Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Lesson on Relationships

Well, my first semester as a PhD student at McMaster Divinity College has come to a formal end. Over the next four months, however, I will turn my attention to learning theological German, as a requirement of my PhD work is to pass a reading comprehension exam a modern language other than English. Therefore, I will not post any more academic work until the end of the year.

I believe this is a good thing though, because I have more to say than simply produce papers on academic subjects that interest me. Therefore, I have decided that this post will be on the subject of relationships. In fact, when I think about it, this is a subject I will probably return to again and again, because we cannot and should not escape being in community with others, which ultimately means we need other people.

The problem with people, however, is people. We all suffer from some type of brokenness (i.e. SIN), and because of sin we continuously screw up our relationships whether intentionally or unintentionally.

I mention the "screw up" part because I feel some really let me down this weekend. Now, I said the word feel because I am expressing my own perspective of the situation, which may not be what the other person actually intended to do. They may have not meant to hurt me at all. So, expressing emotionally is important. Just on a side note; the inability or lack of effort to express emotionally is, in my opinion, THE MAIN reason many relationships simply do not work out. By the way, the person that hurt me is not my wife. I would not blog about it if she was the culprit. Too personal.

No, the person that hurt me is one with whom I am in a relatively new relationship. I made a classical mistake. I did not use discernment. It is my weakness, because I trust people too easily. I said too much about a very deep personal, ongoing issue. No, I'm not telling everyone in cyberspace what the issue is. Anyway...the response that I received was way overly simplistic. I'm almost certain this person didn't me to "fix" my problem(s) with cliches and very generalized statements, but I felt they did. Again, just a side note: when are we going to stop trying to fix problems first, and simply listen and attempt to understand the problem being expressed? Scripture does not tell us to that we should first try to "fix" anything. It does command us, however, to LISTEN. I felt this person did not listen to the emotion I was expressing. Again, this was my mistake, as I sometimes expect people to communicate on an emotional level too quickly. In other words, I make the mistake of thinking that everyone should communicate on an emotional level quickly because I try to do so.

It felt as if I laid a good amount of my pain out to this person and they just dismissed it. I can only assume this, because this person's experience is significantly different from my own. This, however, is not a valid excuse. We all have different experiences and backgrounds that shape us. This is why LISTENING and EMPATHIZING are so important in communicating with others, but it such skills take EFFORT. Something I feel this person did not offer me. I poured out so much that has effected me for so long and they respond by saying to spend more time with God. Now, at a basic level, there is nothing wrong with this response, but this answer simply leaves out so much, because addressing problems spiritually is not the ONLY way of dealing with them. Spending time with God is part of the solution, but not the TOTAL solution. I was hoping this person would have offered more, considering their background is complex and has been filled with significant pain as well. My expectations may have been too high.

In case, you haven't noticed. I am ANGRY. By the way, Christ-followers are allowed to be angry. Angry is a proper emotion when we perceive we have been hurt by others. Anger is only sinful when we misuse it.

Writing about this relational hiccup is my way of NOT trying to misuse anger. How? Because I have done the same thing to others this person has done to me. See, God wants us in relationships with each other so we can learn to extend and receive grace. So we can learn to forgive. In other words, they give us the opportunity to experience Christ-likeness in our lives.
So, I will forgive this person. But forgiveness does not mean that I will significantly communicate with this person on an emotional level for a while.

I do hope this relationship will lead to some sort of reconciliation, because this is what Christ wants for his body. But, I won't focus on this initially. All I can do is to first focus on forgiving this person, praying against the temptation to flee from relationship with others and becoming cynical about the people I am called to be in relationship with, namely the Church.

I extend grace and forgiveness to this person, because I NEED it as well. Following Christ is NEVER easy, but it is worth it. Of course, following Christ is based on faith. But faith is what God asks of us. He asks us to trust Him and trust each other, even though both are so hard sometimes. But, realistically, all things really worth having are difficult to obtain. So, I encourage you as much as myself to work at trusting God and each other, and don't give up on either, as relationships are truly worth the work.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Julian of Norwich[1]

To know the goodness of God is the highest prayer of all, as it is a prayer that accommodates itself to our most lowly needs. It quickens our soul, and vitalizes it, developing it in grace and virtue. Here is the grace most appropriate to our need, and most ready to help. Here is the grace which our soul is seeking now, and which it will ever seek until that day when we know for a fact that he has wholly united us to himself.[2]

Julian of Norwich is an extraordinary woman for many reasons. First, she should never have lived to see her thirty-first birthday, as an unidentified sickness brought her to the brink of death at approximately thirty years of age. It was only through an intervening miracle by God through Christ that her life was spared.[3] Second, it is remarkable that we even know anything about her at all. She wrote only one book, entitled Showings, but this work was lost to time and did not become popular until the beginning of the twentieth century.[4] On top of this, the only book to chronicle personal interaction with Julian was unknown until 1934.[5] Third, Julian was the first woman to write a book in English, and it is a masterful work of rhetoric, which “merits comparison with Geoffrey Chaucer,” and theology, which demonstrates she was “familiar with a wide range of the classical spiritual writings that were the foundations of the monastic contemplative tradition of the Western Church.”[6]
Based upon these significant events that are a part of Julian’s life, as well as miracle of how we even know about them, it seems God may have something he wishes to say to us in our contemporary world about the context and message he spoke through Julian of Norwich, his servant, who lived more than six hundred years ago. It is to the context in which Julian lived that attention will now be turned.

Key Challenges of the Church during the Time of Julian
Some tend to idealize the many people and places with which history presents us, especially those who study the figures of historical theology. In the context of Julian’s life, it is hard not to emphasize the chivalry and romanticism of fourteenth-century England, the time in which Julian lived, especially because of the literary influence of Chaucer. Added to this idealistic picture is the fact that the city of Norwich was the second most important metropolitan area in England.[7] This city was measured at a square mile, was protected by walls on each side, and supported a population of approximately six thousand.[8] In terms of industry, Norwich was known for its booming agricultural businesses, as well as specialties in textile and clothing that could not be matched in all of Europe.[9]
Four major events would shatter this ideal picture of Norwich and English life, however, beginning in the middle and going at least to the end of the fourteenth century. First, a hundred year war between England and France began in 1338, which completely drained the monetary resources and manpower of England.[10] Second, England faced a severe food shortage due to an extremely bad crop harvest in 1369. Many people were dying of starvation and those that did not die became so desperate they declared war against their local governments.[11] Third, the Roman Catholic Church began an internal battle that caused even more blood-shed.[12] Finally, there were three breakouts of the Black Plaque, which killed over one-third of Norwich’s population alone.[13] It was in the midst of this dark, destructive, and bloody context that Julian ministered, prayed, received personal revelation of God through visions, and wrote about what she experienced and learned from this revelation.

Recognizing the Pressing Concerns of Julian’s Context
For Julian, death was something she saw and smelled on a consistent basis. If it was not people being burned at the stake or run through with the sword, it was people starving to death or having their bodies be ravaged by blisters, which could be the size of oranges, that would ooze pus and blood then turn into black boils on their skin just before they died.[14] Very little could be done to stop the death, war, and starvation the English population endured in the fourteenth century.[15]
Added to this intense physical suffering was the spiritual suffering brought on by the teaching of the Church, as “[m]ost of the people in medieval Norwich went in fear of Judgment Day.” In fact, it was a constant fear because in almost all the Norwich’s churches there was a painted picture on the arch (called the chancel arch) that surrounded the altar, placed where all could see it, of sinners being “boiled in oil,” as well as “stripped and beaten.” After which, “grinning devils [would] drag the souls of [these] miserable sinners through the jaws of hell into the eternal torment that an angry God decrees for them.”[16]
Because of Julian’s first-hand experience of people’s physical and spiritual suffering, it is not difficult to comprehend how she was able to recognize the needs of those with which she was in contact. Living in a one square mile city with six-thousand people shoved into it, where one can easily see people actually falling dead in the street and, in some cases, being left there does not leave one with the impression that there was little Christian work to do.

Addressing the Pressing Needs of Julian’s Context
As previously mentioned, in the fourteenth century, it was very difficult to stop the massive amounts of deaths that occurred from war and disease, or to feed the starving as food was in short supply. Julian, however, faced with this overwhelming physical suffering, addressed the needs of her day in contemplation, meditation, and prayer before the Lord, and, from this, developed a theology of hope that, regardless of her gender, she felt compelled to share out of love stating:

But I know very well that what I am saying I have received by the revelation of him who is the sovereign teacher. But it is truly love which moves me to tell it to you, for I want God to be known and my fellow Christians to prosper, as I hope to prosper myself, by hating sin more and loving God more. But because I am a woman, ought I therefore to believe that I should not tell you of the goodness of God, when I saw at that same time that it is his will that it be known?[17]

Julian was anchoress, which means she “took [a] vow…to live a solitary life of prayer and meditation.”[18] Her home was small, and, according to the rules of anchoresses, may have had only three windows. One window gave entrance “into the church so she could hear the Mass and receive the sacrament.” The second opening was to give her access to food and provide a way to take out waste and garbage. The last window was provided to give Julian access to see what was going on in the city and counsel people who needed help.[19]
Unfortunately, many today, including myself, find it difficult to believe that reflection and prayer alone could be the way of addressing the most complex and overwhelming needs of our day, as we evangelicals tend to overemphasize the “doing” part of the Christian life rather than reaching out to God in prayer and meditation. But Julian’s life teaches that contemplation before the Lord can provide peace in the midst of suffering as we begin to understand who we are, who God is, and what the God-human relationship entails.[20] It is into Julian’s contemplation concerning God that this paper will now turn.

Julian’s Theological Reflection Based upon the Needs of Her Day
Julian received several revelations from God that she reflected on for more than twenty years in an attempt to understand what they meant and pass on that knowledge to others by writing down her visions. These visions from God began as she faced the reality of her death at approximately thirty years of age. With her unable to move, as well as losing her sight and ability to breathe, she was instructed to look at a cross. When she did, she was miraculously healed.[21] But looking at the cross did more than heal her. It also gave her a vision of Christ’s Passion.[22] In this picture, she understood the complete love God has for humanity, which taught her how good God really is, as well as how he never lets go of his creation.[23]
After addressing the question of who God is, Julian wrestled with the concept of sin and the wrath of God. According to Julian, although humanity is responsible for sin and God has every reason to judge people for it, he does not.[24] In fact, because of Christ, he sees us “as clean and holy as the angels in heaven.”[25] For Julian, sin is a necessary part of human nature,[26] because “we come to know God better through having sinned than we could have done without it.” In other words, sin was the only thing that could reveal Christ, and his sacrifice on the cross demonstrated “God’s love in a way that nothing else could have made possible.”[27] Therefore, our relationship with God is, first and foremost, based upon his forgiveness and love, not his anger and wrath.[28]
Julian’s emphasis on the love of God led her to a conclusion that is not common to our contemporary evangelical ears, namely that God is a mother as well as a father.[29] She emphasized Christ’s motherhood in three ways. First, Julian suggested that just as our earthly mother births us into a world of pain and physical death, Jesus births us into joy and eternal life by suffering pain and death on the cross in order to give humanity spiritual birth.[30] Second, she said that just as newborn babies must be fed by their mothers as they have no ability to provide food for themselves, people require the same type of food spiritually from Christ, which they receive in the form of the sacrament.[31] Finally, she believed that just as a mother must teach her child by allowing them to experience the difficult journey of life, so Christ allows humanity to experience the pains and problems of life in the hope that we will run to him after experiencing such hardships in order to receive his love, acceptance, comfort, and grace in our pain, just as instinctively as a child would immediately run back to their mother knowing they will receive tender and loving care.[32]
Finally, it is important to examine Julian’s perspective on prayer, as this was her area of specialty to which she vowed to practice for the majority of her life. For Julian, prayer is primarily the means for preparing our souls to be responsive to God in terms of aligning our will with his.[33] Prayer is an activity where we can rest and recognize that God is always close to us, and therefore we never need to pray for God’s presence to be near.[34]
Prayers of petition are important, but secondary, as we must first learn to trust God by meditating on who he is and what he has done.[35] Why is the emphasis on trusting God in prayer important? So that we can truly believe and be comforted by the fact that God will bring good out of every evil situation. By learning about and trusting who God is, we will begin to experience God’s love for us when evil occurs and realize that God understands the pain we endure physically, emotionally and spiritually, as we come “to recognize that no place is so dark or so painful that God has not been there before us and stays there with us.”[36]

Julian’s Message and Influence for Our Twenty-First Century Context
Julian’s theology is one of hope that is intended to provide us comfort in a loving, caring, and nurturing God. Such a message is still as relevant today as it was in Julian’s fourteenth century context, considering that we recently left a century that saw more intentional death through violence than any time before it,[37] not to mention this most recent decade, which has seen the rise of terrorism, the tsunami disaster of 2004 as well as two recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, all of which have killed hundreds of thousands.
How should we respond to such evil? Many of us want to “do” something about it through political and social reforms, providing finances for relief aid, or going to help rebuild what have been destroyed. Although our participation in such activities is helpful and warranted, these activities are not the only, nor the first things we should do. Julian’s answer is that we first should contemplate, reflect, meditate, and pray, trusting in God’s love and care for all of creation, as only through knowing who God is can we know ourselves and respond to the suffering of the world in the way Christ would have us to in accordance with his will.
Does our pursuit to know God through prayer, acting in accordance with his will mean that evil will simply cease? No. But, Julian understood the complexity of prayer and how it can change and teach us in profound ways, as Sheila Upjohn notes:

We shall never be able to feed all the hungry, clothe all the naked, comfort all the dying, [and] cure all the sorrows of the world. But we can enter into all this through prayer and, entering, bring it before God. The pathways of prayer lead to unforeseen destinations.[38]

[1] At the outset of this paper, it is important for the reader to know that Julian’s writing is generally categorized into two main versions, as this paper will utilize both. The first is referred to as the “short” text. According to Clifton Wolters, “[o]nly one copy of the shorter version exists,” which does not stand on its own, but is part of larger book comprised of several essays on the topic of “medieval devotion.” The second is called the “long” text. Three manuscripts of this version exist including two located in Britain, called Mss. Sloan 2499 and 3705, and one located in Paris, referred to as Ms. 40 Fonds Anglais. Wolters, Revelations of Divine Love, 13. Of the three, Wolters says “Sloan 2499 [is] generally accepted as the most reliable of the extant versions.” Wolters, Revelations, 14. This paper will cite the “short” text from the translation provided by Colledge and Walsh’s translation entitled Julian of Norwich: Showings (1978) and the “long” text from Wolters’ Revelations (1966).
[2] Wolters, Revelations, 70.
[3] Julian describes her illness and miraculous healing in Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 129-30, as well as Wolters, Revelations, 64-66.
[4] A brief but excellent account of how Julian’s book was lost to history and found its way back again is provided by Upjohn, In Search of Julian of Norwich, 2-9. The modern version of the long text was translated in 1670. According to Colledge and Walsh, however, the “French translation…seems to have been more widely known that the English.” Julian’s work became known first through the “short” text, which was bought by British Museum (now known as the British Library) in 1909. Colledge and Walsh, Showing, 17.
[5] This work is entitled The Book of Margery Kempe. It is the first autobiography written in English. Kempe, who could not read or write, orally communicated the book to a priest who produced the written form. Windeatt, Margery Kempe, 9-10. In fact, Julian was so lost to English history that no one in her hometown of Norwich had even heard of her. The people of Norwich became interested in her life and work, when strangers from all over the world simply started showing up one day at the Norwich church to celebrate the 600th anniversary of her life. Before this time, however, the people of Norwich did not know her name, did not know Julian was a woman, and did not know she had written a book. UpJohn, In Search, 1-2. Although much has been discovered about Julian since the beginning of the twentieth century, there are still many unknowns about her including: “where she was born, who or what her family were, what her religious history was or when she died.” Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 19.
[6] Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 19-20. Although Julian’s literary style and theological insight are not questioned, how she came to be so thoroughly educated is disputed considering there are “several places she protests that she is ignorant…and that at the time of the visions she knew…‘no letter.’” Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 19. The minority opinion says Julian’s claim to knowing “no letter” leads to the conclusion that she was uneducated at the time of her visions, but later learned how to read and write in order to pass on what she had learned between the onset of the visions and the next twenty years she spent in prayer and contemplation interpreting what the visions meant. For this opinion, see Upjohn, In Search, 68-73. The best defense of this position is presented by Benedicta Ward “Julian the Solitary,” in Julian Reconsidered, ed. Kenneth Leech and Benedicta Ward (Oxford: SLG, 1988). Most scholars, however, believe Julian was highly educated, proposing that references to her lack of education are “nothing but a well-known, often-employed rhetorical device, appealing for benevolence from the reader by dispraising the writer’s abilities…saying no more than that when she received her revelations she lacked literary skills[.]” Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 19. Still others believe the claim of being “unlettered” simply means Julian “probably…had no skill in church Latin,” which only a minute part of the population could read. Wolters, Revelations, 17. One excellent idea is that Julian’s self-identification to being “ignorant” refers her lack of spiritual discernment and Godly wisdom in understanding the meaning of the visions at the time she received them, recognizing that no formal educational study would help her decipher such images. So, “the revelation is bestowed on [Julian,]…a figure who desires God but lacks the skills that would help her find out divine truths by bookish means.” Watson and Jenkins, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, 7-10.
[7] Upjohn, In Search, 10.
[8] Upjohn, In Search, 12.
[9] Upjohn, In Search, 10.
[10] Upjohn, In Search, 10, 23-24.
[11] Upjohn, In Search, 25-26.
[12] Upjohn, In Search, 26-28.
[13] Upjohn, In Search, 24-25.
[14] These are only a few of the symptoms of the Black Death. For more information, see
[15] Many will realize how little has been or can be done in the places of our contemporary context where war, death, and disease are an everyday reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
[16] Upjohn, In Search, 46-47. The Church’s theology of judgment worked incredibly well during the fourteenth century, as they could use the natural and political evils of Julian’s day to control an uneducated population’s thoughts and actions by using guilt and manipulation to achieve whatever agenda(s) the Church wished.
[17] Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 135.
[18] Upjohn, In Search, 14.
[19] Upjohn, In Search, 16. This description of Julian’s home is based upon a work entitled The Anchoress Rules (also called Ancrene Riwle, Ancren Riwle, or Ancren Wisse). This book was originally written in the late 12th or early 13th century for three sisters to instruct them on how to conduct their lives in public and private, as well as order their daily routines. It became an authoritative guide for the life of an anchoress in the medieval period. For a good translation of this text see Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson, trans., Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Work (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1991).
[20] In fact, Julian’s most famous phrase is “All will be well.”
[21] Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 127-28, as well as Wolters, Revelations, 64-66.
[22] Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 129-30, as well as Wolters, Revelations, 66-67. Julian’s description of the Passion is quiet graphic: “I saw the red blood trickling down from under the crown, all hot, flowing freely and copiously [meaning “abundantly”], a living stream, just as it seems to me that is was at the time when the crown of thorns was thrust down upon his blessed head.” Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 129.
[23] So Julian says: “It was at this time that our Lord showed me spiritually how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that we know to be good and helpful. In his love he clothes us, enfolds and embraces us; that tender love completely surrounds us, never to leave us. As I saw it he is everything that is good.” Wolters, Revelations, 67-68. In an overlapping vision, Julian saw a small nut that, to her, represented how small creation is compared to God. She was well aware that people often seek created things rather than the creator and that this “materialism,” for lack of a better term, indicated a spiritual problem. By continuously pursing material objects, Julian understood that such an obsession was evidence that the souls of many lacked peace and rest, a burdensome condition that only God could address. According to Julian, it is this uneasiness of people’s souls that leads them to the psychological question of who they are. Colledge and Walsh, Showings, 130-32. Julian believed, however, that such a question could not be answered until people knew God, because “our soul is so intricately knitted to God that we cannot know one without knowing the other.” Upjohn, In Search, 33-34.
[24] So Julian writes: “So throughout this vision I thought I was being obliged to recognize that we are sinners, who commit evil things that ought not to be done, and who omit many good deeds that ought to be done. We deserve to suffer pain and God’s anger! Yet in spite of all this I saw plainly that our Lord was never angry – nor would be. For he is God – goodness, life, truth, love, peace. The integrity of his love will not permit him to be angry, for he is nothing but goodness.” Wolters, Revelations, 133.
[25] Upjohn, In Search, 36.
[26] So Julian states: “In my foolish way I had often wondered why the foreseeing wisdom of God could not have prevented the beginning of sin, for then, thought I, all would have been well. This line of thought ought to have been left well alone; as it was I grieved and sorrowed over it, with neither cause nor justification. But Jesus…answered, ‘Sin is necessary – but it is all going to be all right; it is all going to be alright; everything is going to be alright.’” Wolters, Revelations, 103.
[27] Upjohn, In Search, 43.
[28] Many contemporary evangelicals, holding to an Arminian view of God’s providence, would not agree with Julian’s understanding of sin, because of her implication that God can cause evil as well as be the best example of love which humans can know. Many see this as being a blatant contradiction concerning the nature of God. Even in her day, Julian understood the problem implied in proposing that God caused evil. She seems to have found peace, however, in trusting that God would bring good out of evil stating: “Thus I was taught by God’s grace to hold steadfastly to the faith I had already learned, and at the same time to believe quite seriously that everything would turn out all right, as our Lord was showing. For the great deed that our Lord is going to do is that by which he shall keep his word in every particular, and make all that is wrong turn out well.” Wolters, Revelations, 111. In examining Julian’s view of God and evil, it is important to keep in mind that she was indirectly combating the Church’s view of God that emphasized his judgment rather than his love, and therefore was attempting to bring spiritual hope to a people that had none. She was not answering philosophical questions about the problem of evil.
[29] So Julian states: “So when he made us God almighty was our kindly father [and]…the Second Person [of the Trinity]…is our Mother, Brother, and Saviour.” Wolters, Revelations, 165. In saying Jesus is a mother, Julian is not claiming Christ was factually a female, but simply that Jesus acts in motherly ways. Upjohn, In Search, 53.
[30] So Julian states: “We know that our own mother’s bearing of us was a bearing to pain and death, but what does Jesus, our true Mother, do? Why, he…bears us to joy and eternal life!...And he is in labour until the time has fully come for him to suffer the sharpest pangs and most appalling pain possible – and in the end he dies.” Wolters, Revelations, 169.
[31] So Julian states: “The human mother will suckle her child with her own milk, but our beloved Mother, Jesus, feeds us with himself, and…does it by means of the Blessed Sacrament, the precious food of all true life. And he keeps us going through his mercy and grace by all the sacraments.” Wolters, Revelations, 170.
[32] So Julian states: “A kind, loving [earthly] mother who understands and knows the needs of her child will look after it tenderly just because it is the nature of a mother to do so. As the child grows older she changes her methods – but not her love…she allows the child to be punished so that its faults are corrected and its virtues and graces developed. This way of doing things, with much else that is right and good, is our Lord at work in those that are doing them.” Wolters, Revelations, 170-71. Julian continues: “A mother may allow her child…to fall, and to learn the hard way for its own good.” And, after experiencing such a fall, the child may choose to run away from its mother. “But our patient Mother [Jesus] does not want us to run away [from God]: nothing would be more displeasing to him. His desire is that we should do what a child does: for when a child is in trouble or is scared it runs to its mother for help as fast as it can.” Wolters, Revelations, 172.
[33] So Julian says that one of the ways “we should best use prayer” is to allow our will to “be joyfully subject to the will of the Lord.” Wolters, Revelations, 126.
[34] So Julian says that “when the soul is tossed and troubled and alone in its unrest, it is time to pray so as to make itself sensitive and submissive to God. Of course prayer cannot…make God sensitive to the soul: for this is what, in his love, he always is.” Wolters, Revelations, 129.
[35] So Julian states: “This is our Lord’s intention: that our prayer and our trust alike be large hearted. If we do not trust as much as we pray we do not fully honour our Lord in our prayer.” Wolters, Revelations, 126.
[36] Upjohn, In Search, 85. Julian’s emphasis on the love and control God has for and over creation leads to the question of our role in prayer. In other words, why pray if God is in control, will see his will done, and knows what we will pray before we ask him? For Julian, prayer gives us the opportunity to participate in the good God is doing in the world. God rewards our prayers and delights in answering our prayers, even more so if they are in accordance with his will. For a fuller response of Julian to the question of why we should pray, see Wolters, Revelations, 128.
[37] According to Niall Ferguson, a Harvard professor of history, 167 to 188 million people have been killed by organized human violence in the twentieth century alone. Ferguson, War, 649. Thanks go to Dr. Steven Studebaker for providing this reference.
[38] Upjohn, In Search, 89.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Paper on Gregory A. Boyd

Gregory A. Boyd: Theologian, Teacher, and Apologist For All

May the words of my mouth and the meditation
of my heart be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer
(Ps 19:14)

According to historian Mark A. Noll, evangelicalism in the United States has suffered for more than a century to develop a “mind.”[1] In other words, evangelical thought about areas such as: the arts, the sciences, and politics is virtually non-existent.[2] Noll’s thesis that the evangelical mind is scandalous because they have not significantly thought about the complex nature of the world in which humans live is generally accurate. He is also correct to point that although evangelicals have not excelled in most academic disciplines, they have managed to develop a rich theological heritage from which to draw, because of influences such as: Clark Pinnock, Thomas Oden, Donald Bloesch, and William Abraham.[3] The problem with this great heritage, however, is that most evangelicals in the larger non-academic culture have limited to no knowledge about the importance, history or content of evangelical theology. This is because most of our culture’s theological heritage has never moved significantly beyond academia and very few of those, who have received advanced research degrees in theology, are actually part of a current church ministry where their knowledge of evangelicalism can benefit a wider public context.

Fortunately, recent trends within the evangelical church in the United States show that formal theologians are no longer isolating themselves in the academy, but are indeed taking their knowledge of theology to the churches, thereby helping their congregations understand how vitally important theology is to everyday life. One example of a formally trained evangelical theologian, who is passionately involved in a contemporary church ministry context, is Gregory A. Boyd.

The purpose of this paper is to example the life and ministry of Greg Boyd. The first part of this work will provide a biographical synopsis of Boyd’s life. The second part will explore some core aspects of his ministry in terms of describing his theological framework. The third part will provide some critiques of Boyd’s theology. The final part of the paper will highlight Boyd’s current contribution to ministry and evangelical thought.[4]

A Brief Biography of Gregory A. Boyd[5]

Greg Boyd was born in 1957[6] and raised in the Roman Catholic Church.[7] Two significant factors made Boyd’s life particularly difficult in his early childhood. The first was his inability to pay attention in Catholic school,[8] which led to him being labeled both a demon-child and stupid.[9] The second was the deaths of his mother and grandmother, which led his young mind to become obsessed with the notion of death.[10] This nihilist attitude led Boyd to believe he was destined for hell, and therefore he prayed continuously to the Virgin Mary in the hope that she could convince God to allow him passage into heaven.[11]

In Boyd’s early teenage years, he became an atheist “believing religion was a crutch for the weak.”[12] Boyd found freedom in atheism, because it relieved his obsession over hell and death, but it was depressing at the same time as he gave up his belief in heaven as well. His newly found liberation from religion, however, did not end his spiritual quest. He continued to seek the meaning of life through drug use, believing “there must be something else to reality – an ultimate ‘oneness’ or ‘higher consciousness’ or ‘divine selfhood’ – something.”

A significant spiritual event occurred in Boyd’s life at the end of 1973. Under the influence of drugs and after having a discussion on eastern mysticism, Boyd experienced a religious euphoria that he spent hours contemplating and about which he wrote. After coming off the high, Boyd discovered that the writing he “thought would be a revelation to humanity that would change the world” was nothing but complete gibberish, the result of “nothing more than chemicals creating illusions by frying…brain cells.” The conclusion that drugs rather than some “higher force” had caused his spiritual experience helped Boyd realize he had been deceived and that such deception was in fact evil. This was the last time he took drugs.

Boyd then turned to philosophy to find the meaning and purpose of life. He read obsessively and attended a Unitarian church simply because the speakers would often times discuss the insights of the major figures of philosophy in order to attack Christianity, which Boyd, because of his Catholic background, found unsettling at times. Such discussions, however, were interestingly the first part of the process of Boyd becoming a Christian.[13]

The next experience that helped lead Boyd to Christ came from personal interaction with a friend whom Boyd played sports with and highly respected. This friend challenged Boyd by using his declaration that “religion was a crutch for weak people” against him saying: “[W]hat if your unbelief is just a crutch because you can’t handle the truth that we all have to answer to our creator?” Boyd could not answer this question of why it was weak to acknowledge God, if he was the one who created us.

The third part of “God’s set up,” as Boyd calls it, to him becoming a Christian was his reading of Soren Kierkegaard. In Kierkegaard’s philosophy, Boyd found someone who actually agreed with his personal belief that life was indeed meaningless. But Kierkegaard added a twist by saying that life could indeed have meaning when people accepted Christ.[14]

Boyd’s final step to becoming a Christ follower came when he went to a church at the request of his girlfriend. In this church, Boyd found people who were excited by what the Lord was doing in their midst. After visiting this church for a while, Boyd was presented with gospel and he became a Christ-follower in 1974 just after his seventeenth birthday.[15]

After his conversion, Boyd continued his studies in philosophy and theology getting a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy at the University of Minnesota in 1979, a Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School in 1982, and his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1988.[16] In 1992, at the request of the General Baptist Convention superintendent, Boyd planted Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul Minnesota.[17] He was also professor of theology at Bethel University for sixteen years.[18] In 2000, Boyd started Christus Victor Ministries, which seeks to “facilitate and promote…Boyd’s writing and speaking ministry outside of Woodland Hills Church[.]”[19] To date, Boyd “has authored or co-authored 18 books,” and “has also been featured on the front page of The New York Times, The Charlie Rose Show, CNN, National Public Radio, [and] the BBC.”[20]

The Ministerial Theology of Greg Boyd

In order to discuss Boyd’s theology and ministry, it is important to discuss where his thought “fits” into the context of scholarship. It has been my experience that scholars tend to divide works into the oversimplified, general categories of academic and popular. Looking at Boyd’s publications to date, there is no question that Boyd is an academic, as he believes the ideas of scholars “make…a little bit of difference in the long run,” although he is aware that academic writing “never seems to make much difference in the moment.”[21] But, Boyd has never lost sight of how important it is for academics to accessible to all those, who are willing to allow their thinking to be challenged. Therefore, in this regard, even Boyd’s more “popular” work is intellectually stimulating and takes some significant effort to understand. Because his theological thought has not only reached out to the scholars, but has had a significant impact on the masses, it is accurate to say that Boyd theology is at its core ministerial.[22]

Having established Boyd as a ministerial theologian it is now time to describe his theological insight. Boyd’s theology can be divided into four major areas. First, Boyd has extensively written on the problem of evil (i.e., theodicy).[23] Second, Boyd has focused on the issue of God’s providence, specifically in terms of reassessing the traditional understanding of God’s foreknowledge.[24] Third, Boyd has spent considerable effort providing an apologetic against the Jesus Seminar and the quest for the historical Jesus.[25] Finally, Boyd has recently focused his attention on the relationship between the Church and politics.[26] The following will introduce each of these areas of Boyd’s theology.

I. Boyd’s Understanding of Theodicy

In March of 1989, Greg Boyd began a correspondence with his seventy year old father Edward Boyd[27] in order to “share the Christian faith”[28] with his agnostic father.[29] “Almost three years and 30 letters after [their]…correspondence began,” Boyd’s father accepted Christ in “1992.”[30] In this dialogue, Mr. Boyd raises the problem of evil, God’s foreknowledge, and the question of how one can trust the Gospel accounts regarding the life of Christ with Dr. Boyd responding to each of these issues. Because Mr. Boyd’s questions to his son focus on three of the four major areas on which Dr. Boyd has spent the majority of his time addressing in many of his books, as well as the fact that this dialogue tends to be ministerial in nature as the purpose of it is to provide an apologetic for Mr. Boyd’s conversion to Christ, this section as well as the following two will heavily utilize their conversation.

The first correspondence goes right to the heart of the “problem of evil,” as Mr. Boyd asks his son: “How could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow the church to do so much harm to humanity for so long?”[31] More specifically,

…where was God when the Christians were slaughtering the Muslims and Jews…during the ‘holy crusades? Why did God allow ‘His people’ to burn almost the entire
population of Jewish ‘unbelievers’ in Spain during the…Inquisition? Why would an
all-loving God allow the church to take part in something like the Holocaust (at
best it looked the other direction) – and do all these things ‘in his name’?[32]
Dr. Boyd responds with the central thesis of all his work on evil, namely God cannot be blamed for evil caused by any individual or institution because God “is a God of love, and this entails that He is a God of freedom, for you cannot have love without freedom.” Consequently, while humans “were created with the ability to choose love,” they also have “the potential to choose its opposite – evil.”[33] According to Boyd, “[t]o assume that God is responsible for our evil – even the evil committed ‘in His name’ – is…to assume that humans are robots who simply act out a divine preplanned program.” Therefore, Boyd believes “all evil in the world comes from free wills other than God,” because “[w]hat God wills and does is always good.” Meaning the opposite is true as well, namely that “[w]hatever is not good has its origin from someone or something other than God.”[34]

Mr. Boyd then asks the question of whether or not the suffering (i.e., evil) humanity experiences is actually worth the freedom God granted humanity in creation.[35] Dr. Boyd responds with three major points. First, although humans have done and presently do a tremendous amount of evil, they also do a great deal of good to which the lives of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. testify.[36] Second, God created humanity out of love giving them freedom. Freedom involves risk. For example, in loving someone else, humans risk and are often times hurt, but even when we experience the pain of love, we still believe love is worth the suffering we must indure. Third, according to Boyd, humans are not the only ones who risk suffering because of love, as “God Himself risks a great deal in creating the world.” In fact, “[t]he biblical perspective on God reveals a God who throughout history has suffered from the ill choices of human beings.” In fact, the suffering love of God was so great “that it involved Him…becoming a human being [through the incarnation of Christ] and dying a hellish death on the cross.” Out of love, “God took upon Himself all the sin of the world, and all the pain and punishment that…sin produces[37]…so humans could exist eternally in the peace and joy of God – heaven – and the promise of Scripture is that this state of being will be such that our present sufferings can’t be compared to it (Rom. 8:18).”[38]

Related to the question of the evil humanity causes is the evil we are not responsible for such as natural disasters. So, Mr. Boyd asks:
How do[es]…God [get] off the hook for evils which don’t arise from anyone’s
decisions? Since God is the one who directly creates everything, why does He
create famines, earthquakes, mud slides, AIDS, deformed babies, and the like?
Surely no one’s free will – except God’s – can be blamed for these! If He’s
all-knowing, one would think that He’d exercise a little more care with His
Dr. Boyd responds to his father’s question by proposing that “human free wills aren’t the only free wills which have been created,” as “[t]he universe is inhabited by innumerable spiritual free beings as well.” The Bible names such spirits ‘angels’ and ‘demons.’ Demonic forces “are now in a state of war against God and everything that is good, and the earth is…their battlefield.” Satan is the leader of this war against God. In fact, he is the one who initially declared war on God. He is a fallen angel, who was “once [called] ‘Lucifer’” and was “the most beautiful of all God’s creatures,” but is “[n]ow…pure, undiluted evil.”

Because of Lucifer’s fall, God “is not the only influence any longer.” Therefore, “[t]here is a power of pure evil which now affects everything and everybody on earth.” Although we do not “understand exactly how these demonic forces screw around with nature,”[40] Christian tradition and Scripture reveal that the world is indeed a warzone of spiritual conflict, and “[i]n the end, we are all more or less casualties of [this] war.”[41]

II. Boyd’s Understanding of God’s Providence

Dr. Boyd’s proposal that God takes risks and suffers in loving his creation by giving humanity freedom leads Mr. Boyd to a central question concerning God’s providence, namely:
Since God supposedly is all-knowing, why didn’t He just look ahead and see who
was and wasn’t going to use freedom rightly, and then just create the good
people? We’d still have freedom, but in a world without suffering. It strikes me
as odd that God should have to take ‘risks’ at all. Isn’t He (in your view) in
total control?[42]
In response, Dr. Boyd starts his argument by stating that although God knows “everything there is to know,” there is no need “to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act.” By granting humanity freedom, God gave them the ability to “create the reality of [their]…decisions.” So, until these decisions are actually realized, “they don’t exist,” meaning that “there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know [(i.e., actually exercise our freedom)].” Therefore, “God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until…they…create their decisions.”[43]

Mr. Boyd is significantly surprised by his son’s answer, because “it goes against a lot of what [he]…was taught about God.” He believes his son’s “view of God is much more ‘human’ than what [he has]…always thought God was supposed to be.” Although Mr. Boyd finds his son’s understanding of God’s foreknowledge “better than the standard one,” he questions if the Bible actually presents God’s knowledge of the future in the way his son represents, or if it “is just [his]…own creation.”[44]

Dr. Boyd assures his father that “[t]he view that God doesn’t know future free actions is not just [his]…own,” but is, in fact, held by many. He goes on to insist, however, that his view “doesn’t maintain that God doesn’t know anything about the future.” He does foreknow events “which are already determined…by present circumstances or by God’s own will,” but “God doesn’t eternally foreknow the free decisions people will make in the future.” Dr. Boyd then goes on to say that his “view is very biblical,” as “God frequently asks questions of people in the Bible, and occasionally even changes His own mind in the light of new circumstances. (See Ex. 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:11; Jer. 18:7-10; 26:19).” According to Boyd, such change in God “would…be impossible if He had a fixed blueprint of all events ahead of time.”[45]

The idea that God limits his foreknowledge raises the question of God’s power. So, Mr. Boyd asks whether his son believes that God actually is all-powerful, because it seems that his son’s God does not have the ability to do much about the evil of the world, considering the vast amount of freedom God has given to both spiritual and human beings.[46] In answer to his father’s question, Boyd says he believes “God is all-powerful in the sense that God originally possessed all power.”[47] When God created other beings, however, he “delegated some of His power” by giving free will. Because God gave his creation freedom, he risks the possibility that our free actions “may not always agree with God’s way.” According to Boyd, although it was extremely risky for God to create others with freedom to act in ways that oppose God, he did so in order that we would be “capable of love.” Therefore, the sense in which God is ‘in control’ of his creation is this: “He determines the parameters of our freedom within the flow of history which He directs,” meaning that although “God does not control each particular individual,” our freedom is constrained “within the limits set by God.”[48]

III. Boyd’s Understanding of the Historical Jesus

Mr. Boyd is impressed by his son’s ability to answer objections concerning evil and God’s providence, but Mr. Boyd has serious doubts about his ability to trust the Scripture his son relies upon so heavily in arguing for Christianity. So Mr. Boyd states:
Christians…are always quoting the Bible to back up their beliefs. They justify
their beliefs as absolute truths because ‘the Bible tells me so.’ All I can say
is, by whose authority is the Bible granted this lofty position?...[Y]ou say
that ‘history proves that God loves us’ and then you quote the Bible!...But it
just doesn’t cut any mustard with me because I don’t accept the Bible in the
first place. I don’t see any good reason to take the blind leap of faith to
accept, lock, stock, and barrel the truthfulness of the Gospels your entire
faith is based on.[49]

To answer his father’s question, Boyd suggests that if the Gospels are examined historically and scientifically in the same way as are all other significant historical documents, “they fare very well and can be trusted to tell us a good deal about the person of Jesus Christ, enough, in fact, to know that God was present in Him and working through Him in a most significant way.”[50] Therefore, if the Gospels are deemed historically reliable, it must be true that Christ is “the Lord which He and His followers claimed He was.”[51]

Mr. Boyd objects to his son’s assertion that faith is a logical entailment of a certain set of documents being historically reliable.[52] In addition, Mr. Boyd says that historical reliability does not equal complete reliability considering “that the Gospels are full of contradictions” such as: “the events [of Jesus’ live] in each [Gospel being]…arranged all differently,” as well as the fact that the Gospels “were pieced together from previous sources [that] mixed in…all sorts of tall tales and legends about the man [(Jesus)] they’re writing about.” Therefore, it still seems that the historical reliability of the Gospels is still “iffy,” and “nothing [anyone should]…want to stake [their]…life on.”[53]

First, Dr. Boyd addresses the issue his father raises between faith and the historical reliability of the Gospels. For Dr. Boyd, “faith doesn’t hang on the demonstrable credibility of these documents in every detail, but it does hang on their overall credibility.” In other words, “[f]aith is a loving, trusting relationship with Christ, an attachment which goes way beyond a theoretical assessment of ancient documents.” This does not mean, however, that the relationship with Christ humans experience is “wholly different from the Jesus of history.” If the Jesus humans put their faith and trust in is significantly different from the Christ of which the Gospels inform us, Christ-followers are indeed in trouble,[54] but the hope Christ ultimately offers, namely heaven, is worth our faith. Otherwise, we endure “all the sufferings, tears, and cries” we experience in this world for nothing.[55]

Second, Dr. Boyd discusses Mr. Boyd’s allegation that the Gospels contain contradictions. Dr. Boyd freely admits “that the Gospels utilized sources, oral and written, when they composed their accounts.”[56] But bringing together information from various sources does not equate to the Gospels being historically inaccurate or automatically contradictory. He also admits “that the order of events in all the Gospels varies a great deal.” The Gospel writers, however, “are not trying, on every point, to…give us biographical information on the life of Jesus.” Instead, their purpose was “to save people by bringing them into a relationship with the Savior.” But the fact that the Gospels arranged the material differently does not “diminish…the Gospels’ general reliability,” as “[a]ll the historical works of this time period were written in just the same fashion.”[57] We cannot hold the writing styles and literary processes of first-century writers to the same standards of those used in our contemporary world, where the chronology of historical events simply follows a linear pattern.[58] Therefore, if we understand and respect the Gospels as products of a first-century context and they are indeed reliable, they “force us to answer an all-important question: who was Jesus Christ? And with this question comes a decision: was He a lunatic…liar, or was He the Lord His followers proclaimed Him to be?”[59]

Through their correspondence up to this point, Mr. Boyd is “pretty much convinced…that the Gospel have a good bit of reliable…material.”[60] But, he is having problems believing in biblical miracles, specifically “why the disciples thought Jesus rose from the dead” when “it seems…that any explanation is better than the one which assumes that He actually did rise from the dead.”[61] In response, Dr. Boyd points out several pieces of evidence for believing in the resurrection of Christ. Two of these pieces will be mentioned here. First, “[t]he resurrection event is testified to by five independent sources (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul – who refer to numerous other sources as well, such as Peter and James in 1 Cor. 15).” The fact there is so much independent testimony to Jesus raising from the dead puts the burden of proof on those who do not believe in the resurrection to prove it did not happen.[62] Second, the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are bolstered, because they record that women witnessed the raising of Christ, and “[t]he role of women in the story…could, in the first century context, do nothing but damage the testimony of the authors,” as women were “regarded as being incurable liars.”[63]

The last dialogue between Mr. Boyd and Dr. Boyd on Jesus and the Gospels deals with the issue of how God could become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. So, Mr. Boyd states: “How can you believe that a man, a literal human being, was God? All the arguments in the world for the Resurrection stop short of making this acceptable.”[64] Again, Dr. Boyd mentions several pieces of evidence that “substantiate the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God incarnate.” First, while admitting the Gospels never directly make the claim that Jesus is God, they use language that very strongly suggests it. For example, “He [(Christ)] says things like ‘If you see Me, you have seen the Father,’ ‘Honor Me even as you honor the Father,’ and ‘I and the Father are one.’” Furthermore, “He [(Christ)] everywhere equates believing in Him with believing in God, rejecting Him with rejecting God” saying “‘He [(any person)] who believes in Me [(Christ)] believes in the Father who sent Me.’” Also, “we find the disciples calling Jesus ‘Lord’ (Kurios) which is the Greek equivalent to Yahweh, the name of God in the Old Testament,” when “Thomas, on seeing Jesus [after his resurrection], cries out, ‘My Lord and My God’ – and Jesus doesn’t correct him,” this is evidence that Christ’s disciples believed Jesus and God were the same. Lastly, beyond the Gospels making a strong argument for Jesus being God, it is important to remember that the disciples were Jewish. If these men did not believe Jesus and God were the same, they would never have worshipped Christ, as the Gospels claimed they did, because Jews only worship God alone. Therefore, based upon all this evidence, it is reasonable to declare that “the Gospels present a ‘fully divine’ Jesus.” [65]

IV. Boyd’s Understanding of Politics and the Church

The Kingdom of God became important subject to Boyd just before the 2004 presidential elections in the United States. He and his church’s leaders were being pressed, by organizations outside his church as well as by individuals inside the church, to put support behind certain political causes and candidates. In response, Boyd preached a sermon series that provided the biblical reasons why Woodland Hills would “not [be] joining in the rising chorus of political activity.” This set of sermons became the basis for Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation book.[66]

Boyd’s thesis in Christian Nation is that Scripture identifies two distinct kingdoms, namely “the kingdom of this world” and “the Kingdom of God”. The worldly kingdom uses power to “coerce obedience and control behavior,” while the power of God’s Kingdom is found in the “self-sacrificial” love of Christ that, as his followers, Christians are to emulate.[67] Because these two kingdoms view power in such antithetical ways, there is a significant “danger of associating the Christian faith too closely with any political party or nationalistic ideology.”[68]

After laying out this thesis, Boyd declares that the idea that the United States has ever been a “Christian nation” is a “myth.” He supports this declaration by detailing a couple of events in U. S. history that demonstrate how ungodly this government acted toward different ethic groups such as Native Americans, who were slaughtered by war or forced relocation as early settlers took their land, or African-Americans, who were enslaved and treated as property rather than as humans with millions killed by the time slavery was outlawed. With such horrifying actions that taint early American history, Boyd contends there was never has been a time when the U. S. was “truly operating by kingdom principles.” Therefore, “when the Church aligns itself with the kingdom of this world, it is the church that is compromised and the kingdom of darkness that is being built.”[69]

By contrast, Boyd points out that “[t]he early church exploded with growth because people were living kingdom values,” because they did not attempt to exert power over others by trying to force itself onto the government in authority over them. Instead, “they chose the cross,” and “were willing to suffer and die for their faith.” According to Boyd, when Christians choose to follow the ways of God’s loving Kingdom, the power of the worldly kingdom is exposed for the evil it truly represents.[70]

Boyd believes the witness of the universal Church became tarnished with when Constantine conquered Rome and declared it Christian. From this point on, the Church began to take on more and more political power. So, instead of being persecuted because of Christ, the Church became the persecutor of all that stood against it (i.e., take the Crusades and Inquisition as just two examples),[71] and has misrepresented the Kingdom of God every time it has attempted to exert control over others. Therefore, “[w]e need to be suspicious of any attempts of others or ourselves to try to gain power over others,” because “this how the kingdom of darkness operates.”[72] In contrast, God’s Kingdom through Christ does not seek power, but gives Christians “one command, love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves.” Consequently, “any…human being or human organization (Democrats, Republicans, gay rights activists, CEO’s, abortion doctors, protesters, etc.)” that attempts to pull Christians away from the love of God through Christ by controlling others with power “is the kingdom of Darkness.”[73]

A. Thinking and Acting as Citizens of the Kingdom of God

Boyd realized that although his conviction about the Kingdom of God was correct, he needed to explain how Christians are to manifest this Kingdom in their lives. Therefore, he followed up his Christian Nation book with The Myth of a Christian Religion.

In Christian Religion, Boyd proposes that the Kingdom of God “isn’t centered on getting people to believe particular religious beliefs and engage in particular religious behaviors”[74] or “on trying to fix the world by advocating the ‘right’ political causes or advancing the ‘right’ national agendas.” For Boyd, “the Kingdom of God that Jesus established is centered on one thing, and one thing only: manifesting the beauty of God’s character and thus revolting against everything that is inconsistent with this beauty.”[75]

According to Boyd, manifesting the beauty of God’s Kingdom is first and foremost about understanding who we are as Christ-followers, because “[e]verything we do in the Kingdom manifests its fullness of Life we get from God alone.” Therefore, “we will find it impossible to live out the radical, countercultural call of the Kingdom except insofar as our core sense of worth, significant, and security is anchored in God’s love for us, expressed on Calvary.”[76] Consequently, in order to live for the Kingdom, Christians need to engage in communal and individual spiritual practices in order to “revolt” or stand against the worldly kingdom in the ways Christ has taught.[77]

So, what specific things about the kingdom of the world should Christians stand against as members of the Kingdom of God through Christ? Boyd believes there are at least twelve things Christians must resist into to bring about the beauty of God’s revolution to impact the world for Christ. First, Christians must repent and stand against idolatry, which Boyd defines as “anything we trust as a god” that we use “to satisfy the hunger in our soul that only our Creator can satisfy.”[78] Second, Christ-followers need to “revolt” against judgment. According to Boyd, judgment is something we primarily use in order to raise our own self-worth. The problem is that we are tearing down another’s self-esteem to do it. By judging others, we presuppose our own superiority in order to make ourselves feel more significant.[79] Such an action is sin, however, because judging does not ascribe biblical love to others, and “real love, as defined by Jesus, is about expressing the unsurpassable worth of another by being willing to sacrifice everything for them.”[80]

Third, Boyd says Christians need to abandon religion. By religion, Boyd is “referring to any system of beliefs and behaviors people embrace and engage in as a means of ascribing transcendent worth to themselves,” rather than seeking that worth from God in Christ. [81] Fourth, Christians are to resist individualism. According to Boyd, “God created each of us unique. But this uniqueness was meant to be woven into the tapestry of community.”[82] Without community, the tendency is to allow the selfishness of human nature to reign supreme, as we seek to solely fulfill our own needs rather than learning about and subsequently living out the service and self-sacrifice Christ modeled in his life, death, and resurrection.

Fifth, Christians must repent of their loyalty to any form of nationalism. Boyd points out that “[m]any have allowed their allegiance to the flag…compromise their allegiance to the cross.” By doing so, scores of Christ-followers have abandoned “God’s dream” that “humans…form a single, united community under his loving Lordship.”[83] If there is any hope of seeing the world redeemed, Christians must seek to reconcile their nation with other nations in Christ-like love, because Scripture is clear that one day people from all over the world will stand together in worship of God praising him for the salvation he has brought to all.[84] Next, Boyd believes Christians must revolt against violence. The kingdom of the world seeks to control others by enforcing its will onto all using power as the primary tool. Christ, however, demonstrates “a different type of power”[85] by adopting a “nonviolent, self-sacrificial stance toward [his] enemies.”[86]

Seventh, Christians are to turn against social oppression. According to Boyd, social oppression happens when we deem certain people to be less important than others. By following such a pattern of behavior, we fall “into the cultural lie that people who look, smell, and talk [a certain way]…are less important than [others].”[87] For Boyd, however, such behavior fails “to manifest the truth that where God reigns, all class-ifications that assign people pre-established social values are rendered null and void.”[88] Eighth, Christ-followers are to repent from racism. Boyd says Scripture is clear that “God created only one race – the human race” and that “[t]he idea that there are different races is a myth created by white Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in order to justify oppressing and enslaving nonwhites.”[89] Racism is still a reality today, and according to Boyd, the Church has done little to passionately promote racial reconciliation.[90] For Boyd, the only way to reconcile the issue of race is for everyone to “extend forgiveness for things done…in the past and for things that continue to be done in the present,” as “[o]nly this kind of [expression of] love can tear down the hostile walls that have been built up over centuries and empower us to manifest the [one race]…Christ died to create.”[91]

Ninth, Boyd calls on Christians to abandon the evil of greed. There can be no question that the West contains most of the wealthiest nations in the world and that Scripture repeatedly “warns against greed (hoarding more than you need),” as well as “emphasizes the need for his people to share with the poor.”[92] Our sin is that we focus so much on ourselves and very little on others. The Christian response, then, must be to learn to sacrifice, as “[w]e never experience more joy, and never feel more fully alive, than when we are sacrificially sharing with others.”[93] Tenth, Boyd believes Christians must take care of the environment, because “[e]verything that exists is sustained, owned, and cared for by God as something inherently precious.”[94] The human tendency to pollute the world, misuse natural resources, participate in deforestation, and mistreat animals is a sin for which Christians need to repent. Therefore, “[i]nsofar as it is possible, we’re to manifest…the harmonious relation between God, humans, animals, and the earth,” as “[t]his is a fundamental aspect of what is means [for us] to be part of a Kingdom that manifests the beauty of God’s original design for creation.”[95]

Eleventh, Boyd’s conviction is that Christians need to understand sex and repent in their abuse of it. Pornography and pre-marital sexual activity is rampant among the non-Christian as well as the Christian community.[96] Christians must resist sexual sin by understanding three major purposes for sex. “First, God designed sexual intercourse to create a…sacred oneness between a man and a woman that is intended to never be broken,”[97] because “when a man and woman come together in sexual intercourse, something profound, mysterious, and spiritual is going on.”[98] “Second, God designed sexual intercourse to be a sacred sign of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the Church.”[99] Finally, “sexual intercourse is the sacred sign and seal of the marriage covenant”,[100] as “[i]t seals the covenantal vows of a couple and serves as an ongoing reminder of the ‘one flesh’ reality they’ve entered into.”[101] According to Boyd, then, Christians need to align themselves with God’s design for sex. Otherwise, “[w]e are making a mockery of a beautiful, foundational aspect of God’s plan for humans on earth.”[102]

Finally, Boyd encourages followers of Christ to stand against secularism. Boyd believes that although much of the Christian community claims “to believe in [spiritual] things like God, Jesus, angels, demons, heaven, and hell,” such “beliefs tend to have little impact on [their]…lives.” The result of this attitude, according to Boyd, is that secularism has produced “functional atheists.”[103] Therefore, Christians must learn to experience and live out their relationship with God through Christ by “remaining surrendered to God’s presence moment-by-moment”[104] through continuous prayer, which will allow us to “hear God’s voice,” thereby allowing “God…to lead us to carry out his plan and wishes, rather than our own.”[105]

Evangelical Critiques of Boyd’s Theology

There is no significantly influential evangelical that is without critics and Boyd is no exception. Out of the four areas of Boyd’s thought this paper has examined, two have received negative responses with his understanding of God’s providence getting the most criticism. The first part of this section will critique Boyd’s understanding of the relationship between politics and the Church, and will allow Boyd to respond to this criticism. The second part will critique Boyd’s doctrine of God and will again allow Boyd to respond to it in kind.

I. Critiquing Boyd’s Understanding of the Church-State Relationship

In analyzing Boyd’s idea that no Christ-follower should give their allegiance to any government of a worldly kingdom but solely align themselves with the Kingdom of God, some believe his division between the two kingdoms is way too rigid. Because of this hard distinction, “Boyd can’t seem to imagine a good earthly kingdom.” Therefore, he is forced to say that no government is better than any other when compared to the Kingdom of God. James K. A. Smith finds a problem with Boyd here,[106] because it is certainly the case that we can observe “in-breakings of the…kingdom here and now.” For example, doesn’t South Africa’s government look more like the Kingdom of God because people got involved in the worldly political system and helped end Apartheid, and isn’t it also the case that South Korean democracy is more just than that of North Korea, who is currently under “Kim Jong-il's tyranny?”

Smith then points out that Boyd seems to “relegate politics to a realm basically untouched by the gospel.” This idea that “Christ's call to discipleship doesn't touch the public square” gives the impression that Scripture gives Christ-followers little guidance to make decisions about how to voice their opinions politically. In other words, “when it comes to politics, you’re on your own.”[107]

Finally, Smith believes “Boyd promotes a rather na├»ve distinction between what he sees as government's ability to merely ‘control behavior’ and the church's ability to ‘transform hearts,’” which Smith says “translates into a de-emphasis on systemic injustice and a renewed emphasis on conversion as the solution to social ills.” For Smith, the problem with simply offering salvation as a solution is that “it does nothing to disturb systems that foster oppression.” In the end, Smith sees Boyd saying that politics and government work on the ‘outside,’ but the Holy Spirit works on the “inside,’” and he believes Boyd is mistaken with this dichotomy for two reasons. First, Smith is convinced that the political systems of governments do not just affect humans externally, but rather have a profound impact on our souls. Second, Smith believes the Holy Spirit’s work in someway needs the worldly kingdom in order to become alive in the Christ-follower. The Spirit, therefore, does not work separately from the world as Boyd suggests.[108]

A. Boyd’s Response to Smith[109]

Boyd’s response to James Smith’s critique takes on several dimensions. First, Boyd suggest the major reason Smith misrepresents his arguments in the Christian Nation book is because Smith is assuming the “Constantinian paradigm,”[110] which suggests that political power is the primary force that changes the world, and thereby “essentially equates ‘social activism’ with ‘political involvement.”[111] The problem, as Boyd sees it, is that Smith cannot conceive of “the possibility that someone could advocate radical social activism while at the same time promoting a strong separation of the Gospel from politics,” [112] which is the view Boyd is actually proposing.[113] In other words, Boyd believes it is the Church rather than the government that should be addressing the social concerns of our day,[114] “because social activism lies at the very heart of the Gospel!”[115]

Second, Boyd then goes on to claim that Smith misunderstood Boyd’s idea that because the worldly kingdom and God’s Kingdom are so opposed to each other, there is simply no way to discern what form of government is better than another one. Boyd believes Smith’s criticism here misses the point. Although it is possible to compare governments to each other, and Christ-followers “should support good forms of government and resist the bad[116]…the Kingdom of God simply is not on a continuum with the various expressions of the kingdom of the world.” According to Boyd, God’s Kingdom has no similarity to the “‘good’ or ‘evil’ use of political power,” as “Jesus did not [simply] come to give us a ‘new and improved’ version of the kingdom of the world.” Instead, Christ “came to bring us a Kingdom that would transform the world through self-sacrificial love. But this is not a Kingdom that fits anywhere on the spectrum of our political options.”

Third, Boyd addresses Smith’s allegation that Boyd indirectly implies that Christ-followers should shy away from the public arena at large. According to Boyd, Smith seems to believe the only way for Christ’s influence to be felt in the world “is by political means.” Boyd points out, however, that Scripture tells us Jesus transformed the entire planet, but “never [once] allowed himself to be pulled into the political quagmires of his day.”[117]

Finally, Boyd challenges Smith’s idea that in someway the political process of changing laws is a crucial part of helping to change people. Boyd believes such an idea seems “to discount the transforming power of self-sacrificial love” Jesus came to model for his followers. Boyd, however, points out that using governmental power to force and therefore control people to change does not bring “the people of a country closer to the Kingdom of God.” If this was truly the case, then “one is left wondering why Jesus concluded that the Pharisees, who were the guardians and enforcers of the ‘right’ laws in first-century Jewish culture, were farther from the Kingdom of God than prostitutes, tax collectors and other law-breakers (Mt 21:31)?”[118]

II. Critiquing Boyd’s Understanding of God’s Providence

No criticism of Boyd has been harsher than against his belief that Scripture portrays a God who does not possess exhaustive definite foreknowledge. This view, now known as “open theism,” has caused many conservative evangelical theologians to declare Boyd, as well as all other evangelicals that believe as he does as heretics.[119] In 2002, the Evangelical Theological Society of the United States issued an entire edition of its journal to address the perceived errors of open theism. Bruce A. Ware presented the case against open theism while Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and Greg Boyd offered responses to Ware’s accusations.[120] This section will highlight portions of Ware’s argument to which Boyd responded.

Because of space limitations, Ware’s argument can be broken down into five specific criticisms against open theism that Boyd directly addressed in his response. First, Ware says that open theism’s denial of exhaustive divine foreknowledge leads to the conclusion that “God must . . . possess innumerable false beliefs about what will happen in the future.” For example, Ware questions the open theist exegesis of Jeremiah 3:7 where God says he thought Israel would turn back to the Lord, but did not. Under the open interpretation, God’s belief about what would occur in the future is wrong, meaning that he does not even have perfect knowledge of his own beliefs.[121] Second, Ware’s perspective is that the God of open theism, in fact, makes mistakes, because their “God…sometimes looks back at his own past decisions and now, in retrospect, determines that what he previously decided may not in fact have been the best decision.” Ware explains his criticism stating:
Since the quality of our decisions is affected centrally by the quantity and
quality of the information relevant to those decisions, and since many of God’s
decisions relate to what he or others should do in the future, it is clear that
God’s ignorance of the vast majority of the future of human affairs cannot help
but give God less than perfect judgment and lead him to make faulty decisions. [122]
Third, Ware accuses open theism of idolatry based on Isaiah 40-48, because he claims both the idol worshippers in this passage and open theists claim that the God of Israel cannot know the future exhaustively. According to Ware’s reading, God knows what will happen from beginning to end (Isa 46:10) because he prophesied that Cyrus, who is called a man of God’s purpose (46:11), would come and bring freedom to the Israelites. God then declares that what separates him from all the idols is, in fact, God’s ability to know the future and follow through with his predictions accurately in every detail, and all those who worship idols, who cannot do this, are praising empty and worthless images. (Isa 41:29). Therefore, Ware charges that open theists are falling into idolatry when they claim God does not have exhaustive definite foreknowledge.[123]
Fourth, Ware claims open theists are rejecting traditional evangelical hermeneutical guidelines. According to Ware, open theists want to interpret texts where God’s changes his mind and regrets decisions he has made as literal representations of God knowledge. Simply imposing such a strict literal reading of Scripture, however, is driven by “[a]…commitment to deny to God knowledge of future creaturely choices and actions.” [124] Finally, Ware believes open theism denies the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, because of the conviction that God does not possess exhaustive divine foreknowledge.[125] In other words, Ware thinks that the only way inerrancy can be maintained is if one holds to the idea that “predictions…of future actions and events [never]…go contrary to what was predicted.”[126]

A. Boyd’s Response to Ware’s Accusations

Boyd begins his rebuttal of Ware by pointing out that Ware has misrepresented the open theistic view of the future. According to Boyd, open theism “do[es] not deny that God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the future,” but “that the future is [not] exhaustively definite.” The creation of free will prevents God from knowing the future entirely, because the choices humans will make have not actually come into existence. Therefore, God knows the majority of the future in terms of possibilities rather than actualities. So, the issue is not over God’s foreknowledge, because God knows all that can be known. Rather, the disagreement is about to what extent the future can be known, because it does not yet exist even to God.[127]

Next, Boyd turns to address Ware’s need for certainty in God’s foreknowledge by proposing God’s knowledge of possible futures does not in anyway diminish God’s ability to predict the future, because God can perfectly examine and plan a response each possible action humans might make in each given situation. Therefore, “there is virtually no distinction between knowing a certainty and knowing a possibility.” So, “God…gains no providential advantage by knowing future events as certain opposed to knowing them as possible,” as “both [are known] with equal perfection.”[128]

Third, Boyd deals with Ware’s accusation that open theists believe God has false beliefs by denying God possesses exhaustive definite foreknowledge based upon Scriptures where “God says he ‘thought’ or ‘expected’ something would take place that did not take place.” According to Boyd, such biblical expressions reveal that God believed it was highly improbable that his people would take the course of action they did. These expressions have nothing to do with God being unprepared for the decision(s) his people made, as he perfectly anticipated the possibility as well as his response to it. God’s “surprise” was that his free agents simply chose an action God thought was the least likely out of all possibilities.[129]

Fourth, Boyd responds to Ware’s accusation that open theists believe God makes mistakes by suggesting God makes decisions he later regrets making. According to Boyd, Ware’s problem here is not with open theists, but with Scripture as “the Bible [itself] depicts God as regretting the outcome of previous decisions he made (Gen 6:6-7; 1 Sam 15:11, 35).” Boyd then turns the table on Ware’s exhaustive foreknowledge view stating that it is difficult if not impossible to explain why Scripture tells us God regrets since he has predestined the future to turn out exactly as he wishes.[130]

Fifth, Boyd addresses Ware’s belief that open theism is committing idolatry by proposing that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future just as the idols worshippers did in Isaiah 40-48. Boyd counters saying that this passage is not about God’s knowledge, but power in that “he is able to bring to pass his intentions in a way idols cannot.”[131] Seen from this perspective, this passage only reveals that God can unilaterally bring about events he predicts. Open theists do not deny God does do this in history, but they do believe it is the exception rather than the rule. Lastly to this accusation, Boyd points out that this passage is contextual in that refers to God’s deliverance of Israel from Babylon, and therefore should not be interpreted universally, thereby claiming that “these passages cover the whole of world history.”

Sixth, Boyd rebuts Ware’s accusation that open theists are somehow using a unique hermeneutical theory to interpret Scripture. Boyd argues that “[o]penness theologians utilize the same hermeneutical principles as everyone else does” by “interpret[ing] a passage according to the author’s intended meaning.” Therefore,

We [open theists] simply do not see anything in narratives that describe God as
thinking about the future in terms of what may or may not happen (e.g. Exod
4:1–9; 13:17; Jer 26:3; Ezek 12:2) or changing his mind (e.g. Exod 32:10–14; Jer
18:7–10; Jonah 3:10) or expecting something to happen that does not come to pass
(Jer 3:6–7; 19–20; Isa 5:1–10) that suggests they are anthropomorphisms. Nor do
we see what true meaning such texts could convey if they are taken as

So, as Boyd sees it, the only difference between open theists and its critics is that “openness theologians take in a straightforward fashion [the biblical texts] that most others take as figurative,” as “everybody, including Ware, takes some texts as literal and other texts as figurative.”[132]

Finally, Boyd addresses the issue of biblical inerrancy in two ways. First, Boyd states:

[S]ince God has informed us that he reserves the right to alter his plans, even after he has decreed them (Jer 18:6–10), and since Scripture offers us numerous illustrations of God doing just this, even after he has made what seemed to be “inviolable” pronouncements, one wonders how Ware acquired the inerrant insight into what exactly is and is not an “inviolable” prophecy.

In other words, Boyd is asking how Ware alone can determine how the complex issue of prophecy and inerrancy relate. Open theists do not deny that God cannot fulfill prophecy and therefore have no difficulty in believing the Bible is inerrant.

Second, Boyd argues:
[S]ince open theists hold that God is able to unilaterally settle as much of the future ahead of time as he desires, there is nothing in principle preventing us from affirming any specific decree of God, even if we were to agree that the decree is inviolable.

Therefore, Boyd believes “the argument that open theism somehow undermines inerrancy is without merit,” because the open theist “view simply holds that God leaves open whatever aspects of the future he sovereignly chooses to leave open.”[133]

Boyd’s Contribution and Paper Summary

Because Greg Boyd is still in the prime of his life, both academically and pastorally, it is difficult to place the contributions of his ministry into a historical context, as the measure of a person’s influence is typically better understood at the end or after one’s life. There can be little doubt, however, that Boyd has impacted both the world of academia, as well as the lives of the popular culture at large.

In academia, Boyd has caused significant controversy because of his open theist views and therefore has been severely critiqued by conservative evangelicals. In like manner, his convictions concerning the Kingdom of God led to his church losing hundreds because Boyd believes the governments of this worldly kingdom should not consume our attention. Regardless of whether one likes his work or not, however, Boyd has not yet wavered in his practical or academic convictions.

In summary, it seems helpful to look at Boyd’s thought through the lens of David Bebbington’s four evangelical characteristics, as laid out in his Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. These characteristics are: (1) conversion, which is the conviction that people need to accept Christ into their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, (2) the authority of Scripture, which is defined as the doctrine of infallibility or inerrancy, (3) activism, which deals with spreading the Gospel through various social means, and (4) the crucifixion, which focus on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.[134]

In terms of the first characteristic, conversion, Boyd’s work and ministry demonstrate he is firmly committed to seeing people come to Christ, which is seen in no better a context than in the dialogue with his father over the merits of the Christian faith. Boyd’s intent in this dialogue was not simply to answer his father’s questions about Christianity, but to see his father’s life transformed by the gospel of Christ. In his conversations with Mr. Boyd, we find the heart of an apologist, who seeks to answer objections to Christianity for the explicit purpose of seeing people convert to the Christ-way of life.

When it comes to the second characteristic, there can be little doubt that Boyd highly respects Scripture. This is demonstrated in no better a fashion than in his work on the historical Jesus, demonstrating the historical reliability of the Gospels. But, Boyd’s reverence for Scripture goes beyond history. Boyd argues all of this theological perspectives first and foremost from Scripture, and only then does he use other sources (i.e., philosophy or science) to fill in the gaps where Scripture is silent on a particular point.[135]

Boyd addresses activism in the evangelical community by encouraging Christ-followers to pursue the beautiful revolution of the Kingdom of God through involvement in the Church’s mission to bring priority to social issues and then committing themselves to address these issues in concrete, practical ways. Finally, Boyd’s focuses on the cross of Christ in the context of helping Christians realize their power is found in the self-sacrificial love of service as demonstrated in Christ’s death and resurrection, rather than in attempting to use worldly power to force and therefore control the actions of others.

Up to this point in history, Boyd’s life and work demonstrates his commitment to everyone, whether academic or popular, in the sense that he wants everyone to think about the Christian faith in ways that stir them to follow Christ’s example in their lives. This is why he is referred to here as a teacher, theologian, and apologist for us all.

[1] See Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).
[2] So Noll states: “By an evangelical ‘life of the mind’ I mean more the effort to think life a Christian – to think within a specifically Christian framework – across the whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the arts…Failure to exercise the mind for Christ in these areas has become acute in the twentieth century. That failure is the scandal of the evangelical mind.” Noll, Scandal, 7.
[3] Noll, Scandal, 7.
[4] Because the context of this paper is historical, I have attempted to present Boyd’s life, thought, his critics’ thought and his responses to critiques in as much of their own language as possible. Consequently, I will not significantly interject my own perspective on Boyd’s thought concerning where I may or may not disagree with his theology
[5] Unless otherwise notated, all the information from the section comes from Boyd, “Spiritual Journey,”
[6] Christus Victor Ministries, “Vita,”
[7] According to Boyd, his family “always went to mass, said grace before meals, abstained from meat on Fridays (before it was permitted) and occasionally said the rosary.” He also went to Catholic school from kindergarten to grade four. This immersion into Catholicism was done merely to appease Boyd’s stepmother, as his biological mother died of leukemia when he was two years of age.
[8] Boyd believes he would have been diagnosed with ADHD, if this disorder had been known of in the 1960s.
[9] Boyd received severe corporeal punishment as well as abuse at the hands of fellow students, who were given permission to hit him over the head with a Bible when there was any perceived infraction of class rules.
[10] Boyd claims to have driven the adults in his life crazy with questions about death. He believes his fascination over death was an attempt to understand “the nature of the soul.” He characterizes his early childhood beliefs as being “pre-adolescent nihilist.”
[11] Boyd believes he connected with the Virgin Mary so strongly because he missed and longed to have his own mother back in his life. At times, he would imagine he was been held in the Virgin’s arms, being cradled and looked at by her in a way that conveyed the tender, loving care that mothers bestow on her children This image helped Boyd get through a very tough childhood with a step-mother who showed no affection and physically abused him.
[12] Boyd’s atheism stemmed from the problem of evil. In other words, he “couldn’t believe in God because of all the suffering in the world.” His major problem was why would God take his biological mother away from him? Without having an answer at this time, he concluded that “[a]ny God that would take a little boy’s mother wasn’t worth believing in.” Boyd would later reconcile the problem of evil and God and write extensively about his solution to it.
[13] One such sermon, given by a professor at the University of Minnesota, proposed that Socrates was greater than Jesus Christ, because Socrates assisted “people [by helping] them discover their own inner greatness rather than making others dependent on their own insights.” Jesus, however, wanted people to dependent on what he said and did and consequently desired “his disciples to worship him as divine.” According to this professor, such an attitude was “not the behavior of a great man,” but merely self-aggrandized “megalomania.” This sermon led Boyd to wrestle with the question of whether Jesus was more than human or simply crazy. This early questioning of Jesus has led Boyd to intensively research and subsequently defend the evangelical view of the historical Jesus in several publications since the 1990s.
[14] Boyd was not affected by the message as much as he respected the fact that Kierkegaard was highly intelligent as well as a Christian. Until this point, Boyd had thought the phrase “Christian philosopher” was an oxymoron.
[15] Interestingly, Boyd accepted Christ in a “radical, holiness Pentecostal church” that had some very unorthodoxy doctrine, which Boyd eventually critiqued and rejected in his 1992 book entitled Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity. According to Boyd, the book came about as he began doing Bible studies at the request of some in this denomination, “who were beginning to question some of its teaching and who wanted help working through some of their doctrines.” Boyd, “Greg’s Story behind the Writing,” oneness-pentecostals-and-the-trinity/.
[16] Christus Victor Ministries, “Bio,” His dissertation was published in 1992 under the title Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne's Di-Polar Theism Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics. This book deals with the positive and negative aspects of Charles Hartshorne’s process theological understanding of the trinity. For a fuller description of the book, as well as insight into why Boyd wrote on this subject, see Christus Victor Ministries, “Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne's Di-Polar Theism Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics,” http://www.greg
[17] Woodland Hills Church, “A Brief Church History,” Boyd and his wife Shelley resisted the idea of starting a church for months, but ultimately decided to because they “didn’t see any church in the St. Paul area that had both passionate worship and solid preaching.” Boyd, “Email Responses to Questions,” January, 30, 2010.
[18] Christus Victor Ministries, “Welcome,” According to the Campus News of Bethel University, Boyd resigned in March 2002 “in order to direct his energies into his ministry at Woodland Hills Church.” Bethel University, “Campus News: Theology Professor Greg Boyd to Leave Bethel,” Boyd explains his leaving Bethel stating: “It was because of two interrelated things. First and foremost, I felt God calling me to let teaching go. It just dried up on me. I lost my zeal for it. Second, and related to this, I was frustrated because I never had enough time to do serious academic research and writing, not much writing
at a popular level, nor much outside speaking -- all things that I love and feel called to. Similarly, I never felt I had enough time to invest in my own spiritual growth. I was beginning to bottom out spiritually.” Boyd, “Email Responses to Questions, January, 30, 2010.
[19] Christus Victor Ministries, “Mission,”
[20] Christus Victor Ministries, “Welcome,”
[21] Boyd understands the importance of academics because “[i]deas slowly change the world.” On a more personal note, Boyd finds academia “FUN,” as he “just simply enjoys intellectually sparring.” Boyd, “Email Responses to Questions,” January, 30, 2010.
[22] In defending Boyd as a ministerial theologian, I am revealing a personal bias against high academic theological writing that has very little immediate application, because I believe Boyd has successfully been able to present even some of his most difficult academic writing into a form that is significantly relevant and life changing for a mass audience. I also call Boyd’s theology a ministry because he currently an active pastor.
[23] His published books on theodicy include: God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1997); Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001); Is God to Blame: Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Evil (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).
[24] Boyd’s book publications on the God’s providence include: God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000); “The Open-Theism View” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views ed. James K. Beilby and Paul Eddy, 13-47 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001).
[25] His published books on the historical Jesus include: Jesus Under Siege (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1995); Cynic Sage or Son of God: Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies (Wheaton, IL: Victor 1996); co-authored with Paul Rhodes Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007); co-authored with Paul Rhodes Eddy Lord or Legend?: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma (Baker Academic, 2007).
[26] His published books on the relationship between Christianity and politics include: The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006); The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
[27] This correspondence between father and son was published under the title Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 1994). In this book, Mr. Boyd’s correspondence is presented in plain font, while Dr. Boyd’s is presented in italics and only uses plain font for emphasis. For the purposes of this paper, citations by each will be presented in plain font with italics being used for emphasis.
[28] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 9.
[29] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 7.
[30] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 9.
[31] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 17-18.
[32] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 18.
[33] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 19.
[34] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 20.
[35] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 25.
[36] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 26.
[37] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 27.
[38] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 28.
[39] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 32.
[40] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 36, emphasis original.
[41] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 37.
[42] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 29.
[43] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 30.
[44] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 32.
[45] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 33, emphasis original.
[46] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 44-45.
[47] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 45, emphasis original.
[48] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 46.
[49] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 77.
[50] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 79. Limitations of space prevent looking at Dr. Boyd’s full description of the basic criteria used in examining historical documents to determine the authenticity and reliability of the Gospels. See Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 80-86 for this information.
[51] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 86.
[52] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 87.
[53] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 88.
[54] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 89, emphasis original.
[55] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 28.
[56] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 89.
[57] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 90.
[58] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 90-91.
[59] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 91.
[60] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 99.
[61] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 100, emphasis original.
[62] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 104.
[63] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 105. Space limitations prevent listing all the reasons Dr. Boyd gives his father to believe in the resurrection of Christ. His complete defense of the resurrection is found in Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 101-09.
[64] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 101.
[65] Boyd and Boyd, Letters, 113, emphasis original.
[66] Boyd’s Christian Nation book was based on the sermon series entitled “The Cross and the Sword.” Boyd, “Greg’s Story behind the Writing,”
[67] Allow Christ demonstrated God’s kingdom through love and sacrifice, he had the power and authority to force his will on others, as the world does, but chose not to so. Woodland Hills Church, “Study Guide,” 1.
[68] Boyd, “Greg’s Story behind the Writing,” In saying that Christians cannot align themselves with worldly political systems, Boyd is not proposing “that the kingdom of this world is…all bad.” Accordingly, “[t]he orderly structures of this world are designed to uphold justice and right behavior, and this is a good and necessary thing in a world where God is not universally accepted as Lord and obeyed.” Following Romans 13, Boyd points out “that we are to obey our leaders so long as it does not conflict with God’s will for us.” Therefore, there is a good and necessary reason for the world to have sound political structures that serve the good of the whole of the human race and all of creation.” So, participating in the political process is acceptable, as long as Christians “[d]on’t [allow themselves to] be co-opted by the world’s agendas and the methods the world uses to accomplish them.” Woodland Hills Church, “Study Guide,” 1.
[69] Woodland Hills Church, “Study Guide,” 2.
[70] Woodland Hills Church, “Study Guide,” 2.
[71] Boyd specifically mentions that these examples along with “the barbarism that characterized the early European conquest of America” were the catalysts which began to convince him the Kingdom of God could never be manifested through a worldly political system. Boyd, “Greg’s Story behind the Writing,”
[72] Woodland Hills Church, “Study Guide,” 2.
[73] Woodland Hills Church, “Study Guide,” 2. Although Boyd received a significant “amount of positive feedback” for his perspective on Christianity and politics, there was also significant backlash as “approximately 20% of [his]…congregation (roughly 1000 people) ended up leaving the church.” Boyd, “Greg’s Story behind the Writing,”
[74] Boyd calls the Christian religion a “myth,” because for too long people have believed that being Christian meant having the “right beliefs.” According to Boyd, however, “[t]he Kingdom’s revolt against religion…is a revolt against all attempts to get Life from particular beliefs,” because “the only source of Life is God, not the rightness of their beliefs.” Boyd, Christian Religion, 59-60, emphasis original. According to Boyd, “religion” is what so often leads Christ-followers to judge others rather than love them. He deals with the problem of religion extensively in his Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).
[75] It is important to point out that Boyd is not dismissing the idea that certain religious behaviors “may be important, true and helpful,” nor is he saying that certain political causes and agendas cannot “be noble, righteous, and effective.” Boyd, Christian Religion, 9-10.
[76] Boyd, Christian Religion, 175.
[77] The spiritual practice Boyd has spent the most time writing about is what he calls “imaginative prayer.” This type prayer is done when Christians use mental imagery to experience God through Christ ministering to us. The practice is to actually imagine Jesus talking, healing, and pasturing us in our prayer. For a full understanding of this type of prayer, see Gregory A. Boyd Seeing Is Believing: Experiencing Jesus through Imaginative Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005).
[78] Boyd, Christian Religion, 40.
[79] Boyd, Christian Religion, 46.
[80] Boyd, Christian Religion, 50, emphasis original.
[81] Boyd, Christian Religion, 58. Boyd includes those who view Christianity as a religion as well when they incorrectly think that beliefs define the core of Christianity rather living the way of life Christ taught us to live. Boyd, Christian Religion, 59-60.
[82] Boyd, Christian Religion, 70.
[83] Boyd, Christian Religion, 78.
[84] Boyd, Christian Religion, 89.
[85] Boyd, Christian Religion, 94.
[86] Boyd, Christian Religion, 95.
[87] Boyd, Christian Religion, 104.
[88] Boyd, Christian Religion, 108.
[89] Boyd, Christian Religion, 114.
[90] Boyd, Christian Religion, 116.
[91] Boyd, Christian Religion, 126.
[92] Boyd, Christian Religion, 130.
[93] Boyd, Christian Religion, 133.
[94] Boyd, Christian Religion, 142.
[95] Boyd, Christian Religion, 151.
[96] Boyd, Christian Religion, 154-56.
[97] Boyd, Christian Religion, 156.
[98] Boyd, Christian Religion, 157.
[99] Boyd, Christian Religion, 158. Boyd’s argues this point from Ephesians 5: 22-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:16-17. See Christian Religion, 159-60.
[100] Boyd, Christian Religion, 160.
[101] Boyd, Christian Religion, 161.
[102] Boyd, Christian Religion, 162.
[103] Boyd, Christian Religion, 164.
[104] Boyd, Christian Religion, 166.
[105] Boyd, Christian Religion, 172, emphasis original.
[106] Dr. Smith is currently associate professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan.
[107] Smith, “Replacing Rallies with Revivals,” 2
[108] Smith, “Rallies,” 3. I do not completely understand Smith’s second criticism of Boyd here. Therefore, I am quoting Smith’s comment at length for readers to evaluate and to which they can respond. Smith states: “Second, the Spirit's transformation of hearts is not the kind of magic that Boyd suggests. Rather, the Spirit works through material, embodied practices of sanctification and discipleship to form citizens of the kingdom of God. Without practices that ‘control behavior,’ the indwelling and transformative power of the Spirit often lies dormant. Without laws that challenge unfair systems, even Christians find it easy to overlook inequities.”
[109] All information from this section is found in unless otherwise notated.
[110] Boyd, “Trapped in a Constantinian Paradigm,” 2
[111] Boyd, “Trapped,” 1.
[112] Boyd, “Trapped,” 1, emphasis original.
[113] Boyd, “Trapped,” 1-2.
[114] So Boyd says that “the Church is to take responsibility to address issues of (for example) homelessness, hunger, racism, sexism, greed, social injustice, drug abuse, domestic violence, AIDS, etc. (see, e.g. Myth [of a Christian Nation] pages 115-16, 119-26; 141-46; 178-86).” Boyd, “Trapped,” 1.
[115] Boyd, “Trapped,” 1, emphasis original.
[116] Boyd, “Trapped,” 3.
[117] Boyd, “Trapped,” 4, emphasis original.
[118] Boyd, “Trapped,” 5, emphasis original.
[119] Oden, “The Real Reformers Are Traditionalists,” 3.
[120] Dr. Ware is currently professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky.
[121] Ware, “Defining Evangelicalism’s Boundaries Theologically,” 197.
[122] Ware, “Defining,” 198.
[123] Ware, “Defining,” 199.
[124] Ware, “Defining,” 200.
[125] Ware, “Defining,” 202.
[126] Ware, “Defining,” 203.
[127] Boyd, “Christian Love and Academic Dialogue,” 233, emphasis original.
[128] Boyd, “Academic Dialogue,” 235, emphasis original.
[129] Boyd, “Academic Dialogue,” 237.
[130] Boyd, “Academic Dialogue,” 238.
[131] Boyd looks to Isaiah 46:11, which says God will fulfill his intention, as well as Isaiah 48:3, which states God does declare things that actually come to pass as evidence that the 40-48 passage is referring solely to God’s ability to bring about what he says he can, and therefore not about foreknowledge.
[132] Boyd, “Academic Dialogue,” 240.
[133] Boyd, “Academic Dialogue,” 241.
[134] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Grand Rapids, MI: 1992), 3, 5-17.
[135] No where is Boyd’s respect for Scripture better seen than in his work on open theism. Boyd noticed that one of the arguments used to discredit the open view of God was the perception that it lacked sufficient grounding in Scripture. Therefore, Boyd worked intently to argue for open theism from an entirely biblical perspective his article in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. In his presentation, Boyd rightly points out that his “opening defense of the Open View is entirely biblical, in contrast to the other three who base most of their case on philosophical reasoning.” Boyd, “Greg’s Story behind the Defense,” http://www.gregboyd. org/books/divine-foreknowlege-4-views/.