Book Review – “God at War” by Gregory A. Boyd

god at war

I want to begin by saying that I don’t think any review I could write would do this book justice.  I will inevitably either give too little or too much information, and I run the risk of misrepresenting what the author is arguing.  But I will do my best to give my thoughts clearly and fairly.

For years, I have been wanting to read God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict by Gregory A. Boyd.  InterVarsity Press agreed to send me a copy.  I am thankful they did, and they have been very patient with me, as this book has taken me quite a while to read, and I still have the companion book to work through.

God at War is no easy or light read.  The book is 414 pages long, including the text, notes, a selected bibliography, and author/subject index, and a Scripture index.  I read through all of the text (293 pages) and notes (101 pages!), and flipping back and forth took me a while.

Boyd’s book is a good and challenging read.  In the book, Boyd is attempting to offer an explanation of theodicy that he feels does a better job of explaining the problem of evil than the traditional (Augustinian) view of theodicy.  To do so, Boyd argues that the Bible contains a warfare view of creation.  That is, there is a war raging between God and Satan (and his forces of evil), and this warfare is the overarching worldview through which we should think.  As a result, we should not be surprised that bad things happen to good people; rather, we should expect them, as we would expect bad things to happen during a physical war.

This requires us to rethink traditional explanations of how God and evil can coexist.  The traditional view sees God as being in sovereign control of everything that occurs, even the evil things that Satan and people may do.  A philosophical result of this view, according to Boyd, is that we must ultimately claim that everything that happens is, in some sense, according to God’s will and part of His good plan, even evil things.  To Boyd, this ultimately makes God responsible for both good and evil.

According to the warfare view that Boyd espouses in the book, bad things happen not as part of God’s overall will, but against God’s will as a result of free creatures (both demonic and human) choosing to do evil.  As such, there are truly things happening that are pointless.  Still, God is so good that He will ultimately bring good out of these things, though Boyd is clear that those things didn’t happen in order to bring about that good; rather, God causes good from inherently evil things that happen.

These claims are very different from what many are used to hearing, and they require a lot of explanation to back them up.  That is the focus of this book.

In God at War, Boyd focuses on understanding evil and how it works with God only as a supplement to arguing for his warfare understanding of the Bible.  He holds off on the explanations of how evil exists in a universe created by a good God for his follow-up book, Satan and the Problem of Evil.

The first part of this book focuses on the warfare view of the Old Testament, while the second part focuses on the warfare view of the New Testament.  I cannot possibly go over everything Boyd discusses in these parts, but I will offer a brief overview.

In the first part, Boyd works through the Old Testament, showing that from the beginning of Creation, there is an idea of warfare as God establishes order from chaos.  He moves on to show how this warfare view works its way out throughout the entire Old Testament, culminating in an understanding of Satan.

In the second part, Boyd turns his attention to the New Testament, arguing that Jesus’ coming on the scene is the beginning of an invasion, for lack of a better word, of enemy territory.  He walks readers through seeing Jesus’ mission being one of overpowering the enemy and taking back the world he has stolen, and Jesus demonstrates this through exorcisms and healings, both of which are direct confrontations with Satan’s minions and activities.  From there, Boyd focuses on the cross and resurrection as being in line most strongly with the Christus Victor view, over and above the penal substitutionary atonement view.  What I like is that Boyd does not set these views against one another, but orders them so that God’s redeeming people is a subset of His restoring creation by giving it back to Jesus as king rather than having forgiveness of sins being the main focus.  He ends by showing how the idea that we are at war (in the already/not yet state of affairs where Satan has been shown to be defeated, though not ultimately defeated yet) continues through the epistles and Revelation.  We see this in the fact that we are called soldiers who need to fight the good fight and put on the full armor of God while being aware of the devil’s schemes since he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, whom we need to resist as we stand fast, among other statements.  (I think I fit enough Biblical references in that abnormally long sentence.)

I will say that after reading the book, I can clearly see a clear warfare view in the entire Bible.  Whether that is because I have just finished the book, so it is in the forefront of my thoughts or because it is that clearly present has yet to be determined.  Boyd, however, certainly accomplishes what he set out to do: Show that the idea of warfare runs throughout the entire Bible as the theme that ties it all together.

I am certainly anxious to read his follow-up book now to see how this all works out in theory and practice.

The largest concern I have is with Boyd’s Open Theistic view.  It is clear that Boyd rests his arguments in this understanding of God’s sovereignty and knowledge, though I believe he made a statement that one could see a warfare view in Scripture without holding to Open Theism specifically.  I am still reading for and against Open Theism as contrasted with more traditional views of God’s knowledge and sovereignty, and I am not convinced that Open Theism is the best view.  Readers will want to be aware that Boyd is working out of that Scriptural understanding as they read through this book.

All in all, this is definitely a book I would recommend to those who are interested in spiritual warfare, a warfare view of Scripture, or in understanding theodicy in a deeper way.  Whether you walk away from the book convinced or not, I don’t think you will find a better explanation of a warfare view of Scripture than Boyd presents; at least, I cannot picture how there could be a more thorough one.  (Chapter 1 alone has 88 endnotes!)  You will not regret reading this book.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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