Dr. Greg Boyd's New Manifesto - Part One
Dr. Craig offers thoughts on controversial theologian Greg Boyd's call to re-think much of Christianity
Dr. Greg Boyd's New Manifesto - Part One
KEVIN HARRIS: Glad you are here! This is Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. We are going to start a two-part series that I think you are going to find very interesting. It is the recent work of Dr. Greg Boyd who discusses some things that he thinks we need to rethink when it comes to the Christian faith. He’s got a bunch of them. We are going to divide this into two podcasts and do part one today as we look at what Dr. Boyd is saying on his website.
I want to tell you again that my voice is really bad when I was in the studio with Dr. Craig so please bear with me on that. I’ll try to get through it. Dr. Craig does most of the talking, thank goodness. Here’s part one of some apparent rethinking that we need to do.
Dr. Craig, we are going to look at a few things that Greg Boyd has written. Dr. Boyd got his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a best selling author. He's got something he calls The Renew Manifesto. In a nutshell, before we look at some of the things that he has written here and get your analysis, he really wants us to rethink the Christian faith in modern times. He thinks that there's kind of an old Christianity that’s dying - Christendom, as he calls it, is taking its last gasps. But he wants us to rethink all the things that we thought that we knew and examine them. He lists several things in this manifesto.
DR. CRAIG: I think it’s a good idea to be ready and willing to rethink the things that we have always believed and make sure that we've not been misled. But when Greg says that he wants to advocate for what he calls “theological convictions that we believe were compromised or altogether lost in traditional Christianity” I become very suspicious. I become very suspicious that there are important theological emphases that have been compromised or altogether lost for the 2,000 years that Christianity has endured. This sounds very much like the claim of Mormonism or Joseph Smith - that we're going to recover the original Christianity and that the church has somehow failed to see this all 2,000 years. Anytime you hear someone make that kind of a claim that they are discerning some primitive truth that the whole church for 2,000 has overlooked you ought to be, I think, very suspicious and very cautious. He goes on to say that Christendom is gasping its last breaths, and I'm wondering what world does he live in? Christianity is growing at unprecedented rates throughout the world in Asia and Africa and Latin America. True, in Western Europe and North America Christianity is moribund, but that is too myopic a picture to understand what God is doing in the world today. Worldwide we are living at a time of unprecedented expansion of the Christian faith around the world and I think we need to be very, very cautious before revising our Christian beliefs in such a way that we are going to start believing and emphasizing things that the traditional Christian church has somehow overlooked for 2,000 years.
KEVIN HARRIS: First he says,
1. ReThink the Source of Life
Because traditional Christianity has often held that people get right with God simply by believing the right things, many Christians tend to get their “life” (their core sense of identity, worth, significance and security) from the rightness of their beliefs. Our conviction is that followers of Jesus should get all of their “life” from the love that God has shown them on Calvary. Attempt to get our “life” from any other source of “life”—including the assumed rightness of our beliefs—is idolatry.
DR. CRAIG: Of course we derive our life from Christ. No one thinks that simple mental assent to a certain body of doctrinal truths brings salvation. But I feel very uncomfortable when this is opposed to the assumed rightness of our beliefs. Any attempt to downplay right doctrine or right beliefs I think is extremely dangerous. David Wells in his much acclaimed book No Place For Truth points out that one of the problems with contemporary evangelicals is that while they believe a lot of the right things these beliefs are not at the core of their being, not at the core of their identity of who they consider themselves to be. I think that the incorporation of right beliefs into your identity as a Christian is something that will help to put you right in your relationship with God and with your fellow man. This is an emphasis in Scripture. In 2 John verse 9 it says Anyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. What John is saying is you can't separate the doctrine of Christ from Christ. You can’t separate right beliefs about Christ from Christ himself. That's the fear I have with this first point. The point is fine in and of itself that Christ is the source of our life, but then to contrast that and oppose that to the rightness of our beliefs I think is both unbiblical and dangerous.
KEVIN HARRIS: Paul told Timothy, Watch your life and doctrine closely.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. Exactly. The irony, when you read this manifesto, is that it is filled with doctrinal affirmations! They affirm annihilationism. They affirm ransom theory of the atonement. They affirm God’s lack of determinate foreknowledge of the future. One after another, certain doctrines are affirmed. It leaves you wondering: why do they think that these are the right doctrines? These don't just derive from having your life in Christ. There is a certain inconsistency here whereby they tend to be sawing off the branch that they are sitting on.
KEVIN HARRIS: Doctrine just means teaching.
DR. CRAIG: That’s right.
KEVIN HARRIS: How many times have you heard somebody say, “I don’t need doctrine. I just need Jesus.”
DR. CRAIG: That is what I fear here. This is exactly what I’m . . .
KEVIN HARRIS: You just uttered a doctrine when you say that. “That’s my doctrine that I don’t need doctrine.” It’s a teaching.
DR. CRAIG: This is filled with much more specific doctrine than that. Very specific doctrines about the divine nature, about the nature of the atonement, about life after death, and so forth. This is a doctrinal statement. Therefore, its emphasis on not getting right beliefs seems to be paradoxical because the whole thing is about getting right beliefs.
2. ReThink the Nature of Faith
Many Christians throughout history (and still today) have assumed that a person’s faith is only as strong as the degree to which they feel certainty and free from doubt. Likewise, many have assumed faith is opposed to reason, antithetical to historical-critical approaches to Scripture, and at odds with much of the scientific enterprise—especially evolutionary theory.
Our conviction is, in contrast to this modern psychological concept of faith, Scripture understands faith in covenantal terms. More specifically, the strength of a person’s faith is not measured by their feeling of psychological certainty, but by their willingness to commit to a course of action in the face of uncertainty.
DR. CRAIG: I like that emphasis. I think that is emphasizing faith as trust in God that doesn’t require some sort of certainty of what you believe. I think that that is a salutary emphasis. What bothers me though is when he goes on then to draw the conclusion from that
Rather, when we get all our “life” from Christ (and not from the assumed rightness of our beliefs), and when we understand that faith is not the absence of doubt, we are free to view faith instead as a process of honest, open-ended inquiry.
That, again, just seems to me to be leading into the thing where faith could lead you to deny the deity of Christ, it could lead you to deny even the existence of God. Who knows if it's truly open-ended and is unconstrained by the rightness of your beliefs then it can lead to anything. It is just complete subjectivism. So it seems to me that there's a really dangerous opposition again going on here between our life in Christ and then having right beliefs about Christ and doctrine. These shouldn’t be put in opposition to each other. They ought to be in harmony with each other. We ought to seek to have both a life grounded in Christ and to have the right beliefs about Christ.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
3. ReThink Our Picture of God
The dominant image of God espoused in the religion of Christendom has been a composite picture in which the revelation of God in Christ has been fused with violent images derived from the Old Testament as well as with other philosophical sources, such as ancient Hellenistic philosophy.
Our conviction is that Jesus is the one and only perfect revelation of God’s true nature (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus doesn’t merely reveal part of what God is like. Rather, the fullness of God is in Christ and revealed through Christ (Colossians 1:19; 2:9).
DR. CRAIG: This is, I think, very unbiblical. The idea that Jesus is the one and only perfect revelation of God’s nature contradicts what Paul says explicitly in Romans 1:20 where he says, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made so they are without excuse.” There is a revelation of God in nature that renders men without excuse for unbelief. God’s revelation is not to be found only in Christ. It is also to be found in nature as well as in his word. The absurd conclusion that one would have to draw from this is that prior to the advent of Jesus there was no revelation of God to humanity. When he says Jesus doesn’t merely reveal part of what God is like, he seems to be suggesting that it is possible for us to have a comprehensive knowledge of God which is impossible for human beings. Of course our knowledge of God is always partial. We have no full revelation of God. Even the revelation of God in Christ is partial and not full.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
4. ReThink Biblical Inspiration
As the Church has always confessed, we affirm that the entire Bible is “God-breathed” (theopneustos, 2 Tim 3:16) for the ultimate purpose of bearing witness to Christ (Jn 5:39-45), and especially to his sacrificial suffering on the cross (Lk 24:25-7, 44-6). Yet, because the crucified Christ is the quintessential revelation of God, we believe we must read Scripture through the lens of the cross. And as is true of our reflection on every other Christian doctrine, we believe that our thinking about what it means for God to “breath” Scripture must be centered on the cross.
Here it is important to notice that God “breathed” his definitive self-revelation on the cross both by acting toward humanity and by humbly allowing humanity to act toward him. God acted toward humanity when he devised his plan of redemption, when the Son became a human, and when the Father “delivered him over” to wicked humans to be killed (Rom 4:25; 8:32). Yet, God humbly allowed these humans to act toward him when they tortured and crucified him, and he allowed all humans to act toward him when Jesus bore our sin on the cross.
This means that the “breathing” of God’s definitive revelation was not a unilateral process. It was rather dialectical in nature in that it incorporated a back-and-forth process.
DR. CRAIG: Basically what he is saying here is he is rejecting a dictation theory of biblical inspiration. Everybody recognizes that that is an inadequate model. It doesn’t take full appreciation of the human contribution to Scripture. As I’ve argued in my Defenders class and in print, I think a middle knowledge perspective on biblical inspiration is going to give us a biblical view of inspiration that will be truly God’s word but also truly the word of the human authors because God knew how the human authors would freely write in the situations in which he placed them. I think that middle knowledge will give you this sort of dialectical doctrine of biblical inspiration that he wants. Unfortunately, as we’ll see later, he rejects middle knowledge so he doesn’t really have those resources available for him to have this sort of non-dictation theory of inspiration.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is interesting because he says here:
We thus ought not to be surprised when we find certain Old Testament authors depicting God with a character that falls short of the loving, self-sacrificial character revealed on the cross. Our conviction is that these portraits are no less “God-breathed” than Scripture’s many Christ-like portraits. It’s just that, for those of us who read Scripture through the lens of the cross, we must understand that these sub-Christ-like portraits bear witness not to the manner in which God acted toward humanity on the cross, but to the manner in which God humbly allowed humanity to act toward him as he bore their sin and thus took on an appearance that mirrored the ugliness of their sin. Interpreted this way, we believe that all Scripture, including its most violent depictions of God, infallibly bears witness to the humble, self-sacrificial, non-violent love of God revealed on Calvary.
DR. CRAIG: In other words, this gives him the means of eliminating all those portions of Scripture that he finds unpalatable and that he doesn’t like.
KEVIN HARRIS: That would be nice!
DR. CRAIG: Passages about judgment and wrath and so forth – you attribute those to the human author. These are not God’s revelations of his character. Rather these are the human imperfections in the narrative and represent human misconceptions. It is really a way of explaining what he regards as unworthy pictures of God in various parts of the Bible as due to the human element in Scripture rather than from God. That, again, I think is just very dangerous because it allows us to create God after our own image and liking. We just dismiss those parts that we don’t like as due to human imperfection, and then we keep the parts we like. This is just too self-serving to be a good way of doing theology, I think.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK, we are going to pick it up right there next time on Reasonable Faith.
 Total Running Time: 17:38 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)