[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 5)

by Matthew

I mentioned in a previous post about an elderly gentleman at my church who objected to the song line 'Among the gods there is none like you' as heretical without realising that this was a quotation from the Psalms! A lot of Christians do not realise that the Bible does refer to 'gods' who seem to be real beings. These gods are the subject of chapter four of God at War. The thesis of this chapter is that the Old Testament presents Yahweh as engaged in a war against disobedient and rebellous heavenly beings. While this is a genuine struggle, it does not compromise Yahweh's sovereign supremacy over all.

Boyd begins by affirming that the Hebrews believed that, contrary to their neighbours, there was only one creator God. However, they did not deny the existence of lesser spiritual beings of great power, who have come to be known as angels. Controversially, Boyd argues that these beings were referred to on occasions as gods in biblical literature. Boyd argues that some texts present Yahweh as being surrounded by an heavenly council of gods (Jer 23:18, 22. Is 6:2-8). Furthermore, Boyd cites many references in the Psalms to plural gods. He writes:

In any case, the remainder of the Old Testament exhibits no reservation in acknowledging the existence of gods outside Yahweh and of the gods who form his heavenly council. But even here Yahweh's supremacy is at the forefront of their thoughts. Hence he first commandment reads, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3). The existence of other gods is presupposed, but they are are subordinate to the one who alone is the Lord God Almighty.

Boyd points out that this notion can also be found in the writings of Paul. He wrote that there are "many God's and many Lord's" (1 Cor 8:4), though there is only one Lord Jesus Christ(verse 6).

Boyd refers to Judges 11 and Jephath's discourse with the Ammonite king. He argues that this discourse presupposes the existence of the god Chemosh. He also argues this is the case in 2 Kings 3:26-27. Boyd draws out the implications of this idea:

The power of gods to assist or resist Yahweh in war, to hinder his answers to prayers, to inluence "natural" disasters, to inlict diseases on people, to deceive people and the like is assumed throughout the Bible. Yahweh is unquestionably understood to reign supreme over the whole cosmic society of spiritual and earthly beings, but this sovereingnty is never- even in Isaiah and Jeremiah- taken to imply either that he is the only divine being or that the other divine beings are mere extensions of his will.
God at War, p.118

Radically, Boyd describes the cosmos as a democracy. Free beings both earthly and celestial have a large degree of autonomy and the potential to resist God's purposes for the universe.

Boyd goes on to provide some discussion about what is meant by 'monotheism.' He concludes that the Scriptures teach creational monotheism, the view that all things have been created by one all-powerful God, but that the existence of lesser created gods is not ruled out. He provides some useful discussion about anthropological theories about the origins of polytheism and animism.

As regards the heavenly council of Yahweh, Boyd writes:

The centrality of this concept of the Lord as being surrounded by a council of gods is seen n the fact that one of the most frequent ascriptions of Yahweh is "the Lord of hosts." He is described as being revered by the multitudes of "holy ones" who "are around him" in his heavenly council (Ps 89:7), for it is he who "has taken his place in the divine council" and in the midst of the gods... holds judgment" (82:1).
God at War, p.131

Boyd sees further support for this heavenly council concept in the discourse between God and Satan before the 'sons of God' in the first chapter of Job.

The reality of heavenly warfare is developed further in the biblical literature through references to the army of the Lord, for instance, the vision of Elisha's servant (2 Kings 2:11). The Lord is engaged in warfare which entails actual battles between heavenly beings on His side and the side of the Enemy.

Boyd argues that the 'gods of the nations', in the biblical worldview, are real beings. Angels were originally assigned to oversee and protect the nations (Deut 32:7-9), some or all of which have rebelled. This is supported by the reference in Daniel 10 to the powerful prince of Persia and the prince of Greece. A particularly important text in this regard is Psalm 82:

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty;
he judgeth among the gods.

2 How long will ye judge unjustly,
and accept the persons of the wicked?

3 Defend the poor and fatherless:
do justice to the afflicted and needy.

4 Deliver the poor and needy:
rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

5 They know not, neither will they understand;
they walk on in darkness:
all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

6 I have said, Ye are gods;
and all of you are children of the Most High.

7 But ye shall die like men,
and fall like one of the princes.

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth:
for thou shalt inherit all nations.

Boyd takes the view that these gods are angels who have been given the task of overseeing the welfare of people on earth, yet who have rebelled against Him. In his later work Satan and the Origin of Evil, Boyd argues this passage implies that some fallen angels at some point had the opportunity to repent and to be saved. In his view, Satan also had such an opportunity at some time in the distant past, an opportunity he has now rejected and is thus doomed.

Psalm 82 is a text I examined myself earlier on this blog. I argued that the angels are an hierarchy if gods or divine beings. Some of these have fallen and it is God's purpose to exalt redeemed human beings to their level. Thus, though this sounds like Mormonism, I believe it is the goal of the Christian to become a god. I would suggest that the error of Mormonism is not in teaching that man can become a god (which is actually true), but rather their error is in reducing God to the level of a glorified human. Accusations of heresy or crypto-Mormonism are welcome in the comments post.

In arguing for the importance of angelic activity in the biblical worldview, Boyd defends the view that the Sons of God in Genesis 6 are angels who intermarried with human beings. He raises some convincing arguments against alternative interpreations of this text. Greg Boyd has recently written some really interesting stuff on the Nephilim on his blog.

Boyd argues that accepting the 'second storey' or the world in-between is very difficult for westerners with their rationalist assumptions:

This notion, that there exists a council, or a society, of divine beings beteeen humans and God who, like us, have free wills and can therefore influence the flow of history for better or for worse is obviously jarring to a number of western worldview assumptions. Indeed, for many believers it is foreign to their Western Christian assumptions as well. For a variety of reasons, Westerners have trouble taking seriously the "world in between" us and God, what one missiologist appropriately called "the flaw of the excluded middle." Even when westerners do theoretically acknowledge the existence of "angels," we tend to view them as mindless volitionless, wholly innocuous winged marionettes completely controlled by the will of their Creator.
God at War, p.140

Indeed, the doctrine of angels has been tragically minimized in Christian theology. The liberals are happy to reject belief in angels while evangelicals will dedicate three pages out of a five hundred page systematic theology to the subject.

In some quarters of western society there does seem to be a revival of interest in the 'second storey' with the fascination for UFOs and extraterrestrials and the New Age movement's adoption of angelogy. My boss at work could be described as a New Ager and she is fascinated by angels and spirits. I really believe that Christians need to recover the importance of the doctrine of angels. Perhaps some dialogue between Christian theology and the New Age movement might be helpful. Maybe just as we need to risk being accused of being cult followers, we need to risk being accused of being New Agers or Hippies.

In concluding chapter four, Boyd emphasies his central thesis that evil and suffering on earth can be explained in terms of the activity of fallen angelic beings. He suggests that the horrors of Nazi Germany might have been the result of the work of a cosmic 'prince of Germany' just like the prince of Persia of old.

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