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The Heavenly Missionary

• Greg Boyd

God is a God who stoops down, out of love, in order to meet people where they are. He is a heavenly missionary who accommodates that which he is against in order to win people over to the truth. This metaphor of a heavenly missionary helps us understand what God was doing when we read about the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament.

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In this second installment of the series entitled “Cross Centered,” Greg continues to outline his proposal for how to interpret the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament. The metaphor of a “heavenly missionary” is a way to imagine what it going on in the stories of violence in the Old Testament. Greg told a story about missionaries that lived with a tribe that practiced female circumcision. They could not just force the tribe to cease this practice. They had to earn the right to speak into their lives. For three years they had to remain silent, and because they were silent, the tribe thought that the missionaries supported this practice. They appeared to condone it. They taught sanitation practices, acquired anesthesia, and procured better surgical knives. They were “bearing the sin” of this tribe’s barbaric practice and taking on the appearance of that ugly sin. After three years, the tribe began to embrace the Gospel, which lead to a deeper understanding that female circumcision was wrong.

If someone in the tribe began writing a book recounting the activity of these missionaries from the start and someone were to read that text 100 years later, the missionaries silence would lead the reader to assume that they were just like the tribe and approved of this practice. In a similarly way, we can imagine God as heavenly missionary to this fallen world because his highest goal is about love. Because love requires free will, he refuses to coerce people into having true views of him or anything else. Therefore, in light of the cross, lots of things that God seemed to approve of in the Old Testament now can be seen as accommodations, including the assumption that God commands and engages in violence.

The pattern of accommodation applies not only to the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament. God stooped to meet the Israelites where they were in many different ways. Greg introduces four of these accommodations. The first is marriage, where God accommodated to allow for divorce, polygamy, and even concubines. The second way God stooped was in relationship to kingship, as God’s ideal was for Israel to have no king.

The law in the Old Testament is another illustration of how God acted as a heavenly missionary. While the Old Testament celebrates law as a means of getting rightly related to God, Paul says it was given to demonstrate how we cannot be rightly related to God. A final example is animal sacrifices. God doesn’t actually approve of animal sacrifices, but he had to stoop to appear as though he demanded and enjoyed them because his people were still too spiritually immature to let this culturally-conditioned misconception go.

By faith we can look through the surface of these portraits and see God stooping to bear the fallen and culturally-conditioned state of his people. In doing so he takes on the appearance that mirrors that fallen state, which is a written witness to God’s missionary activity. When we interpret violent portraits of God through the lens of the cross, we can see that God has always been non-coercive, as he is willing to accommodate that which is not cross like in order to stay in relationship with his covenant partners.

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Non-Violence

Sermon Series: Cross Centered

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Focus Scripture:

  • Psalm 50:21

    When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you.

  • John 1:17-18

    The law indeed was given through Moses; face and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

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2 thoughts on “The Heavenly Missionary

  1. Lora says:

    Do you think God looks at homosexuality this way? Is it a sin that he will accommodate for? As he accommodates for divorce or animal sacrifice? Do we as Christians need to accommodate better for it? Should homosexuality keep someone from leading in church? We allow people who have been divorced to lead in church.

  2. Theresa says:

    “You can’t handle the Truth” is so very insightful that all human hearts (from every culture) are in the same need of rescuing ourselves from ourselves. It is how He operates in us today through His Holy Spirit. He doesn’t give us His Truth all at once but just enough to reveal to our hearts our condition that leads us to his grace and freedom….We struggle when we want it “our way” but our understanding is limited on our own and we also fear the surrender to the unknown. I believe our journey is all about surrendering (being present In Him) as there is always more and more He delights to show us (about ourselves and Him) that frees us in ways we could never do on our own.

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