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Greg Boyd Talks God's Non-violence, Theology and Evangelical Christianity

Dr. Greg Boyd is the keynote speaker for the upcoming Adventist Forum Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland titled Non-violence and the Atonement. In this Q & A with Adventist Forum board member Carmen Lau, Boyd describes his ministry, his views on God's non-violence, and why he is hesitant to self-describe as Evangelical.

You are an author, academic, teacher, pastor, apologist and have spent much  energy engaging with fellow Christians and also the secular world.  Could you give a brief explanation about what excites you and what drives you to stay so busy?  

We live at an exciting juncture of history. The traditional triumphant understanding of the church, known as “Christendom,” is crumbling. Out of its rubble is rising a grass-roots global movement of people who are captivated by the vision of a Jesus-looking God raising up a Jesus-looking people to transform the world in a Jesus-kind of way. And as this new kingdom wine is bursting the old wineskins of Christendom, believers and skeptics alike are being forced to rethink everything they thought they knew about the Christian faith and life.

You have a fascinating website and I notice you post a steady stream of challenging articles. Tell me about ReKnew.

At the center of ReKnew is the very-old-yet-new idea that the love Jesus demonstrated on the cross is the full revelation of the true, non-violent, self-sacrificial character of God and of the character that God’s people are called to cultivate. This stands in stark contrast to what most people believe about God and how most people understand what it means to be “Christian.” Sadly, throughout most of church history Christians have frequently allowed the simple and beautiful revelation of the cross to be hijacked by religion, politics, and the philosophical assumptions of the day. This is how the beauty of the God revealed on the cross and the beauty of the movement Jesus came to birth were transformed into something that was often very ugly and violent. This is the sad legacy of Christendom.

Fortunately, we are today witnessing a vast multitude of people around the globe becoming captivated by the beauty of the old-yet-new revelation of the cross. ReKnew aims to serve this rising revolution by encouraging people to critical scrutinize long-held theological assumptions, by offering fresh and relevant theological proposals for consideration, and by motivating people to seriously rethink what it means to follow Jesus. Our heart is to educate, inspire, expand, and help network this growing movement of Jesus followers so that increasing numbers may come to experience, and be transformed by, the beauty of the humble, self-sacrificial God revealed in the crucified Christ.

You have agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Spectrum Conference in Silver Spring MD this September on Non-Violent Atonement.  Would you summarize your thoughts about atonement and salvation?

The majority of Evangelicals today believe that the main significance of what Christ accomplished on the cross (the atonement) is that he satisfied the Father’s wrath against sin by being punished in our place, thereby allowing the Father to accept us despite our sin. While the church has always understood that Jesus died in our place, the depiction of the Father venting his wrath on Jesus instead of on us  — the “penal substitution” view of the atonement — originated with Luther and Calvin (though it was in some respect anticipated by Anselm in the eleventh century). And while the church has always allowed for a variety of atonement theories, it’s worth noting that for the first 1000 years of church history the dominant view was that “[t]he reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn3:8; Heb.2:14). This is called the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement.

With the historic-orthodox church, I believe that Jesus died as our substitute and experienced the death-consequences of sin in our place. But I do not believe this means the Father needed to “satisfy” his own wrath by violently pouring it out on his Son in order to forgive us and reconcile us to himself. And while I affirm that Christ accomplished a variety of things by his life and death and resurrection, I think that Christ’s victory over Satan and the powers of darkness lies at the base of them all. I thus consider the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement to be the foundation of all other views.

With the rise of the penal substitution view of the atonement, the western church began to think of salvation increasingly in legal categories. God has thus come to be viewed as the judge, humans as the guilty defendants, and Jesus as our defense attorney who allows us to be acquitted by suffering our sentence in our place. As a result, salvation has come to be thought of primarily as an acquittal (escaping hell) that people receive when they simply believe that Jesus did this for them. Among the many unfortunate consequences of this view is the fact that Christianity has become much more focused on how we benefit in the afterlife from what God has done for us in Christ than it is focused on the beautiful things God wants to do in our present life—the relationship God wants with us, the character that God wants to cultivate in us, and the things God wants to accomplish through us now.

While legal metaphors are sometimes used to express salvation in the New Testament, the dominant way of expressing salvation is as a marriage covenant. Salvation is not primarily about being acquitted by God. Nor is it primarily about the afterlife. Rather, salvation is primarily about becoming part of “the bride of Christ” and participating in—and being transformed by—the fullness of God’s life that he opens up for us in the present. For this reason, salvation is not merely about believing in Jesus; it’s even more profoundly about being empowered to follow Jesus’ example.

Salvation thus cannot be divorced from the call to follow Jesus’ example of loving enemies, refraining from violence, and caring for the poor and oppressed. Moreover, salvation is about manifesting God’s fullness of life by cultivating a counter-cultural lifestyle that revolts against every aspect of society that is inconsistent with the character of God and of his will for the world. And finally, salvation is about living and praying in a way that actualizes the fullness of the Lord’s prayer that the Father’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).

Do you consider yourself an “Evangelical Christian”?

I hold to a high view of biblical inspiration and most of my theological views are in line with what would be broadly considered “evangelical.” So in this sense, I consider myself an “evangelical.” But the word “evangelical,” as well as the word “Christian,” has become associated with many things that are radically inconsistent with the example of Jesus’ life, which we are to emulate. So I’m very hesitant to identify myself with either term until I know what my audience means by them.

Many of our readers will recognize some commonality of beliefs between you and Seventh-day Adventist theologian, Rick Rice,  of Loma Linda University.  Could you explain Open Theism?

I believe God knows everything, including the past, present and future. But I also believe God created us as free agents, which means we are empowered to resolve possible courses of action into an actual course of action. And this, I contend, entails that the future is contains possibilities, in contrast to the past which is irrevocably settled. So I hold that, precisely because God’s knowledge is perfect, God knows the future exactly as it is – that is, as containing possibilities. Some things about the future are “maybes,” and God knows them as such.

REGISTER HERE for the 2016 Adventist Forum Conference in Silver Spring featuring Dr. Boyd and six other engaging speakers!

 

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