By David Shive
"Everything Jesus did was an act of war."
These words of Greg Boyd underscore the theme of the recent Ralph D. Winter Lectureship (April 2013) on the campus of the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that noted author, Greg Boyd, would headline the 2013 Lectureship and promptly scheduled a hasty 72-hour round trip from Baltimore to Pasadena, CA, and back.
Pastor, philosopher, scholar, writer, and drummer - Greg Boyd has made a name for himself in recent years, primarily through his writings on spiritual warfare, openness theology, and apologetics. He is admittedly a non-Calvinist, which is central and necessary to his warfare worldview.
Boyd opened the lectureship with the fascinating story of his own personal journey from nihilism, agnosticism, and despair into trust in Christ. After coming to faith in Christ, Greg's journey was just beginning as God graciously began to educate him in the world of spiritual warfare. It was then, while trying to help a demonized young lady, that he discovered an earned PhD. in theology from Princeton was insufficient preparation for dealing with demonism. As he told his story, I found myself tracking with him. I appreciated his honesty and vulnerability in sharing his struggle to overcome the deficit in his training to take seriously the activity of demons and Satan in their sabotaging of God's creation.
At the core of Boyd's concern is the problem of evil. In light of the Bible's portrait of the existence of a good God, how can we reckon with evil's prevalence? This is a theme that should be of more than passing interest to those who are passionate about the advance of the kingdom of God. Boyd maintains that a biblical view of evil is vital if we are to hang onto God's beauty without attributing evil to him. The alternative is to live with a "vacation mindset" and be AWOL from the war zone. A wartime worldview forces us to live with intentionality in the face of evil (II Tim. 2:4).
This brings us to the problems that confront Calvinism. Boyd feels that holding to a view of "omni-control" (Reformed theology, often known as "Calvinism" or "determinism," which suggests that God's sovereignty requires him to control and manipulate all things) renders one unable to have a coherent biblical view of God and evil. Because Calvinism believes God controls all things, determinism must necessarily conclude that God wills evil, even though it is contrary to his will. But if we define a person's character by what he wills, how can God's willing of evil not only be incoherent, but reflect badly on him?
Because Calvinism believes God controls all things, determinism must necessarily conclude that God wills evil, even though it is contrary to his will.
Greg describes this "omni-control" determinism as the post-Augustinian "classical blueprint view", the belief that there is a good, specific, divine reason behind each and every event that comes to pass - both good and evil. Determinism has the conviction that history is the outworking of a meticulous divine blueprint.
This classical blueprint view goes like this: (1) God could have prevented everything that comes to pass; (2) since a. God can will only good and, b. he wills all things and, c. there is evil, then all evil must be good; (3) therefore, evil is part of God's good plan.
In contrast, Boyd's perspective is that the Bible takes a much less complicated approach to the problem of evil. He believes that there are a multiplicity of wills at play, and all evil ultimately originates in wills other than God's. His contention is that there is no such thing as "natural evil." All evil is "moral" and originates from the mind of an evil personality.
Ultimately the warfare worldview that Boyd advocates places a high priority on spiritual battle, confronting the powers of darkness, aggressive love, and prayer. The default setting for followers of Jesus should be to fight.
Out of this perspective arises the issue of egalitarianism. For Boyd, there is a seamless connection between following Jesus into battle and standing against all oppression. Boyd believes that the kingdom of darkness' has an agenda to suppress and oppress women, and those who follow Jesus will be determined to liberate women from gender role limitations. His egalitarian views surfaced in his exegesis of Gen. 3:16, where he takes the position that the phrase "...and he shall rule over you..." is addressing the tyrannical tendencies of men to oppress women. Boyd does not believe complementarianism (the belief gender roles are divinely established) can be supported from Genesis 3.
Boyd believes that the kingdom of darkness' has an agenda to suppress and oppress women, and those who follow Jesus will be determined to liberate women from gender role limitations.
As a complementarian, I find this slant on the text problematic. Boyd's opinion that the Hebrew word for "rule" means "tyranny" is actually an exegetical fallacy involving taking one meaning for a word and superimposing that meaning on all texts wherever that word occurs. Further, his conclusions do not mesh well at all with the context, especially Genesis 4:7. There is a coherent complementarian theology that is faithful to Scripture and not oppressive to women. This issue deserved more time and a more-rounded treatment than it received at the lectureship.
Nevertheless, my disagreement with his egalitarian view does not diminish my support for his general warfare theodicy, but it does illustrate that not everyone in attendance was in full agreement with all of Greg's positions.
And all of this was just for starters on Friday morning...
Greg discussed Jesus' warfare program, which was to preach and demonstrate the kingdom, confronting spiritual evil and darkness wherever it appeared.
Based on the model of Jesus, Boyd gave his conclusion that, if everything that Jesus did was an act of love and an act of war, then self-sacrificial love is our only and highest ideal. This is an excellent approach to warfare.
Greg stated that if one follows Jesus into battle, that person will never engage in violence (Boyd's pacifism is, for him, a direct implication derived from loving as Jesus loved). I have never read Boyd's defense of pacifism, and don't know the extent to which he takes this issue. Unfortunately Boyd did not develop this idea sufficiently to understand the full scope of his pacifistic views. I would like to hear more from Greg about his perspective on the Allied violent intervention in bringing an end to the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust; or how he would view any person who intervenes and uses violence to stop the abuse of a child or the beating or rape of a woman.
In summary: I find Boyd's rejection of Calvinism refreshing and necessary to a robust warfare worldview that properly accounts simultaneously for a good God and evil in the world. Boyd's derivative complementarian and pacifist views, though legitimate and held by many Christians, are not essential to the warfare worldview that he espouses.
I find Boyd's rejection of Calvinism refreshing and necessary to a robust warfare worldview that properly accounts simultaneously for a good God and evil in the world.
Here Greg had two objectives. First, he explained the 6 premises undergirding his warfare theodicy (which are fully developed in his book, Satan and the Problem of Evil).
Second, he concluded with a brief lecture on "Job and the Problem of Evil: Understanding why we can't even understand why." Job's question is "Why does life - even God's interactions with us - seem so arbitrary?" Boyd believes Job's answer is: "we don't know, and we have to be okay saying 'I don't know'."
I felt that this lectureship was a worthy use of the Frontier Mission Fellowship's [the RWI's parent organization] time and resources, and fully consistent with the mission of the Roberta Winter Institute. In the evangelical world, Reformed theology has wide popularity; and yet I find in Reformed circles that most who hold to Reformed determinism have had little opportunity to be exposed to or challenged by a viable alternative theological system. So it is good to see the Frontier Mission Fellowship giving credence and visibility to a non-Reformed scholar who can so capably present a coherent biblical and theological perspective on God and evil in the world.
And, of course, the bottom line is this: we in the Frontier Mission Fellowship are passionate to see the Kingdom come and God's will be done. It is encouraging to see that we can long for that outcome with a sane and reasonable warfare worldview, and without acting in resigned piety at the evil that is impeding the progress of Jesus' kingdom.
David Shive is a mission mobilizer with the Frontier Ventures in Baltimore, MD.