Book Review – “Satan and the Problem of Evil” by Gregory A. Boyd

Satan and the Problem of Evil

*To read my review of the first book in this two-book set, please click here.

I am going to preface this review as I did the first one:  Boyd’s book is both large and complex.  No review I could write would be able to do it justice, and I do run the risk of misunderstanding or misrepresenting something he holds to, though I will certainly try not to.  While I will try to give enough insight to guide anyone’s choice on whether or not to read the book, I am sure any review I write will seem to be overlooking or oversimplifying quite a bit, and there is no way not to.  Boyd’s writing is very deep.

This is the second book in Greg Boyd’s Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy explanation.  The first book, with the review linked above, was called God at War, and in that book, Boyd sought to establish that the overarching viewpoint the Bible espoused from Genesis to Revelation was one of warfare between God and Satan.  Through this viewpoint, Boyd argued, we would have the best chance of understanding why evil exists in the world.  Boyd set up his view in opposition to what he called the “blueprint worldview” that would be taught most strongly from a Reformed/Calvinistic standpoint and still espoused (albeit less strongly) in a traditional Arminian worldview.  The main goal of Boyd’s first book was merely establishing that the Bible contained a warfare paradigm.  But it did not delve too deeply into how that would play out in the problem of evil, necessarily.

This second book, Satan and the Problem of Evil, seeks to do just that.  In this book, Boyd seeks to explain the finer details of how this warfare worldview would be a better explanation of why evil exists in the world than a blueprint worldview.

The book itself is 456 pages long.  This includes the book itself, 5 appendices, a glossary of terms, a bibliography, and author/subject index, and a scripture index.  There is one major adjustment to the layout of this book that I love, and that is that the notes are throughout as footnotes on each page rather than as endnotes in the back of the book.  Since Boyd uses quite a few notes, I think this was a great publishing choice, as it made it easier to check the notes without having to flip to the back of the book each time.  I appreciated that greatly.

The first part of the book focuses specifically on the issues of God’s sovereignty, God’s foreknowledge, and the free will of personal beings (humans, angels, demons, and Satan), especially as these relate to the problem of evil.  If you have not read God at War, Boyd does offer a much abbreviated overview in the first chapter, but it really helps to have read the first book prior to this one.

As Boyd discusses free will, he sees it as a necessary component of God’s creating people who could truly choose to love Him.  Boyd sees this free will as necessary and irrevocable.  But he does still see the freedom as limited (after all, there is only one completely free being, and that is God; all other freedom is granted by Him to beings).

It is in this first part of the book that Boyd really looks into the contrast between a divine blueprint view (especially as it requires “eternal divine foreknowledge”) and an open view of God’s knowledge.  The open view teaches (as I understand it) that God can fully know the past and present, but cannot completely know the future, as it is not yet determined by creatures with freedom.  God may be able to know all possibilities of what creatures will choose, but until they choose, the future does not exist in actuality, so God cannot know that perfectly.  This is not a limitation on God’s part, but is something God chose to set in place by allowing creatures to have non-compatabilist freedom.  To Boyd (and others who hold to the open view of God’s knowledge), this does not weaken God.  Rather, it shows His strength and power because despite not knowing how creatures will choose, God is so wonderful and sovereign that He will still bring about His ultimate will, and can redeem anything creatures do, even evil actions.

Here is the biggest difference in the trinitarian warfare theodicy Boyd espouses and a blueprint worldview.  A blueprint worldview sees every evil action as being at least permitted by God (with His foreknowledge that it would occur) if not ordained by Him.  In either case, every evil action is a part of God’s larger plan from the very beginning.  The view Boyd argues for is that because we are in a war zone, with God at variance with some evil free creatures, there are some things that happen for no purpose.  Still, God is able (as Romans 8:28 states) to bring good out of every evil occurrence eventually.

The hinge is really that God chose to allow the risk of creaturely evil against His will in order to give personal beings the choice to either love or reject Him, and the only way to guard this choice was to permit the possibility of evil and continue to allow it.

Boyd would be quick to point out that God can, and sometimes does, intervene in situations, but that He does not always do so, and we cannot understand all the various reasons why this occurs.  Many things can impact whether or not God intervenes, from His overall purposes to the prayers of others to even “chance” occurrences (set up, of course, by prior actions).  So while God does not always intervene, He does sometimes, and we cannot fathom all the reasons that go into why the intervention sometimes occurs and sometimes does not.

Part 2 focuses on miracles, natural evil, and even tackles the concept of suffering in the afterlife.  Boyd does argue that supernatural beings can occasionally be behind “natural” evil, as we think of it.  He also tackles the idea of eternal conscious torment versus annihilation in the afterlife, coming up with a combined view that people do suffer forever, but they do so in a sort of self-contained existence, where they cease to exist to anyone but themselves.  He alludes greatly to C. S. Lewis and The Great Divorce for some of these ideas, and, while I don’t know whether I accept them fully or not, I do admit the concepts were intriguing.

There are 5 appendices in the book.

The first deals with remaining objections to his trinitarian warfare theodicy, including arguing whether it works on a practical level; that is, does it provide comfort to those who are suffering.  I was quite surprised to find myself agreeing that it is possible that an open view of God’s knowledge could provide better comfort than a blueprint worldview.  I think Boyd did an outstanding job of explaining his perspective there.

The second deals with philosophical arguments regarding the incompatibility of eternal define foreknowledge and self-determining free will.

The third deals with the idea of incomplete probationary periods and the possibility of salvation after death.

The fourth deals with a theology of chance and how it relates to God and freedom.

The fifth tackles some proof-texts from the Bible often used to support a compatabilistic view of God’s sovereignty and human freedom.  Here, Boyd tackles some of the stronger texts Calvinists and other compatabilists would bring up to argue that God is in control of everything all the time, both good and evil.  He works on dealing with them exegetically to show how they do not necessarily rule out his views of God.  There were a few verses that I’m not sure Boyd argued very well, but overall, I found his arguments very strong.

While I am still not sure where I stand regarding Open Theism, I found Boyd’s book extremely well argued regarding the idea of viewing evil from a trinitarian warfare theodicy worldview.  I suppose it could still work with Arminianism, though I would have to think it through quite a bit to determine how that would work as well as it seems to with an open view of God’s knowledge.

If you have read other books on theodicy, especially those from a blueprint worldview model, I would strongly encourage you to read this book (and Boyd’s first book) to help provide another picture.  Even if you do not ultimately agree with Boyd, I think his argument is strong enough that it needs to be considered.

I highly recommend Boyd’s book, though be prepared for an often deep and complex read.

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

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Book Review – “Practicing the Power” by Sam Storms

practicing power

My background is interesting.  I was raised Southern Baptist (and cessationist), became a Christian at a Pentecostal revival, began attending an Assembly of God church (and became a continuationist), and now am back in a Southern Baptist church, though not back in my cessationist roots.  Needless to say, I don’t feel I fully fit in with either group.  I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today, but I also feel there are many excesses and abuses that occur in many churches that practice them.  I cannot agree biblically with cessationism in total, but I cannot merely accept everything that passes itself off as being Spirit-led today, either.  Trying to find material that bridges that gap is very difficult.  Now, however, I have one book I can certainly point to as a starting point for those interested.

Practicing the Power by Sam Storms is, in my opinion, a wonderful book that is a great balance between theology and Scriptural exegesis with an emphasis on embracing God’s ongoing movement through the gifts of the Spirit.  I am very glad I was able to read and review this book published by Zondervan.

Let me preface by saying that the book is, in some ways, surface level.  But I believe that was the book’s intention.  There are other books out there that go deeper, and Storms points out several throughout this book.  But as an introduction to the issues, this book excels.

For those concerned that this book may be too excessive and perhaps not biblical, let me assure you that Storms is Reformed and the foreword is written by Matt Chandler.  While I may be wrong, I don’t think Chandler would have written the foreword for something that he felt was unbiblical.

Throughout the book, Storms tackles issues like prayer and fasting, deliverance, and especially the prophetic, which is where he spends quite a bit of time, as there are many issues surrounding that gift.  I think Storms does a great job throughout at tackling objections and concerns with continuationism, and I believe he does an outstanding job of bringing Scripture to bear on the issues.

For example, when talking about healing, Storms does not shy away from the fact that not everyone we pray for is healed.  But it doesn’t prevent him from pointing to the Scripture verses that say we should be praying for healing anyway.  He does not move so far to the God’s sovereignty side that he is hesitant to pray for healing, but he also does not move so far to the healing side that one feels healing must come no matter what.  I like Storms’ balance.

I think that Appendix 2 was probably one of the most helpful parts of the book.  In that appendix, Storms lays out 12 bad reasons for being a cessationist and 12 good reasons for being a continuationist.  Since it is an appendix, the reasons given must necessarily be brief, but I liked his overview.

I have often lamented that most doctrinal/theological churches tend to neglect (intentionally or otherwise) the reality of the Spirit in our lives, while most churches that are more open to the Spirit tend to neglect deep doctrinal/theological study and thinking.  Storms has done a wonderful job of bringing the two together in this book, and I hope it is the beginning of a merging that will be very powerful in the Church as a whole.

If you are interesting in understanding why some are convinced the Spirit still operates with the gifts mentioned in the Bible today, and you want to do so from a balanced, biblical, and well-thought-out perspective, Practicing the Power is a good place to start.

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

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.

Book Review – “The Spiritual Warfare Answer Book” by David Jeremiah

spiritual warfare

If you are looking for a quick reference guide for the basics of spiritual warfare, The Spiritual Warfare Answer Book by David Jeremiah and published by Thomas Nelson may be what you are looking for.

It is a small hardcover book.  The front cover feels like it is padded.  It has a presentation page in case it is purchased as a gift for someone.

The book is broken down into about 5 topics (terms of engagement, behind enemy lines, God’s armory, the warfare of prayer) in the table of contents.  Under each topic are a list of questions, and the answers to those questions make up the contents of the book.  Sample questions are “Why study spiritual warfare?”, “Are we really in a war?”, “How powerful is Satan?”, “How do I arm myself with the girdle of truth?”, and “What does it mean to be ‘watchful’ in prayer?” After the questions and answers the book contains a warrior’s prayer, and two Scripture reference guides: a spiritual warfare reference guide and a prayer reference guide.  There is also a topical index.

The book is a quick read that covers the basics of spiritual warfare.  If you are looking for something that delves down deeper into spiritual warfare, you will want to look elsewhere. But for a quick guide to familiarize someone with the topic, it is a good read.

*Note: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.