Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Author: Rob (Page 1 of 101)

Book review: The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord

If God is good and loving, why do evil and suffering exist in the world? This question, often referred to as the problem of theodicy, is one of the thorniest issues theologians have had to wrestle with through the ages. And in our twenty-first century world, where stark visual images of all manner of suffering and strife are streamed into our living rooms daily, it is no less important – and no less challenging – a question than it ever has been.

Far from being the preserve of specialists, theodicy is – or at least should be – of genuine concern to the ordinary Christian. Self-described theologian, philosopher and multidisciplinary scholar Thomas Jay Oord introduces the problem thus:

“To a greater or lesser degree, we all want to make sense of life. Yet doing so proves difficult, even for those of us who believe in God. Although we witness beauty, purpose and goodness all around, we also witness random accidents, pain and evil. Simplistic answers to life’s difficult questions […] leave many of us unsatisfied. We need better answers. Believers want to reconcile randomness and evil with the idea that God acts providentially.” (15)

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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: responding to Greg Boyd’s responses

I recently posted a three-part review of Greg Boyd’s colossal new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereafter CWG). (Links here to part 1, part 2 and part 3.) My twin aims in writing this review were (i) to provide a concise and accurate overview of the structure and content of CWG and (ii) to briefly set out the top three things I liked about CWG and my top three concerns with it.

I’ve been thrilled with the amount of comment and conversation my review has generated; if nothing else, Greg is to be heartily applauded for throwing open the debate on a number of crucial theological issues.

This past week, Greg began a series of posts at his ReKnew website titled Reviewing the Reviews. Imagine my surprise when the first review of CWG he chose to respond to was mine! Given that the ideas put forward in CWG will doubtless be discussed by the great and the good of the theological world, I’m over the moon that Greg chose to seriously engage with a review written by an amateur and a relative nobody like little old me. What’s more, he had some really nice things to say about my review, describing it as “excellent”, “detailed and probing” and “an accurate, clear and insightful overview”.

Thanks, Greg!

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 3 of 3)

Today I’m delighted to share with you the final part of my three-part review of pastor-teacher-academic Greg Boyd’s long-awaited new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereinafter referred to as CWG).

In part 1 and part 2, I attempted to set out a high-level overview of the structure and content of CWG. While, given the length and depth of the book, this was necessarily a skim over the surface rather than a deep dive, I hope I have done enough that those who have read CWG will recognise my sketch as a reasonably faithful synopsis, and that those who have not will gain at least a bare-bones understanding of what Boyd is trying to do and how he is trying to do it.

In this third and final part, I will briefly set out what I consider to be the main strengths of Boyd’s work in CWG, as well as my main concerns with it. There are many positive things that could be said about this book, and more than a few concerns that one might validly raise about it; for the sake of space and time, I shall limit myself to three positive points and three primary concerns.

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 2 of 3)

Today I continue with my review of Greg Boyd’s much-anticipated new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (which I will henceforth refer to as CWG).

In part 1, I sketched out an overview of Volume I of CWG, in which Boyd underlines the centrality of the crucified Christ as the paramount interpretive guide to scripture, explores instances of Old Testament divine violence and lays out his “Cruciform Hermeneutic”, according to which the cross must serve as the criterion for determining the degree to which any biblical text explicitly reflects the true revelatory “voice” of God. In this second part, I will briefly overview Volume II, in which Boyd sets out and applies four principles that together form his “Cruciform Thesis”.

Introduction: Boyd kicks off Volume II by asking readers to consider an imaginary scenario in which he witnesses his wife engaging in what appears to be atypical and disturbing behaviour. Based on his several decades of marriage, Boyd knows his wife well enough to be certain that, despite appearances to the contrary, the behaviour he sees is not congruent with his wife’s character. He must therefore conclude that, even though what he sees appears disturbing on its surface, there must be something else going on – some explanatory set of facts that is hidden from Boyd and which, if he were made aware of it, would explain his wife’s apparently disturbing behaviour in ways congruent with what he knows to be her good character.

This introduction deserves particular mention because its fundamental point – the idea that “there must be something else going on” – becomes a kind of leitmotif that frequently recurs throughout the rest of the volume. Whenever the Old Testament appears to depict God in ways that we know are not congruent with the supreme revelation of God seen in Christ on the cross, we should conclude – so argues Boyd – that there must be something else going on. And, as conscientious readers of scripture, we should diligently search for what that “something else” might be.

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 1 of 3)

Today I have the privilege of beginning to review the long-awaited new book by Greg Boyd, titled The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, officially released on 1 April 2017.

Weighing in at some 1,400 pages, with no less than ten appendices, an extensive bibliography and copious footnotes throughout, this truly gargantuan work took Boyd around ten years to write: no surprise when you consider that, as well as being a prolific author (with over fifteen books to his name), Boyd pastors a large church in St Paul, Minnesota (USA) and is also an adjunct professor of theology.

To make my review as accessible as possible, I had originally planned to write it in a single post. However, given the size and scope of the book, I’ve decided to break my review down into three parts. In the first two parts, I will attempt to provide a concise overview of the structure and content of the book; in the third part, I will share  some thoughts on the book’s strengths and weaknesses as I see them. (I hope to post parts 2 and 3 over the next few days.)

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All shall be well

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

These words were penned by fourteenth century English mystic Julian of Norwich in what would come to be known as her Showings. They have become a source of encouragement to many in times of uncertainty and turbulence; indeed, I have often quoted them myself. In the turbulent aftermath of the US presidential election, I have already seen them offered as a note of much-needed comfort to those who are understandably fearful about the future of America and the world.

However, I think a note of caution is required as regards how we understand these famous words.

It’s tempting to see Lady Julian’s words as an assurance that nothing bad will happen to us: that, whatever might befall us, there will always be some kind of providential safety net to protect us from the worst. But that cannot be so, for two reasons. First, Julian is thought to have written these words while deathly ill; as such, whatever it was that moved her to write them, it was not a firm conviction that she would recover and live to a ripe old age. (In fact, she did recover and live for another thirty-three years, but that’s another story.) And second, we clearly live in a world in which dreadful and deadly things can and do happen to even the most godly and selfless people.

That being the case, to attempt to use these words as a shield against the vagaries of life is to distort them into a cheap platitude that denies the reality both of the circumstances in which they were written and of the world as we know it.

How, then, are we to understand and take encouragement from Lady Julian’s affirmation? I think there are two ways we can do so.

First, Julian’s words remind us that, no matter how great the storm that encircles us, it is possible for us to be truly at peace with ourselves and the world; not easy, but possible. To achieve this kind of inner peace takes great self-awareness and a determined pursuit of inner silence and solitude – things Lady Julian herself pursued to what most would consider an extreme degree. In this way, it is possible for us to sincerely assert that “all is well” even in the midst of the storm, just as nineteenth century hymn-writer Horatio Spafford was able to write the famous words “It is well with my soul” even in the wake of his financial ruin and the tragic deaths of all five of his children.

And second, as those who believe that death has been swallowed up in the victory of resurrection, we can genuinely hold fast to the truth that even if the very worst should happen, it will not be the end of the story. This is surely how Lady Julian was able to remain resolutely hopeful even in the face of what she probably assumed was her imminent death.

So, in these uncertain times, let us be encouraged, and let us encourage one another, but not with trite and hollow promises about an earthly future none of us can predict. Rather, let us seek the kind of peace that is offered by the Prince of Peace, and let us hold firmly to the hope that even death, should it unexpectedly come knocking, is not the end, but merely a doorway to another part of the journey.

[ Image: Ian ]

Looking for love

“Looking for love in all the wrong places.” It may be a well-worn cliché, but like all clichés, it contains more than a modicum of truth.

I think we can truthfully say that at some level, each of us just wants to be loved. And yet there is something about the world, and about our particular situation within it, that conspires to keep this much-sought-after feeling of being loved just beyond our grasp.

In some cases, it’s easy to see where a deep-seated sense of unloveliness might stem from; I’m thinking in particular of all forms of child abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional. When we suffer such abuse at our most tender and formative age, it makes a profound imprint on our soul that can be very hard to erase or reshape. However, even those of us, like myself, who have experienced no major childhood abuse can be all too familiar with an abiding sense of lack that sends us searching for all manner of substances, experiences and/or relationships to fill the emptiness in our souls. Even those blessed with the happiest of circumstances somehow sustain wounds on their journey through childhood and adolescence – wounds whose pain they later seek to ease with money, success, sex, alcohol, fame, and so on.

To be alive in this world, it would seem, is to suffer trauma.

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