Questions to Consider regarding Greg Boyd's Warfare Worldview

Compiled by Brian Lowther

The questions below were compiled for the panel discussion participants during the 2013 Ralph D. Winter Lectureship. These questions were intended to expose them to Boyd's key ideas and to the most common critiques and objections.

1. Theodicy

  • Boyd’s warfare worldview “is based on the conviction that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan. [Boyd] believe[s] this worldview best reflects the response to evil depicted throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus unequivocally opposed evils such as disease, demonization, and even natural disaster (i.e. Jesus rebuked the storm) as originating in the wills of Satan, fallen angels, and sinful people, rather than of God” (What is the Warfare Worldview). Thus the mystery of suffering resides not in God’s inscrutable will or a possible “dark streak” in God’s character, but in “the complexity of creation and the warfare that engulfs it” (224, Satan and the Problem of Evil). Do you find Boyd’s arguments to be a compelling theodicy?
  • If God is not ordaining all, then what assurance do we have? In other words, within the warfare worldview, what hope do we have when we find ourselves in the battles? The warfare worldview offers a unique understanding of the big problems of this world: the problem of evil and suffering, global problems like poverty, illiteracy, disease, corrupt governments, spiritual darkness, and environmental problems. But what insight does it offer into the day-to-day frustrations or disappointments. Those things become insignificant in the face of the bigger problems mentioned above. In light of this, the warfare worldview doesn’t offer optimism, peace, hope, encouragement, and the like. However the opposite worldview in which a specific divine reason lies behind every occurrence in history—even the most horrific experiences of suffering—has brought comfort to countless human beings down through the ages. Boyd would respond, “What this view may lose by way of providing believers with security it gains by way of inspiring believers to take responsibility.”
  • Is Boyd trying to “let God off the hook,” by suggesting that He is busy with a larger spiritual war, and cannot be expected to take care of every human problem and pain?

2. Isn’t God Complicit? Does the warfare worldview assign too much power to Satan?

  • Are you convinced by Boyd’s argument that the Devil is ultimately responsible for the tragedies in the world? How does his view make sense of texts like the book of Job. In Job, it’s very clear that Satan caused all of Job’s suffering. It also seems that God controls every move Satan makes such that when Job says “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21), the narrator says that “in all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10; cf. 1:22). In other words, even though Satan was at work to destroy Job’s life through a series of calamities, Job did not err when he said that the Lord was ultimately behind everything that happened to him.
  • Expanding on the last question, didn’t the Father will the murder of his Son Jesus through the evil wills of Satan and sinners as Peter says in his Acts sermons? In what sense can anything, good or evil, happen without God’s permission, allowance, granting, like Satan’s attacking Job? Didn’t Satan have to get God’s permission slip? If anything can occur in creation apart from God’s permission slip, isn’t Jesus’ categorical declaration ‘no sparrow falling to the ground apart from the will of the Father’ thereby nullified as a false witness?
  • Expanding on the question even further, Dave Datema, director of the Frontier Ventures states, “Ultimately, God created angels with the ability to sin, which Satan did. So in that sense, God is to ‘blame.’ He did NOT have to create angels with the ability to sin. The same is true for us. Yet we recognize a certain beauty in creating things with free will as opposed to robotic impulse. To me, this discussion always ends up at the point of discerning where God’s sovereignty ends and where human free will begins. I think it is impossible for us to know that. JI Packer called it an ‘antinomy,’ something that is there in Scripture but cannot be fully comprehended. Therefore, I’d rather admit that we don’t know the ‘ultimate’ answers on exactly who is the ’cause’ of evil. But can’t we agree that Satan is definitely trying to steal, kill and destroy and that God desires life and peace? I think we can encourage people to respond and fight evil without trying to prove that Satan is the ultimate cause of all disease. That gives him more power than he has. And if he is the ultimate cause, then God as his Creator is complicit. He knowingly created a creature that could devise and perform evil. So I don’t see how God can be left out of the picture. I don’t think it is that simple.” Are you in agreement with Dave? If Satan is ultimately behind all evil and suffering, how does Boyd explain the numerous Old Testament accounts of God being violent, arbitrary and severe? e.g., in the lives of Noah (destructive worldwide flood sent by God directly), Abraham (tests arranged by God), Joseph (persecution, enslavement, imprisonment orchestrated by God), Moses (plagues, death of firstborn, annihilation of Egyptian army, punishment of wicked Israelites, wilderness wanderings and trials (ALL caused by God Himself), or the New Testament examples such as the Crucifixion (designed by God using evil Roman and Jewish instruments), Ananias and Sapphira, Herod’s death, etc. For an answer, check out some of Boyd’s most recent thinking. Here is a good summary.
  • Within the warfare worldview, what would explain why God hardens hearts in the Old Testament?
  • How does the warfare worldview deal with Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2Cor.12) where God allows a messenger from Satan to torment the Apostle Paul? Though Paul pleaded with God three times for its removal (which only He could do/allow), God responded with the key to Christian suffering, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My Power is made Perfect in your weakness.”
  • How does the warfare material deal with Romans 8:20, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope…” Some interpret this verse to mean that the world with all of its suffering and natural disasters has been subjected to futility not of its own will, not of Satan’s will, but on account of the one who subjected it IN HOPE. This can only be God, right?

3. Our Role in the War

  • Boyd argues that our understanding of the origins of evil determines our posture towards it; do we passively succumb to an evil that is providentially ordained, or do we war and rail against an evil that has been there right from the beginning as enemy of our souls (and bodies, and lives)? How can we war and rail against Satan? Boyd answers this question in detail in his article, A WarTorn Creation. Elsewhere he answers the question more succinctly: “Christians are called to wage spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10–17) against evil through prayer, evangelism, and social action.” Do you have a different answer? How does his answer apply in your context? Let me also point your attention to Dr. Winter’s thinking on this subject in Beth Snodderly’s Ralph D. Winter’s Warfare Worldview.
  • Expanding on the previous question, most Christians understand that there is a real spiritual war going on all around us. We hear sermons about it, we read books about it, and some of us even actually experience it. But even with our head knowledge of the spiritual realm, we seem to take it lightly in our daily living. It’s not like we talk about it all the time, or even refer to it in our conversations. Though we know it exists, we appear to be more comfortable ignoring it. It’s kind of a downer. But if we really lived as though life is war, how different would our lives be? What types of choices would we make? Would they be radically different from the types of choices we make now? Would we feel more urgency about kingdom business? Would we purchase different things, wear different things, speak in different ways, be different people? What kind of impact does it really make in our lives? If any? And if it doesn’t, why not? Is God sitting up on his throne, pulling out his hair in frustration that we don’t take it more seriously? Is he knocking at our heads and hearts, yelling, “Hey, there’s a war going on!” How seriously are we supposed to take it? And what does taking it seriously look like?

4. Dualism

  • Boyd has stated that his view is not ontologically dualistic, because while the Bible clearly articulates war between good and evil, it also clearly articulates God’s sovereignty. The battle that is currently raging is not everlasting, and when it ends, we are assured of God’s victory. In fact, the victory has already been won in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:13–14), but the demise of evil has not yet been fully realized. Do you think he differentiates his view enough from pagan dualism or Zoroastrianism?

5. Augustinian and Hellenistic Influences

  • Boyd argues that our current, inherited theodicy wrongly indicts God in a hyper-sovereignty model of Providence, and detracts from the primary source of evil, Satan himself, as outlined by the Patristic and Biblical sources. He argues that it is the Augustinian framework and before that the rubrics of Hellenistic philosophy that have shaped theodicy as we understand it today. Do you agree with this historical summary?

6. Inspiration of Scripture

  • Boyd speaks of Isaiah “reworking the cultural stories” to create his biblical accounts (God at War, 159). He claims that much of the Old Testament conceptions of Satan are merely the reworking of pagan myths. Doesn’t this bring into question the inspiration of Scripture, e.g., all Scripture is really God breathed (see 2 Timothy 3:16)?

7. Prayer

  • Within the warfare worldview, what is the place of prayer? John Piper refers to prayer as, “a wartime walkie talkie for spiritual warfare, not a domestic intercom to increase the comforts of the saints.” He explains that we as soldiers can grab hold of prayer and call on God for courage.  We can call on God for troop deployment and target location.  We can call on God for air cover and protection, as well as for firepower to blast open a way for the Word.  We can use prayer to call on supplies for the forces that are on the field.  And prayer is our communication link for needed reinforcements.  And, yes, finally (getting back to all those requests for relief and healing)… finally, we can pray for the miracle of healing for soldiers who become wounded in this spiritual battle, asking God for not only physical healing, but increase of faith in the midst of the pain. While this analogy is a good one, it doesn’t answer questions such as, why do some prayers go unanswered while others are answered? Why do some prayers fail when the prayers of others come true? Boyd would answer that Scripture teaches that our prayers can be strengthened or inhibited by multiple factors, including: God’s will (1 John 5:14, James 4:3, Mt 26:39, 2 Cor 12:7-10), the faith of the person being prayed for (Mark 6:5-6, Mt 9:22, Lk 7:50, Lk 17:19), the faith of people praying for others (Lk 5:20, Mt 8:13, Mk 9:14-19, James 1:6-7), the persistence of prayer (Lk 11:5-9, Lk 18:1-8, 1 Thess 5:17), the number of people praying (Mt 18:19-20), human free will (1 Tim 2:4-6, 4:10, 2 Pet 3:9),1 angelic free will (Dan 10:12-13, 1 Thess 2:17-18), the number and strength of spirit agents involved (2 Kings 6:16-17, Mk 5:1-9), and the presence of sin (1 Pet 3:7, Mk 11:25).

8. Is Boyd too rigid with the warfare view of Scripture? 

  • D.A. Carson claims that Boyd chooses passages and draws debatable inferences from them in such a way that other passages have to be radically re-interpreted. “For example, in God at War, in his opening treatment of Daniel and his prayer, Boyd infers that God’s answer might have been delayed by more than three weeks if Michael had not intervened, and that the delay itself lies beyond God’s will and Daniel’s faith in the realm of the machinations of evil angels. But none of these inferences is necessary. They presuppose the conclusions Boyd wishes to draw. No one doubts the delay: That is what the text affirms. But is it necessary to infer that the machinations of the evil angels that were the immediate cause of the delay were entirely outside God’s control or will? Or that Michael’s intervention not only prevented further delay, but did so independently of God’s control or will? Again and again Boyd draws inferences that are valid only if his conclusions about God are valid…”
  • While the battle between good and evil is present in modern cultures, ancient cultures, and spiritual movements, does that mean that it is a major view of the Bible? i.e., Is  the warfare view a part of biblical worldview, or is it the major view?
  • Can’t the incarnation be expressed as an exegesis of Yahweh (John 1:14–18) as truth and love, rather than the coming of a warrior?
  • Boyd seems to suggest suffering is always a result of a battle with evil. But how does that square with a God who finds purpose in suffering?
  • Isn’t resisting (rather than fighting) the devil and submitting to God what produces freedom from the adversary (James 4:7)?
  • Do you agree with Boyd that the warfare worldview remains an untried hypothesis and “should not be raised to the level of a doctrine.”

9. Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor

  • Many Christians believe that penal substitution is the central meaning of Christ’s atoning work. Boyd maintains that the Christus Victor view is the central meaning of Christ’s work. What is your take?

10. Demonology

  • Greg believes sin and evil are our doing, but our doing them is instigated and empowered by Satan and his minions.  Greg takes this into the social realm and argues that the powers and principalities are behind social oppression and exploitation. Do you agree?If one adopts Boyd’s warfare worldview, how can one avoid seeing “a demon behind every bush?”
  • Similar to the last question, do demons precisely instigate human evil or is it more like they just work with the material we give them? For example, could the egoism that lead to the bitterness and resentment that finally resulted in the holocaust already have been resident in human hearts, with demons merely recognizing that and in some way fueling the fire. An understanding like that may be necessary to avoid “the devil made me do it” thinking, without denying the reality of demonic influence.
  • There is a spectrum of opinion about spiritual warfare with Boyd on one end and Walter Wink on the other. The difference is that while Greg believes the powers and principalities are personal beings, Wink believes they are social realities–systems that oppress and exploit people.  They are “violence-prone systems of power and domination.”  He invests them with almost personal reality while stopping short of viewing them as personal entities such as the Bible depicts and as Greg Boyd believes. Where you do you fall on this spectrum?
  • Boyd would say that our post-Enlightenment worldviews have significantly withheld from our minds the deeply pervasive, complex, unseen reality of spirits in the cosmos. In God at War, Boyd helpfully opens our eyes to this reality by bringing us back to the spiritually laden mindsets of Jesus, the biblical writers, the post-apostolic writers, and other third world cultures where the spiritual realm is just as real as the physical.  In doing so, he exposes our tendency to leave out “the Lucifer principle” when considering the war-torn world in which we find ourselves and the naturalistic explanations we often give to make sense of it. Many Christians are open to the idea that angelic forces (Satan or otherwise) might have influence on human beings in bringing personal evil to the world; but these same individuals have difficulty acknowledging that similar spiritual forces may be behind sickness, disease and the natural evils in the environment in which we live (e.g. earthquakes, tornados, etc.), and often leave these events to the Newtonian laws of physics and such.  In this sense, they live in a split world where the intimately personal Creator God rules human beings while the Deistic clock-maker God rules the natural environment. Do you have any difficulty attributing disease or violence in nature to Satan?

11. Free Will

  • Why doesn’t God more speedily intervene in response to our suffering? Boyd would allude to free will for an answer, suggesting, God would love to help but can’t because he has tied his own hands in deference to a view of freedom. In Letters from a Skeptic he explains, “Look at it this way: If I give Denay five dollars, can I completely control the way she spends it? If I stepped in every time she was going to spend this money unwisely, is it really her money at all? Did I really give her anything? [...] So too, if God really gives us freedom, it must be, at least to a large extent, irrevocable. He must have, within limits, a ‘hands-off’ attitude toward it. God creates free people who can do as they please, not determined instruments who always end up doing what he pleases.”But isn’t this beside the point? Imagine Denay decides to spend her five dollars to buy a knife with the intention of stabbing the next-door neighbor, or uses it along with some other funds to buy some recreational drugs. Is Boyd going to see this purchase and go “Oh well, it’s her money, she should spend it however she wants…?” Of course not. He is going to intervene as a father and put a stop to this. Indeed, fathers who wouldn’t are often deemed negligent and unfit to raise children. It’s one thing to control your child down to the last detail, making sure she avoids spending it on candy. It’s another thing to let her do whatever she wants, even if it is to physically injure other people or do recreational drugs. And this is analogous to much of the evil from human actions that God allegedly gives us a blank check to do whatever we want. It’s one thing for God to control the nitty-gritty, but another thing to not intervene at all when sickos rape and murder other people. Indeed, we humans spend a large amount of money creating a well-equipped police force specifically so we can intervene and stop the sicko’s free will ourselves.
  • Expanding on the previous question, why does God allow humans and angels so much latitude to cause so much harm? What is the long-term good? Is the risk of freedom worth all the suffering?
  • Is it possible not to have sin, in a universe based upon free will?

12. Restoration Theory

  • Boyd insists in God at War that mythological monsters (Leviathan, Rahab and Behemoth) are connected with creation accounts (e.g. Job 40–41), in which God is in a battle even to bring the creation into being. How should one reconcile this with Genesis 1, which so powerfully asserts that what God made was good?
  • Boyd “tentatively proposes” that we adopt a version of the gap theory, which he prefers to style “the restoration theory.” God fought the monsters to bring the universe into existence, and the world was without form and void, and then God won, and the result was good. So in this light, there has been warfare from creation. In this view, neither the command to subdue the earth nor the sudden appearance of Satan in the garden is surprising: “the earth . . . is birthed, as it were, in an infected incubator. It is fashioned in a warfare context. It is itself altogether good, but it is made and preserved over and against forces that are perpetually hostile to it, just as the other creation-conflict passages of Scripture suggest” (p. 107). Yet Boyd admits that this proposal is in part speculative, and he does not want his entire position to be made dependent upon it (p. 113). What’s your take on this proposal? To see some of Boyd’s more recent thinking on this subject check out his review of Dr. Winter’s speculative attempts at a restoration theory. To see Winter’s essay where he fleshes out his view, click here.