “God’s faithfulness authorizes the treatment of these [violent] texts as promissory.” How would Cornell retrieve that “something enduringly true about God and life” without appeal to Christ? How would the final truth “not bypass the difficult plain sense” when that plain sense is a divine command to commit genocide? How does one “look through and beyond” God’s actually commanding genocide? Cornell suggests, I take it, that the answer lies in spiritualizing the violent texts and reading them as a motivation to spiritual warfare:

Here, too, the history of interpretation furnishes precedents. As the Israelites traveled out of Egypt and toward Canaan, the Amalekites accosted them, and YHWH swore to make war against Amalek forever (Exod. 17). Jewish tradition saw in this seemingly very local occurrence the outline of a far larger and more persistent conflict. Amalek became an archetype for evil, such that the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, could advise, “We must wipe Amalek out of our hearts whenever he attacks.” And when I myself pray the psalm that asks God to “strike my enemies on the jaw” (Ps. 3:7), I do not think of concrete individuals—but of “our ancient foe, who seeks to work us woe” (as Luther’s hymn puts it).

But this leaves the problem unaddressed. The problem, as I understand Greg, is not how we can take God’s having actually done and commanded gross violence to be an “archetype” for the believer’s non-violent struggle against evil. The problem is God’s having actually done and commanded such violence. Does Cornell think God actually commanded Israel to commit genocide? I’m not sure. If yes, then spiritualizing the texts after the fact doesn’t address the fundamental problem Greg is concerned to awaken folks to.

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The road to Emmaus — and to better theological grammar

grammarsI’m enjoying Brian Robinette’s Grammars of Resurrection (2009). It’s confirming suspicions I’ve had about recent works on the Cross (its meaning, theological centrality, hermeneutical dominance, etc.). The Cross is most certainly a “saving event.” But I continue to reflect on the attempt to make the Cross “the” theological-hermeneutical center in light of which other events are to be understood. I’ve felt this move to be a mistake since reviewing Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, but it was James Alison’s Knowing Jesus that gave expression to what I was feeling. The center – to the extent there is one – is Christ as ‘the risen-slaughtered one’. Crucifixion and resurrection constitute together a single perception of faith which opens up to us the whole range of Christian belief and transformative practice. Alison first expressed this insight for me, and now Brian Robinette expands the insight into a more substantial set of convictions.

Robinette writes:

In soteriological matters, the only reason why Jesus’ death could be thought of as in any way salvific, rather than the colossal failure of a world-be messiah, was the radically new perceptual field  imparted to his earliest followers by the Easter event…

Now, as is evident in the history of Western Christian theology especially, the cross, rather than the resurrection, would eventually come to dominate how Christians thematized salvation. This did not occur all at once, or with such comprehensiveness that the resurrection was wholly abandoned as a source for soteriological reflection. And yet, it is abundantly clear that especially since Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century, who emphasized the juridical themes of the Latin patristic tradition…and reinterpreted them in the context of his own feudal culture, Western theology became dominated by a sacrificial atonement theory centered on the cross…The consequence here is that whereas the resurrection was front and center in the soteriologies of the first, second, and third centuries, it eventually receded into the background to other foci. Although the resurrection is what gives  Jesus’ death its meaning…it would eventually become subordinate to sacrificial atonement theories that essentially isolate the cross as the precision instrument through which God offers us reconciliation. A broad survey of the atonement in Scholastic, Reformed, and post-Tridentine theology makes it difficult to determine how the resurrection is materially involved in God’s offer of salvation. Once redemption is secured by an act of reparation through the cross, Easter is made to seem a kind of aftereffect, significant primarily in terms of the private destiny of Jesus, or, as Karl Rahner puts it, “honored at best as a confirmation of the fact that our interpretation of Good Friday is correct.”

zheny_mironosicy_u_groba_gospodnjaChristologically speaking, a similar process occurs as the resurrection takes an increasingly diminished role relative to the incarnation for articulating Jesus’ identity. As will be explained more thoroughly later, the experience of the risen Christ in the paschal community is both historically and logically prior to the development of incarnational theology. In tracing the historical course of the christological process, we discover a shift of emphasis from resurrection to incarnation to express the identity and full ontological reality of his man from Nazareth. Whereas first generation christology (pre-50 C.E.) highlighted Jesus’ resurrection as the moment of his investment of lordship over creation — the climactic point at which he “becomes” or is appointed “Son of God” — subsequent generations of christology reveal a backward projection of this Son of God language. Although we should avoid thinking of this too simplistically, generally speaking, the ongoing reflection on the nature of Jesus results in a retroactive movement of resurrection theology so that his identity as Son of God, first fully manifested in his post-mortem appearances to the disciples, is associated with decisive moments further and further back in his life-story — his death, his transfiguration, his baptism, his conception, and finally, as we find most explicitly in the Logos poem of John, to a timeless origin antecedent to creation itself. This process is entirely logical When properly thought through, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead demands that we reflect upon the relationship between Jesus’ function and person. As we do, we will find that God’s work of salvation is intimately connected with Jesus’ very “being.” By raising him from the dead for the definitive salvation of humanity, the Proclaimer (Jesus) and Proclaimed (the Kingdom of God) become so conjoined that Christians cannot adequately articulate the meaning of one without the other…

The present work represents an effort to retrieve the resurrection of Jesus as a central site for thinking theologically. I have already spoken of soteriological and christological matters. Regarding for former, we will examine the drama and dynamics of human salvation under three related aspects that together flow from the Easter event: justice, forgiveness, and divinization. This is the primary objective of Part Two. It is my contention that the eventual marginalization of the resurrection from soteriological reflection, especially in the Latin West, where sacrificial atonement theories have long dominated, has led to truncated, and in certain important respects distorted, views of salvation. Among the most problematic distortion is the implication of God in the violence that led to Jesus’ death. When the cross is isolated from the broader narrative sweep of the Christ event, there is frequently a failure to understand the resurrection as anything more than a kind of ratification or postlude, when in fact it is God’s dramatic in-breaking into and unmasking of the cyclical violence that led to Jesus’ lynching. Indeed, often enough sacrificial atonement theories imply or explicitly affirm God’s complicity in the violence so graphically displayed on the cross, quite as though God were underwriting the very human disease that the gospels in fact would name, demystify, and abolish – the production of victims. Only if we see the meaning of the cross in light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which is nothing if not the vindication of a victim from unjust death, will we grasp that God is a God of victims; that, in point of fact, God has become our victim in order to liberate us from producing and becoming victims (justice), to offer us pardon for our continued and frequently unconscious production of victims (forgiveness), and the draw us into active participation in the inner life of God through the imitation of the crucified and risen victim, who is the image of the invisible God (divinization).

It should be observed here that the retrieval of the resurrection deepens our understanding of the cross while also drawing us into further reflection upon Jesus’ life-ministry. The resurrection is precisely an act of memoria, God’s transformative memory. Resurrection purifies and redeems memory. As with the story of the travelers to Emmaus, the presence of the risen stranger facilitates an act of recollection in which the disciples are capable of remembering Jesus’ life from a fundamentally new perspective. They remember what he said and what he did, but they now do so in light of a transformative experience, brought to consciousness in the breaking of bread, that purges and deepens memory.

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roadtoemmaus

The picture to the left is slightly cheesy. I apologize. I’ll get to that in a sec. The reference by Robinette to the two on the road to Emmaus caught my attention. I typically speed through this story as just another story demonstrating Jesus was raised. Simple. But Robinette’s point struck me. Here we have an event that demonstrates the point of Robinette’s book – the central place the resurrection occupies (even if we don’t recognize it) in every genuinely Christian experience and which it must again occupy (intentionally) in theological reflection. You can see the transformation take place in the two disciples. The Cross has no saving effect – is nothing but a disgrace and failure (for Christ and his followers), and a perpetuation of the rivalry that produces victims (for the culture that lynched him) – until one perceives it within the presence of the risen Jesus. Only the risen Jesus can tell you what the Cross means, and that is why the Cross cannot occupy or define the theological or hermeneutical “center” of the Christian faith in light of which other events (incarnation, resurrection, etc.) are interpreted. Previously:

If we must speak of a hermeneutical center, perhaps we should say that ‘transformational experience’ (of the risen-slaughtered one) is the hermeneutical center Boyd is looking for – i.e., the hermeneutical center isn’t a set of propositions as such but a confluence of the truth-making realities that inform human transformation – the whole life and death of Jesus as they are mediated to us by the risen, living Jesus. When the death and resurrection become a single experienced personal reality – the ‘risen-slaughtered’ one (Phil 3.10f), the center becomes a living dynamic…

Speaking of “truth-making reality that inform human transformation,” let me say why I chose this strange picture of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The two are blackened out. Only Christ is fully present, fully alive, not fragmented, not partial. But it is Christ who has been crucified. The two disciples are quite alive. One would expect, then, that Christ should be blackened out since it is him the two do not perceive. What gives? The story reveals their transformation, not Christ’s, and therein we see the point. The two are the ones who come alive, who wake up, who see what is truly there but which they had not perceived. They do the ‘appearing’, not Jesus. As such, they are what the Cross makes of us until we view the Cross with and within the risen Jesus.

Recall, Paul makes it clear (1Cor 15) that “if Christ is not raised…we are still in our sins.” So the resurrection is a “saving event.” But how, if the Cross took care of all that? Doesn’t Christ disarm the spiritual rulers and authorities by shaming them publicly “by his victory over them on the cross” (Col 2.14f)? Yes and no. Ask yourself how the cross becomes a victory. When does it become this victory? Where does the Cross “disarm” the powers?

Only in rising does Jesus’ dying become any of this. Heb 2.14f states as much: “He too shared in [our] humanity, so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free [us] who all [our] lives were held in slavery by [our] fear of death.” Interesting. One could reply here that there is no mention of resurrection in the Hebrews passage which states explicitly that it is “by his death” that Jesus “destroys the devil.” There you have it – the unique centrality of the Cross. But think it through. Our being “freed from slavery to fear of death” is also explicitly linked to his death with no mention of the resurrection. And yet it’s obvious that there is no freedom from the fear of death found in another person’s dying. We see such death all the time. That’s what constitutes our fear. But there is complete freedom from such fear found in a person’s rising from the dead. It is the resurrection, then, that “destroys the devil,” “disarms the powers,” and “frees us from our fear of death.” Taken together (thank you James Alison!) as “the risen-slaughtered one,” cross and resurrection constitute a single living presence (not a proposition) that accomplishes all that gets variously attributed (propositionally) to one or the other. But both are always present.

One final thought on the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I do not mean this disparagingly at all, but these two can be analogously compared to certain passibilists eager to reduce God to the pain and tragedy of the Cross and to see (as Rahner lamented) in the resurrection only a vindication of their view of the Cross (composed entirely before the sun rises on Easter Sunday) rather than the meaning of the Cross.

I feel as if my own journey the past 10 years has been taken along the Emmaus road, slowly waking up to a resurrected view of things.