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.