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 – “The Reformation Study Bible”

I love reading through various study Bibles.  Each one brings its own unique take on Scripture, allowing us a deeper glimpse into the text and bringing new ways of applying it to our lives.  When I heard about the updated Reformation Study Bible, I immediately wanted one.  Ligonier was nice enough to give me a copy to look at and review.

The text base of The Reformation Study Bible is the 2011 edition of the English Standard Version (ESV).  I have grown to love this translation, as it strikes a good balance between being literal and readable.

This Bible is massive, with 2534 pages, not including the maps and a few blank pages.  The text is black throughout (no red-letters to mark the words of Jesus).  To some this will be a welcome format, as it keeps us from elevating some parts of Scripture over others; to other people, however, they like being able to glance quickly and see when Jesus is talking.  The paper used is very thin (it has to be to keep the Bible from becoming even more bulky than it is), so I cannot see using it as a note-taking Bible unless one is very careful about the pen/pencil used to keep from having a lot of bleed through from one page to the next.  The text is single column, and it contains cross references in the inside margin of each page.  There are some black and white maps throughout.  There is a concordance in the back as well as a Bible reading plan, a table of weights and measures, and a section of color maps.

The notes throughout are solid.  While I do not consider myself Reformed in doctrine (although I find myself very sympathetic with most of the Reformed views), I cannot help but notice that Reformed authors, teachers, and pastors tend to take us much deeper into the text than others, with few exceptions.  This is one reason that the majority of authors I read are Reformed/Calvinistic in their stance.  I read through the notes fully for Jonah, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 John (all portions I have memorized) to get an overview of what the notes were like.  I found much food for thought in all of them.

While glancing through other notes, I came across some that clearly show that the editors are cessationists (they do not believe in the continuation of sign gifts today) and at least one entry I read leaned towards a paedobaptist stance (baptizing infants as a sign of the covenant) as opposed to a credobaptist stance (baptizing believers upon confession of faith), although several notes also discuss baptizing believers who commit to be disciples.  In defense of the text in question, the author does a good job of presenting arguments for and against infant baptism, but ultimately the author seems very accepting of the idea.

The introduction to each Bible book contains information on the following: the title of the book, the author, the date and occasion of writing, the genre, literary features of the book, characteristics and primary themes of the book, theology of the book, the book in context of the larger story of the Bible, pointers to Christ in the book, a history of interpretation of the book, and special issues related to the book. This is followed by an outline of the book before the actual biblical text starts.  These discussions provide a lot of wonderful insights into each book.

Scattered through each book are articles discussing a range of topics.  For example, those in Genesis are “Human Beings Created in the Image of God,” “Covenant of Words,” “Original Sin,” “Covenant,” and “Infant Baptism.” Matthew contains “Excommunication,” “Legalism,” and “The Sacraments.”

This Bible contains the following Topical Articles: Apologetics, The Bible in Church History, The Bible vs. Other Sacred Texts, Canonicity, Covenant Theology, Creeds and Confessions, Hermeneutics, The Inerrancy of Holy Scripture, Interpreting Scripture by Scripture, New Testament Textual Criticism, Old Testament Textual Criticism, The Preaching of the Reformation, The Reformation, and Worship.

One of the most handy parts of this Bible are the collection of Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms in the back.  It contains the following: The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dort, The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Westminster Larger Catechism, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, and The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.  While I do not agree with everything in all of the creeds and confessions, there are some wonderful insights in them.  Take the following from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Question – “What is the chief end of man?”  Answer – “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Who can do anything but say “Amen!” to that?

The above is enough to make this a welcome addition to anyone’s library.  As of the time of this review, however, the publishers are throwing in even more.

When you purchase The Reformation Study Bible, you get an access code that gives you several e-books, some video teachings, a 6-month subscription to Tabletalk magazine (which I subscribe to and love), and a 3-month subscription to Ligonier Connect (a site containing multiple teaching sets which you can watch at your own pace).

The e-books included are the following: Everyone’s a TheologianFive Things Every Christian Needs to GrowBy Grace AloneIn Christ AloneThe Daring Mission of William TyndaleThe Expository Genius of John Calvin, and Believing God.

The teachings included are as follows: Dust to GloryAttributes of GodA Survey of Church History (Volumes 1-4)Lessons from the Upper RoomWhat is Reformed Theology, and Why We Trust the Bible?

I have not heard anything yet about the 6-month subscription to the magazine, although it is not a huge deal, as I am already subscribed, so they may have just added to my current subscription.  And while I received the Bible probably a few months ago, I have not heard any word on access to Ligonier Connect.  Granted, other than one initial email, I have not really pursued the matter, so I cannot say much about it.  I would love to have had a chance to try it out and comment on it here, too, but this is a review of the Bible primarily, so it is not a huge loss.

I believe that the packet included with the Bible lists the above as being “more than $400 in additional Bible study resources,” and I believe it.  It is well worth the cost of the Bible for the Bible alone, but with this additional material included, it definitely increases the value.

If you are interested in a solidly Reformed study Bible, this is the one for you.  If you are not Reformed yourself, be aware that this leans very strongly in that direction.  Personally, I like expanding my understanding, even into areas that I may  not agree with 100%, so it was a great opportunity to be able to review this Bible.

Note: I received this Bible free from the publisher in exchange for and as compensation for my honest review.