You’ve got be a little cross-eyed to get CrossVision, Greg Boyd’s latest book on reconciling the violent portraits of God in the Bible with the full revelation of God as Christ (self-sacrificing, non-violent, dying-for-enemies love). Generally speaking, there have historically been only two ways to deal with this: 1) Believe that all portraits of God in the Bible are equally true (both-and), or 2) Take the more Christocentric hermeneutic and believe that Jesus is superior and all other revelations of God are secondary. Boyd’s CrossVision (which is the popular version of his academic magnum opus, “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God” also released last year) more or less falls into the second category, but has a major distinctive. Instead of poking holes in the reliability of Old Testament texts or opening up the whole Bible to liberal criticism, Boyd affirms all of Scripture’s authority, saying that Jesus upholds Pentateuch as God’s inspired word and, therefore, so should we. So he sets up the problem that plagued him for decades: how do you affirm the reliability and authority of Scripture while also believing that the revelation of God in Jesus is superior and trumps all others? Enter CrossVision, Boyd’s attempt to answer this question.
What’s in the name? Greg posits that we have to look at any revelation of God through “the looking-glass cross,” which he explains as the beauty of God’s humble love in the ugliness of man dying a horrible death on a cross. This seeing-beauty-in-ugliness is the key to seeing God in Old Testament depictions that are especially not very Christlike. So, just as God was willing to humble himself to become a servant and die on a cross, likewise, he was willing to take on wrong conceptions of his nature in history in order to have relationship with the people he created. In other words, God is always willing to meet people where they are at in their thinking of him, but always with the intention of challenging their thinking and to help them progress. In this sense, God is the ultimate iconoclast—always tearing down the mental frameworks we have of him. And, as Boyd argues, this progression of conception of God historically ultimately leads us to Jesus—the only mental framework we should have for God.
Therefore, and this is majorly important, while all of Scripture moves us along with glimpses of God told faithfully in the historical narrative of Israel’s history, the faithful record of these events and depictions of God do not necessarily reflect with 100% accuracy or historicity the events or the unqualified nature of God. Confused? So was I. So here's my take on it: while we can affirm that Scripture is divinely inspired and that it is faithfully communicating the story, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every detail in the stories are true or perfectly reflect the historical events as they actually happened. To really get this, we have to remember that most of Scripture are written versions of oral stories that were recorded precisely because they conveyed teachable morals and passed on traditions to subsequent generations. In other words, Bible stories are not the transcriptions of a court reporter who was on the scene writing down everything word-for-word and play-by-play. The stories, rather, are summaries. Sometimes, we get more detailed summaries, as in the life of David, and other times we get less than a paragraph to boil down some kings' entire tenure to whether they followed in the faithfulness of their father David or after Baals and idols like Jeroboam.
Therefore, even in the case of David, we can’t hold to the sophomoric view that he said these exact words word-for-word, as if the authors were able to listen and re-listen to audio tapes. But, at the same time, we aren’t allowed to disregard or dishonor Scripture by saying if it isn’t perfect then it can’t be reliable. Honor for Scripture ought to have nothing to do with its perfection, but rather with it’s intention. It’s intention, as we learn from the New Testament, is to lead us to Jesus. It’s reliability is founded in the fact that glimpses of the Divine, of God’s true Christlike nature do come through at times in Old Testament literature, but what also comes through is where people were in their understanding of God. And it was often not the full picture. But step-by-step God was with them and walked with them in their imperfect conceptions and they did things that they thought were God’s will, but weren’t. And they misrepresented God. But Scripture faithfully records these misrepresentations. That’s one of the most surprising things about Scripture—that it doesn’t gloss over people’s failures, their vanity, their idolatry, their missing his heart and his pleas for repentance. It paints a negative, egg-in-the-face, picture of Israel. There is no ego. It is one long and constant self-critique and power-critique. It removes hubris. It painfully strips away pride and power. It intentionally loses its own face, in spite of every human impulse to save our own faces and make ourselves look good when we don’t, or look successful when we’re not. “History is written by those who have hanged heroes,” so says Robert the Bruce. But this history was written by the grassroots critics, not the national press correspondent. That is why the Bible is miraculous and why it should be trusted—because a bunch of radical revolutionaries over more than a thousand years recorded these blunders and passed down this tradition of subterfuge to us. They were the little guys like us who can make a big difference with God, because this God is on the side of the little guys (and gals).
Ok. Back to CrossVision. Just as biblical records of people's sin and infidelity can reflect back to us the faithfulness of God, so can records of wrong beliefs about God. One of the most powerful quotes from Greg’s book is found near the end in a treatment of the life of Samson, whom he convincingly argues misused and misrepresented God even though he had been entrusted with supernatural strength: “What reveals God’s true character is that he remained in relationship with, and continued to further his purposes through, a nation of people who thought the Spirit of the Lord was capable of inspiring an immoral brawler to engage in such violence.” In the same section, Boyd argues that Elijah also misrepresented divine power when he called upon bears to maul a band of youths who were taunting him. It appears that when applying the “looking-glass cross” to the Old Testament, what we see is a God who is willing to be misunderstood for the sake of love and for the sake of patience with our slowness and dullness in getting him. It isn’t until Jesus that all of our mouths are shut and our fears proven wrong and all the goodness we faintly hoped for is resoundingly confirmed. It’s better—God is better—than we ever dared to dream. C.S. Lewis says, “Jesus is what God has to say to us,” and the New Testament book of Hebrews confirms that he is God’s final word…not final in that it all ends with him, but final in that it all begins (and gets redefined) in him.
If you have ever struggled with understanding how God could have been so angry and punishing in the Old Testament and so forgiving and self-sacrificially loving in the New Testament, I would heartily recommend reading CrossVision. Boyd’s scholarship and surgical care of Scripture is astounding. It helped me tremendously maintain a love of Scripture, while also upholding a firm belief in the non-violent demonstration of the fierce love of God in Jesus. If it’s true that we can only become as Christlike to the degree we are aware what Christ is actually like, then Greg Boyd has done us all a huge favor.
Boyd, Gregory A.. Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence (p. 230). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.