Tag Archives: john piper

Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? Part I

Many evangelicals are drunk on the spirit of the political age. We are often guilty of joining with the crowd that is fear mongering, demonizing people that disagree with us, and misrepresenting the positions of others in the process. We jump to conclusions and often assume the very worst about people, even those in the church.

This is hardly reflective of the suffering servant from Nazareth.

Unfortunately, many evangelical pastors and teachers have become spiritual demagogues for their own ministries, denominations, and causes. Just how bad is it? Well, some believe that ecumenicism is the work of devil worshipping liberals, yet legalism and spiritual narcissism is accepted as the true work of God. I think it’s satanic at the core.

I don’t know how else to put it. It’s evil masked as piety. It’s Pharisaism posing as God’s righteousness.

Ironically, mis-information is rampant in this great age of mass-information. While we have more access to learning than ever before in the history of the world, we’re actually getting dumber it seems.

What is happening? I think it has something to do with our inability to think critically and discern truth from error in a flood of ideas that challenge us, even causing us to doubt our faith.

We feel the world is threatening us so we retreat into an anti-intellectual spirituality, dig our heels into what we believe to be true, and speak loudly to all those who challenge our worldview.

This prompts some folks to believe everything coming from sensationalist media, and from their leaders who they have allowed to think for them. Can we do anything to correct this problem?

I think so. But first we’re going to have to address this judgmental spirit at work among us.

You Godless Liberal!

Let’s start with a verse that’s often proof-texted as “biblical” support for furthering your own personal agenda and pet doctrines. There are many others, but I’ll just address this one.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.  Romans 16:17 (NIV)

I don’t agree with the way this verse and several others from Paul have been used by many evangelical pastors and teachers to condemn others in the Body of Christ as false teachers and heretics (e.g. 1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 2:14-16, 2 Pet 2:1-3, etc). Let me tell you why.

The fact of the matter is that Rom 16:17 can be used and has been used to oppose anyone who believes or teaches anything we’ve never heard of or don’t agree with—which is often called “liberal” by those who feel it threatens the foundations of their faith.

What I have found is that most of these folks simply haven’t been exposed to anything other than what their denomination or tradition has taught them to believe, or they have been taught to shun everything that the “gatekeepers” of orthodoxy have told them to shun.

Of course they may just haven’t learned to think for themselves. If that’s not it, they may have the spirit of the heresy hunter.

What kind of person qualifies as a heresy hunter?

If you have a heightened sensitivity to anything that makes you theologically uncomfortable and compels you to hunt down and destroy all who you perceive to be theological terrorists, then you might be a heresy hunter.

I have done it. And I’ve had it done to me. It’s no fun.

It’s this sort of reaction by fundamentalist thinkers who are perpetuating division and causing quarrels in the church today. It’s not people like Rob Bell, Peter Enns, or the “open” scary-theist Greg Boyd that are the real source of division. It’s those who have verbally lynched them.

And while I don’t always agree with the seemingly forever-emerging Brian McLaren, I don’t even see him as a “threat” to our faith. No matter how much your pulpit-pounding preacher says these things with conviction, as we say in Texas, they just ain’t so.

The Gallows of Social Networking

The time it once took for papal bulls, church edicts, and the Baptist Standard to be sent out and circulated, in order to condemn so-called heretics, has now been expedited to the speed of Twitter and Facebook.

Exhibit A: John Piper’s tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell” in response to Bell’s book Love Wins—which sparked debate and an outcry by many evangelicals against our brother, Rob.

In the end, Piper’s tweet only helped Rob publish more books. It was quite the marketing strategy. But it also proved just how unloving and reactionary some have become in the church.

I know something similar has happened to my good friend, Frank Viola. His book, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (co-authored with George Barna), was the most despised book never read.

And just recently we have seen a backlash against missional church leader Alan Hirsch because of his book, The Permanent Revolution.

We don’t need to burn folks at the stake anymore… we have social networking.

What in tarnation is going on? Is this the Body of Christ? It’s time we rethink our use of social networking, and think about the serious consequences of posting everything we think or feel before having time to process things and respond in a way that honors the Lord.

I know that my record is not flawless in this area, but I’m determined to be more responsible with how I challenge others to think and respond to our neighbors and our enemies. I believe in being intentionally provocative, but there’s no excuse for ugliness in Jesus’ name.

Misjudging People as Heretics

Before we look at what the NT actually says about how to spot false teachers and heretics, let’s first look at a few faulty assumptions made about them in the church today.

Assumption #1: Anyone causing division might be a heretic.

Many Christians think that anyone bringing a teaching that causes division in the church is a sign of heresy or a false teacher at work. That could be the case, but usually it isn’t. It’s important to remember that all of the prophets, including Jesus and the apostles, caused division with their teachings.

Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff in his hometown! Religious folks were always plotting to kill him. In fact, Jesus’ own family thought he had lost his mind and was only stirring up trouble (Mk 3:20-21).

Look at the apostle Paul. Paul brought division in the Jerusalem church over the requirements (or lack thereof) for Gentiles becoming Christians. And some Jewish “super apostles” never gave up trying to undermine his Gentile ministry while he was alive (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11).

It seems clear to me that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was the heresy hunters who opposed him at every turn (2 Cor 12:7). Notice that he mentions the thorn in the context of these zealous Judaizers. So, division isn’t always a sign of a false teacher. Take it from Jesus and Paul.

Instead, the problem of division that we have today is mainly caused by heresy hunters and those screaming “witch” or “liberal” at every book published that doesn’t line up with their own theological opinions.

Assumption #2: Anyone who doesn’t agree with my favorite Bible teacher is probably a heretic.

“Well, you can believe what you want, but John MacArthur thinks you’re a heretic.” While I haven’t actually had someone say these exact words to my face, it has been insinuated many times over.

Just plug in the name of your favorite teacher and you get the gist of what I’m saying. “John Piper says…” or “Matt Chandler says…” or “My mamma says…” We should never think that any pastor, teacher, or family member has the cutting edge on truth. Never ever.

Of course there is rarely any consistency with those who herald one man, or a group of like-minded men, as the dispenser(s) of truth—which creates an unhealthy commitment to them, and causes us to look suspiciously at others who don’t fit in our group.

I once reminded someone that John MacArthur, whom they believed was a defender of orthodoxy, didn’t believe in telling people to “tithe” the OT temple tax. Needless to say, they didn’t take that too well since they adamantly believed that God would not bless you unless you gave 10% to the church—a teaching not found anywhere in the NT or practiced in the early church. (See 2 Corinthians 9 for NT-styled giving.)

And I’ll never forget hearing Ravi Zacharias bash Brian McLaren’s book The Secret Message of Jesus on a panel of conservative preachers (including Al Mohler) expressing their disdain for the emerging/emergent church. Zacharias admitted that he had not read the book personally. He merely criticized the book because of its title.

John Piper has done this sort of thing too.

Since I had read the book, I knew that McLaren was referring to what is known as the “Messianic Secret” among scholars. I have heard the same message in McLaren’s book preached in pulpits everywhere.

Clearly we are guilty of throwing people under the bus before giving them a fair trial. Who does that sound like? Ever heard of the Sanhedrin?

So, just because your favorite Bible teacher or someone you greatly admire believes something doesn’t necessarily make it so. Go to the source, consider the word of other Christian leaders, and think for yourself. Nobody has all perfect wisdom and knowledge except for the Lord Jesus.

Assumption #3: Those who disagree with the majority of pastors, scholars, and teachers are heretics of the worst kind.

This last assumption I would like to address may be the most common. On the surface this charge appears reasonable. However, we need to seriously consider whether or not judging truth based on the “majority” is more American and democratic than it is biblical.

When I was in college I remember regularly listening to a Christian radio program on the way to school. One day I heard them say that Hank Hanegraaff would no longer be played on their radio station because he disagreed with pre-tribulation rapture theology. The host said, “We just refuse to believe that Hank is right and everyone else (conservative preachers) is wrong.”

You guessed it. I never listened to that radio station again.

That’s terrible reasoning. Mainstream biblical scholarship rejects Left Behind eschatology, but who really cares when the majority of our favorite teachers say something different. Seriously?

There are tons of biblical examples that overturn this sort of reasoning. In Noah’s day the majority would soon take their chances with sin and rebellion than listen to news of a great coming flood.

The majority at Sodom and Gomorrah chose to ignore the outstretched arm of Yahweh to save them from their sins of greed, idolatry, and sexual immorality (Gen 19). Want to join the Sodom majority?

I’d say a lot of American Christians are committing the real sins of Sodom (see Ezek 16:47-49). So much for singling out homosexuality as the most detestable sin on the planet.

Jeremiah preached for 40 years without a single convert! All of the people believed the rest of the king’s prophets, not Jeremiah. They threw the lone voice in a dungeon, saying that he was a false prophet and a heretic.

In fact, most of the prophets were eccentric loners who were perceived as rabble-rousers and disturbers of the peace. They rattled the cages of the religious elite, and it ticked them off.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Jesus, Matt 23:37

Do you really want to believe the majority? The majority killed Christ. They distorted his message, they trapped him, and they brutally murdered him. Jesus challenged their safe, traditional interpretations of Scripture and their way of life, and they crucified him for it.

Follow the Lord, not the majority. The majority is not always right.

Who are the real heretics and who are true teachers of the Lord? In the next post (Part II) I will outline what I believe to be the criteria for discerning false teachers from faithful followers of Christ.

Can you think of other faulty assumptions people make when discerning truth from error? What do you make of the name-calling and finger pointing in the church today? What can we do to reverse this satanic practice of judging others in the Body of Christ?

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Two

Scot McKnight is an American author, New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, and theologian. He is currently the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University.

Prior to joining the NPU faculty in 1994, he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. McKnight will join the faculty at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary this Fall 2012.

McKnight has written more than twenty books. His book, The Jesus Creed, won the Christianity Today book award for 2004 in the area of Christian living. He currently has one of the most popular evangelical blogs online. He has written widely on the historical Jesus and early Christianity. He is an authoritative voice for evangelicals today.

The next book I’m recommending in this series is McKnight’s most recent work, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Sept. 2011).

His book comes with a forward from N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard. Wright says, “This book could be one of God’s ways of reminding the new generation of Christians that it has to grow up, to take responsibility for thinking things through afresh, to look back to the large world of the full first-century gospel in order then to look out on the equally large world of twenty-first century gospel opportunity.”

As you might have guessed with a subtitle like, “The Original Good News Revisited,” McKnight sees that our biggest evangelical problem is “that we have an entire culture shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel” (p. 27).

He is confident that this problem is evident by some sobering statistics and the failure of the church to transform society with the gospel. McKnight points out that, according to the Barna Group, 75 percent of Americans have made some sort of “decision” for Christ, but only about 25 percent of Americans actually attend a church fellowship regularly (p. 19).

McKnight writes, “We cannot help but conclude that making a decision is not the vital element that leads to a life of discipleship.” He continues with, “Our focus on getting young people to make decisions—that is, “accepting Jesus into our hearts”—appears to distort spiritual formation” (p. 20).

While McKnight affirms the evangelical conviction that a person must be born again or saved, he contends that this salvation must always and only be understood within the biblical narrative and a call to radical discipleship—the way in which it is proclaimed in the New Testament.

He writes, “Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. Behind the word gospel is the Greek word euangelion and evangel, from which words we get evangelicalism and evangelism. Behind salvation is the Greek word soteria. I want now to make a stinging accusation. In this book I will be contending firmly that we evangelicals (as a whole) are not really “evangelical” in the sense of apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians.”

He goes on to say, “Here’s why I say we are more soterian than evangelical: we evangelicals (mistakenly) equate the word gospel with the word salvation. Hence, we are really “salvationists.” When we evangelicals see the word gospel, our instinct is to think (personal) “salvation.” We are wired this way. But these two words don’t mean the same thing, and this book will do its best to show the differences” (p. 29).

McKnight believes that the apostolic gospel was a gospel culture gospel, not a salvation culture gospel. He believes the early church did not have the struggle that we now have in America. The salvation culture gospel “will always create the problem of discipleship.”

A salvation culture does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision. In this book we want to show that the gospel of Jesus and that of the apostles, both of which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be “in” to be The Discipled. In other words, it swallowed up a salvation culture into a gospel culture (p. 33).

McKnight sets out to convince evangelicals that its time to rethink the gospel according to the Scriptures. From a critique of the Reformation efforts to reshape the apostolic gospel into a “salvation” gospel, to the popular efforts of modern day men to reduce the gospel to a sinner’s prayer, McKnight deconstructs the current evangelical proclamation in order to construct a NT-styled evangelism. He calls it “gospeling” a Christian resurrection gospel—retelling the saving story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s story.

In order to further whet your appetite for this book, here are a few comparisons that McKnight makes between the King Jesus Gospel and the salvation gospel of many evangelicals today:

(1) the gospeling of Acts summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as Savior; (2) the gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story. It was driven by the Story of Israel; (3) neither Peter nor Paul focuses on God’s wrath when they evangelize in Acts, nor do they describe the saving Story of Jesus as an escape from hell; (4) NT gospeling was politically subversive to the agendas of empire; (5) the early apostles evangelized by telling the complete Story of Jesus within the Story of Israel (pgs. 133-144).

McKnight says, “Our gospel preaching and evangelism tend to tell the story of how to be saved personally. There is a major difference between the Story of Jesus and a Plan of Salvation” (p. 144). I could not agree more with McKnight’s observations and his refreshing look at the King Jesus Gospel.

There are some complimentary overlaps between McKnight’s book and the previous book in this series, N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. A good bit of the evangelical theology that Wright seeks to correct in his book makes us up much of the backbone within the salvation gospel that McKnight rightfully critiques. They both offer up a new vision for 21st century evangelicalism.

Read them, digest them, search the Scriptures, and see if they do not ring true with you as they do with me.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Three

*See the intro post for information on the free book giveaway at the end of this series. It’s not too late to get in on the drawing!


An Open Theism Theodicy

Gregory Boyd on the Problem of Evil

Where is God when a seven-year-old child is kidnapped, viciously raped, and her decapitated body is left in a plastic bag beside a cold riverbed?[1] Gregory Boyd believes that evil “cannot be captured in abstract definitions”[2] but must be known in concrete experiences, like that of seven-year-old Greta, before any serious answers may be given to the problem of evil—lest “abstractions… distract us from that immediate reality [of evil] and reduce evil to a statistic,” as suggested by Jeffery Burton Russell.[3]

Traditionally, classical theism has largely conditioned her adherents to accept that God, who is omnipotent, must allow Greta’s brutal murder for some good purpose and that Christians should accept this as being a part of God’s secret plan—often expressed in the popular cliché: “There is a reason for everything.”

Gregory Boyd, who previously taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul Minnesota, where he is now a pastor of Woodland Hills Church, has in the last decade, encroached upon many long-held doctrines and traditions that Christians, particularly in America, hold dear.

His book, Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan 2006) is an example of his willingness to confront issues within cultural Christianity.

Boyd is a strong proponent of “open theism,” perhaps the most controversial of his challenges directed at classical theism. It is within Boyd’s open view of God’s sovereignty that he finds satisfactory solutions for the problem of evil and the way by which he constructs his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.”[4]

The purpose of this article is to give reasonable consideration of the theodicy espoused by Gregory Boyd. The theodicy of Gregory Boyd will be appraised as a sensitive engagement of the issues pertaining to the problem of evil as it relates to the Christian life, showing the strengths of contemporary open theism, and thereby arguing for a respected position within evangelicalism.

This article will begin by briefly examining classical theism and will then direct full attention to the open theism of Gregory Boyd. How then does Boyd’s doctrine of God deal with the problem of evil and suffering in the world? What practical implications might his view have on Christians living in the present, as well as their hope for the future?

Finally, in what ways do Boyd’s theodicy enhance our understanding of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ?[5]

THE CLASSICAL DOCTRINE OF GOD

A Synopsis of Classical Theism

What does “classical theism” mean? Classical theism generally describes the way the Christian theological tradition handles the doctrine of God.[6] In other words, it describes the traditional or “classic” way in which Christians have answered the question, “Who is God?” or “What is God like?” Classical theists focus on certain attributes of God and build a systematic theology from what they have decided about God’s attributes.

For the sake of this article, it is only necessary that a few of those attributes be briefly addressed.[7]

According to classical theism, God is “immutable” and “impassible.” Immutability says that God is unchanging in nature. However, the tradition has gone as far as God being inert and unmoved. Impassibility, an attribute often closely associated with the former, suggests that God does not experience true sorrow, sadness, or pain. Therefore, any emotions attributed to God are purely metaphorical.

Classical theism also upholds the belief that God is “omnipotent” and “omniscient.” These attributes have been historically central to the Christian doctrine of God. Omnipotence says that God is “all powerful” and capable, within the limits of his attributes, of doing whatever he pleases. Omniscience means that God is “all knowing” and that there is nothing beyond his knowledge; this would include God’s foreknowing all things in the future.

It should be noted that these attributes have been largely expounded upon and articulated in Hellenic philosophical terminology, and more popularly defined by the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, and John Calvin.[8]

Rethinking Classical Theism

There are a growing number of evangelical theologians who are finding themselves dissatisfied with classical theism, and they propose an alternative to the traditional doctrine of God.[9] This controversial movement, and contemporary trend in the doctrine of God, has been dubbed “open theism”—a term coined by Richard Rice in his 1980 book, The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will.[10]

Open theism calls into question the way in which the divine attributes have been traditionally defined. Language about God in the Scripture, according to open theists, is not always intended to be anthropological or metaphorical. If God is “immutable” and never changes, then how, for example, is God sorry that he made humankind (Gen. 6:5)? How does God change his mind (Exod. 32:14)? And what about the incarnation (Jn. 1:14)?

Clark Pinnock, a major proponent of open theism, says, “God is unchanging in nature and essence but not in experience, knowledge and action.”[11] Open theists also call for a redefining of God’s sovereignty and his foreknowledge; if God already knows the future exhaustively, and the future is predetermined, then free will is merely an illusion.

Finally, open theists say that if God is in complete control of the cosmos, as proposed by classical theism, then he must be behind evil. Therefore, God could have done something about seven-year old Greta, but simply chose to “allow” it for his good purposes.

Open theists suggest that maybe it is time for evangelicals to rethink classical theism and realign their views with Scripture.

THE OPEN THEISM OF GREGORY BOYD

Free Will, Foreknowledge, & the Problem of Evil

Gregory Boyd believes that true freedom is incompatible with determinism.[12] The belief that God can foreknow all things, and that man can at the same time operate out of free will, is logically incoherent. This is a major point of contention for open theists. For Boyd, the future is partly open and full of possibilities. Only the past can be known exhaustively—for the past is gone, the present is ongoing, and the future is yet to come.

If the relational Triune God is love, then the very nature of love involves a certain level of risk.[13] Classical theists believe that this undermines God’s sovereignty.[14] Boyd argues, a God “who knows all possibilities, experiences novelty, and is willing to engage in an appropriate level of risk is more exalted than a God who faces an eternally settled future.”[15] And Boyd believes that this is the God presented in the Bible.

According to Boyd, God knows the future as “unsettled possibilities” (e.g. Gen. 23:12; Jer. 3:6-7; 2 Pet. 3:12) and “settled certainties” (e.g. Gen. 15:13-15; Matt. 24:1-32; Eph. 1:3-10) where God invites human beings, made in his image, to join him as agents of new creation.[16] God perfectly anticipates the actions of free creatures and knows all that is knowable about the future. Boyd says, it’s really about the nature of the future.

In this way God is truly immanent and operates within his creation according to its laws and nature. Since God’s knowledge is perfect in knowing possibilities, as if they were all certainties, he will forever be a step ahead of his creatures. However, those creatures are always given an “appropriate degree of freedom” to operate within creation and shape the future.[17]

Boyd believes the cross best speaks to the open view of the future, God’s sovereignty, and how God has judged evil once and for all in the death of Jesus:

The cross refutes the traditional notion that omnipotence means God always gets his way. Rather, the cross reveals God’s omnipotence as a power that empowers others—to the point of giving others the ability, if they so choose, to nail him to the cross. The cross reveals that God’s omnipotence is displayed in self-sacrificial love, not sheer might. God conquers sin and the devil not by a sovereign decree but by a wise and humble submission to crucifixion. In doing this, the cross reveals that God’s omnipotence is not primarily about control but about his compelling love. God conquers evil and wins the heart of people by self-sacrificial love, not by coercive force.[18]

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 NIV). According to Boyd, this presupposes that God’s will is not always done. Therefore, in Boyd’s view, genuine free will affords mankind the choice to align with God’s good intentions for creation and say, “not my will be done, but thine” or otherwise join the forces of evil that fight against God.

Boyd is convinced that there is a real war being waged between human and angelic agents of free will. He rejects what he calls the “blueprint worldview” where God ordains everything that comes to pass—which in the end makes God responsible for evil.[19]

Therefore, he says, “The blueprint worldview intensifies the problem of evil, and it is rooted in fundamental philosophical assumptions that are highly questionable.”[20] Instead, Boyd offers the “warfare worldview” as a way of making sense of the problem of evil within the doctrine of God. He calls it his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.”

A Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy

Gregory Boyd says, “This intellectual problem of evil constitutes the single most difficult challenge to classical-philosophical Christian theism.” He continues, “Indeed, it is not overstating the case to claim that no single theological problem has occupied more intellectual energy, time, and ink than this one.”[21]

As Clark Pinnock has pointed out, modern atheism is largely due to philosophical distortions that have entered into the doctrine of God.[22] Boyd is determined to clear up these distortions with his “philosophical theology” set forth in his book, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.[23] Boyd says:

I call it a trinitarian warfare theodicy for two reasons. First, I want clearly to distinguish the warfare worldview I espouse and defend from the warfare worldview that most other cultures in history have in some form espoused. The biblical warfare worldview is unique in that it has at its foundation the belief in a triune Creator God who is all-powerful and all-good. This is why the trinitarian warfare worldview is unique: it must reconcile the reality of spiritual war with the belief in an all-powerful and all-good God.[24]

Boyd says he is motivated by his encounter with Scripture, not philosophy.[25] However, because his theodicy is a work in philosophical theology, Boyd says that reason will play a more dominant role than it would in a biblical theology. He states, “Scriptural revelation goes beyond reason, but I do not believe it ever goes against reason.”[26]

Boyd explains his methodology:

The method I employ to arrive at the six theses that constitute the core of the trinitarian warfare worldview is based on Wesley’s methodological quadrangle of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as the criteria for theological truth.[27]

These six theses form the core of his position and perspective:

  1. Love must be freely chosen. This entails that creatures possessing the capacity to love, must also have self-determining freedom.
  2. Love involves risk. There is no way God could have created beings with self-determining freedom without suffering some losses.
  3. Love and freedom mean that creatures are to some degree “morally responsible for one another.”
  4. The ability an agent has to do good is roughly proportionate to the ability that creature has to do evil.
  5. Freedom must be, within limits, irrevocable. For Boyd, this explains why God cannot always prevent evil or interfere in human affairs.
  6. The capacity to choose love is not endless. Human beings are finite and their choices only extend so far. This means that self-determined creatures have a limited capacity to accept or reject God’s purposes.[28]

Boyd says that the final theses, “renders intelligible why God must genuinely war against rebellious creatures at the present time, though he is certain to overcome them in the future.”[29] In fact, Boyd believes that the entire narrative of Scripture is the telling of one great spiritual war.

In his book, God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict, Boyd first laid out the framework for his warfare worldview.[30] He examined both the Old and New Testaments in order to prove that behind the scenes of human history there has been an ongoing battle of cosmic forces. Satan and his angels began a war against the God of heaven some time in the primordial past and brought their rebellion to earth.[31]

What began in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-15), continued through the trials of Job (1:6-12), warred against the prayers of Daniel (10:1-21), and demonized the man along the Sea of Galilee (Mk. 5:1-20), was finally confronted by Jesus with spiritual and physical “acts of war.”

According to Boyd, even “natural evils” (e.g. earthquakes, floods, birth defects, mental illness etc.) are a result of these evil powers and they should be attributed to Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2) and his fallen angels that have turned against God.[32]

Boyd believes that every evil act or event is a result of free agents choosing to oppose God’s will. Whether that is humans or angels, all evil comes to us because of acts of defiance against God.[33]

Boyd says, “Evil is a mystery, but it is not a mystery concerning Yahweh’s character… the mystery of evil is not located in the heart of God but in the heart of humanity and in the hidden world between humans and God.”[34] God is not to blame for evil in his world.

Boyd contends that the early Christians were well aware of this spiritual war and it constituted “the only ‘problem of evil’ they knew or cared about.” It was a matter of aligning their lives with God’s will in Jesus. Boyd says, “It was a problem solved by spiritual activism, not by intellectual contemplation and pious resignation.”[35] The early believers were urged to join the angelic forces of God, in spiritual battle, with spiritual armor, through prayer (Eph. 6:10-18).

As Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12 NIV).

There was no need for the early Christians to ponder “why bad things happen to good people,” because they were ever mindful of the war that rages on until Christ comes to establish his kingdom forever on the earth (Rev. 20-21). They were at war with evil—fighting with weapons not of this world (2 Cor. 10:4)! They resonated with the words of Paul: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).

Practical Implications

So what then can be said about seven-year old Greta who was abducted and raped before being brutally murdered? Where was God in this wretched evil?

In this light we must conclude that it is at least as true to say that God could not prevent Greta’s abduction as it is to say that God chose not to prevent it.  God chose not to prevent this abduction in the sense that he alone chose to create the kind of risky world where this kind of evil could happen. Moreover, because God made this choice, he now could not guarantee that this evil would be prevented. Where free agents are involved, God’s omnipotent will can at times be thwarted (Lk. 7:30).[36]

Gregory Boyd’s “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” does more than somehow let God off the hook for evil. His theodicy implies that both humans and angels are in a real war with God. Therefore, human and angelic actions really do matter in this world. Free agents can choose to join the Lord in works of the kingdom to resist evil and “speed his coming” (2 Peter 3:8-13) in the world, or capitulate to evil through actions that are antithetical to the new heaven and earth.

Boyd says, “If we believe that possibilities are not real, we will be more inclined to accept things that we could, and should, revolt against.”[37] Boyd calls for a proactive stance toward evil.

How then should Christians revolt? Boyd suggests that followers of Christ ought to understand prayer as “morally responsible behavior” in confronting evil in the world.[38] He believes that many Christians do not pray passionately against evil because somewhere deep down they don’t believe it can make any real difference.

People often pray out of obligation without any sense of urgency.[39] Boyd is convinced that if Christians get their minds right about what’s really going on, they will then see God opposed to all evil and join him in that opposition.

Embracing this “open” warfare worldview may not entirely solve the problem of evil, but Boyd believes that “it offers a more plausible way out of the dilemma of assuming God has a purpose for allowing particular evils.”[40] It is then necessary to reject the blueprint worldview.

Jesus taught his followers to align themselves with the Father’s will in prayer in order that he might have his way in them and the world (Matt. 6:10). Prayer joins heaven and earth. It moves people, angels, and all of creation to action against evil in order that God’s forces advance in the universe.

So when evil momentarily gets the upper hand, Boyd reminds Christians that God’s power is so great that he can use evil for the good of those who are concerned with kingdom alignment (Rom. 8:28). God weeps for Greta and others like her that have suffered at the hands of Satan. God is not sitting idly by doing nothing—and neither should his people.

It is plain that Boyd’s theodicy is a serious treatment of spiritual warfare. It implies that Christian living really does matter for kingdom’s sake. Boyd’s theodicy also reminds believers that God is for his people, always. He comes alongside his people and suffers with them (Heb. 4:15-16).

The cross of Christ reminds God’s people that he has himself experienced the full weight of evil. The resurrection says that God has conquered and that he is recreating the world in Jesus. Sin and death are on the way out. Boyd’s warfare worldview assures believers of God’s certain triumph, but in the meantime, there is a real battle being fought in heaven and earth.

Most importantly, Christians are reminded that Jesus reveals the God of Scripture. Jesus shows us that God is not behind evil, but instead, he stands utterly opposed to it. Boyd suggests that this also means that believers should see Jesus’ own actions as God’s way of rebuking evil.[41]

Where there is hate, let there be love. Where there is darkness, let there be light. Where there is unrest, let there be peace. And where there exists the most horrendous evils in the world, let God’s people overcome that evil with the good of Christ—for he has given us the victory.

CONCLUSION—A PLEA FOR OPEN DIALOGUE WITHIN EVANGELICALISM

Clark Pinnock has said, “No doctrine can be more important than the doctrine of God.”[42] Pinnock stands as a great testimony to evangelicals of what semper reformanda truly means. As an evangelical, he knew what it was like to be on a theological journey of discovery.

Pinnock (1937-2010) went from being a fundamentalist to ending his days as a respected open theist. He was familiar with the turmoil that comes from having his views challenged and making adjustments when needed.

Pinnock said:

After the initial anxiety of rethinking, one will find God again in a fresh way around the next bend in the reflective road. Rather than worry about our discomfort, perhaps we should be concerned about God’s reputation. Does it not concern us that God’s name is often dishonored because of poor theologies of God? How can we expect Christians to delight in God or outsiders to seek God if we portray God in biblically flawed, rationally suspect and existentially repugnant ways? We cannot expect it.[43]

As long as men let their guiding light be Christ and the Scriptures, how can another brother or sister stifle the growth and discovery of perceived truths? It goes to the heart of what it means to be an evangelical. There is room for open theists at the table of Christian orthodoxy.[44]

The challenge facing classical theism is not one that undermines biblical Christianity. Open theism is no doubt a perceived threat to classical theists, but this is because there are fundamental philosophical nuances between the two positions.[45]

After having examined the theodicy of Gregory Boyd, it should be clear that the conclusions he has drawn are biblically founded and Christ honoring. Who can deny open theists a place in serious evangelical discussion and debate?

May evangelicalism be enriched by the contributions of open theists.

D.D. Flowers, 2010.

Listen to Gregory Boyd give an intro lecture on open theism.


[1] Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 214-215.

[2] Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 34.

[3] Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Prince of Darkness (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 257.

[4] Boyd sets forth his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” in his book, Satan and the Problem of Evil. His open theism theodicy will be discussed in detail later in the third section of this article, The Open Theism of Gregory Boyd.

[5] As an open theist, Gregory Boyd is especially concerned with evil and what God is doing about it. Therefore, this article will focus primarily on his “open” perspective to the problem of evil. He has made a great effort to address his concerns with classical theism and present his theodicy as the “warfare worldview” in the following books: God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997); Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001); Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

[6] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 53.

[7] For a full discussion, see Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 78-97; and Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 156-184.

[8] Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville, VA: Univ. of Virginia, 1966), 12; also Charles Hartshorne and W. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, 2nd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000).

[9] Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985); John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998); William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1986); and Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000); also R. Nash’s, The Concept of God: An Exploration of Contemporary Difficulties with the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983).

[10] The book was so controversial that publication was halted. Due to the efforts of Clark Pinnock, the book was later republished as, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985).

[11] Clark Pinnock, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 118.

[12] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 419. Boyd says, “compatibilism and the problem of evil are inextricably connected” (p.61).

[13] Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

[14] As John Piper argues in his book: Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003); also in Millard Erickson’s, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).

[15] Boyd, God of the Possible, 15.

[16] Ibid., 16. Boyd says, “I see no way to know for certain what is and is not open” (p. 146).

[17] Ibid., 68.

[18] Ibid., 49.

[19] Boyd, Is God to Blame?, 41.

[20] Ibid., 55.

[21] Boyd, God At War, 43.

[22] Pinnock, The Openness of God, 102.

[23] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 18.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Boyd, God of the Possible, 12-13.

[26] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 21.

[27] Ibid., 20

[28] Ibid., 24.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Boyd, God At War.

[31] Ibid., 93-113. Boyd entertains the “gap theory” or what he calls the “restoration theory.” This theory proposes that there was a cosmic battle between Genesis 1:1-2; see Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 121-122.

[32] Ibid., 206. Boyd says that we can’t possibly know the exact cause of every evil act or event, but it is safe to assume that the activity belongs to Satan and his forces of evil that continue to rebel against their Creator.

[33] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 49.

[34] Boyd, God At War, 149.

[35] Ibid., 283.

[36] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 215.

[37] Boyd, God of the Possible, 93.

[38] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 229.

[39] Boyd, God of the Possible, 95. Boyd believes the blueprint worldview propagates this idea.

[40] Ibid., 99.

[41] Boyd, Is God to Blame?, 72.

[42] Pinnock, The Openness of God, 102.

[43] Ibid., 104.

[44] Clark Pinnock, “There is room for us: a reply to Bruce Ware.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 213-219. * Other notable open theists include: Adrio Konig, Jürgen Moltmann, Thomas Finger, Terence Fretheim, Keith Ward, John Goldingay, Kenneth Archer, Winkie Pratney, and H. Berkhof.

[45] See, Gregory Boyd, “Christian love and academic dialogue: a reply to Bruce Ware.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 233-243.


Q&A with Becky Garrison

Christian Satirist Tired of Fast Food Faith

Becky Garrison is fed up with pop-culture Christianity.  She contends that humor enables her to trek on through the circus of sycophantic religion that is so prevelant today.

Becky invites us all to laugh at some of the Christian lifestyles and traditions she observed on her travels from the US to the Holy Land in her most recent book, Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ (Zondervan, 2010).

I caught up with Becky and asked her to share a little bit about herself and her perspective on Christian faith and culture.

So what’s the life of a full-time satirist like anyway?

Since the demise of The Wittenburg Door at the end of 2006, I’ve been moving away from jokey type humor. Let’s face it, how many times can one pen goofy bits like “top signs you aren’t going to be ordained” or “The Bible According to [Insert name of the latest politician or pastor who got caught with his pants down]” before one goes on autopilot and starts to dial it in?

I still conduct interviews both for a podcast I did for Jesus Died For This? and interested media outlets, as well as writing non-satirical pieces as requested. Recently, I’ve been exploring the role of the writer as storyteller and different ways one can use technology (e.g., print, web, podcast, You Tube) to convey stories.

I talk about this transition in a bit more detail in an Iconocast podcast that I did with co-hosts Mark and Sarah.

Also, like every other creative, I’m still reeling post-financial crisis regarding how to proceed in the rapidly changing publishing world. I’ve been chatting with a range of creative types including Nicholas Fielder, Ed Cyzewski, Joan Ball, Caleb Seeling, and Spencer Burke, as well as exploring via workshops how we can all communicate theological change without becoming a crass marketing machine.

Currently, I’m embarking on a long-term listening tour where I’m trying to explore other ways of communicating about my work without falling into the Christian branding BS that I deconstruct in Jesus Died For This?. In 2008, Andrew Jones declared the Christian carnival over and it’s crystal clear that  author/speaker model is no longer sustainable especially given this current financial climate.

I reflect in a video I did with Travis Reed for Alter Video Magazine how it breaks my heart when Christian leaders won’t say what’s on their heart out of fear for losing street cred and book sales. Once the focus shifts to crafting a message that’s memorable and marketable, a writer may be rich (see Joel Osteen) but in the process, they lost whatever original voice they had that drew people to them in the first place.

In addition to talking up the themes I raise in Jesus Died for This?, I’m connecting with Episcopal folks about my book Starting from Zero with O$ (Seabury Books, 2010), researching another book for Church Publishing and some other projects. Also, I’m gleaning ideas regarding where the global spirit is heading moving forward so my work can accurately reflect what’s happening on the ground.

Why did you write this book? What is different about your critique of Christianity in today’s society?

I explore this over at Religion Dispatches for those looking for more detail on this topic. In a nutshell, over the past few years, I’ve had a rather unique window into what religion scholar Phyllis Tickle terms the Great Emergence, a period of massive societal upheaval impacting technology, science, politics, religion, and the global culture at large. So decided to chronicle my travels to help others navigate this sea change so that we all don’t become seasick, spiritually speaking.

The unique lens I take to all my work is that I have a satirical world view – humor became my saving grace that helped me to survive as my nuclear family slowly deteriorated and then detonated. I view life as a tragic comedy but in the end, I see the glass as half-filled with hope instead of half-empty dripped in despair.

What have you learned most from emerging church leaders like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Andrew Jones, etc.?

I chose Andrew Jones and Jonny Baker as the two expert guides during those times in the book when I’m exploring new forms of church. In reading their blogs and then traveling with them to places like Greenbelt and Slot, I’ve observed how they both have a global perspective that far transcends the commercialized US evangelical/emergent model that dominates the discussion here in the States.

Jonny and Andrew like most of the practitioners I meet don’t pimp themselves on the unbiblically branded author/speaker circuit claiming to be experts. Instead, they look for more horizontal approaches that enable all to have a voice in this ongoing global conversation. Take for example, Proost UK, an artists collective co-founded by Jonny Baker, Jon Birch and Aad Vermeyden that highlights the works of a range of artistic communities instead of elevating a few misisonal males as religious rock stars.

In your book, you say N.T. Wright should be “savored and sipped.” Can you explain? Why should the church listen to this preeminent New Testament scholar?

When I was at Soularize 2007 listening to N.T. Wright deliver some lectures, I found it amusing how this bevy of bloggers had their eyes glued to their laptop screens and their fingers going so fast that  they seemed to be on autopilot. They were so busy trying to blog about what NT Wright was saying that they didn’t seem to have any time to contemplate his message and how they could apply his teachings to their ministries. I’m a writer, so I get the need to record what’s happening. But when I get too narrowly focused on note taking, I tend miss the larger story that’s happening around me.

In NT. Wright, the church has an international treasure. Like C.S.. Lewis, he’s one of those rare academics who can write both for the academy and the person in the pew. Unlike most Christian author/speakers, he doesn’t dial it in by continuing to repackage the same idea ad infinitum (or until people catch wind of this ungodly game and quit buying their product).  While one will find the threads of Anglican theology woven through his work, each book either presents new ideas or revised spins on his earlier works.

Check out Wright’s ongoing debates with fellow theologian Marcus Borg for an excellent example of how two scholars with an Anglican backgrounds can engage in rigorous scholarly debates without resorting to the mean spiritedness that all too often dominates today’s blog battles. Even when Wright takes on taking on the far more crankier John Piper in his book Justification, he rises above this Reformed rancor and presents the most compelling refutation of Piper that I’ve seen to date.

You shared a few personal things about your dad in this book. What would you say to others who have been let down by spiritual leaders?

I tell bits of my story and will continue to share as appropriate so that others can realize they are not alone when they find themselves emerging from faith fights feeling more bloodied than biblical. I had done a lot of recovery work relating to growing up as an adult child of an alcoholic but Jesus Died for This? marked the first time I really explored the dark side of my father’s ministry as an Episcopal priest and sociology professor.

In the beginning, his charismatic personality drew others to him as he championed for civil rights in the Deep South circa 1950s. His ministry with young adults dovetailed with his sociological research exploring why students were drawn to fringe groups like the Jesus People or Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Unfortunately, his narcissism natures coupled with his alcoholism created a cult of personality that ran roughshod over the Gospel. Armed with this self-awareness, I can see a pattern in my life where I’ve been drawn to helping narcissistic geniuses who are filled with potential and promise.

I share in my book how I need to learn to walk away when their talk of “community” sounds more self-centered than Christlike. My hope is that others will learn to do likewise and like me discover find healthier spiritual places to play.

What signs of the “Risen Christ” do you believe are most evident today? What encourages you to press on in Christ through the church?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt connected to the divine whenever I’m exploring nature albeit hiking, fly-fishing, sailing, or kayaking. However, it wasn’t until I actually set foot on Irish soil I found my spiritual home in Celtic Christianity. Towards the end of the book, I describe how I went out west and finally connected with Kurt Neilson, my pilgrim guide for my ongoing pilgrimage and his partner in Celtic crime Karen Ward. In the Pacific Northwest, I discovered the same thin line imagery that connects this world to the next that I encountered in Ireland.

As I continue my travels, I keep meeting other souls from around the world, many of whom might not call themselves Christian for a host of very legitimate reasons. But we can still meet in this thin space as we all seek to make some kind of a spiritual connection outside of ourselves.

As I document throughout the book, once one steps away from Americana Branded™ Christianity, one can find ample signs that the spirit is alive and kicking.

“So I’d encourage folks to stop consuming fast food faith and embark on their own pilgrimage to see where the spirit might be speaking to them.”

What’s next for Becky Garrison? Any upcoming projects? What’s on your mind?

I share some of my reflections regarding possible future projects on Religion Dispatches. Jesus Died for This? marks the end of my critique of the US evangelicalism/emergent scene. I’ve said all I care to say about a form of a historical Christianity that keeps chasing after the next new shiny theological toy. All signs indicate that publishers latest quests to rebrand emergent as organic, missional, outlaw preacher, holy hipster and the like are repelling far more folks than they’re attracting.

Over the past few years I’ve been writing for more secular markets such as Killing the Buddha, The Revealer, Religion Dispatches and On Faith. These ventures broaden my perspective considerably as I continue to explore ways to critique Christian Reconstructionism and other bastardizations of the faith without resorting to the Nazi-name calling between religious progressives and conservatives that has come to define faith-based politics.

And speaking from my own faith tradition, how can the teachings of Christ offer hope in a world dominated by religious leaders spouting forth a fear based rhetoric? Along those lines, I’m interested in connecting with this growing number of people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” as we seek out ways to create spaces where religious progressives and humanists can come together to explore what we have in common with our shared humanity.

Becky Garrison is a Contributing Editor for Sojourners. Her books include The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church. Her additional writing credits include work for The Wittenburg Door, Geez, Killing the Buddha, and Religion Dispatches, as well as various other odd and sundry publications.

Learn more about Becky @ www.beckygarrison.com


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