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Preview: Random Reflections - Greg Boyd

Random Reflections - Greg Boyd

...a collection of Greg's essays and day-to-day thoughts, theological reflections, the occasional picture post from the administrators, with a few movie reviews thrown in for fun...thanks for reading!

Updated: 2018-03-06T00:27:08.485-06:00




ReKnew has been launched! I'm excited to share with you my new website and updated blog posts HERE. You'll find a wealth of material on the new site that wasn't on the old site.



Pastor Boyd rocks the house!


Below is Greg's drum solo from a few weeks ago at the NDY fundraiser on behalf of Providence Ministries. Tonight, NDY will be performing in Jackson, MN at Rhythm of the River, a two-day music festival.

Thanks Greg for using your talents to better the lives of kids in Haiti!!

posted by yours truly~marcia
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A Little Whining and a Book Review (Overcoming Evil God's Way)


Yo folks,Hope you’re all enjoying a grand summer (or, for those in the Southern Hemisphere, a nice winter). I’m having a great time, but I’m also feeling a bit scattered. It's requiring more effort than usual to stay centered and aware of God's presence. Not sure how it happened, but I’ve just had way too many “pots on the burner.” Mind if I whine for a moment?Here's a snippet of my life (beyond the ordinary chores, relationships, etc.). I have my weekly sermons and other church duties, of course. And, as part of my daily routine, I have about 50 e-mails (on average) that ask for a response (taking roughly an hour a day). Beyond this, I just finished and sent off a manuscript for publication entitled (tentatively) This Sacred Moment: Reflections on Practicing the Presence of God. I’m now editing the page proofs of Revolting Beauty and refining for publication The Cosmic Dance (our funky illustrated book on science and theology). I'm speaking eight times at a week-long conference in Hungary in a couple weeks that I need to prepare for. I have two academic dictionary entries, an academic journal article and three revised chapters for the new edition of Across the Spectrum due by September. Plus I'm supposed to complete two chapters in a forthcoming anthology by this spring.But these aren't what's occupying most of my time. The project that presently occupies most of my time, thought and passion these days is The Myth of the Blueprint (my eight-year project showing the influence of pagan philosophy on the early church's view of God, free will, providence and evil). I just finished a section on the first two heirs of Plato in the "Old Academy," Seusippus and Xenocrates. This stuff seriously lights my fire!See, I've got lots of pots on the fire. I don't want or expect anyone to feel sorry for me, because I love every bit of this! (Well, e-mails not so much, but everything else for sure). But that's my problem. I'm interested in and passionate about way too many things! (My ADHD tendencies are getting the better of me, I suppose).But I’m not quite done whining yet. I also have to read -- a lot. I have to read! It’s a sort of addiction. Last week I finished J. R. Boys-Stones’ Post-Hellenistic Philosophy: A Study of its Development from the Stoics to Origen. (This is a great work detailing the shift from independent reasoning to authority that occurred in Stoicism and Middle Platonism and that strongly influenced early Christianity). Then two days ago I finished John Dillon's The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy (347-274). (Dillon is the best authority on ancient Platonism, in my opinion). I’m now reading a book that a publisher sent to me, written by Stephen Russell, entitled Overcoming Evil God’s Way (Faith Builders Resource Group, 2008).And with this I (finally!) transition from my whining to the point of this post. (Oh yes, I forgot to mention in my whining that I try to post two or three times a week. Nuts, isn't it?).Overcoming Evil is intended to be a comprehensive overview of the biblical and historical case for “nonresistance” (returning force with force). I’m only a hundred pages into this book (it's about 300 pages long), but so far it’s very good. Already I'd recommend it. Russell's material on the Old Testament is a nice, clear and comprehensive introduction to the issue of peace and violence in the Old Testament, though it doesn't add much to what we’ve already covered the last couple of months. My review will thus be brief.His main point is that, when you read the Old Testament in the light of Jesus Christ (as we must) it becomes evident that, while all Scripture is inspired, not all Scripture reveals God’s character with equal clarity. It's true God reluctantly participates in the bloody barbarism of the cultures he’s trying to slowly win over, but God's true character is revealed when (for example) he mercifully protects Cain, the murderer, from being murdered and when he put[...]

Creach and the Command to "Utterly Destroy"


Hello Bloggers,Sorry for the delay in posting, but I was waiting until my new site was ready to launch before writing another post. Unfortunately, it seems something new pops up every day to delay the launch, so I finally decided to post regardless of when the new site will be ready. (Do you have any idea how much work it takes to get a new website ready? For cry'n out loud!)We’ve been discussing (among other things) the problem of Old Testament violence on this blog the last couple months. Without question the most offensive aspect of Old Testament violence concerns God’s command to “destroy them [the Canaanites] totally” and “show them no mercy” (Deut. 7:2). This is the concept of herem (“ban”) which most scholars interpret to mean something like “devote to destruction.” It's close to the concept of offering something up as a sacrifice to Yahweh. But could anything be more contrary to the teachings of Jesus than the idea of sacrificing men, women and children (to say nothing of the animals) to God as a sacred offering? But what if the concept of herem was not meant to be taken literally? This was the view of the second century theologian Origen (found in his Homilies on Joshua). He argued that anything in the Old Testament that wasn’t consistent with the moral and theological truth revealed in Christ must be interpreted in a non-literal way. He thus interpreted herem as an allegory for spiritual warfare. The Canaanites thus represent everything inside of us or in the world that keeps us from being fully devoted to God. These things, he argued, must be completely destroyed.Now, the practice of allegorizing Scripture (on the part of Jews and Christians) or other ancient literature (like Homer on the part of pagans) in order to make it more consistent with the beliefs and practices of the exegete was a widespread practice in the ancient world, especially in Alexandria where Origen was located. But, as a general approach to Scripture, it is uniformly rejected by scholars today. Not surprising, until recently I knew of no scholar who took Origen’s attempt to allegorize herem seriously. Then I happened to stumble onto the work of Dr. Jerome Creach, Professor of Old Testament at Pittsburg Theological Seminary. Dr. Creach was kind enough to send me the rough draft of a chapter he’s working on in which he fleshes out his view that herem was not meant to be taken literally. (It will be part of a larger book he’s writing that addresses the issue of faith and violence).I can summarize the heart of Creach’s argument by making seven points. Taken together, they suggest that herem in Deut. 7:2 was meant as a metaphor for complete devotion to Yahweh, not as a command to literally annihilate people.1) There are a number of passages in Deuteronomy that reflect a much more humane treatment of foreigners than a literally reading of herem would suggest. For example, Deuteronomy 15 instructs the Israelites to be generous and merciful to foreigners, and 21:10-14 gives instruction to Israelite men requiring them to treat with decency Canaanite women they want to marry. Verses 24:17-18 instruct the Israelites to be kind to foreigners in need, and so on. How are these instructions consistent with the command to completely slaughter all Canaanites?2) Joshua 11:19 presents the Israelites as trying to make peace with various Canaanite cities, though only the Gibeonites accept their offer. Only when cities rejected peace did war ensue. Other passages treat Israelite warfare as a defensive response to Canaanite aggression as well. Creach argues that this theme is interwoven throughout the Conquest narrative (reflecting concerns by those who redacted the final version of this book). This motif hardly seems consistent with the understanding that the Israelites were to slaughter them carte blanch.3) The fact that Rahab (Joshua 2) and the Gibeonites are spared -- and even held up as models of faith -- is hard to reconci[...]

A Word to My Mennonite Friends: "Cherish Your Treasure!"


Hello friends,I plan on getting back to the problem of violence in the Old Testament soon, but today I want to share a marvelous experience I had last week.About eight months ago I spoke at a conference at Hesston college (a Mennonite college) on faith and politics (I posted on it here). While at this conference I sensed very strongly God telling me there was some sort of relationship I (and possibly the church I pastor) was to have with the Mennonites. More specifically, at the end of the conference I received a very clear and burning message I knew I was to share with the Mennonites. Whatever else this "relationship" entailed, I knew it included sharing this message. Yet, I had no idea when or how this message was to be shared.Then about two months ago I received an invitation to speak at a historic gathering of Mennonite leaders in Columbus, Ohio. When the Executive Director of the Mennonite denomination (Jim Schrag) explained to me what he hoped my talk would accomplish I got goose bumps because it was exactly what God had put on my heart at Hesston seven months earlier. I have rarely been part of something that was so obviously providential. I was humbled and delighted to be given this important assignment. My message was -- and is -- basically this.There is a beautiful and powerful grassroots Kingdom movement arising all over the globe that Mennonites in particular need to notice. Millions of people are abandoning the Christendom paradigm of the traditional Christian faith in order to become more authentic followers of Jesus. From the Emergent Church movement to the Urban Monastic Movement to a thousand other independent groups and movements, people are waking up to the truth that the Kingdom of God looks like Jesus and that the heart of Christianity is simply imitating him. Millions are waking up to the truth that followers of Jesus are called to love the unlovable, serve the oppressed, live in solidarity with the poor, proclaim Good News to the lost and be willing to lay down our life for our enemies. Multitudes are waking up to the truth that the distinctive mark of the Kingdom is the complete rejection of all hatred and violence and the complete reliance on love and service of others, including our worst enemies. Masses of people are waking up to the truth that followers of Jesus aren't called to try to win the world by acquiring power over others but by exercising power under others -- the power of self-sacrificial love.What many who are being caught up in this movement lack is a sense of tribal identity and historical rooting, and many are looking for his. A central feature of post-modernity is the longing to "live in a story" that's bigger than oneself. Many, therefore, are looking for a tradition they can align with.The only tradition that embodies what this rising breed of Kingdom radicals is looking for is the Anabaptist tradition (which the Mennonites are heir to). This is the only tradition that consistently refused political power and violence. This is the only tradition that made humble, self-sacrificial love the centerpiece of what it means to follow Jesus. It's the only tradition that isn't soaked in blood and the only tradition that looks remotely like Jesus. Many (in fact, most) of the early leaders of this movement in the 16th century paid for their non-compliance with the Christendom paradigm by being martyred. This tradition is a treasure to be cherished. And it's a tradition whose time may have come, for this is precisely the vision of the Kingdom that millions today are waking up to.The irony is that, just as millions like myself are running toward this treasure, many Mennonites are running away from it. In the name of becoming culturally relevant, the distinctive, radical aspects of the Anabaptist tradition are being downplayed by some as they become "mainstream" American Christians. For example, some Mennonite churches now allow national flags on their premi[...]

The Shack: A Review


Over the last few months I've had at least a dozen people tell me I needed to read the novel The Shack by William P. Young. "It's your theology in narrative form," one person told me. Now, I rarely read novels, especially Christian novels. And in my experience, Christian novels that try to get theological are the worst. But, giving the pattern of enthusiastic recommendations and given that someone had given me a free copy begging me to read it, I decided to give it a two or three chapter trial on a plane ride the other day.Warning: Do not read this novel on a plane or any other public place where you're trapped around people -- unless you're totally okay with becoming emotionally undone in front of perfect strangers. There are points where this book rips your heart out. At least it did me. The body building dude sitting next to me on the plane must have thought I was a first rate wimp, weeping over a novel.Anyway, to my surprise, I loved this book! Without giving much more away than is on the back of the book, The Shack is about a guy (Mack) whose little daughter is abducted and murdered by a serial pedophile killer (Young goes for the jugular on the problem of evil, which I deeply appreciate). Several despairing years later, Mack encounters God in the very shack where his daughter's life was taken. The bulk of the novel covers three days of conversations between Mack, on the one hand, and God "the Father" (who appears as an African American woman), the "Son" (appearing as a 30-something carpenter) and the "Holy Spirit" (an etherial, hilarious, Asian lady).I felt like the portrait of God in this novel was beautiful and reflective of what we find revealed in the New Testament. And the theological and psychological insights of this book were at times profound and consistently communicated in brilliantly simple ways. A good deal of the dialogue is about the problem of evil, but the novel touches on everything from the Trinity, Incarnation and the nature of free will to the nature of relationships, forgiveness and even the role of our imagination in staying anchored in "the Now." In fact, Young even addresses (at length) the nature of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This was the section that impressed me most. Young fleshes out how our tendency to judge God, others and ourselves lies at the root of our sin and misery. It was amazing. Those who have read my Repenting of Religion will have no trouble understanding why I was so excited about this material.Now, you might think that a book with all this theology would be pretty boring, but it's not -- at all. It's actually a page turner. Young manages to pack all this heady stuff into a narrative that keeps you spell-bound (at least it did me). In one moment he has your head spinning with theological quandries and in the next he has you crying, sometimes out of sadness and other times because of the beauty and tenderness of what he's sharing.I know many readers of this blog will be most interested in what I thought of Young's theodicy (his explanation for evil). I again don't want to give too much away because I want everyone to read this book. But I will say that those who told me Young expressed my understanding of God and evil in narrative form were largely right.I was at one point worried, for Young has God say to Mack, "As difficult as it will be for you to understand, everything that has taken place [including his daughter's abduction] is occurring exactly according to this purpose [God sharing his love, joy and freedom with humans] without violating choice or will " (pp.124-25). Sounds like a meticulous view of sovereignty playing the 'mystery card" of free will and divine determinism all over again. But as the narrative unfolds, it became very clear that whatever God [Young] meant by the above sentence, he didn't intend to say that evil happens because God has a purpose for it. Over and over God stresse[...]

Boyd and Heiser Dialogue On The Nephilim Question


In the previous post my friend Michael Heiser offered clarifications to points where he felt I misunderstood and misrepresented his position. In this post I'd like to share a dialogue between Michael and I that arose from the questions I raised in my review of his forthcoming book, The Myth That Is True.1) My original question: If these giants were as widespread as Heiser’s "seed of ha nachash" hypothesis supposes, why don’t we have archeological evidence of giant skeletons, buildings, tools, weapons, etc.?Michael's response: Michael replied that “[s]keletons don’t last that long to be recovered” and “[t]he giants of the bible (these giant clans) were not unusually tall BY OUR STANDARDS. I personally don’t believe that the biblical giants were over seven feet tall. According to the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scroll readings for the Goliath story, Goliath was actually 6 feet 6 inches.”My reply: This is surprising to me. What about the King of Og whose bed was over 13 ft. long and 6 ft wide? And why rely on the Septuagint version of Goliath’s height instead of the Hebrew text which, I’ve read, makes him over 9 feet tall?Michael's rejoinder: Regarding Og, his sarcophagus is what is measured, not him. Regarding Goliath, everyone who does textual criticism knows that the Masoretic text of Samuel is in bad shape. The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Material are, in the overwhelming number of cases, superior.2) My Original Question: Many of Heiser’s arguments are circumstantial and sometimes quite speculative….If the seed of ha nachash was as central to the biblical story-line…wouldn’t it be a bit more obvious?Michael's Response. Michael replied that he doesn’t “say anything that isn’t rooted in the text, and I tell you when I speculate.” He pointed out that his theory is “able to reconcile Gen 3, Isa 14, and Ezek 28” and is “grounded in the text and in comparative data.” Finally, Michael noted that since I misunderstood his nachash thesis (see the previous post), he felt my “question is a bit misguided.”My reply: Michael’s right that my overly-literally reading of his ha nachash theory lessens the force of the objection I raise here. And it’s true that Michael believes his interpretation of ha nachash as “the shiny one” reconciles Gen. 3, Isa 14 and Ezek. 28. But his interpretation still strikes me as circumstantial, and I don’t see any conflict between these three passages that needs to be reconciled.Michael's rejoinder: The vast majority of critical OT scholars and likely a majority of evangelical OT scholars do NOT feel Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are referencing the “serpent” of Eden. I disagree, but I am in the minority.3) My Original Question: Genesis 3:15 suggests an on-going animosity between the seed of the serpent (or shiny one) and the seed of Eve until a descendant of Eve crushes the serpent's (or shiny one's) head. But if the seed of ha nachash is the Nephilim, then the battle seems to have ended pretty much with the invasion of the promised land (with a few lingering giants among the Philistines to be slain later on).Michael's Reply: Michael replied that he didn’t see the battle as ending in the OT, and the only reason I thought he was suggesting this was because I took his idea that the Nephilim were the seed of ha nachash too literally.My response: Fair enough.4) My Original Question: Because there’s so little in Scripture about the rebellious gods begetting Nephilim, Heiser has to rely quite a bit on certain non-canonical writings to flesh out his thesis, especially 1 Enoch.Michael's Response: Michael responded that “This is just wrong. Genesis 6 is crystal clear, and 1-2 and Jude back it up in very explicit terms.”My Reply: I grant that Genesis 6 is pretty clear and that 2 Peter 2 and Jude are most likely tapping into the "Watcher" tradition. But I don’t think this gets us[...]

Heiser Clarifies Misunderstandings in My Review


In my last post I reviewed chapters from my friend Michael Heiser's forthcoming book, The Myth That Is True. He wrote me a response pointing out several areas where I seem to have misunderstood him. He said my misunderstandings were helpful, for they pointed out areas where he might need to be clearer in the text. But I certainly don't want to in any way misrepresent his position, so I'd like to post his clarifications.1. I said I thought the "lynch-pin in Heiser’s thesis is Genesis 3:15 in which the Lord says that, because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, there would be on-going enmity between the offspring of the serpent (ha nachash) and the descendants of Eve.” Heiser responded:My view of the nachash is not a lynchpin to the later idea connecting the holy wars of Joshua to the giant clans. You can hold the latter without the former.2. I thought Michael was arguing that the Nephilim were the offspring of ha nachash that Yahweh had earlier prophesied would war against humans. Heiser wrote:Actually, I don’t believe the nephilim are literally connected to the nachash in any sort of genealogical way. The nephilim are spiritually the seed of the nachash in that they are enemies of the people of God. The nephilim are “demon seed” in that they were fathered by divine beings, but they are never linked to the nachash (the “serpent”) in the Bible. They’re just “on the same team” as enemies of God and God’s human family. The nephilim are a “fulfillment” of the curse about the seed of the nachash hating the seed of the woman—but the nephilim are seed of the nachash only in that they are enemies of the people of God. It just happens they aren’t mere humans. No “familial link” can be established between the nachash and the nephilim, but a “common enemy” link can certainly be established.3. I said that "Satan’s strategy, presumably, was to pollute the human gene pool in order to prevent the arrival of the fully human descendant of Eve (Jesus) who would overthrow Satan’s reign on earth.” Michael responded:I don’t believe that the POINT of the cohabitation of divine beings and human women was to infect the messianic line. That was a residual effect, but not the motivation. There is no biblical or Second Temple literature that has the sons of God expressing the motive of disrupting the messianic line.4. I thought Michael was arguing that the reason God ordered the Canaanites exterminated was because he wanted "to ensure that his people, from whom the Messiah would come, would not be polluted with the ‘demon seed.’” Heiser responded:This overstates my position. The need to eradicate the nephilim was not to save the messianic line (I don’t say that in the book to my knowledge). Rather, the reason is to reclaim the land promised to them from ancient enemies who were descended from the nephilim.5. I said that "while it seems only the Anakites were direct descendants of the Nephilim, this passage [Num. 13:33] suggests that the demonically-caused genetic propensity toward great height was very widespread. In other words, it suggests that many if not all Canaanites were at least indirectly related to the Nephilim.” Michael responded:I don’t like the phrase “demonically caused” because the sons of God were not demons. They are different beings. This makes it sound (again) like I see a “genetic” link between the nachash and the nephilim, when I don’t. The height was due to the fathership of the sons of God, not demons. (Yes, the sons of God were corrupt and sinned, but “angelology” is not so simple as to use the word “demon” of them. Demons have their own separate origin. The text also doesn’t say (and I don’t say) that the Anakim were first generation descendants of the nephilim (but it does link them securely in some generational relationship).My hearty thanks to Michae[...]

Yahweh's War Against the Nephilim


Hello Bloggers and Bloggerettes,Sorry it's been awhile. Been very busy la la la la.In this post I’d like to review a forthcoming book by my friend Michael Heiser. It's entitled The Myth That is True and Michael was kind enough to send me several chapters that deal with the topic of the Nephilim. (My thanks to Michael!) Heiser’s arguments are often complex and nuanced and I obviously can’t begin to do justice to them in a short (or even long) post. So I encourage readers to get his book when it comes out. Though Heiser often relies on his technical expertise in Ancient Near Eastern studies (he’s an Old Testament scholar), he communicates his material in a very readable and even entertaining way. His book reads something like a detective novel. I think a lot of you would enjoy it. In the meantime you can visit Michael's website here.As with my previous post on the Nephilim, buckle your seat belt. We're going to get into some pretty bizarre stuff.The seed of "the shiny one" The lynch-pin of Heiser’s thesis is Genesis 3:15 in which the Lord says that, because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, there would be on-going enmity between the offspring of the serpent (ha nachash) and the descendants of Eve. Yet, the Lord says, in the end a descendant of Eve will crush the head of ha nachash. Heiser (who has a impressive command of Ancient Near Eastern languages) argues that ha nachash shouldn’t be translated as a noun (“serpent”) but as an adjective, in which case it means “the shiny one” (cf. Isa. 14:12 and Ezek. 28:14 where Satan is spoken of in similar terms). According to Heiser, therefore, the prophesy of Genesis 3:15 isn’t about the enmity that sometimes exists between snakes and people but between the seed of the shining one -- Satan -- and humans.This concept of the “seed of ha nachash” has a spiritual application, such as when people are described in the Bible as children of the devil (e.g. Jn 8:44). But, Heiser argues, it also has a more literal application. We first find this literal application in the Genesis 6 account of the “sons of God” taking wives from the “daughters of human beings” and begetting Nephilim (giants).Heiser marshals a number of convincing arguments against those who try to argue that the “sons of God” in this passage refer to the righteous lineage of Seth and that the “daughters of men” refer to the unrighteous lineage of Cain. Making use of his expertise in Ancient Near Eastern languages, he also refutes those who attempt to argue that the word Nephilim means “fallen ones” (as in fallen people) rather than supernaturally conceived giants. He thus defends the uniform ancient Jewish and early Christian understanding of this passage as a report of angelic beings (called "Watchers") who took on flesh, had intercourse with women and beget hybrid, quasi-divine creatures who were extraordinarily tall, strong and violent. According to Heisner, these Nephilim are the offspring of ha nachash that Yahweh had earlier prophesied would war against humans. Satan’s strategy, presumably, was to pollute the human gene pool in order to prevent the arrival of the fully human descendant of Eve (Jesus) who would overthrow Satan’s reign on earth.Humans were apparently willing participants in this rebellion, for the Genesis account says the “sons of God” took “wives.” In other words, they didn’t rape women. According to I Enoch (which Heiser thinks is passing on reliable traditions), this unnatural intermingling began in the “days of Jared,” who is referenced in Genesis 5:18. This means this rebellious angelic activity had been going on for centuries before God decided it was time to judge humanity, the fallen angels and their hybrid children in Noah’s day. Moreover, Heiser argues that by telling us that only Noah and his immediate[...]

What's Up With The Nephilim?


After a little break to plug the upcoming NDY fund raiser for Providence ministries and then show off my new granddaughter, it's time to get back to trying to explain why God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites.I'll warn you ahead of time: this reflection is a bit "out there." But I believe in leaving no stone unturned. Over the last few weeks a dozen or so people have sent e-mails expressing their conviction that many of the Canaanites were not really human. Some, at least, were Nephilim -- giants who were the hybrid progeny of fallen angels having sex with women.I told you this was going to be "out there."In light of these suggestions I looked into this possibility. I found a good deal of truly bizarre stuff (e.g. linking the Nephilim to the building of the Pyramids, the Easter Island Statues, UFOs and so on). But I also learned some things I didn't know before. Here's the theory (or at least my novice take on this theory) in a nutshellIn Genesis 6:4 we are told that the "sons of God" (ben elohim) had sex with the "daughters of the human beings" and had offspring. These were "the Nephilim" (meaning giants) whom the author says are "the heroes of old, men of renown." All ancient interpreters of the Bible agree that the "sons of God" in this passage refers to angelic beings who were supposed to watch over humans but who instead rebelled against God and used their position of authority to corrupt the race. (This is referred to as the "watcher tradition." It was widespread in the ancient Jewish world and early Christian tradition. It's possibly alluded to in Jude 6. It's fully expressed in 1 Enoch, which is quoted in Jude 14-15). As I argued in my book God at War, viewing the "sons of God" as angels squares with biblical terminology and explains why the offspring of their unnatural union with women were supernaturally large. It also accounts for why the Genesis author shares this bizarre episode as a prelude to the story of the flood. He's demonstrating how hopelessly screwed up the human race was getting to justify God sending a flood and starting over with Noah's family. As an interestingly aside, many ancient cultures have stories of semi-divine warriors who fought in the past (e.g. the Titans). Many people argue these fables are rooted in actual history -- which, they argue, is what the Genesis author is giving us in 6:4.Anyway, I always assumed the hybrid Nephilim were killed in the flood. But several people drew my attention to the fact that the Genesis author says, "the Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward... "(Gen. 6:4, emphasis added). This means that either some Nephilim survived the flood (which is possible if you hold to a local flood, as most Bible scholars today do) or that the rebel angels went back to work creating hybrid offspring at some point after the flood.What's this got to do with the Canaanites? Well, there are a number of references to exceptionally large people among the Canaanites, linking them to the Nephilim. Here's a summary.* When the spies returned from scouting out the land, they told the people, " We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Nu. 13:33, emphasis added). They also brought back "a single cluster of grapes" from the land that were so large it took two men to carry it (Nu. 13:23). Don't ask me.* There are several other references to the descendants of Anak (Anakites) that make mention of their incredible size, as well as other Canaanite tribes that are said to be "as tall as the Anakites"( Duet 1:28; 2:10, 21; 9:2). Some argue these also are descendants of the Nephilim.* We find a reference to Og, King of Bashan -- a Raphite (who are also said to be as tall as the Anakites[...]

It's a Girl!!!


Shelley and I are proud to announce that our wonderful daughter Alisha (aka: "snorky") and our spectacular son-in-law Tim have given birth to an adorable, 8 pound, 21 inch baby girl! They've given her the name "Sage" (isn't that an cool name?).

Congratulations Tim and Alisha!!!

We thank God for his precious new creation, given as a gift to this beautiful Kingdom couple.

And so...

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We proudly present to you,

Sage Nicole Gilbert(image) (image) (image)
P.S. Tim and Alisha feel called to move into the city so they've put their town home on the market. If you know anyone interested in a very spacious, delightful town home in the Burnsville area...check their place out here.

Reverend Greg Boyd "The Drummer"


NDY (Not Dead Yet) will be performing Friday, June 6th, 8pm at O'Gara's Garage in St. Paul. Cover charge is $10 at the door, with all proceeds going towards Providence House in Haiti.

We hope you can make it to hear the band live but if not below is Reverend Boyd playing a drum solo leading into Takin' Care Of Business at NDY's gig from January. Greg, I (Marcia) dare you to quit your day job!

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The Teleological Exegetical Principle and O.T. Violence


These days we're (mostly) discussing why the God of the Hebrew Bible sometimes commands people to slaughter enemies, including women and children, while Jesus reveals that God dies for enemies and longs for their forgiveness. Based on our recent exploration of Peter Craigie’s The Problem of War in the Old Testament, I’m in the process of formulating what I might call The Teleological Exegetical Principle. (Remember folks, I'm thinking out loud here. I'm exploring possibilities, not giving absolute conclusions). Basically, this principle stipulates that, all other things being equal, we should always interpret the beginning of any divine program from its end (telos).Let's first apply this principle to the law of the Old Testament. The Old Testament law initially looked like it was given to make us righteous before God, but it failed (as Paul frequently notes). Given that it ended in failure, the Teleological Exegetical Principle would lead us (along with Paul) to presume that this was the point (or at least one of the points) of God giving the law all along. He was proving to us that we can never be made righteous before God by striving to obey the law alone. In the light of this failure, we (along with Paul) can view the law as a "shadow” pointing us -- as a negative object lesson -- to the reality of “Christ.” Its failure prepared us to humbly accept God’s righteousness as a gift given through Christ.If Craigie is right, this principle also applies to nationalism and violence (they are inseparable) in the Old Testament. Divinely sanctioned nationalistic violence initially looked like it could establish the Kingdom of God, but it failed. The nation of Israel tried to live by the sword but it ended up dying by the sword (as Jesus said would always happen). Given that nationalistic violence ended in failure, the Teleological Exegetical Principle would lead us to presume that this was the point (or at least one of the points) of God using nationalistic violence all along. He was proving to us that his Kingdom can never be brought about by nationalism and violence.This negative object lesson laid the groundwork for the coming of the anti-nationalistic, anti-violent Kingdom, inaugurated through Jesus. And this leads to yet another application of the the Teleological Exegetical Principle.Jesus’ death -- which was brought about because Jesus refused to be co-opted by nationalism or to resort to any violence -- initially looked like a failure but ended up in victory. Jesus' sacrificial death defeated the Powers, set captives free, reconciled us to God and established the Kingdom of God on earth. Given that Jesus’ death ended in victory, the Teleological Exegetical Principle would lead us to presume that this was the point of Jesus refusing nationalism and violence. He was proving to us that God's Kingdom can only be brought about by refusing nationalism and violence as we rather choose to love and sacrifice for our enemies, even to the point of death.So, if the God who sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament looks antithetical to the God who died for his enemies on Calvary, this is because it's supposed to! If you're offended and angered when you read about Yahweh commanding the slaughter of women and children or David celebrating infants being smashed against rocks, it's because being offended and angered by this sort of barbarism is the point. Only if you see how grotesque and futile this nationalistic violence is will you be able to fully devote yourself to a non-nationalistic and anti-violent Kingdom.If Craigie is right, God was reluctantly condescending to the violent mindset of the world and playing the part of a tribal warrior god in order to ultimately show us (am[...]

Review of Ehrman's "God's Problem"


The other night I read Bart Ehrman's new book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer. Since it touches on the issue of violence in the Old Testament and since I've received so many e-mails asking me about it, I thought I'd post a review.This book was better than I expected. I really disliked Ehrman's earlier best-selling book Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman's conclusions were very biased and went far beyond what the evidence warranted. Yet he presented his arguments in such a way that laypeople unfamiliar with the science of textual criticism could (and many did) find convincing. Consequently, I initially resisted reading God's Problem. I figured if Ehrman's work was poor in his area of expertise (Ehrman is a New Testament textual critic), it would probably be atrocious in an area where he isn't a specialist (viz. dealing with the problem of evil). Nevertheless, a friend (Paul Eddy) compelled me to read it and, much to my surprise, I actually thought it was pretty good. It was certainly better argued and fairer than his Misquoting Jesus.I'll make six comments that roughly follow the outline of Erhman's book.1) Ehrman does a masterful job presenting the problem of evil in its full horror. His book is permeated with horrific examples of evil, and he gives these because he rightly surmises that most westerners (certainly most western Christians) wrestle with this issue in a detached, theoretical manner. They are thus inclined to accept easy answers that are woefully inadequate. I couldn't agree more.2) Ehrman notes how Old Testament authors viewed suffering as divine punishment (chapters 2-3). He presents this material -- much of which we've covered the last couple weeks on this blog -- in all its barbaric horror. I would quibble with some of his interpretations (e.g. his view that animal sacrifices were meant to appease God's wrath), but overall his work here is solid. Ehrman concludes this section (as he does each section) with a critique. He forcefully argues that, as a comprehensive explanation for why humans suffer, this just doesn't work. What's odd, however, is that Ehrman correctly notes that Old Testament authors never presented God's judgments as "a universal principle, as a way of explaining every instance of suffering" (49). Yet, he still critiques the punishment motif as if it was meant to be an exhaustive explanation of evil. His criticisms are valid against the divine punishment theodicy, but not at all against the Bible.3) Ehrman nicely expounds on a biblical motif that views suffering as a consequence of human sin -- revealing that biblical authors had some sense of free will (chapter 4). In this context he discusses the "free will defense." Ehrman notes that there's a tension not addressed in the Bible between affirming human free will, on the one hand, and affirming an "all-powerful Sovereign...who foreknows all things" (113). Elsewhere in the book Ehrman adds that the free will defense doesn't explain "natural evil" (12-13). Those who are familiar with my work (e.g. Is God to Blame?, God of the Possible and Satan and the Problem of Evil) won't be surprised to hear me claim that neither objection is very strong. Given that the free will defense is the most common one appealed to by Christians, I was surprised at how brief and unpersuasive Ehrman was in trying to refute it.4) Ehrman proceeds to discuss a wide variety of biblical passages that suggest, in various ways, that God uses suffering to contribute to the greater good (ch. 5). I felt that both Ehrman's presentation of the biblical material and critique of the greater good defense in this chapter were strong. Erhman rightly[...]

thanks Greg!


just wanted to say thanks to Greg for the very sweet post on my b-day!!
and Greg, I am very impressed that you managed to post something on your own without any spelling or grammar mistakes. see, you don't really need me as much as you think you do.
oh yeah, here is the Feb. 24th link (you really should learn how to make links,'s easy, even for the techno-challenged).



This is my friend Jen. She's one of the kindest, humblest and smartest people you could ever meet.

She's also a blast to party with!

I first met Jen 11 years ago when she was a student at Bethel University. She was my Teaching Assistant for two years and has remained a close friend of mine and my small group ever since. Regular visitors of this blog may recall that Jen is a University of Minnesota and Harvard trained medical doctor who has been serving folks in Haiti the last nine months. She's also the wonder-woman who stitched up my ripped-apart toe when our small group was vacationing in Mexico. (For gross photos, check out the post on February 24 -- I'd provide a LINK, but I'm techno-challenged and thus don't know how. In fact, I had to get Julie Ross to get Jen's picture on this post because I don't know how. Thank you Julie!)

What readers probably don't know is that, among her many gifts, Jen is a master word-smith. She graciously edits all my posts (except this one, which is meant to be a surprise -- which is why there's no LINK to the post with the gross toe). On top of this, Jen has just finished editing my forthcoming book Revolting Beauty and is now in the process of editing all the material on the new CVM website that will be launched in a month or so. (The new site has hundreds of pages of writings on various theological issues). She's done all this while serving people down in Haiti!

And now you know why I refer to her as a "wonder-woman."

Today is Jen's 30th birthday. So I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly say:

Happy Birthday Jen!!!

you are a gift to me
and to everyone who knows you.
Thank you
for all you do
but even more
for who you are.

You're a truly beautiful human being!

“Shadow” and “Reality”


Hello Bloggerites,

In the last post we discussed Craigie’s view that one of the central purposes why God involved himself in using violence to establish and preserve Israel was to provide humanity with a negative object lesson: namely, nationalism and violence can never bring about the Kingdom of God. I agree with this perspective, but it seems to me Craigie’s thesis could be strengthened by showing how it's rooted in the New Testament itself.

In the book of Colossians Paul says that, in the light of Christ, all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament must be seen as “a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). The author of Hebrews teaches the same thing when he says that “[t]he law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves” (Heb 10:1, cf. 8:5). Now that "the reality" (Christ) has come, we can and must abandon the shadow. This is closely related to Paul's teaching in Galatians that the law was intended as a tutor to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:23-24). The law exposes our sin and thus reveals the truth that we cannot reconcile ourselves to God on this basis (cf. Rom. 7: 6-20). In other words, the law is a shadow that points beyond itself by providing us with a negative object lesson.

If Craigie is right, God's involvement in nationalistic violence can be understood along similar lines. As the law was intended to lead us to Christ by showing us how not to try to be reconciled to God, so nationalistic violence was intended to lead us to the true Kingdom of God by showing us how not to try to establish God's Kingdom. As the failure of the law points us to Christ, so the failure of nationalistic violence points us to the Kingdom of God. As the law is a shadow of the reality of Christ, so nationalistic violence is a shadow of the reality of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, one could argue that these two negative-object lessons are implied in each other, for the law structured the way Israel existed as a distinct nation and it was premised on divinely sanctioned violence. The failure of the law to bring us into alignment with God's will is thus related to the failure of the nation and its intrinsic violence to bring us into alignment with God's will. Both reveal that we are too sinful to reconcile ourselves to God and bring about his Kingdom. And God used both to prepare us to embrace a Savior who saves us by grace and whose Kingdom transcends all national boundaries and refuses all violence.

These reflections take us a long way in reconciling the Old Testament's God of war with Jesus' teaching to love our enemies and abstain from all violence. If the God and the ethics revealed by Jesus seem to at points contrast sharply with the God and ethics of the Old Testament's war tradition (and they certainly do), this is because they're supposed to! This is the point!

At the same time, we can't pretend for a moment that this explanation alone is adequate. For example, Craigie's thesis doesn't even address the issue of God's direct use of violence in the Old Testament. I'll address this and a multitude of other questions in future blogs.

Stay centered in his love


A Negative Object Lesson: Review of Craigie III


Hats off to Todd Dietz for his excellent, hard-hitting video! Brilliant!! Thanks for sharing that Todd.We’re discussing Peter Craigie’s work, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, as part of a broader discussion on the problem of violence in the Old Testament. So far we’ve seen that Craigie argues that God’s involvement in war in the Old Testament was a concession to human sinfulness. One of God's purposes, we saw, was to reveal how horrifying war is. We’ll now consider an even more fundamental purpose Craigie finds in God’s involvement in war. In my opinion, this is the single most insightful aspect of his book.Craigie notes how God’s decision to work with a nation (Israel) to move towards his Kingdom objectives in creation required, as a matter of necessity, that God be willing to get involved in war. Given that God’s usual mode of operation is to work through “normal human activity” and "normal human institutions" as he finds them (70-71 [all numbers refer to Craigie's work]), there was no way for a state to be established and preserved in the ancient world (or the modern world, for that matter) except by relying on military force. All national relations in the ancient (and modern) world hang on a balance of power (69). Hence, Craigie argues, "[a]s a nation state in the real world of that time, Israel could not exist without war" (71). With Jacques Ellul, Craigie argues that statehood and violence are inextricably linked together (71-72), a fact that simply reveals how deep violence is lodged in the human heart (73).But why did God choose to work with a nation, and therefore to use violence, in the first place? To understand this, Craigie argues, we have to look at how the whole enterprise ended up. We have to interpret the beginning of God's establishment of Israel through violence from the perspective of the end. And the end was utter defeat for this chosen nation.As Israel was established by war, Craigie notes, so “the end too was to come in war” (76). Craigie details how the Israelites fell violently to their enemies after the reign of David (76-77). This defeat was “a reversal of their own conquest” (77). Just as God had earlier used the Israelites to judge the Canaanites, so God now used other violent nations to judge the Israelites (77). As Craigie says, “It was becoming evident that God was no respecter of persons, and though the providence of God might not always be fully understood, a certain justice was becoming clear in his dealings with men” (77).Yet, out of the darkness of this stunning defeat, a radically new vision of the Kingdom began to emerge, according to Craigie. For example, Jeremiah, who lived through the critical years of the end of the state of Judah, announced the coming of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). “Whereas the old covenant had an external form in the nation state,” Craigie notes, “the new covenant would be marked by an inner work of God in man’s heart” (79). (As an aside, Craigie wrote in the seventies and thus fails to use inclusive terminology). For Jeremiah, “the failure of the chosen people to fulfill their high calling pointed to a deeper need in man which could only be met by a work of God in man’s heart” (79).Along similar lines, in response to their dismal military defeat, Zechariah offers hope by proclaiming that Israel’s king would eventually come. But instead of announcing that he would come in might and power and triumph over Israel’s enemies, as previous prophets had frequently proclaimed, Zechariah announced that their king would come “marked by hu[...]

Dollars = Change


A podrishioner guest post - Todd Dietz

I first heard Pastor Boyd speak online when he was at Mars Hill Church. I liked what I heard so I found the Woodland Hills Church podcasts and started listening every week. I'm a restaurant manager and work a few late nights every week. After close and everyone is gone I catch up on paperwork and listen to Greg's sermons. I do appreciate the shout-outs given to podrishioners every week.

Ten years ago I started playing around with video editing, which led me to participate in a local film festival. This past year I drew inspiration from Pastor Boyd’s sermon “Taking Back The House”, my third festival entry, which can be watched below. Also, you can learn more here about the making of this video.

Although I am located hundreds of miles away Greg's teachings are a blessing to me.

Todd Dietz
Cedar Falls, Iowa

Dollars = Change by: Todd Dietz

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Revealing the Horror of War: Review of Craigie, Part II.


Hello Blogging Friends,I’m in the process of critically reviewing various perspectives on the problem of violence in the Old Testament. My goal is to extract principles along the way to hopefully arrive at a comprehensive explanation for why the warrior portrait of God in the Old Testament seems so radically different from the God revealed in the crucified messiah. I've appreciated all the feedback I've gotten on the posts thus far.In my previous post I began reviewing Craigie’s book The Problem of War in the Old Testament. We saw that Craigie holds that the metaphor of God as a warrior reveals that God is not above getting involved in sinful human activity -- even activity as sinful as war. As much as God hates war, he is willing to use it for his own purposes. God’s involvement in war reveals his remarkable willingness to accommodate and utilize human sin, but it reveals nothing about God’s true moral character, according to Craigie. To discover this, we must look above all to Jesus Christ.So, what are the purposes for which God involves himself in war, according to Craigie? This is the question that this and the next post will address.War is Hell According to Craigie, one of purposes Yahweh had in getting involved in war was to expose its true, horrifying character. Craigie discusses the views of the famous Prussian soldier and philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831). In his book On War, Clausewitz argues that the main objective for any nation going to war is to utterly demolish the will and ability of their opponent to ever rise up against the nation again (Craigie, 47). He held that “to introduce into the philosophy of war itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity” (Clausewitz, On War, Penguin edition, 1968 [1832], 102). The only type of war that makes any sense, according to Clausewitz, is one that is willing to do whatever is necessary to permanently vanquish the enemy.In this light, Craigie criticizes Just War theory which attempts to spell out the conditions under which war can be justly entered into and fought. Following Clausewitz, Craigie holds that the idea that war can be moderated in a just manner is “unrealistic,” for the truth is that war is “essentially lawlessness” (53). As General Sherman so eloquently put it, “war is hell.” It’s not a “game played by rules," Craigie says. Only after a war has ended do we pretend that there were rules people were supposed to abide by. In this way the victors (and only the victors!) can “indict the loser for ‘war crimes’” (53).Craigie interprets the several divine commands given to Joshua and others to slaughter all the Canannites (e.g. Deut 2, 7; Josh. 6) to be a “massive and solemn warning” about the true, hellish nature of war. They reveal that, as much as we might try to sanitize war with our unrealistic theories, there are, in truth, “no half-measures in war” (53). The macabre warfare narratives of the Old Testament “destroy any illusions we may have about war being 'not all that bad,' a kind of sport played by gentlemen.” (As I mentioned in the previous post, this is why Craigie refuses to follow the tradition of calling these “holy wars”). These narratives, Craigie argues, are “a safer guide to the reality of war than are the various formulations of the “Just War” theory that have emerged in the history of Christianity” (53).Any person who is committed to taking all their cues about what God is like and about how humans are to live from Jesus Christ mus[...]

Speaking of Faith


The discussion with Greg, Shane Claiborne and Chuck Colson can be found here.

We encourage you to listen to the unedited version.

Posted by your friendly Admins. ;-)

Craigie: The Problem of War in the Old Testament, Part I


Hi folks.Today I’m returning back to my “thinking out loud” about the problem of violence in the Old Testament. My posts on Vernon Eller's War and Peace From Genesis to Revelation produced some interesting reactions in readers. On the one hand, I received a number of e-mails from people who were quite relieved to find that I ended up rejecting Eller's view that the divinely commanded violence of the Old Testament should be understood to be merely part of its cultural packaging. I apparently had them worried. Others, however, were disappointed (and several even angered) that I ended up rejecting Eller's thesis. I want to reassure these latter folks that I fully understand where they were coming from. I would love to embrace Eller's perspective. But, at least at this point in my life, I honesty just can’t reconcile it with my submission to Jesus as Lord.In the next few posts I want to assess Peter Craigie’s views expressed in a small but insightful book entitled The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Wipf and Stock, 2002 [orig. 1978]). (All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in The Problem of War).To begin, Peter Craigie doesn't pull any punches in laying out the problem of war in the Old Testament. When we read of God commanding the literal slaughter of men and women, young and old, it is (and should be) disturbing (10). This material poses three distinct sets of problems, according to Craigie.First, it creates a theological problem, for the portrait of “God as Warrior” seems incompatible with “the New Testament description of God as loving and self-giving” (11.) Second, it creates a problem of revelation, for we have to wonder how a book so filled with ruthless violence can be considered God’s word (11). Third, the war material in the Old Testament creates an ethical problem, for, in contradiction to the New Testament, this material has often been used to justify killing – and in God’s name. (11-12).This last problem is particularly challenging, since throughout Church history “the opposition to war has been proclaimed by lonely voices” (15). Indeed, Craigie briefly traces the influence of the war tradition of the Old Testament throughout history and shows how it influenced the violent tendencies in Islam as well as in Church history (chapter II). Starting with Augustine’s appeal to political authorities to punish heretics and extending through the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation, the Conquistadors, and even going up through the American civil war, Christians have relied on the Old Testament war traditions to justify Christians butchering enemies rather than serving them, as Jesus taught (27-29). Indeed, many still skip right past Jesus and appeal to the Old Testament violence to justify Christians participating in war or using violence for other reasons.Craigie acknowledges that one might be tempted to simply dismiss all the war material in the Old Testament as a residue of the barbaric cultural packaging revelation had to come in (34-35). (This is basically the avenue Eller and many others take). But Craigie argues we have to be very hesitant to do this. For one thing, the warfare material is central to the Old Testament (36-37). Rejecting this would require dismissing a good deal of the Bible! Even more importantly, Jesus and the first Christians regarded the whole Old Testament as God’s Word (12, 35, 37-38). For Craigie, therefore, dismissing this material is simply not a viable opti[...]

Eckhart Tolle’s "A New Earth" Book Review


As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm going to suspend our discussion of violence in the O.T. for one more post in order to review Eckhart Tolle’s new book, A New Earth. The book has become an overnight sensation thanks largely to Oprah's enthusiastic endorsement. In fact, Oprah is in the process of hosting a 10-week on-line course conducted by Tolle. Over two million students are participating in this! In response to this, there’s been a frenzy of e-mails and video clips being sent out by conservative Christians warning people that Oprah is a false prophet, the heretical pastor of the world's largest mega-church, a leader of a new cult, etc…Hearing the buzz I decided to pick the book up at the airport and read it on the plane ride out to the conference in California I attended last week. Here’s my review.Insights in A New Earth I have to start by saying I found nothing in this book that hasn’t been said many times before by others who espouse various forms of eastern spirituality. More specifically, it struck me that many (if not most) of Tolle’s ideas are simply restatements of ideas espoused by J. Krishnamurti -- though, curiously enough, Tolle never refers to him. At the same time, Tolle is a much better mass communicator than Krishnamurti (or any other promoter of eastern spirituality I've ever read). He has an ability to package esoteric ideas in ways that westerners can easily understand and absorb, and this undoubtedly goes a long way in explaining Tolle's success.As was true whenever I've read Krishnamurti, I found some aspects of Tolle’s book very helpful. For example, his analysis of the false and futile ways the ego tries to give itself worth is superb. His insights on judgment, the origins of violence and the causes of relational dysfunction were wonderful. His strong emphasis on “living in the present moment” is full of wisdom. And he is brilliant at helping readers identify ways in which they get stuck. I can easily understand why many readers experience “aha” moments as they read this material. Tolle masterfully names issues all of us wrestle with, usually without knowing it. One can't help but feel like Tolle is telling their own story.But this is also why this book deeply concerns me. For, while Tolle is a master at identifying the universal human problem, the solution he offers to address this problem is, from a Christian perspective, as misguided as any proposed solution could be. I’ll say three things.Individuality, Relations and Love as Maya First, Tolle espouses a rather typical eastern metaphysics in which the true "you" is not the "you" that is distinct from other people, but the (alleged) "you" that is one with the universe. To grasp this, imagine waves on an ocean. Your individual ego is one such wave, but the true “you" in the eastern religious worldview is the ocean itself – as it is for me and every other “wave.” The wave -"you" is limited and temporary, but the ocean-"you" is unlimited and eternal. According to Tolle and the eastern worldview in general, every problem we have, individually and as a collective whole, is the result our tendency to identify with, cling to and fight for the limited, transitory wave instead of with the unlimited, eternal ocean.In fact, for Tolle, as for most who espouse eastern spirituality, our individuality is something of an illusion – Maya, as the Hindus call it (9 -- all page numbers refer to A New Earth). What is ultimately[...]

More on Evolution as Cosmic Warfare


I spend the weekend hanging out with some of my openness friends attending a Science and Openness Theology Conference in southern California. We all presented essays we've been working on since last summer for a book on Science and Openness Theology. After each presentation other Conference participants offered critical feedback.As I mentioned in my previous post, my essay was entitled Evolution As Cosmic Warfare. Given the incredible stature of Satan in the N.T., I argued, we have grounds for interpreting the massive carnage and waste found in evolution as largely, if not completely, the work of Satan, not God. (I refer to Satan as a shorthand way of referring to Satan, principalities and powers and demons, since I think all play a role in corrupting nature).A lot of people loved my argument. Others not so much. A few seemed to loath it (especially those most heavily involved in the natural sciences). One line of criticism went something like this. If the evolution-as-cosmic-warfare thesis is right, then the animal kingdom today is the result of the activity of both God and Satan. So a tiger, for example, reflects both the glory of God as well as the malevolent character of Satan. But it's not clear that this "co-designer" model is coherent. Even if it is coherent, how are we to decide which characteristics should be attributed to God and which to Satan? On top of this, one person argued that for my thesis to be regarded as plausible, it was incumbent upon me to offer a compelling scientific account of how Satan corrupted natural processes to produce things like malevolent parasites and carnivorous predators.I responded by saying I could see no difficulty in admitting dual spiritual influences in the evolutionary process. Consider the glowing bunny that scientists have created by splicing together the DNA of jellyfish and rabbits: It reflects the creative influence of both God and humans. Since we lack specific information about how God and Satan were involved in the evolutionary process , it may be impossible to trace specific characteristics back to their spiritual source -- assuming there is a spiritual source behind a specific characteristic or set of characteristics (often these may be merely the result of natural processes). If we didn't know that rabbits didn't originally glow, for example, we'd have no way of knowing that the glowing rabbit had been tampered with.Still, I argued, all other things being equal, to the extent that something in nature reflects the character of "a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8) rather than that of the benevolent Creator, we ought to at least entertain the possibility that this is due to the corrupting influence of Satan.Turning to the final criticism, it's true that I can't give a scientific account of how cosmic warfare produced malevolent parasites, predators and the like. But this is hardly a strike against my thesis since it applies equally to those theists who deny Satan's involvement in nature. For example, defenders of Intelligent Design who accept evolution hold that God's intelligence was involved in the unfolding of evolution, but they cannot give a scientific account of how he was so involved. This is the same boat I'm in, except that I simply add that we have no reason to assume God is the only spirit-agent affecting this process.The bottom line is that no one can provide a scientific account of how supernatural agen[...]

Evolution As Cosmic Warfare


Well, believe it or not, I'm going to take a break today from obsessing on the problem of violence in the Old Testament and instead obsess on the problem of violence in nature. (I promise to return to the O.T. soon -- we'll deal with Peter Craigie's The Problem of War in the Old Testament).Some of you who have been visiting this blog for ten months or more may recall that I was part of a three week science and theology conference last summer. It focused on integrating science with the open view of the future. (I blogged on the conference and topics surrounding it from June 18 to July 30, 2007). Among the many topics we discussed was the issue of explaining how an all-good Creator could have designed -- or at least allowed for -- a system of evolution that contained, if not necessitated, horrific violence, suffering and waste. This is the problem of "natural" evil, and it's eloquently expressed by Tennyson in his famous poem In Memoriam.Man…trusted God was love indeedAnd love Creation’s final law –Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and clawWith ravine, shrek’d against his creed.TennysonIn MemoriamNeither nature today, nor the evolutionary process that led up to it, look like they they were designed and governed by a non-violent God of love!Why am I obsessing on this now? Well, in about an hour I'm catching a plane to California to attend a follow-up conference to the one I attended last summer. All who attended last year's conference will be delivering papers on aspects of science and the open view of the future that were in whole or in part inspired by that conference. These papers will then be edited and (hopefully) published in a book. My essay addresses the problem of violence in nature and is entitled "Evolution As Cosmic Warfare: A Biblical Approach to So-Call 'Natural' Evil." (I know this will aggravate some readers who hold to a young earth creationist view, but my paper assumes that the earth is roughly 4.6 billion years old and that some form of evolution was involved in bringing about humans and the animal kingdom as we find them today).As my title suggests, the rather controversial thesis I will defend in my essay is that, given what the Bible has to say about Satan and other fallen angels, Christian theists have no reason to assume that the carnage and waste that characterizes the evolutionary process and nature today is all the result of how God designed nature. Indeed, I suggest we view evolution as a sort of epoch-long warfare between the life-affirming creativity of an all-good God, on the one hand, and the on-going corrupting influence of malevolent cosmic forces, on the other. The fact that God is nevertheless able to achieve his creational objectives (for example, the creation of humans in his image) through this corrupted process reflects God's sovereign wisdom in bringing good out of evil and overcoming evil with good.I end my paper by defending and tweaking a proposal put forth by Ralph Winter and a team of colleagues at the Roberta Winter Institute that reconciles this evolution-as-cosmic-warfare perspective with Genesis 1 and 2. Some of you may recall that last summer I announced I felt I had to modify my "gap" interpretation of Genesis 1 because it conflicted with the geological evidence. At the same time, I began to consider an alternative reading of Genesis 1 that I'd recently come across, proposed by Ralph Winter (I posted on this to[...]