Tag Archives: Books published in the 2000s (decade)

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.


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.


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.


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: From Azusa to Africa to the Nations

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Denzil (Denny) R. Miller, missionary to Malawi and director of the Acts in Africa Initiative. Miller saw that evangelism was alive and well in Africa, but very few African pastors were being discipled about the filling and gifts Holy Spirit, so this has been his primary ministry focus for some years. He has many books on the Holy Spirit and on Luke-Acts.


From Azusa to Africa to the Nations (2006) is a simple summary of the leading figures and missionary movements that spawned out of the Azusa Street Revival, focusing on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the works that were birthed in Africa.

This little book addresses an important historical idea that began in the early modern Pentecostal movement: the idea that missionaries who spoke in tongues would be able to “preach in tongues” as on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12).

Early leaders like Charles F. Parham and William J. Seymour even believed that those who were baptized in the Holy Spirit would always speak in a known language of the world. They would then be able to supernaturally preach the gospel to that particular people without ever having to study the language. (p. 33)

Some showed up to a mission field, and when their speaking in tongues “didn’t work,” they thought—I must be in the wrong mission field!—and moved on. Eventually, a clear consensus was reached that they had misunderstood the purpose of modern tongues, drawing on Acts 2 when they should have been comparing the passages on “tongues” in 1 Corinthians, which are pretty clearly differentiated in Scripture by the following points:

  1. “Missional tongues” in Acts 2 are directed towards God, but readily understood by hearers; “edification tongues” in 1 Corinthians are directed towards God, and not readily understood by bystanders. (See 1 Cor. 14:1-14.)
  2. “Missional tongues” in Acts 2 edified onlookers; praying in “edification tongues” edifies yourself (1 Cor. 4:4).
  3. “Missional tongues” in Acts 2 require no interpreter; “edification tongues” do require an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27-28).

One point apparently common to both types of tongues is that they are both used by God as “a sign” for unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22). Early Pentecostals were right in believing that all tongues had an empowering element; they were wrong in believing that all tongues were readily understood without interpretation.

The Azusa Street Outpouring reminds us that missions is at the heart of true Pentecostalism. (p. 66)

While they were mistaken on that point, Miller points out the positive aspects of the story: 1) they left their homeland in outstanding (although perhaps somewhat mistaken) faith; 2)  the modern Pentecostal movement began as a missionary movement, not as a selfish club for boosting self-esteem; 3) their failure to “preach in tongues” led to the refinement of Pentecostal theology, which now differentiates more readily—though this is not always clear from the pulpit—between the “missional” tongues of Acts 2 and the “edification” tongues of 1 Corinthians 12-14. This was a key development in modern Pentecostalism and should not be neglected when an explanation of the purpose of “tongues” is given.


Miller treads a fine line in this book: cessationist writers would have you think that the early Pentecostals were crazy for showing up in an overseas mission field expecting to re-live Acts 2; many Pentecostal writers would rather not talk about it. I appreciated his courage in addressing a theme that I have not found other Pentecostal authors writing about at any length.

Miller is also a scholar. All of his books are well-researched and documented, so you know that he is not just making generalizations; he gives numerous names and dates that help us orient our understanding of the early Pentecostal movement.


This book is a very brief read, and probably will only require one or two sittings for most readers; unfortunately, I do not know of any other references for those interested in going deeper on this topic.


At the time of writing, you can read From Azusa to Africa to the Nations for free on Denzil R. Miller’s personal website.

Review: The Perfect Swarm

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Len Fisher is an honorary research fellow in the department of physics, University of Bristol, England. He has authored several popular science books.

Genre: This popular science book is outside our normal range for book reviews, but it is summarized here because of its fascinating implications for leadership.

Overview: The chief value of this popular science book is its brief, yet full-orbed introduction to the burgeoning science of swarm intelligence, also called “the science of complexity.” To define this theme in the author’s words:

“Swarm behavior becomes swarm intelligence when a group can use it to solve a problem collectively, in a way that the individuals within the group cannot.” (p. 10, loc. 224)

“The modern science of complexity has shown that collective behavior in animal groups (especially those of insects such as locusts, bees, and ants) emerges from a set of very simple rules of interaction between neighbors.” (p. 2, loc. 124)

Meat: The applications of these studies are briefly summarized in ch. 10. I have grouped the spiritual applications of this book under four headings:

Swarm Evangelism:

“Groups that use swarm intelligence need no leader, and they have no central planning.” (p. 10, loc. 230) Similarly, the Church of the Spirit in Acts 15 had no pope or king—only a simple set of rules and the sanctifying power of God’s Word and Spirit.

“When networking, find, use, or establish those few long-range links that bring clusters together into a small world. . . .” (p. 168, loc. 2508)

Alphaeus Hardy, who had lost his dream of preaching, led one Japanese boy to Christ after the boy had stowed away on his ship. Joseph Neesima then went back to Japan to glorify Christ among the Japanese.

Faithful Discipleship:

Fisher quotes Barabási’s Linked to the effect that exponential growth is “the inevitable consequence of self-organization due to local decisions made by [individuals].” In other words, the only plan in a self-propelling movement is not just for new members to bring others, but for each successive generation to decide independently that the movement is worthwhile (leading to exponential growth (on a power law) as long as the exponent is more than 1).

Church Planting:

A key idea in biblical church planting methods is the “person of peace.” But networking science says you cannot place the whole burden of a movement on one hub: “Don’t rely on persuading someone with influence to pass the message on. It is far better to try for a critical mass of early adopters—people who will take the idea or product up, after a single exposure.” (p. 168, loc. 2516) Even if a person of peace is found, we should hold off the celebration: a “critical mass of early adopters” is probably the inflection point (or turning point) that we should be aiming for.

Invisible Leadership:

“Lead from the inside (if possible with a coterie of like-minded friends or colleagues), but take care not to let other members of the group know what you are doing. Just head in the direction that you want to go, and leave it to the laws of the swarm to do the rest.” (p. 34, loc. 592)

“The leadership of small groups [that is, a few leaders] can engage a whole army.” (p. 36, loc. 605)

“Just a few informed individuals can lead a much larger group of uninformed individuals simply by moving faster and in the appropriate direction.” (p. 30, loc. 533)

Fisher explains this as an informational cascade, in which the bees follow three rules: avoidance, alignment, and attraction. The larger the group, the fewer leaders needed in proportion. (p. 30; also p. 32, loc. 565)

“We can lead a group simply by having a goal, so long as the others in the group do not have different goals.” (p. 32, loc. 558)

“Members of a group can be totally unrecognized as leaders by those whom they are leading.” (p. 32, loc. 563)

There are also many Scriptural metaphors in the book:

Fisher mentions that locust plagues when dense enough, transition into “highly aligned marching”—an army of locusts “marches” in Joel 2:7. (p. 24, loc. 435)

Fish in schools have only two rules: “follow the fish in front (if there is one) and keep pace with the fish beside you.” (p. 13, loc. 273) Fish have been symbolic of Christians since the earliest times because of the many New Testament stories about fishing. Jacob also prays for Joseph to be “as fishes do increase” (Gen. 48:16). Fish, in this context, mean multiplication!

Solomon admonishes us to “consider the ant” (Prov. 6:6). Ants also operate using swarm intelligence, something mentioned throughout the book.