Tag Archives: Apologetics

Review: Letters from a Skeptic

Rating: ★★★

Author: Gregory (Greg) Boyd is an American pastor and theologian known for promoting relational theology. He is best known for popular theology books like Letters from a Skeptic and Myth of a Christian Nation, but he has also written ambitious theological works like God at War and The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

Overview:

This book is an apologetics crash course, packaged as a correspondence between a theologian and his skeptic father. It is atypical in that the main problem dealt with in this book was theodicy and theology proper. About half of book deals with suffering and the freedom of God in his Creation.

Boyd’s response to these issues is found in the relational theology of open theism, which is a modification of Arminianism. As such, some of the answers are identical to those given by C. S. Lewis:

It is not the will of God which keeps sinners in hell, but the will of sinners. (p. 198)

Where did our longing for something that never existed, and that never could exist, come from? (p. 70)

Other concepts will sound quite novel for those unfamiliar with relational theology:

We tend to become the decisions we make. The more we choose something, the more we become that something. We are all in the process of solidifying our identities by the decisions we make. (p. 51, emphasis his)

I should add, here, that some online reviewers doubt the veracity of the letters because of the overall tone in writing being so similar; my gut feeling is that this could be the result of excessive editing, but I don’t see any reason to doubt the overall story.

Meat:

The strengths of the book include discussions of the problem of evil, free will, Satan, biblical prophecy, the problem of the existence of hell, and problems in the biblical canon. Whereas elsewhere Boyd gets into polemical discussions related to Calvinism and open theism, I liked that this book kept it more to discussing basic objections to faith and didn’t get too bogged down.

If you enjoy the relational theology of writers like George MacDonald, you will probably find the theology of this book compelling and interesting, though liberal on some points. If you hate Arminianism, this book is not for you.

Bones:

I would recommend this book with a few reservations:

1. Accessibility: It was written by a theologian, not your typical pastor. As such it contains a few brief discussions of some things which may not even be relevant: canonization, source criticism, etc. He tries to make it accessible, but a few of the sub-points here are pretty nitty-gritty.

2. Interpretation: Some would consider Greg to be pretty liberal in interpretation, and many Calvinists find him offensive for his free will theology in this book. However, as I stated, I think we get less of his snark in this book than some others!

3. Hell: Near the end both are overly sympathetic (in my opinion) with annihilationism, the belief that souls are destroyed in Hell rather than eternally tortured. This is mentioned only cursorily, and Greg says that he has “exegetical reservations” but nevertheless tells his dad that it is a “viable option.” His father practically accepts this hook-and-sinker with no further discussion.
I’m sure their discussion of this was not over in one letter, but I don’t like the impression that it gives in the book. Most of the book does a good job grappling with such questions, but this answer was pretty dismissive! What about Revelation 14:11?

And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.

I wouldn’t form theological opinions based on this book alone, but I think for anyone, it could help them to think through some of the most basic issues of the faith and suffering, along with outside discussion.

Review: Has Christianity Failed You?

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Ravi Zacharias, modern apologist and speaker. Ravi is the author of Can Man Live Without God? and many other books.

Overview: This book is one of Ravi’s lighter reads, and it deals with various points relating to doubt and suffering. This may sound like covering old ground, but books like Can Man Live Without God? deal with the rational basis for theism; Has Christianity Failed You? focuses on heart issues.

The main thrust of the book, in my opinion is two points: First, we are incapable of true transcendence, and must learn to cope with uncertainty. Second, God retains his right to act as he will, and is not bound to do everything we ask, even in prayer. Jesus did not solve all of the world’s problems, and did not promise to do so on this earth. He came to provide a way to the Father and a path to redemption.

We experience some miracles, but not all the miracles we want; we see some of God, but not all we would like. In the end, the hunt for miraculous transcendence leaves us where we started: asking for ‘just one more’ proof of God’s existence. We must obey the God that we know, rather than asking him to obey us.

Ravi gives the powerful example of John the Baptist in prison, sending a question to Jesus to ask if he is truly the Messiah. Jesus points to the miracles all around him, but does not stage a coup against Herod, or smuggle John out of prison, or perform a miracle in John’s behalf. So John dies because of the testimony of Jesus’ Messiahship—the Messiahship that delivered from sin, but not from pain.

Meat: The chapter on prayer is worth reading more than once. Frequently a loss of prayer life is the erosion of the foundation under the spiritual life, and if we can address its issues, we will not feel like Christianity has failed us. Some readers might be surprised when I say that Ravi is at his strongest when he gets to the heart issues, and we should not relegate him to the apologetics shelf.

Bones: Ravi brings a wealth of examples in this book—so many that sometimes I couldn’t follow the train of thought from point to point. Each chapter makes great points, but it was hard at times to see how they connected to one another. The chapter addressing “The Reason-Driven Life” almost felt like it was in the wrong book.

Quotes: “Virtually every great leader in the Bible struggled during times of testing or tension over what they thought God should do or say, even though they had recognized God’s divine intervention earlier.” (p. 77)

“At first blush, the miracle seems the only way to win a following. But the fickleness of the human mind, our insatiable desire to always want ‘just one more,’ the ever-present reality of need, our desire to play God and hence to control God, the apparent ‘hiddenness’ of God when we need him most—all these reasons that become even more urgent in intense situations make the plea for the arm to be reattached ‘just this once’ highly suspect.” (p. 77)

“If you a praying Christian, your faith in God is what is carrying you, through both the good times and the hard times. However, if you are not a praying person, you are carrying your faith, and trying to carry the infinite is very exhausting.” (p. 151)