[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 5)

by Matthew

I mentioned in a previous post about an elderly gentleman at my church who objected to the song line 'Among the gods there is none like you' as heretical without realising that this was a quotation from the Psalms! A lot of Christians do not realise that the Bible does refer to 'gods' who seem to be real beings. These gods are the subject of chapter four of God at War. The thesis of this chapter is that the Old Testament presents Yahweh as engaged in a war against disobedient and rebellous heavenly beings. While this is a genuine struggle, it does not compromise Yahweh's sovereign supremacy over all.

Boyd begins by affirming that the Hebrews believed that, contrary to their neighbours, there was only one creator God. However, they did not deny the existence of lesser spiritual beings of great power, who have come to be known as angels. Controversially, Boyd argues that these beings were referred to on occasions as gods in biblical literature. Boyd argues that some texts present Yahweh as being surrounded by an heavenly council of gods (Jer 23:18, 22. Is 6:2-8). Furthermore, Boyd cites many references in the Psalms to plural gods. He writes:

In any case, the remainder of the Old Testament exhibits no reservation in acknowledging the existence of gods outside Yahweh and of the gods who form his heavenly council. But even here Yahweh's supremacy is at the forefront of their thoughts. Hence he first commandment reads, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3). The existence of other gods is presupposed, but they are are subordinate to the one who alone is the Lord God Almighty.

Boyd points out that this notion can also be found in the writings of Paul. He wrote that there are "many God's and many Lord's" (1 Cor 8:4), though there is only one Lord Jesus Christ(verse 6).

Boyd refers to Judges 11 and Jephath's discourse with the Ammonite king. He argues that this discourse presupposes the existence of the god Chemosh. He also argues this is the case in 2 Kings 3:26-27. Boyd draws out the implications of this idea:

The power of gods to assist or resist Yahweh in war, to hinder his answers to prayers, to inluence "natural" disasters, to inlict diseases on people, to deceive people and the like is assumed throughout the Bible. Yahweh is unquestionably understood to reign supreme over the whole cosmic society of spiritual and earthly beings, but this sovereingnty is never- even in Isaiah and Jeremiah- taken to imply either that he is the only divine being or that the other divine beings are mere extensions of his will.
God at War, p.118

Radically, Boyd describes the cosmos as a democracy. Free beings both earthly and celestial have a large degree of autonomy and the potential to resist God's purposes for the universe.

Boyd goes on to provide some discussion about what is meant by 'monotheism.' He concludes that the Scriptures teach creational monotheism, the view that all things have been created by one all-powerful God, but that the existence of lesser created gods is not ruled out. He provides some useful discussion about anthropological theories about the origins of polytheism and animism.

As regards the heavenly council of Yahweh, Boyd writes:

The centrality of this concept of the Lord as being surrounded by a council of gods is seen n the fact that one of the most frequent ascriptions of Yahweh is "the Lord of hosts." He is described as being revered by the multitudes of "holy ones" who "are around him" in his heavenly council (Ps 89:7), for it is he who "has taken his place in the divine council" and in the midst of the gods... holds judgment" (82:1).
God at War, p.131

Boyd sees further support for this heavenly council concept in the discourse between God and Satan before the 'sons of God' in the first chapter of Job.

The reality of heavenly warfare is developed further in the biblical literature through references to the army of the Lord, for instance, the vision of Elisha's servant (2 Kings 2:11). The Lord is engaged in warfare which entails actual battles between heavenly beings on His side and the side of the Enemy.

Boyd argues that the 'gods of the nations', in the biblical worldview, are real beings. Angels were originally assigned to oversee and protect the nations (Deut 32:7-9), some or all of which have rebelled. This is supported by the reference in Daniel 10 to the powerful prince of Persia and the prince of Greece. A particularly important text in this regard is Psalm 82:

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty;
he judgeth among the gods.

2 How long will ye judge unjustly,
and accept the persons of the wicked?

3 Defend the poor and fatherless:
do justice to the afflicted and needy.

4 Deliver the poor and needy:
rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

5 They know not, neither will they understand;
they walk on in darkness:
all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

6 I have said, Ye are gods;
and all of you are children of the Most High.

7 But ye shall die like men,
and fall like one of the princes.

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth:
for thou shalt inherit all nations.

Boyd takes the view that these gods are angels who have been given the task of overseeing the welfare of people on earth, yet who have rebelled against Him. In his later work Satan and the Origin of Evil, Boyd argues this passage implies that some fallen angels at some point had the opportunity to repent and to be saved. In his view, Satan also had such an opportunity at some time in the distant past, an opportunity he has now rejected and is thus doomed.

Psalm 82 is a text I examined myself earlier on this blog. I argued that the angels are an hierarchy if gods or divine beings. Some of these have fallen and it is God's purpose to exalt redeemed human beings to their level. Thus, though this sounds like Mormonism, I believe it is the goal of the Christian to become a god. I would suggest that the error of Mormonism is not in teaching that man can become a god (which is actually true), but rather their error is in reducing God to the level of a glorified human. Accusations of heresy or crypto-Mormonism are welcome in the comments post.

In arguing for the importance of angelic activity in the biblical worldview, Boyd defends the view that the Sons of God in Genesis 6 are angels who intermarried with human beings. He raises some convincing arguments against alternative interpreations of this text. Greg Boyd has recently written some really interesting stuff on the Nephilim on his blog.

Boyd argues that accepting the 'second storey' or the world in-between is very difficult for westerners with their rationalist assumptions:

This notion, that there exists a council, or a society, of divine beings beteeen humans and God who, like us, have free wills and can therefore influence the flow of history for better or for worse is obviously jarring to a number of western worldview assumptions. Indeed, for many believers it is foreign to their Western Christian assumptions as well. For a variety of reasons, Westerners have trouble taking seriously the "world in between" us and God, what one missiologist appropriately called "the flaw of the excluded middle." Even when westerners do theoretically acknowledge the existence of "angels," we tend to view them as mindless volitionless, wholly innocuous winged marionettes completely controlled by the will of their Creator.
God at War, p.140

Indeed, the doctrine of angels has been tragically minimized in Christian theology. The liberals are happy to reject belief in angels while evangelicals will dedicate three pages out of a five hundred page systematic theology to the subject.

In some quarters of western society there does seem to be a revival of interest in the 'second storey' with the fascination for UFOs and extraterrestrials and the New Age movement's adoption of angelogy. My boss at work could be described as a New Ager and she is fascinated by angels and spirits. I really believe that Christians need to recover the importance of the doctrine of angels. Perhaps some dialogue between Christian theology and the New Age movement might be helpful. Maybe just as we need to risk being accused of being cult followers, we need to risk being accused of being New Agers or Hippies.

In concluding chapter four, Boyd emphasies his central thesis that evil and suffering on earth can be explained in terms of the activity of fallen angelic beings. He suggests that the horrors of Nazi Germany might have been the result of the work of a cosmic 'prince of Germany' just like the prince of Persia of old.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Empty Hands and Commitment

by Rose

When sinners come to Christ it has to be with empty hands. If a person who is unsaved comes to Christ with something to offer – like “Jesus, if I will be really moral from now on and I hope that you will accept me.” That is not faith in Christ as the SAVIOR. Actually, if someone comes to Christ offering something they deem good in exchange for Christ’s acceptance, it seems they might be missing the point of Jesus Christ being the Savior. He has done it all to make a way to God – He has won our acceptance with the Father – all we need do is receive this from Him. In order to receive it, we would have to know that our hands were empty and void of anything that could gain us that acceptance with God ourselves.

Sinners have to come with commitment. Yes, I said commitment.
“Commit your life to Christ.” To some “Commit your life to Christ” means that the sinner has to be willing to do whatever God wants Him to do - give up this, go there, etc and God will receive Him. He has to lay down his own desires and be willing to do what God wants Him to do. They deem this as part of saving faith. Whether these thinkers have a corner on that phrase or not – I will tell you what I make of it.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
The word for “commit” there is the Greek word paratithēmi. It means to present for protection. Christ was saying that He trusted His heavenly father with the outcome of His death. In the same way, saving faith is presenting one’s eternal destiny to the Son of God for protection. It is saying “I commit my future to His protection.” It is trusting that He can and will preserve your life’s essence for the long haul…. for eternity… it is believing in Him for everlasting life.

Can a sinner believe in Christ regarding his soul’s protection from destruction... while at the same time having reservations about whether he really needs Christ's help, or about whether he could get right with the Father on his own? It seems like at the moment of faith his hands would have to be empty and he would have to be really committing his soul unto Christ's eternal protection. “Believing in Jesus” is believing in Him regarding our eternal standing with God, is it not? This is something specific. I know plenty of people who “hope” they will get to heaven who “believe in Jesus.” As a great scholar once asked, “What are they believing in Him for – a pastrami sandwich?”

I am still thinking these things through, but at this time I really think unsaved people must have empty hands to receive anything from Christ, and if they receive Christ in saving faith it would imply that they commit themselves to Him, utterly casting their eternal destiny on Him and into His care, without reservation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Do you agree with this quotation? XXIV

by Matthew

An exam candidate I was marking (probably aged 16) wrote:

Some more selfish Christians try to live a moral life because they hope to be rewarded by going to heaven. However, the problem with this view is that their motives are wrong and they may not be let into heaven at all.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 4)

by Matthew

Does anybody else love those Japanese Godzilla films? You have a daft, unfeasible science fiction plot, but you don't have to worry about that because you get to see Godzilla battle another huge monster like Ebirah (the big crab) or Mothra (the big moth).

According to Gregory Boyd, the ancient people of the Near East viewed the cosmos rather like a Godzilla movie, with hostile monsters constantly threatening the world. The principle monstrous adversary of the cosmos was Leviathan, referenced in Psalms 74 and Job 41. This creature (sometimes mistakenly identified as a whale or crocodile) was a fire-breathing water monster. Boyd does not discuss the view held by dinosaur adoring creationists that this was a dinosaur, but I think if the myths of Mesopotamia originated in reality, this view would be compatible with his mythological interpreation.

Boyd also identifies the Behemoth as a creature in the same order. He argues that the purpose of the Lord in describing these creatures to Job was to affirm a warfare worldview. It is thought by many conservative expositors that the Lord was revealing to Job the complexity of His plans, thus entailing that evil was part of some mysterious divine blueprint. In contrast, Boyd argues that God was revealing the awesome power of the cosmic adversaries with which He was doing battle. While the comforters falsely ascribed evil to sin (as do legions of well meaning Christians), the Lord reveals that suffering can be traced to the incredible power of the beings that the Lord has created. These creatures cannot be defeated by man, yet the Lord has the power to overcome them (as is seen in Psalms).

Isaiah 27 also references leviathan:

1 In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Boyd argues that the leviathan device is here used eschatologically, represeting Yahweh's defeat of evil forces. It is a future event. This is a deviation from the mythological tradition of the water monster being defeated at creation. This reinvention of the myth as eschatological has such importance within the biblical tradition that the apostle John also presents it in Revelation 12 with Satan as the great red dragon. However, it must not be thought that there was any contradiction in presenting in other texts, the leviathan as having been defeated at creation or (as in Job 41) still engaged in an ongoing war. This is a literary device that is used in diverse ways, yet in each case representing a conflict between Yahweh and cosmic evil of unimaginable power. Boyd says of this ongoing conflict:

This "survival of... potent forces of chaos" is what permits classifying the Old Testament view as a warfare worldview. Yahweh's battles are not simply apparent, nor are they simply in the past: they are, for these authors, very real, and they are present, and they are even yet future. While some conservative exegetes fear that acknowledging the ongoing reality of this cosmic opposition compromises Yahweh's "absolute sovereingty," the point of this early Old Testament tradition is to portray Yahweh's sovereingty as being all the greater precisely because he has engaged in conflict and has been victorious. This gives them confidence that He shall do so again in the future.
God at War, p.98

In Boyd's view, at the foundation of the earth something has rebelled against God and continues to make war against His rule over the cosmos. This is rebel and his cohorts is the same being that the New Testament calls, the 'principality and power of the air.' It is the same doctrine of Satan, yet packaged in the Near Eastern mythological form.

Boyd maintains that the sea monster myth is connected theologically with creation. He argues that this material strongly indicates a rebellion against God that occurred in the prehistoric past. The Near Eastern myths that have been introduced and adapted for Scripture are inseperably connected to creation and imply an event that occurs before it.

Boyd revisits Genesis 1. He points out that the main objection to viewing creation in the light of cosmic warfare is the absence of any conflict in the creation account of Genesis 1. Yet Boyd points out that to take this line is to ignore other creation texts in the Bible that imply a cosmic conflict. He queries the notion that Genesis 1 should be viewed as the normative account of creation in Scripture. In a surpisingly unfashionable move (especially given that Boyd is a radical evangelical), he suggests the Gap theory of creation as a means of harmonizing Genesis 1 with the cosmic struggle texts:

Stated differently, both ancient and modern exegetes have argued with some plausibility that the account of Genesis 1 is not so much an account of creation as an account of God's restoration of a world that had through a previous conflict become formless, futile, empty and engulfed by chaos- the world of Genesisd 1:2 in other words. According to this view, sometimes called the "restitution theory" or "the gap theory," but which I prefer to call "the restoration theory," the cosmos that had been created in verse 1 had become embattled, corrupted, judged and brought to the nearly destroyed state we find it in verse 2. The rest of the chapter then describes God's creation of this present cosmos out of the formless and empty chaos of the previously ravaged one.

This reading makes a connection with the Mesopotmian myth of creation. In that story, the cosmos was created out of the carcass of Tiamat, the sea monster goddess. Thus the cosmos was created out of a ruin. The present world is built on the ashes of a former creation. However, as Boyd points out the defeated enemy in Genesis 1 has not been given the dignity of a name or personal reference. In order to emphasise that there has been a complete new start in perfection, all remembrance of the struggle has been blotted out and the cosmic monster has been depersonalized into simply the 'waters.'

This view entails the importance of mankind in God's creation:

In this view, moreover, humans are made in the image of God and placed on the earth precisely so that they might gradually vanquish this chaos and establish- or better, reestablish- God's all-good plan for it. As God's earthly agents, we are "to effect the conquest of an evil being who had penetrated the creation."

A similar view to this advocated in Joseph Dillow's excellent book 'The Reign of the Servant Kings.'

Boyd argues that the ruin and restoration idea provides the funamental cosmic backdrop for the Warfare worldview of the Old Testament. It presents the powers of evil as fundamentally connected with the cosmos and the natural forces it contains. The world has been overtaken by an hostile power, who has become its god and prince. Hence, as Boyd points out, the Lord Jesus does not dispute Satan's power to grant Him all the kingdoms of the world. Yet as the same conflict texts indicate, the 'sea monster' is going to be defeated and cut in pieces. Yahweh will triumph and His kingdom will be established over all.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Extreme Free Grace Theology

by Antonio da Rosa

The central tenet of Free Grace Theology is faith alone in Christ alone apart from works of any kind. It has always been this way!

I have posed this scenario and question to those who are opposed so bitterly to Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin, and the Grace Evangelical Society:

Let us say that a man was reading the book of John and came across and meditated upon John 1:12; 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 11:25-26. In the process of reading these verses, this man placed all of his faith and trust and hope and certainty into Jesus as his Savior. In other words, this man entrusted his eternal well-being to Jesus. This man, by an act of faith, placed all of his reliance upon Jesus alone for eternal life. And before the man was able to reach the end of the gospel of John, before the passion and resurrection narratives, he died.

Question: Would this man be in heaven or hell?

This is where the balanced people are separated from the extremists. You see, those who have created discord in the Free Grace community with their heresy hunting and factionism, MUST answer that this man is now in hell, and in fact, I have several of them on record stating such.

But even people who do not identify with the Grace Evangelical Society positions would say that this man is in heaven. Why? This man exercised faith alone into Christ alone!

The Duluthian Antagonists wish to paint the GES as extreme. But there is no greater extreme statement than to contend that Christ would throw somebody into hell who nevertheless trusted fully in Him for eternal life and salvation!

The extremists from Duluth must picture Jesus in this way judging the man from the aforementioned scenario:

{Jesus} You believed Me when I said that whoever believes in Me has everlasting life. You entrusted your eternal destiny and well-being into My hands by believing in Me. You trusted me alone for the gift I stated was received by faith in Me. You rested your certain hope of eternal life to my truthfulness and authority.


Since you did not add to that faith assent to my substitutionary death for sins, and bodily resurrection from the dead (I know you died before you were able to read about it), I must throw you into hell.

Imagine the extreme scenario of someone who fully and completely trusted in Christ for eternal life, yet nevertheless is thrown into hell because of historical and doctrinal stipulations!

It is not extreme to propose that Jesus Christ is truthful when He states that simple faith in Him receives everlasting life! It is not extreme to propose that child-like trust in Him as one's Savior is sufficient to be reckoned righteous.

It is extreme to suggest that faith alone in Christ alone is insufficient to save! It is extreme to propose stipulations greater than personal trust in Christ for salvation!

And it is in this way that the schismatics identified with Duluth Bible Church have moved to the extreme edge of Free Grace theology.

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 3)

by Matthew

God at War is primarily a work of biblical theology and so after the first chapter, Boyd begins to examine the biblical material to make his case for a Warfare Worldview and a Warfare Theodicy. In chapters 2-5, he deals with the Old Testament material and in chapters 6-10 he looks at the New Testament.

In chapter 2, Boyd begins by explaining that in the worldview of the ancient Near East, the theme of spiritual warfare was fundamental. Those in the ancient Near East had a strong belief that sickness was a result of the demonic. In the light of this, Boyd points out that it is surprising how little demonic activity is mentioned in the Old Testament. However, he identifies several examples of demonic or evil angelic beings- Evil spirits from the Lord (Judges 9:22-25), the spirit of confusion (Is 37:7), the sedim or demons (Deut 32:17, Ps 106:37), Lilith (Is 34:14) and the possibility that the scapegoat from the Day of Atonement has a demonic connection.

He then makes a connection between the Old Testament and Mesompotamian myths. Mesopotamian mythology had held to a belief in a primal struggle between order and chaos before the creation of the world. It was believed that the god Marduk had slain the chaotic dragon goddess, Tiamat (remember her, you Dungeons and Dragons players?) and created the world out of her carcass. Similar myths connected the sea with its chaotic monsters with a struggle between good and evil.

Boyd argues that these myths can be found in a different form within a number of biblical texts . He points out that the ancient Hebrews believed that the earth was surrounded by a vast gulf of chaotic water. This water had originally covered the earth, yet had been pulled back by Yahweh (Gen 1:6-10, Ps 24:1-2, 104:2-9, Prov 8:27, Job 9:8, 38:6-12). Boyd argues that in Genesis the waters of chaos have been demythologised by the authors to remove the pagan idea of gods. However, in other texts in which the waters of chaos are personified. In these texts, the battle against hostile waters represents the struggle to defend the cosmos against evil forces. He cites Psalm 104 as an example of this:

5 who laid the foundations of the earth,
that it should not be removed for ever.

6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment:
the waters stood above the mountains.

7 At thy rebuke they fled;
at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.

8 They go up by the mountains;
they go down by the valleys
unto the place which thou hast founded for them.

Here the hostile waters must be personally commanded by Yahweh. Boyd explains his take on these texts:

The point of these passages is clearly to stressthat Yahweh (and no other god) reigns supreme over the 'proud' chaotic waters that threaten the foundation of the earth, Indeed, unlike Baal, Tiamat, Enki or any other Near Eastern hero who is said to have controlled the chaos, Yahweh's sovereingnty is such that he can master these destructive forces by his mighty voice alone. Unlike the pagan gods, Yahweh does not even need a weapon! The voice that simply speaks the world into existence simply speaks contrl over the forces that threaten the world.
Gregory A Boyd, God at War, p.86

Nevertheless, he stresses that the waters in these texts pose a genuine threat to the world and Yahweh has engaged in a genuine conflict with them. In another text, Psalm 74, the waters of chaos are even more personalized in the form of a dragon or sea monster:

12 For God is my King of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

13 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength:
thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

14 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces,
and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

15 Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood:
thou driedst up mighty rivers.

Here Yahweh is seen battling an immense cosmic opponent. In Isaiah 51:9-11 and Psalm 77:16, the deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea is seen as a re-enactment of this cosmic struggle between the Lord and the sea monster of chaos. Boyd rejects the idea that such monsters should be treated as metaphorical:

Given the cultural context within which all this is being written, one cannot take these statements as mere metaphors. We have simply no reason to assume that the biblical authors did not believe that these cosmic monsters existed. To the contrary, such expressions make sense only on the assumption that the biblical authors did believe in the existence of these anticreation cosmic forces, and did believe that Yahweh had to genuinely battle them.
God at War, p.89

Boyd argued that the struggle between order and chaos did not occur only at creation, but was continually being repeated through Israel's history. The struggles of Israel on earth were a reflection of a cosmic struggle occurring in the spiritual realms. David, for example frequently made use of the metaphor of waters and floods to represent the dangers facing him (Ps 69:14-15, 144:7).

Boyd concludes chapter 2 by pointing out the implications of the hostile waters motif:

Far from holding to any view of the world as meticulously following any divine blueprint, the Old Testament operates with the assumption that Yahweh faces real opposition, and this opposition concerns forces that are foundational to creation. While the whole cosmos was created good, at some early point something went profoundly wrong at a structural level. Only God's fighting on our behalf preserves the order of the world.
God at War, p.92

To be continued


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Disturbing news concerning the new book by Dr. J.B. Hixson, Director of the Free Grace Alliance

by Antonio da Rosa

Free Grace Theology Blog:

Disturbing news concerning the new book by Dr. J.B. Hixson, Director of the Free Grace Alliance

Sunday, June 08, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (Part 2)

by Matthew

In the first chapter, Gregory Boyd gives his critique of conventional theodicy. He terms this the Blueprint model of theodicy, as it holds that every evil event is part of a divine plan. He gives a more extended treatment of theodicy as a philosophical topic in the sequel, Satan and the Origin of Evil.

In order to illustrate the stark reality of suffering in the world, Boyd gives the example of a Jewish girl, Zosia, who had her eyes cut out of her head, for the amusement of two German soldiers, before the very eyes of her mother.

Boyd presents this incident as just one incident of the nightmare that constitutes much of human experience. He points out that according to much Christian theology, such an incident is part of a meticulous divine plan. In eternity, God had determined that this girl should suffer in this way.

To show the incongruity of much of the Christian approach to suffering, Boyd quotes from several hymns on the subject of God's providence and about God's care for little children. The contrast between the cosiness of such sentiments and the horror of Zosia's experience is deeply disturbing. Boyd rights with justified harshness:

And so it is with a hundred other hymns that Christian congregations around the globe sing routinely, and indeed could have been singing at the moment of Zosia's torture. Ascending up to heaven alongside the screams and sinister laughter could have been the sung proclamation that "Behind a frowning providence [God] hides a smiling face," or "His purposes will ripen fast unfolding every hour...The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower." Zosia's torture, we are apparently to believe, was but the bitter-tasting bud of a beautiful, divinely ordained flower. Behind the apparent divine frown here (the Nazi guards) is, we are supposed to affirm, God's hidden, sovereign smiling face.
Gregory A Boyd, God at War, p.38-39

Boyd argues that viewing such horrifying incidents of human cruelty as instruments of divine sovereignty only intensifies their nightmarish character. Boyd expresses his sympathy with the character , Ivan in Dostoyevsky's Te Brother's Karazamov, who proclaims that a God who uses such evil is immoral and whatever goal he is seeking to acheive is worthless if it comes at the price of a child suffering.

In Boyd's view, Christians seem unable to escape from this Blueprint way of thinking about evil. He gives examples of Christians who have cited the Oklahoma bombing and the AIDS virus as instruments of divine judgment. Boyd does not deny that Scripture clearly teaches that God sometimes uses incidents of suffering as a judgment or to build character, however, in his view, to explain all evil in terms of God's working is to join with Job's comforters. He traces this approach to theodicy back to Augustine, though he argues that those within the Arminian tradition of theology have not significantly moved away from the idea of evil as a divine plan.

Boyd holds that the problem of evil is uniquely Western and post-Augustinian (and of course, still a problem for the Eastern Orthodox, who though critical of Augustine, have taken on board elements of his theodicy). He argues that the authors of Scripture never saw any need to deal with the problem of suffering. Likewise, the Church Fathers before Augustine saw no need to explain the problem of evil. They simply viewed evil events as instances of the conflict between good and evil that was taking place in the universe. Rather than explain evil in terms of a mysterious divine plan, evil was explained in terms of Satan and his minions. Boyd gives several examples of this in Scripture:

For example, Paul's inability to reach Thessalonicahad nothing to do with either what he willed or what God had willed: in his mind, it was simply the result of Satan hindering him (1 Thess 2:18). Similarly, a person's deafness or muteness had nothing to do with either what that person willed or what God had willed: it was for Jesus, at times at least, the result of demons (Mk 9:25). Or to cite an Old Testament example, the delay in receiving heavenly assistance in response to Daniel's desperate prayer had nothing to do with either Daniel or with God: both wanted the prayer answered! According to this inspired work, it rather had to do with a menacing demonic power that interfered with the whole process (Dan 10; cf. Ps82).
God at War, p.53

Boyd (perhaps with a slight lack of originality) blames the Augustinian development on Hellennistic philosophy that regarded God as fixed and unmoveable and therefore unable to engage in the cosmic warfare depicted in Scripture.

He notes positively that in recent years Christian theologians have given heed to some of the appalling events of the Twentieth century and are thus giving more attention to the subject of Satan, fallen angels and demons. However, he believes that this new interest has not yet generated a new approach to theodicy, a gap that in my opinion, his book admirably fills.

To be continued


Saturday, June 07, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd

by Matthew

I have just finished reading God at War, by Gregory Boyd. I have found it a fascinating read. I believe this may be among the most important theological works of the last twenty years.

In some ways this book is advocating what was already going on in my theological direction, namely the vital importance of angelogy in theology. In other ways, it is forcing me to re-think the way I approach the subject of evil and God's providence.

It is my intention to write several posts summarising key arguments in this book.

This book and its sequel, Satan and the Origin of Evil, deal with the subject of evil and the providence of God. Boyd argues that traditional theodicy focuses too much on either God's secret providential plans or else the sin of man as the explanation for evil.

Boyd argues for a Warfare Theodicy, an expanded view of the Free-Will Defence in such a way as to include the free-will of Satan and other angelic beings. Satan and the Origin of Evil, deals with the philosophical issues involved in this Warfare Theodicy, while God at War makes the Biblical case for it.

Boyd argues in this book that both the Old and New Testaments present a picture of the cosmos being in a state of war, chaos and strife. Rather than being under the harmonious rule of divine providence, the cosmos is being wrecked by the enormous power of evil celestial beings who control this world. These beings have been decisively conquered by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, however they continue to resist His rule and authority until their final defeat in the eschaton.

Boyd is an Open Theist, a view I do not share and he criticises Classic Arminians (a position with which I share much common ground) as being far too committed to the Agustinian paradigm for theodicy. While Boyd would probably disagree with me, I do believe that his thesis is compatible with classic theism.

Boyd begins his book by quoting Daniel 10:

12 Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.

13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.

Boyd argues that this presents a radical challenge to conventional ideas about the power of prayer among Chritians. This passage tells us that Daniel's prayer and fasting were heard in heaven and he received a response in the angel being despatched. However, this response was delayed by the actions of an evil angelic being, the prince of Persia. This would seem to indicate that evil celestial beings possess the power to prevent prayers being answered. If so, a good deal of the evil and suffering experienced in the world can potentially be explained by the actions of these cosmic powers.

Boyd argues that this is the Warfare Worldview. That is, a view that mankind is at the mercy of spiritual beings, both good and evil. The early Christians, before Augustine and his new view of providence, all held this view. Hence, they did not see evil as a problem in the way that later Christians did. Likewise, the Jews also saw man as caught in the conflict between good and evil angels and demons.

It is not just Augustine which prevents Christians from embracing the Warfare Worldview. Boyd also attributes blame to the rationalism of the West, which mocks the idea of a spirit world. Modern Western Chritians are deeply uncomfortable about the idea of intermediate beings between God and man. The 'second storey' is denied by the liberals and played down by the conservatives. However, Boyd argues that Western Civilisation is unique in its refusal to embrace a Warfare Worldview. He points out that even primitive tribal cultures in Africa and Asia are able to view the suffering and death as attributable to the work of spirits.

I hope in a number of posts in the near future to outline some of Boyd's key arguments that a Warfare Theodicy is fundamentally biblical.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

This is a Cult: Did God create cold dead worlds?

by Matthew

This is a Cult: Did God create cold dead worlds?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bruce Ware still has a dilemma in his advocacy of Middle Knowledge

by Matthew

Middle Knowledge is the theory that God posesses the knowledge of choices that would be made by individuals in counter-factual circumstances. A counterfactual is a set of alternative circumstances that have not occurred in real life, such as the Iraq War not taking place or my marrying my ex-girlfriend. According to advocates of Middle Knowledge, counterfactual choices are facts that God knows. So on this view it would be a definite fact whether or not I would have chosen to do a PhD course in a possible world in which the Iraq War did not take place. God would know whether I would have continued to live in Worcester if I had married my ex-girlfriend.

Most Middle Knowledge advocates are libertarians who use the theory to reconcile free-will with God's control over the universe. Bruce Ware is an exception, being a Calvinist. However, in a more Calvinistic framework, Ware uses Middle Knowledge for this same project of reconciling free-will with sovereignty.

In my opinion as it stands, I think Middle Knowledge is incompatible with a genuinley libertarian view of free-will. However, the purpose of this post is not to refute Middle Knowledge as such, but rather to argue that Bruce ware really does have a logical problem in his advocacy of both Calvinistic sovereignty and Middle Knowledge.

In a footnote, Ware refers to an argument for the incompatibility of Middle Knowledge and Calvinism:

Following the completion of the manuscript of this book, an article was published challenging the coherence and possibility of a Calvinist (or Compatibilist) understanding of middle knowledge....Laing argues that the Clvinist who wishes to incorporate middle knowledge is on the horns of a dilemma: "On the one hand, if she claims that the truth of counterfactuals of compatiblist freedom is grounded in the will of God or in the way God created the creaturely will, then she has denied the prevolitional character of divine knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and therefore, her position is not in the middle of anything. On the other hand, if she claims that the truth of counterfactuals of compatibilist freedom are grounded in the character of the creature as he pre-exists in the mind of God, or that the truth of counter-factuals of compatiblist freedom do not need to be grounded, then her view of freedom is virtually indistinguishable from libertarian freedom"
Bruce Ware, God's Greater Glory, p.115

(I like this Laing guy; he refers to his hypothetical Calvinist as 'she'!)

What Laing is arguing is that either the Cavlinist Middle Knowledge advocate must hold that God has pre-selected the counter-factual choices, in which case this is no different from ordinary compatiblist determinism, or else she can hold that the counter-factual choices are an outworking of creaturely freedom, which would put her in the same camp as libertarian Middle Knowledge advocates like William Lane Craig.

Ware responds to this dilemma:

Rather, this middle knowledge is grounded on four things that God knows prevolitionally: 1) God's perfect knowledge, in his own mind's eye, of the character of the moral individual (or as Laing puts it, of "the character of the creature as he pre-exists in the mind of God"); 2) God's knowledge of every factor present in any given possible setting in which he envisions this individual making a choice; 3) God's knowledge of just how each unique set of factors, in each situation, would work, along with the character of the individual, to produce one strongest inclination within the individual, for each unique situation so envisioned; and 4) God's knowledge of just what choice the individual would in fact make, given the nature of his own character, the relevant factors in the particular setting in which he would make this choice, and the strongest inclination that would arise within him given this complete set of factors, giving rise in turn to this one (and only) choice.

I believe Ware has failed to answer this dilemma and it looks like he falls on the second, rather than the first of Laing's horns.

To explain why let us imagine a situation in which God's providential plan demands that a prison governor accepts a bribe. It does not matter why (perhaps to allow Christian literature into the prison?), it is simply one of the many evils that God makes use of on the Calvinistic view of sovereignty.

For Middle Knowledge to work, there must be a possible world in which, given the right circumstances, the prison governor will be inclined to choose to accept the bribe.

Suppose however, that the character of the prison governor is such that there is no possible world in which he would freely choose to take a bribe. Doing such a thing is utterly contrary to his character in every possible world.

The Calvinist might object that if the prison governor is totally depraved, then surely it is possible that in some circumstance he might take the bribe. This does not necessarilly follow, however. This prison governor is the devoted follower of an idolatrous religion, Snazzism, that promises eternal damnation to those who take bribes. In every possible situation in which he is placed, his strongest inclination will be to please his false god and escape going to hell.

Now we might object that God could create a possible world in which the prison governor would not have converted to the Snazzist religion. Millions of Hindus and millions of Russian Orthodox will take bribes. Why could God not have actualised a world in which the prison governor will be one of these? He might, however, the circumstances that were already necessitated by God's providential plan as it has already enfolded may have demanded that the prison governor be a Snazzist . It may be that in this part of the world that God has so far actualised, a man will only be accepted as prison governor if he is a Snazzist devotee.

It should be noted that in expounding a form of Middle Knowledge, Bruce Ware has ignored the point made by Alvin Plantinga in God, Freedom and Evil that Middle Knowledge necessitates that the possible worlds that God could create, the counter-factual choices He could actualise, are limited. For instance it may be that God could not create a world in which I permitted people to wear shoes in my house without creating a different Matthew. Choosing to have a shoes-off policy in my house may be a characteristic of Matthew in every possible world. That is why genuine Middle Knowledge is a Risk model or Arminian model of sovereignty.

God create a world in which the prison governor does take the bribe, but this would be counter to the inclinations entailed in his counter-factual character. If God did this, it would not be true Middle Knowledge. This would be an occurence of Laing's first horn.

Alternatively, God could have pre-volitionally conceived the prison governor in such a way that he would accept the bribe in circumstance X. However, this is again, a first horn error. If God has already determined the content of the counter-factuals, this is not true middle-knowledge but merely a created circumstance along the lines of old fashioned determinism.

Bruce Ware's adoption of Middle Knowledge does not entail any meaningful modification of traditional Calvinist Compatibilism.

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