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

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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 – “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace

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I love apologetics.  I love reading on various arguments, explanations, and ideas on explaining and defending a Christian worldview.  Naturally, I was very excited when David C. Cook publishers offered to provide a copy of God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace for me to read and review.  I have read Wallace’s previous book Cold-Case Christianity, and I enjoyed it immensely.  This, too, was a good book by Wallace.

God’s Crime Scene argues for the existence of God from the ground up.  In the book, Wallace uses his experience as a cold-case detective to examine the evidence we see in creation to determine whether it points to a Creator or not.  As such, the book is intended to help those who question God’s existence see good arguments as to why He does exist.

The chapters examine the beginning of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the appearance of design in creation, the existence of consciousness, the existence of free will, the existence of morality, and the problem of evil.  As Wallace concludes each chapter, he puts together an “Emerging ‘Suspect’ Profile.”  Ultimately, Wallace argues that the “Suspect” (quotes in Wallace’s book) responsible for the world as we know it is:

  1. “external to the universe
  2. nonspatial, atemporal, and nonmaterial
  3. uncaused
  4. powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe
  5. specifically purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life
  6. intelligent and communicative
  7. creative and resourceful
  8. a conscious Mind
  9. free to choose (and create) personally
  10. the personal source of moral truth and obligation
  11. the standard for good by which we define evil” (p. 193)

The layout of each chapter is to start with a legal case and the accompanying evidence as a way of analogy to the evidence to be examined from Creation.  Wallace then tackles all of the attempts to explain the evidence by looking “inside the room,” or looking only at natural, material causes.  He shows why those explanations fail to explain the evidence before looking elsewhere for an explanation for the evidence in question.  In the margins of the chapter Wallace includes “Expert Witness Profiles” (small biographical bits regarding people he cites in the book), “Cold Case Approach” information (explaining how a cold-case detective would look at evidence), and “A Tool for the Call-Out Bag” (extra tips to explain how detectives and jurors look at evidence to make decisions).

There are many selling points for those who wish to go deeper.  There are copious notes throughout, and often these notes add more information (full quotes from authors, explanations, etc.) rather than just citations as to where Wallace got information from.  Another inclusion is a section for each chapter in the back of the book called “The Secondary Investigation.” This section will take the information discussed in each chapter and go in more detail.  Finally, Wallace includes “Case Files: The Expert Witnesses.”  This section is a small bibliography for each chapter, providing titles of books that provide more information for those arguing from “inside the room” (the naturalistic arguments) and those arguing “outside the room” (the theistic arguments).  I especially like the fact that Wallace is willing to include titles that would argue against his case for others to read, as it shows that Wallace believes his arguments will stand up under scrutiny.

Who will benefit most from this book?  First, those who are atheist or agnostic who are open to considering other viewpoints will benefit.  Second, Christians/theists who are looking for assistance in understanding how to argue for a Creator.

I do need to take a minute to clarify a few things for people to understand if they are trying to decide whether or not to read this book.

First, this book takes an Intelligent Design approach, as far as I can tell.  It assumes modern scientific understanding of things such as the age of the earth and universe, the Big Bang, etc.  Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) are still able to use things from the book that don’t require a YEC stance.  But they will have issues with some of the assumptions that Wallace (and those he cites) makes.

Second, because it takes an Intelligent Design approach to arguing for the existence of God, it will fit in more with someone who holds to classical apologetics or cumulative case apologetics.  Presuppositionalists may have issues with the way Wallace makes his case.  As far as I can recall, no Scripture is cited in the text itself, and the only Scripture referenced is in the notes for the “Closing Argument.”  For classical apologists, this is a plus, as it shows that one can potentially argue for a theistic understanding of God without quoting chapter and verse.  For presuppositionalists, this may likely be a downside, as it doesn’t start from what they consider the ultimate authority to make the argument.  I still think anyone can glean much good from the book, but it was a point worth mentioning for those who take things like the above into account.

The last thing that potential readers need to note is that this book will not provide evidence to take someone all the way to considering Christianity.  It is not intended to.  Wallace himself points this out in the book:

“If the evidence in this book has been compelling to you and you’ve decided a Divine Creator is the best explanation for the evidence in the universe, you’re now among the vast majority of people on our planet who accept that proposition.  But given the variety of theistic worldviews available, which, if any of them, is true? The case for God’s existence presented in this book might apply to a number of religious systems positing a personal God, particularly the monotheistic traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  I would encourage you to investigate the claims of these systems with equal vigor.” (p. 203)

Wallace goes on to explain how he came to believe in Christianity, and he points out that he talks about how he came to that conclusion in Cold-Case Christianity, so he does point people to reading that could take them further.  For those considering this book, however, please understand that it does not argue all the way to Christianity; it stops with the existence of some form of a Creator.

Overall, this is a good book to read for those interested in arguments for the existence of a Creator/Intelligent Designer.  The layout and methodology is definitely unique, and it would make a good addition to anyone’s library who is interested in apologetics.

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