TIM MACKIE AND GREG BOYD: THE GOD WHO IS NOT WHO HE IS

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This article is based on an audio discussion about violence in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation found here  and here. JOHN MARK COMER, former pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon, hosts the program with Josh Porter, a pastor at a Vancouver, Washington church, and the guest is TIM MACKIE of the Bible Project.

 

Open Theist GREGORY BOYD comes up in this discussion. This article examines statements mainly from Tim Mackie that seem to reflect some of Boyd’s views as well as other troubling ideas expressed by Mackie, with responses from CANA. For more concerns with Mackie, see this CANA article and this CANA article.

 

 

 

Warlike Imagery is Subversion

From about minute 10 through minute 45, Mackie proposes that the warlike imagery in the book of Revelation is about how Jesus conquers by giving up his life on the cross; therefore, the blood imagery in Revelation chapter 19 is the blood from the cross. So Revelation is actually non-violent.

 

Mackie continues with the idea that the book of Revelation is actually subverting the warlike stories in the Old Testament. Porter asks Mackie if the imagery in Revelation is a subversion of violence, then how do we deal with the violence in the Old Testament? Most of the following content is how Mackie addresses it.

 

After a discussion of events before the Flood, around minute 46:45, Mackie states that the Flood did not change man (which is true) but it does show a change in God. So God decides not to destroy the world, but instead he will set a plan of redemption in motion. Though Mackie does not say that this is a Plan B, it is strongly implied.

 

CANA Response

God from eternity had a plan of redemption (“the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” Rev. 13:8). The idea that God had to switch plans is implied (the aftermath of the Flood “changed” God,  and implied in other statements from Mackie and Comer) and this idea would line up with Boyd’s view.

 

However, God is immutable; that is, God does not move from moment to moment in time and does not change. He is not static because he is the dynamicI AM but his will and knowledge are who God is, they are his nature (as are all his divine attributes), and therefore are eternal and without change since God is perfect (complete and lacking and needing nothing).

 

The “subversion of violence” idea undermines God’s wrath on sin. More on that later.

 

God Compromises

In discussing the military campaigns against Canaan in the Old Testament, Mackie states several times that God “compromises.” When God sends Joshua or others to conquer the pagan lands, he is “making a compromise” in doing this, according to Mackie.

 

Mackie then refers to the latest book from Greg Boyd and how Boyd makes these points. Mackie makes this startling statement around minute 55:

 

“God is allowing himself to be depicted as a kind of God that he actually isn’t by the Old Testament authors because of their limited horizons and point of view.”

 

This idea is apparently found in Boyd’s book and reveals some alarming ideas about God and how Scripure was written.

 

CANA Response

Showing God as a compromiser undermines his character and power. God does things out of mercy and shows compassion, but that is not because he must make concessions in order to make his plan work.

 

The warfare in Canaan was God’s judgment. He used Joshua to bring this about but it was God’s judgment (wrath) on sin. I agree that not all actions of violence in the Old Testament are sanctioned by God because God did not command all of those acts. But the ones God did commission were not a compromise. He was revealing and unleashing his judgment.

 

God does not allow himself to be viewed as something he is not; that would go against God’s nature. In fact, God is always clear on who he is in his revelations to men. What Mackie and Comer claim would mean that God is being deceptive and chooses to allow Israel to see him as a warlike tribal god (that phrase is used) instead of who he really is.

 

The account of the Exodus refutes Mackie’s and Boyd’s idea that God lets himself be seen as a type of god he is not. God states several times that what he is doing to Egypt is so that the Pharaoh and Israel will know who he is (Exodus 7:5, 17; 8:10, 14:4, 18, 25) . Either God is lying in these Exodus accounts and pretending to be someone he is not to suit the “limited views” of the OT author/s, or he is revealing who he really is.

 

The “limited point of view” of the OT authors would not affect what they wrote for the biblical account since their words were God-breathed. Whether personally limited or not, when writing words from God their views did not “limit” or affect them.  This idea is reminiscent of people like Peter Enns who claims that the biblical authors were writing about God as they viewed him (as opposed to writing revelation from God about who he is). This matter relates to the Holy Spirit inspiration of the biblical text. Mackie states in another video that the words are from God, but that claim sounds hollow in light of statements from Mackie like those in this interview.

 

Although Mackie brings out some good points about Jesus as the lion and the lamb, and points out other interesting themes in Revelation from Old Testament books, this is overshadowed by his other statements.

 

Troubling Statements

Starting at minute 50, Mackie makes these comments (unless I note any from Comer):

 

 

CANA Response

That God would not allow David to build his Temple does not mean that God did not direct David to wage those battles. It means what God said, that he wanted a man of peace to build his Temple. David was a man of war and God used him for that, but for his Temple, God desired a man of peace (Solomon) to build it.

 

Moreover, David had committed murder when he gave his directive that Bathsheba’s husband be put in the front lines of battle so he would die (2 Samuel 11:13-15). When David explains why he is not going to build the Temple, he seems to point to both factors – that he was a warrior and that he had shed blood (in having Bathsheba’s husband killed):

 

But God said to me, `You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’ 1 Chronicles 28:3 NIV

 

To imply that God was not actually willing for David (or Joshua) to wage any battles goes against the plain meaning of the text when it states that God directed Joshua and David to do these things. God dis this as well with Moses, Gideon, and others. It also goes against God’s character to claim God was making concessions so he could get what he wanted. That idea portrays a weak God.

 

The so-called “limited viewpoint of the OT authors” was addressed in the previous section. A biblical author is not limited when writing God-breathed words because God is not limited. God is more than able to communicate truths to his people, whom he created, no matter what their limitations might be.

 

Accommodation and Compromise, More Thoughts

Regarding the references to accommodation and compromise, I do agree that God allowed/allows some things that he would not endorse but I do not view that as compromise, and I do not think it fits the normal understanding of divine accommodation. God allowed polygamy and divorce but he never endorsed those activities. Was that compromise?

 

The four meanings of compromise in the Cambridge Dictionary are:

 

  1. an agreement in an argument in which the people involved reduce their demands or change their opinion in order to agree
  2. to accept that you will reduce your demands or change your opinion in order to reach an agreement with someone
  3. to allow your principles to be less strong or your standards or morals to be lower
  4. to risk having a harmful effect on something

 

According to those four definitions, I would have to say God does not compromise because it would involve God lowering his standards and/or changing them or changing his mind. I do not think when God allows something, such as polygamy, that he is lowering his standards or changing them because he never endorses it and God never changes.

 

Compromise implies a withdrawing or lowering of requirements or ideas which God cannot do since he is righteousness itself. But out of mercy and patience God allowed some actions possibly because alternatives would have been harmful or worse.

 

I looked at some commentaries on Acts 17:30, a passage used to support divine accommodation (also compromise):

 

So having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now proclaiming to mankind that all people everywhere are to repent.

 

I agree this expresses the idea of God allowing something. This commentary on the passage is very much like others:

 

“The times of this ignorance God winked at; to prevent an objection, lest any should think that they might continue in their unbelief, and fare as well as their progenitors, God is said to have overlooked them; as if he had counted them unworthy of his care and providence, and therefore he did not correct or instruct them. When any are left to go on in their sin, without God’s instruction or correction, it is a sad sign that God scorns to look upon them, or to use any means to recover them.” (commentary on Acts 17:30 on BibleHub)

 

Some commentators believe God allowed the Gentiles to continue in sin by not giving them the law so that they would see the consequences and perhaps seek God. Acts 17:30 refers to the Gentiles. God is saying through Paul that now the Gentiles must repent even though they did not have the law.

 

Scripture never indicates that God compromises; it only shown when men compromise, such as Solomon. Scripture teaches people not to compromise:

 

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.  Matthew 18:8-9 (Also Matt. 5:29-30)

 

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face. Psalm 11:4-7

 

…but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 (quoting Lev. 19:2 and 20:7)

 

If Scriptures do not indicate it acceptable to compromise on anything moral or spiritual, then it is illogical to say God compromises. Additionally, God gives those in Christ the ability to resist sin and compromise in order to be holy (set apart for God’s use and service):

 

…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

 

I also considered the word “accommodation” which Mackie also used. If accommodation means to allow, then God did do that. However, I do not think that is what divine accommodation refers to:

 

“The Reformers and their scholastic followers all recognized that God must in some way condescend or accommodate himself to human ways of knowing in order to reveal himself. This accommodatio occurs in the use of human words and concepts for the communication of the law and gospel, but it in no way implies the loss of truth or the lessening of scriptural authority.” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 19. From article on Divine Accommodation in Theopedia

 

Divine accommodation is about God’s communication with man in order for man to understand him. However, the principle of divine accommodation has been twisted to re-interpret certain passages in the biblical text or to support the idea of erroneous information in the Bible:

 

While they appeal to this doctrine of accommodation, they give it a radical new meaning: God speaks to us in and through the mistakes, in and through the fallible assumptions of ancient authors—in short, in and through their sin. To be sure, all biblical authors were sinners, just like us, but the Holy Spirit ensured that the inspired words of Scripture were miraculously preserved from any error or corruption (see 2 Peter 1:21). Yet, the revised understanding of accommodation implicitly denies this supernatural element. As one advocate puts it, “Accommodation is God’s adoption in inscripturation of the human audience’s finite and fallen perspective.”3 For defenders of this new view of accommodation, Scripture contains flawed statements that reflect primitive ancient Near Eastern views of the biblical authors.

This new take on accommodation assumes that Jesus, as a first-century Jew, inherited common Jewish assumptions about creation, the material world, geography, and history. In this way of thinking, the incarnate God believed many things that were false when compared with what we know today. One scholar reassures us that we can trust Jesus’ salvation message even if it is packaged within erroneous baggage from the ancient world.4 Unfortunately, this is not a convincing position, and it is important to see why. From article by Dr. Hans Madueme in Tabletalk

 

As pointed out in this blog by Carl Trueman. the way divine accommodation has been misused refers to God finding himself in a position of “working with he had” rather than being sovereign over the culture itself:

 

Since the Bible presents God as sovereign over all nations and all history, it doesn’t make sense to talk about God “accommodating” himself to a particular context, since he sovereignly brought about that context. In other words, the view of accommodation outlined above unintentionally conveys the idea that God “worked with what he had” instead of making that with which he wanted to work. Consider an analogy: God often used other nations to punish Israel—most obviously Assyria and Babylon—and occasionally God used other nations to bless Israel—most obviously Persia, and specifically Cyrus, who issued the degree for the Israelites to return from exile (2 Chron 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–4). When the Bible talks about these nations, it does not say that God used Assyria, Babylon, or Persia because they were powerful. It says that God made Assyria, Babylon, and Persia powerful so that he could use them.

 

The above excerpt accurately describes what I hear from Comer, Mackie, Boyd, Peter Enns, and increasingly from others today. It is a chip-chip-chipping away of Scripture, knocking pieces of God’s word off in the name of “accommodation,” “compromise,” and the false hermeneutic of Bible as myth or legend and/or “viewing God the way the ancients understood God.” The sanded down version of God’s word is not from God; it is the result of men’s twisting of what God’s word teaches. (This disturbing view of divine accommodation would fit well with Open Theism).

 

Boyd’s God in the Old Testament

Regarding Greg Boyd’s book Cross Vision, which appears what Mackie was referencing, this is a follow-up to his book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Boyd is not only an Open Theist but tries to explain the violence in the Old Testament by saying that God “accommodated” the culture because the Jews could not grasp who God was.

 

The review below of Boyd’s book is by a fan of Boyd’s who, although he does not agree with Open Theism, finds Boyd interesting and stated he has learned a lot from him. However, he is very disappointed with Cross Vision and points out Boyd’s views that he finds alarming:

 

But it is not twisting Boyd to say that God lies about who God is to a people that can’t bear the full reality of God. It isn’t just that we don’t see God fully in the Exodus or the giving of the law or a particular prophetic or worship moment. Do we ever? But that God pulls on a cloak of evil in order to, ultimately, show good. The Bible is intentionally misleading when picturing God as a violent God, not just limited or foggy or that something else is going on textually (though he uses each of these solutions at times).”

 

Boyd’s “Open Future

The fact that Mackie thinks Boyd has good ideas on interpreting the Old Testament (and the book of Revelation) is a serious issue. God is “risk-taking” and “adventurous,” according to Boyd.  For God to take risks would mean that he does not know what will happen, which is what Open Theists claim. Boyd states God knows all that is logically possible to know. However, the future is not settled and known yet,  it is still “open,” so God cannot know the future, only the possibilities, according to Boyd.

 

Answering the objection that God cannot keep his promises if he does not know the future as a certainty, Boyd states:

 

“Whatever happens, God has been anticipating that very possibility from the foundation of the world…God is so smart he does not need to foreknow it as a certainty in order to anticipate it as though it is a certainty.”

 

To say God is “smart” misses the point of who God is. God just is; he is the dynamic and eternal “I AM” and his knowledge and who he is are one. God, as the creator of time and the universe, is distinct from both time and the universe. God acts in time but is not in time so there is no “future” for God as there is for time-bound creatures. All time is one for God, a concept probably impossible for humans to totally grasp since we are creatures of time. The future is just part of God’s eternal knowledge, just as the past is.

 

However one may desire to explain God and time, God’s revelation is clear that he knows all the future and has known it from eternity, and we know from many fulfilled prophesies (over 300 alone predicting the Messiah) that God knows the future as a certainty because for him it is not an unknown, unsettled, or “open” future.

 

Boyd’s theology and hermeneutics should not be imitated or applied by a teacher in the church, especially one with such influence.

 

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

1 Thess. 5:23-24  (also James 1:4 and 2 Peter 3:14)

 

More Information

“The Immutability of God,“ Video with Dr. James Dolezal

 

“Divine Immutability,” by Brian Huffling

 

“Neotheism: Orthodox or Neoorthodox? A Theological Response to Greg Boyd” by Norman Geisler (A good article if you cannot read the book listed below, The Battle for God)

 

Concerns with Mackie’s troubling teaching on the atonement have been addressed by others here, here, and here.

 

CANA article, Summary of Concerns with Tim Mackie

 

CANA article, A Subversion of Reality and the Contemplative Subversion of Mind

 

Recommended Books

The Battle For God, by Norman Geisler and H. Wayne House

 

The Doctrine of God (NGIM Guide to the Bible) by Norman Geisler and Douglas Potter

(The Doctrine of God is a short by meaty book for less than $6 but presents the classic attributes of God with scriptural explanations; there are many books with this title so it is important to put the author’s name in the search but I have embedded a link to the book on Amazon in the title)

 

All That is In God, by James Dolezal

 

God Without Parts, by James Dolezal (a more philosophical approach and explanation)

 

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