Thesis: Implications of Boyd’s Warfare Theodicy

I had a thought tonight regarding possible implications of Boyd’s Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, and I need work them out. Please bear with me.

Boyd asserts that the reason that God allows Satan to continue to choose evil in the world is because it is required by the nature of true freedom. If God gave us free will, but revoked that will as soon as we made the wrong choice, we didn’t actually have free will at all. Further, he claims that for us to be truly free we must have the same ability to influence the world for evil as we do for good: the more good someone is capable of, the more evil they must also be capable of. And further still, he claims that for our freedom to be genuine we must also have a duration or span of time over which we can exercise our influence that corresponds to the amount of influence that we have.

To make this more concrete: Satan was supposedly God’s second-in-command, the most beautiful and powerful of all of the angels, given authority over the entire earth (as he himself claims when tempting Jesus). He has unparalleled ability for good (next to the triune God, of course), and therefore he also has unparalleled ability for evil. He was created with this incredible ability, and creating creatures with free will is a gamble; in this case, Satan went bad and we’re all feeling the effects. If God were to retract Satan’s freedom, or more directly, simply kill Satan, the free will that God bestows upon his creatures would be a sham, and all real relationship between God and his creatures would fall apart.

Now, Boyd claims that Satan fell long before human beings were created, and that we were created as a part of God’s plan to take back creation from Satan (without violating Satan’s free will). Satan was given dominion over the earth, abused it and rebelled against God (and perverted creation as a part of this rebellion); God fought against Satan and his forces, decimating the earth in the process of subduing Satan, and then re-creating the earth out of the ashes and creating humans as his new representatives to rule over it (see my previous post for a brief discussion of Boyd’s tentative support of the Gap Theory of creation in support of this view). But Satan returned, corrupted human beings, and resumed his dominion over the earth. Now, on to implications and speculations!

This view implies that human beings were plan B (or XYZ, for all we know). Open Theists are okay with this notion, holding that by allowing for the free wills of his creatures, God inherently allows for multiple ways for us to enact his plan, and that even God cannot (or need not) know exactly how everything will happen even if he knows how it will end. I for one am okay with the notion that God might not know how long it will take for his desired ends to occur; it might take a few billion years and a few million “plan B’s” for people to come around, but eventually God’s plan for the earth and perfect relationship with humanity will come about in such a way that it does not require the overriding of his creatures’ free wills. I don’t feel like this makes God any less sovereign, only more patient!

But here’s the other implication: if God originally created angelic beings to represent his dominion and authority over the earth, and then later gave that role to human beings after the fall of those angels, this particular “plan B” seems to imply that God is working in a specific way, namely, investing moral agency and dominion in creatures of lesser power and influence.

Satan was given dominion, and had incredible and unmatched power among all created beings. His fall means incredible levels of evil in the world, and so his freedom entailed a bigger risk than, say, my freedom. If God created human beings after Satan fell, and gave us dominion as he had previously given Satan dominion, this implies that God has replaced Satan with a far less risky type of steward. Rather than one incredibly powerful creature, God has created billions of relatively puny and powerless creatures who can only match Satan’s power when acting collectively. Is this divine risk management in action?

Then, seeing that we have incredible power when acting collectively, Satan corrupts our systems (the Powers), using us (to amplify his power?) for collective evil. So we have our God-given power to choose good or evil and a relatively small amount of influence either way, but Satan is empowering us for collective evil. God, seeing this, breaks Satan’s power through the cross and empowers us with his own Spirit, so that collectively we might have not just the power of the agency that he gave us, and not just (or not even, when we are set free from sin) the empowerment of Satan for collective evil action, but we now have the power of God himself for collective good action (i.e. the power to be the Church, the collective embodiment of Jesus Christ on the earth).

The implication, then, is that God is managing his risks by investing his dominion in less powerful creatures, diffusing the power for evil over many free agents rather than a few more powerful ones. In so doing he has also diffused the power for good over many agents, lessening the effectiveness of his agents.

When God created humans, he created democracy.

Or bureaucracy. Probably both.

In this way, he could maintain the free will of his creatures while still safeguarding his creation. Human beings depose or kill monarchs or autocrats who abuse their power; God gives us irrevocable power and the ability to use it freely, but created a system in which the fallenness of a few will not destroy the whole. Meanwhile, our dignity is not less than that of an angel so long as we are able to act collectively, as collectively we embody Christ himself, and collectively we are adopted as children of God, and collectively we hold dominion over the earth.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as my own are only half formed. It seems to be a strong call to the Church, leading to a robust ecclesiology. It seems to apply ethics, something that is usually applied to individuals, at a collective level. I should note that I didn’t get the notions of collectivity from Boyd; it just seemed to arise from the implications of what Boyd was saying about levels of influence, and the implied notion that we are plan B for God’s dominion on the earth. What do you think?

Thesis: Boyd on Natural Evil

Gregory Boyd’s aim in God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil is to solve the problem of evil by appeal to the evil free wills of spiritual beings, i.e. Satan. In this fashion he also explains “natural evil,” something that Wink only alludes to in his theology of the Powers. I’ll give you a brief rundown of Boyd’s thought on the subject, which is taken mostly from Satan and the Problem of Evil.

Nature exhibits many “evil” traits: tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters cause incredible destruction; animals kill each other, often not even for food, frequently with a type of sadistic playfulness; disease kills and cripples millions; and, of course, the very fact of death itself. These things do not square well with our notion of an all-loving Creator who raises the dead and heals the sick. In the New Testament, death is called “an enemy” and Jesus rebukes illnesses and violent winds in the same way that he rebukes demons. Indeed, for Jesus, healings, exorcisms, and the forgiveness of sins are all used interchangeably: all are expressions of rebuking the kingdom of this world and asserting the presence of the Kingdom of God. Paul tells us that all creation groans, longing to be set free from its bondage. Clearly there is something wrong with the world.

Traditionally we’ve affirmed that God cursed the ground because of Adam and Eve’s sin as a type of punishment, making it harder for them to work the land and survive outside Eden. Boyd doesn’t mention it, but it says “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17), which seems to imply that Adam caused this curse, and need not imply that God enacted it at all (i.e. maybe it’s the natural result of sin in the world?). I’m sure Rick will correct my implication with a better reading of the Hebrew 😉 In any case, the traditional view is that God cursed the earth because of Adam’s sin, and that’s why animals are carnivorous (Genesis says that they were herbivorous before the Fall) and we deal with natural disasters.

But why would God curse the earth he had just created, making it do all of these evil things? We’re left with either the notion that “natural” evil is not evil at all (tell that to the victims of natural disasters), or that God brings this evil on us as a punishment for sin, or as I implied above, that this is the result of human sin. In an era of climate change, it’s easy to see how human sinfulness can result in killer weather – but I doubt Adam had difficulty farming the land because eating apples increased his carbon footprint, causing climate change! Boyd doesn’t even refer to the notion of human sin causing natural evil, for the very reason (I’m sure) that it makes no sense in an ancient context. And he’s spent the rest of the book arguing that God doesn’t do evil things, so that one’s off the table. Boyd addresses the notion that natural evil isn’t evil at all, along with several other attempts to explain it, but ultimately ends up with a solution that nobody else tends to see: rather than saying that “natural evil” is not actually evil, he points out that it’s not actually “natural” – i.e. that there is a cause behind natural evil, and it’s the same cause as all other evil: Satan.

I mentioned a little while back that Boyd tentatively affirms a “Gap Theory” of creation – that is, that between Genesis 1:1, in which God creates everything out of nothing, and Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit of God hovers over the deep, there are aeons of time during which God created angelic beings, Satan rebelled against God and took a whole bunch of angels with him, and a cosmic battle was fought that ended with the decimation of all the earth, and Satan subdued. This explains why the creation of angels is not mentioned in Genesis, but is instead assumed; why the world is “formless and void”, a phrase used elsewhere (e.g. Jeremiah 4:23) to describe a place after God has judged (i.e. destroyed) it; why there are already “waters,” which are almost always symbolic of the forces of chaos; why God told the first humans to “subdue” the earth and “guard” the garden; and why an evil serpent appeared out of nowhere in the midst of God’s good creation. It also makes better use of the many other creation accounts in the OT, most of which are just as violent as the other Ancient Near East creation accounts, in which God triumphs over the forces of chaos personified in “the sea” or “rahab” – a serpent. He suggests that perhaps “the Genesis narrative begins where other ancient Near Eastern and other biblical accounts end, namely, when the battle between God and his foe had just come to an end” (Satan and the Problem of Evil, 316, n.41). He suggests that perhaps the Spirit of God hovers over the waters in order to keep them in check.

Using this take on the creation of the world, Boyd is not only able to affirm the amount of time required for evolution, but he can also affirm the aeons of death required for evolution to take effect. He quotes one philosopher to the effect of saying that Satan has perverted God’s plan for evolution itself (though I fail to see how evolution could occur without death). The point is that though God created everything to be good, Satan and his cohorts poison and ruin everything. The overall goodness of the world can still be affirmed while acknowledging that it is far from perfect, that it is fallen. Boyd says that this is why everything is fallen.

He’s careful to point out that this is not a solution to how evil spiritual forces cause natural evil. In the same way that we do not know how our “self” controls our brain, or how God (who is spirit) interacts with the world (which is matter), science cannot explain how evil spiritual forces cause “natural” evil to occur, nor can this theory. What it does affirm is that there is a cause for evil in the world, that it is a rational extension of the existence of moral evil, and that God (and even humans) are not ultimately to blame for it. Whether it implies that Satan somehow corrupted plate tectonics and weather patterns to create natural disasters billions of years ago and we’re still feeling the effects, or whether it implies that he’s personally at the helm of tornadoes is beside the point.

I don’t think that this reading depends at all on the Gap Theory (or “restoration reading”, and Boyd calls it) of creation. Boyd thinks that it fits best, and I’m still quite intrigued by it, but we don’t need it to affirm a pre-Genesis fall of Satan, particularly in mythological readings of Genesis. So say what you will about his gap theory, I see no major problems with the general notion that demonic influence is behind so-called natural evil.

We can draw a few important lessons from this. First of all, claims that victims of natural disasters are being punished for particularly heinous sins (a la Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) are thrown out the window. We don’t need to affirm that God indiscriminately wipes out large groups of people in order to talk about sin and judgment, and we certainly don’t need to judge people who are already the victims of “natural” evil as being sinful. Secondly, we don’t need to get caught up in debate over how God created the world (because the evidence of millions of years of death seem to contradict the notion that God created the world without death); if Satan had his dirty hands in it from early enough, it’s easy to affirm that creation is tainted while still affirming God’s declaration that it is good. And third, this is yet another example of how we need to stop separating the physical from the spiritual: spirit and matter are intertwined, whether good or evil, and we should not shy away from the notion that some spiritual beings (e.g. Satan) have some of the same abilities to affect the world as others (e.g. angels, and even God). Conversely, we should not be surprised at the notion that we physical beings also have the ability to affect spiritual realities (e.g. through prayer and ethical action and sacramental praxis), and that we as spiritual beings can affect physical realities (e.g. miracles through prayers and faith).

So the next time you see someone with cancer, or the victim of a freak accident, or a natural disaster on the news, don’t be angry at God. Be angry along with God, and get on your knees to join in the fight (see my previous post about prayer).

Thesis: Common Ground on Prayer

After a few weeks of overwhelming work schedule, I’m finally back on the thesis train. Hallelujah!

The point of my thesis is that, though Wink and Boyd have quite different notions of what types of entities are involved in spiritual conflict, their ethics are the same. The first half of the thesis shows how different their theologies are, and the second half shows how similar their responses to those theologies are – that is, how they believe we ought to respond to those realities. I was relieved, while reading Satan and the Problem of Evil by Greg Boyd tonight, to see just how right I was about this overlap in regard to prayer: he quotes Wink about a dozen times in this chapter.

Prayer is something that I’ve always struggled with. Jesus tells us that God knows what we need before we even ask for it, but then later tells us to be persistent to the point of being annoying in asking God for things. It has always suggested to me that God knows what we want, is able to grant it, but withholds it until we beg for it. Naturally, I don’t like this image of God. I’ve taken solace for the last several years in the notion that prayer is more about us aligning our wills to God’s will; rather than prayer being about us changing God, it’s a way for God to change us. I still believe that this happens to a large extent: pick something important that you don’t particularly care about, like a person or company or nation you find to be annoying or  belligerent, and pray for them every day for a month, and then see how you feel about them. Prayer is a conversation with God, and though we don’t hear God’s responses audibly, they do influence us; I believe that they do so by making us care about what God cares about, and making us see others in the way that God sees them.

But this doesn’t account for the way scripture portrays prayer, particularly the passages in which people successfully change God’s mind. Abraham and Moses stopped God from killing large numbers of people, begging for leniency and grace when the people didn’t deserve it. There are times God says that he looked all over for someone to intercede on the behalf of those people whom God was about to judge, and couldn’t find anyone (Ezekiel 22:29-31). The former passages sh0w that God can be influenced by human beings; the latter shows that God wants to be influenced by human beings. Indeed, it’s hard to make sense out of prayer, and especially about the way scripture portrays prayer, if it doesn’t actually influence God or earthly events. As Wink puts it,

If we are to take the biblical understanding seriously at all, intercession…changes the world, and it changes what is possible to God. – Engaging the Powers, 302.

Reflecting similarly on Daniel 10, Wink had previously noted that

The point here seems to be that Daniel’s intercessions have made possible the intervention of God. Prayer changes us, but it also changes what is possible for God. Daniel’s cry was heard on the first day; it opened an aperture for God to act in concert with human freedom. It inaugurated war in heaven. – Unmasking the Powers, 91.

We can come to the same conclusion from the other side: why do some prayers go unanswered?

Prayer involves not just God and people, but God and people and the Powers. What God is able to do in the world is hindered, to a considerable extent, by the rebelliousness, resistance, and self-interest of the Powers exercising their freedom under God. – Engaging the Powers, 311.

I’ve said that Wink and Boyd have common ground on this issue. In fact, all of the quotes above were taken from Satan and the Problem of Evil by Gregory Boyd, who relies on Wink more than any other source in chapter seven of this book. But Boyd isn’t just repeating Wink, though he quotes him extensively; he goes beyond Wink’s thought in this regard, filling in the blanks.

Wink is adamant that prayer changes God, and even that God (at times) needs prayer in order to be able to act. He implies that, because of the God-given freedom of human and spiritual beings, God’s ability to act in a situation is enhanced by partnership with other actors; in a sense, when we pray we are giving God permission to get more directly involved. The argument could be made that when God gets directly, miraculously involved in a situation, it impinges on the freedoms of the other agents involved; prayer is an acknowledgement of this, a way for us to freely give up our God-given freedom so that God can exercise greater influence over events. There are problems with this, and Wink never really discusses them; he’s much more focused on the fact that our prayers DO change God’s mind, have an actual impact on events in the real world, and therefore we have a responsibility (and privilege) to pray. “Prayer that acknowledges the Powers,” he claims, “becomes a form of social action” (Engaging the Powers, 317 – again, cited by Boyd).

Gregory Boyd discusses prayer much more thoroughly, picking up Wink’s thoughts and exploring them philosophically. God has made us morally responsible agents, which requires that we have free will (the ability, or “say-so” as he puts it, to influence others for good or evil). The point of this free will is love: God created us to participate in his triune love, and for us to do so, we have to not only be able to choose to love (and obey) God (or not), but also have the ability to influence God even as God has the ability to influence us. These are all essential parts of a real relationship, and even if they are not equal (i.e. we don’t have as much influence over God as he does over us), without them we wouldn’t have a real personal relationship with God.

So the upside of this is that we have real relationship with God, and that we are in a very real and important sense free. The downside of this is that we are free to disobey, free to harm others, etc. We have equal potential toward either good or evil, but in either case, every relationship we have involves the ability to influence the other in that relationship – including God. For God to have real relationships with human and spiritual beings, then, God must be self-limiting, restraining himself from controlling people and events entirely, and allowing himself to be influenced and changed by us. This is the only way that we can be free, i.e. moral agents, and this gives us a spiritual influence not only over God, but over the world and events:

Prayer is part of our moral say-so in influencing the flow of history and thus is a crucial variable that God considers in determining his response to certain situations. – Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 230.

Boyd highlights something that I had never thought about before: we’re very aware of our physical influence over events, why should we doubt our spiritual influence?

In other words, just as the Creator set things up so that we have genuine say-so on a physical level, so we can envisage him setting things up so that we have genuine say-so on a spiritual level – and this say-so is the power of prayer. As morally responsible agents, we are empowered to affect other people’s lives and the flow of history by what we physically do and by what we do in prayer. – Ibid., 231.

An important point, to me, is that Boyd relates prayer to our divine vocation as God’s representatives on earth, and its eschatological fulfillment:

Prayer is an essential aspect of our coreigning [sic] with God. God wants his will carried out on earth, but he wants it carried out in cooperation with us….In prayer we begin our eternal job of mediating the Father’s will and reigning with Christ on the earth. – Ibid., 233-234.

Again, we gain insight from looking at this from a negative angle: why are some prayers unanswered? Jesus says that we ought to have passion, persistence, and strength in numbers. As I mentioned above, this notion has always sort of bothered me – but as Boyd points out,

Why should we think otherwise, since persistence, passion, and large-group cooperation significantly affect what morally responsible creatures can and cannot accomplish on a physical level? – Ibid., 235.

If I affirm that I am necessarily both a physical and a spiritual being, why do I assume that my spiritual influence does not correspond at least to some extent to my physical influence on the world around me?

Another thing that I love about both Wink and Boyd’s approach to prayer in a “spiritual warfare” context is that they don’t attempt to apply prayer to spiritual warfare; they treat them as inseparable.

The importance of the above noted variables of persistence and numbers in prayer only begins to make sense when we begin to understand that prayer is fundamentally a warfare activity. To pray that the Father’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10) is to pray against all wills that want their own will done against the Father’s will – and these opposing wills are significant. – Ibid., 235.

Both of them thus affirm not only our privilege to pray and participate with God’s will, but also our responsibility to pray as a way to enact our co-regency over the earth in anticipation of the eschaton, and in so doing as an act of spiritual warfare against those beings and forces that would oppose God’s kingdom. Prayer does not just change me, it changes the world; it projects the moral influence that God has given me as a free moral agent into the spiritual realm, just as my choices affect the physical world around me. Prayer is a form of exercise for my will in the spiritual realm: similar to the way that Christ becomes incarnate when I act ethically in the world, I become incarnate (reverse-incarnate?) in the spiritual world when I appeal to him in petitionary prayer.

I’m going to pray more from now on, and I don’t think it’ll be a chore.

Thesis: Presuppositions VI – Introducing Greg Boyd

I’ve been reversing my usual order of things, writing a chapter before I blog it. I don’t know how wise that was, but it happened. So rather than getting several presuppositions and background notes about Greg Boyd’s theology individually, I thought I’d just post the chapter as it currently is. Obviously this will be tweaked significantly before I’m finished, but I hope it’s informative to you now.

Chapter 2: Gregory Boyd’s Influences and Assumptions

Gregory Boyd develops his demonology almost incidentally, as a part of his answer to another question: namely, theodicy. Because his writings focus on the problem of evil in this sense, an overview of that theological problem, as well as the other elements of Boyd’s solution, is in order.

The Problem of Evil: The Balance of Perfection
As mentioned above, theodicy is one of the main ways theologians have accounted for the existence of evil, grappling with the question of where evil originated and why a good and all-powerful God allows it. Answering these questions is the explicit purpose of God At War and Satan and the Problem of Evil.

The problem of evil, classically stated, is: if God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why does he allow for evil to exist? A variation of the question is: if God is an omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, why did he create a world he knew would turn out to include evil? In either case, God’s perfections are in conflict with an imperfect world. Either God is able to destroy evil (or create a world without evil), and does not want to, implying he is not truly good; or God truly desires a world without evil, but is unable to achieve it, implying he is not omnipotent or omniscient. The problem, then, is to continue to affirm God’s perfections while still accounting for evil. Given the difficulty of doing so, it’s not surprising that “the intellectual problem of evil constitutes the single most difficult challenge to classical-philosophical Christian theism.”1

One way of answering this problem is to appeal to a sense of greater good or purpose in the evil and suffering we experience. We find ways to say that an awful occurrence is a part of God’s plan, even if we cannot discern what good purpose it could possibly have. Though this supposed plan is shrouded in mystery, we find comfort in the notion that God causes all things to happen for a reason. This form of theodicy is particularly linked to Calvinism for obvious reasons: Calvinism holds that God controls and predestines all things, and therefore everything that happens comes from God (either directly or indirectly), and is a part of his greater plan for our good.2 This is precisely the theology that Boyd sets out to defeat, with four main objections.

First, he argues that this view does not take evil itself seriously. This theodicy poses an intellectual problem, but “evil cannot be adequately conceptualized in the abstract.”3 He goes on, “radical evil can be known only when incarnated and experienced concretely.”4 To give us a sense of the concrete nature of radical evil, Boyd tells a true story of Nazi soldiers laughing while they cut out the eyes of a little Jewish girl named Zosia. In the face of such horror the intellectual problem of evil seems crass and trivializing.

Second, he argues that this view makes God out to be a monster who, for the sake of his own glory and a greater good we cannot seem to understand, allowed Zosia’s eyes to be cut out. This view sees all evil as coming from God’s hand, even if indirectly — something that is inconsistent with God’s claim to be loving and beneficent, not to mention his character as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Third, he argues that this view is inconsistent with the worldview of the Bible. God At War is a highly exegetical work, with the aim of showing that the writers of scripture either portrayed God as being at war with hostile cosmic forces, or assumed this worldview and wrote in light of it. For example,
the problem of evil in the New Testament is not the classical-philosophical theistic problem of finding a particular transcendent divine purpose behind every particular evil: Jesus and his disciples assume that there is none…the “problem of evil” is simply the problem of overcoming evil by the power of God.5
But the main problem with this theodicy is that it assumes a particular understanding of God. Specifically, “the core problem seems to lie in the classical-philosophical equation of power with control, and thus omnipotence with omnicontrol.”6 If God controls everything, then he is ultimately responsible for evil. But if omnipotence does not entail meticulous control over all creation — that is, if God created other beings with agency and free will — then we may be responsible for our own evil, or the victims of the evil of other agents. This is not an endorsement of classical Arminian theodicy, which Boyd also argues against, claiming that it does not go far enough:

it has on the whole restricted its understanding of freedom to human freedom…it has not made a robust appeal to angelic freedom in its theodicy reflections, and thus has attempted to wring an explanation of evil almost entirely out of the exercise of human freedom.7

Human sin, to Boyd, cannot account for the sheer volume and radical nature of evil in the world, nor does it align with the warfare worldview of scripture.

Worldview: World of Warfare
Like Wink begins The Powers That Be with a discussion of worldview, so Boyd’s introduction to God At War is an introduction to a worldview for which he argues throughout the rest of the book, one that he calls a “warfare worldview.” He begins by referring to the “Prince of Persia” passage of Daniel 10, with its implication that there are battles occurring in the spirit world behind the seemingly normal events of the physical world, and then surveys several so-called primitive cultures today that hold similar views, comparing those views to those of the ancients of Babylon, Egypt, Sumeria, Greece, and Canaan.8

Boyd spends the rest of God At War arguing that this warfare worldview was the dominant worldview of scripture, and even that we should hold this worldview today. The discussion of worldview in the introduction serves to establish that this worldview is not isolated and primitive, but is pervasive even today, suggesting that it is intuitive rather than superstitious. The fact that this worldview is not dominant today is an anomaly in history:

From a crosscultural [sic] perspective, the insight that the cosmos is teeming with spiritual beings whose behaviour can and does benefit or harm us is simply common sense. It is we modern Westerners who are the oddballs for thinking that the only free agents who influence other people and things are humans.9

Relevant to our purposes is not just that both Wink and Boyd begin with a discussion of worldview, but more importantly that, though they describe them in very different terms and seem to disagree, their worldviews are actually compatible.

Boyd wholeheartedly embraces the warfare worldview at least partially because he believes it to be the inspired worldview of scripture; Wink argues that though scripture may be inspired, its worldview is incidental and culturally conditioned and thus ought not to be emulated, instead proposing his panentheistic view. Wink discusses the ways in which the spiritual and physical overlap; Boyd either assumes or ignores this element, and instead focuses on the character of this interaction (i.e. hostile). On the surface, then, it appears that if they do not outright disagree, they’re talking past each other.

But these views are not incompatible. Wink certainly agrees with Boyd that there is significant conflict or hostility toward human beings from fallen spiritual beings; this is central to his theology. Boyd at least implies general agreement with Wink’s view of an inner/spiritual and outer/physical notion of reality when he says “the biblical assumption is that the spiritual realm is not all that different from the physical realm. Indeed, the one is simply a continuation of the other.”10 And further, “For the ancient Israelites, there was no bifurcation between what occurs ‘in heaven’ and…‘on earth,’ and neither should there be with us.”11 Whether or not their worldviews are directly compatible, they overlap to an extensive degree, agreeing on the necessities: our world is as spiritual as it is physical, and there are spiritual forces and/or beings who are hostile toward us.

Open Theism
Central to Boyd’s approach to the problem of evil and his demonology is his theology of God’s omniscience as it relates to the free will of humans and spiritual beings. While Calvin held that “the future will be a certain way because God foreknows it that way” (i.e. that God determines the future) and Arminius held that “God foreknows the future a certain way because the future simply will be that way” (i.e. that God simply knows what will happen), Boyd holds to a third option: “that God determines (and thus foreknows as settled) some, but not all, of the future.”12 This is generally referred to as the “open view” of God, a view that affirms free will without elevating it above God’s will. Against the charge of similarity to process theology, which suggests that God is “at the mercy of chance or free will,” Boyd clarifies: “Open theists rather maintain that God can and does predetermine and foreknow whatever he wants to about the future…God is so confident in his sovereignty, we hold, that he does not need to micromanage everything.”13 This view is important because it potentially exonerates God of all evil in the world, holds human beings responsible for their own sin, and most important for our purposes, allows for the fallenness and agency of spiritual forces, as well as human ability to reject and combat those forces.

As mentioned above, if God meticulously controls all things, then God is ultimately responsible for everything that happens, including evil. If God even foreknew, for example, that Hitler would certainly perpetrate the murder of six million Jews, and then God created him anyway, God would still be ultimately responsible for those six million murders. This view does not seem compatible with the way God is characterized in scripture, particularly in his incarnation as Jesus Christ.

If God is not responsible for human choices, who is? Open theism holds that “God does not orchestrate that good people carry out evil deeds. He simply specifies parameters around the way people act out the good or evil character they have already chosen for themselves.”14 This suggests that even if God does predetermine that a certain event will occur (e.g. the crucifixion of Christ), the people involved in this predetermined event are not individually predetermined to be there; they’ve placed themselves in such a position through their own choices, and therefore are entirely responsible for their actions in spite of God predetermining a particular outcome for those events. In this way judgment for sin makes sense, as we are responsible for our own sins, even if God uses them for his own purposes.

Just as we are responsible for our own choices, so too are the angels and spiritual forces of the heavenly realms. Just as we are free to disobey God, so too are angels free to fall from heaven and make war against God’s people. If the fall of Satan were predetermined, then God would still be responsible for all sin evil in the world (as Satan tempted the first humans to sin). If God perfectly foreknew that Satan would choose to rebel, and created him anyway, then God would still be responsible for all of the evil that Satan perpetrates. But this is not necessary:

“The open view, I submit, allows us to say consistently in unequivocal terms that the ultimate source for all evil is found in the will of free agents rather than in God. It thereby renders intelligible God’s radical opposition to all forms of evil. Thus it motivates us to rise up aggressively against all evil with the mighty kingdom power of God’s Spirit that he has placed in us.”15

Which brings us to the final point, that an open view of God allows human beings to not only have the ability to disobey God, but also the ability to obey God and ally with him against the forces of evil. If God determined all things, then human involvement in cosmic warfare would be akin to God playing with toy soldiers; or to state it more practically, “if we believe that possibilities are not real, we will be more inclined to accept things that we could, and should, revolt against.”16 On the other hand, if God’s plan to overcome his enemies depended entirely on the choices of individual humans, we could not properly trust scripture’s claims that Christ has defeated Satan, and that evil will ultimately be entirely overcome. By this view we have the privilege of contributing to that victory, while God retains the glory for the victory itself. In short, the open view of God renders spiritual warfare, and the scriptures that support it, coherent.


1 Gregory A. Boyd, God At War (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1997), 43. Boyd uses the term “classical-philosophical” to refer to theology dependent on Greek philosophical notions of God’s perfections, i.e. that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. He makes particular reference to Augustine as a point of departure from a biblical worldview toward Greek thought.

2 Perhaps the most popular Calvinist voice today is that of John Piper.

3 Boyd, God At War, 32.

4 Boyd, God At War, 34.

5 Boyd, God At War, 236.

6 Boyd, God At War, 44.

7 Boyd, God At War, 50-51.

8 He refers to the modern Shuar Indians of Ecuador, the Wemale of Indonesia, the Kamwe of Nigeria, the Yanomamö of South America, the Maidu tribe of California, the Bhils of central India, the religion Santeria, “the Hottentots of South Africa, the Nahuatl of Mexico, the Apaches, Chiricahua, and Papagoes of the American Southwest, and the Vedic poets of early Hinduism, to name but a few.” God At War, 17.

9 Boyd, God At War, 11.

10 Boyd, God At War, 200.

11 Boyd, God At War, 89.

12 Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 23.

13 Boyd, God of the Possible, 31.

14 Boyd, God of the Possible, 38.

15 Boyd, God of the Possible, 102-103.

16 Boyd, God of the Possible, 93. He goes on to say that “because it holds that the future is not entirely settled and that God’s plans can change, the open view is able to render the purpose and urgency of prayer intelligible in a way that neither classical Arminianism nor classical Calvinism can. The open view is able to declare, without qualification or inconsistency, that some of the future genuinely depends on prayer.” Boyd, God of the Possible, 95. The “some” here is important to Boyd’s view, but the importance of this passage is that it shows the centrality of the open view to Boyd’s ethic of spiritual conflict: human beings are intimately involved, through prayer.