To be sure, there are many things in God at War that will make theological progressives and liberals squirm. We'll get to those issues in the next post and try to address them when we turn toward John Caputo's book The Weakness of God. But for now, in this post, we simply want to get a taste of the "warfare worldview" described by Boyd in God at War.
At its heart God at War is a theodicy, an attempt to explain evil in the world. This is important for a progressive to keep in mind when reading the book. Throughout the book Boyd argues for the literal existence of spiritual agents like angels and demons. And again, that might be hard for many progressives to swallow. More on that in the next and coming posts. But the heart of God at War is focused on the problem of evil and how the Kingdom of God is to stand with God in opposition to evil.
A key biblical observation for Boyd is that the problem of evil wasn't a problem for the OT and NT writers. Evil wasn't a theological conundrum. Evil wasn't an intellectual puzzle. Evil was a given, it was taken for granted. Evil was expected, and its existence didn't cause a theological crisis.
That's a stark contrast with our time where evil is the number one theological problem many of use face and wrestle with. So what's the difference between then and now?
According to Boyd, the difference is due to changes in theological worldview. Specifically, there has been a shift away from the warfare worldview of the bible to what Boyd calls the classical-philosophical worldview. According to the warfare worldview of the OT and NT life is experienced as a battle between the good and evil. Much of creation is in revolt, rebelling against the rule of God. Given that perspective, evil is an expected and regular feature of the world. We encounter evil all the time, from moral evil to evil within the created order as seen in disease and death. And given this warfare view--that evil is to be expected--the encounter with evil doesn't create a theological problem for the biblical writers.
By contrast, the existence of evil is a dumbfounding question within the classical-philosophical worldview. This worldview was created in the fusion of Christian theology with Greek categories of thought, where God was defined by categories like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. In light of these Greek categories the problem of evil becomes a real theological puzzle as God is assumed to exercise what Boyd calls "omnicontrol." In the classical-philosophical worldview, where God is believed to be providentially in control of every event, the existence of evil is a real theological problem. God, in this worldview, seems to be the origin, creator and source of evil. Or, at the very least, God uses evil for some higher, providential purpose. Consequently, rather than raging or revolting against evil Christians peer into the tea leaves of tragedy trying to discern "God's plan" for all the pain we are suffering.
But in the warfare worldview there is only rage, resistance, and revolt in the face of pain and suffering. According to the warfare worldview, there is nothing good in the death of a child or a cancer diagnosis. To try to discern "God's plan" in such things gets God very, very wrong.
My hunch is that progressives will thrill to that notion.
Here is Boyd making these contrasts:
In a nutshell, the way in which classical-philosophical Christian theists have approached the problem of evil has generally been to frame evil as a problem of God's providence and thus of God's character. Assuming (rightly) that God is perfectly loving and good, and assuming (wrongly, I hold) that divine omnipotence entails meticulous control, the problem of evil has been formulated within the classical-philosophical theistic tradition as the problem of locating a loving and good purpose behind evil events. [This] represents an impossible task, and hence the problem of evil becomes simply unsolvable within the framework.According to Boyd, the great benefit of adopting the warfare worldview is that it creates a posture of revolt and resistance in the face of evil. Evil is simply evil and it is always opposed to God and God's plans. Consequently, the stance of the Christian toward evil is uncompromising hostility and aggression. Evil isn't to be puzzled over. Evil is to be fought and raged against. We are at war.
By contrast, the warfare worldview is predicated on the assumption that divine goodness does not completely control or in any way will evil; rather, good and evil are at war with one another. This assumption obviously entails that God is not now exercising exhaustive, meticulous control over the world...
In other words, a warfare worldview is inherently pluralistic. There is no single, all-determinative divine will that coercively steers all things, and hence there is here no supposition that evil agents and events have a secret motive behind them. Hence too, one need not agonize over what ultimately good, transcendent divine purpose might be served by any particular evil event.
If the world is indeed caught up in the middle of a real war between good and evil forces, evil is to be expected--including evil that serves no higher end...Only when it is assumed that the world is meticulously controlled by an all-loving God does each particular evil event need a higher, all-loving explanation...
Boyd describing this:
Once the intelligibility of the war itself is accepted, no other particular evils require explanation. Hence Scripture gives none. This shift away from the classical-philosophical monistic perspective is empowering in terms of confronting evil...Put succinctly, the classical-philosophical assumption that a mysterious, loving, sovereign, divine plan lies behind even evil events in our world encourages an approach to evil that defines it as an intellectual problem to be solved rather than a spiritual opponent to be overcome. If evil is believed to serve a higher purpose, then clearly one's sense of urgency in fighting it is compromised, while one's ability to render it intelligible is diminished...[T]he New Testament exhibits a church that is not intellectually baffled by evil but is more spiritually empowered in vanquishing it, [by contrast] the Western tradition has more frequently exhibited a church that is perpetually baffled by evil but significantly ineffective in and largely apathetic toward combating it.Here, with this theology of revolt, is where I think we'll find our real fight mentioned in Part 1. The heart of this idea is that evil is wholly antagonistic to God, is not willed by and has no part of God. God is unequivocally against all forms of evil--from death to disease to violence to oppression--and, thus, God's people must also be unequivocally against these evils. Death is never good. Suffering is never good. Violence is never good. Evil is simply evil. And God's only plan for evil is its ultimate eradication.
Within a warfare worldview, however, particular evils are their own ultimate explanation: they flow from the wills of creatures, hence there need be no higher "good" divine reason for their occurring. Thus evil must be understood as being what God is unequivocally against, and thus what God's people must also be unequivocally against. Whereas the classical-philosophical theology of sovereignty encourages a theology of resignation, a theology rooted in a warfare worldview inspires, and requires, a theology of revolt: revolt against all that God revolts against.
This is what I think progressive Christians need: A theology of revolt. Evil, in my estimation, sits at the heart of the liberal theological experience. There is a sense that something is very, very wrong with the world. At deep, structural levels we sense that the world is broken and hostile to goodness.
As so we rage. By gravesides. By hospital beds. By the side of victims of all sorts. The world is a broken, heartless and shitty place. And so we rage.
The point being, I think progressive Christians are itching for a fight. They don't need to give up God for Lent or have church in bars. Though those are great things. What I think progressive Christianity needs is a biblically grounded theology of revolt, a theology to focus, articulate and motivate the fight many are already fighting.
So we start with this: A theology of revolt. We need to see our rage reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus. We need to use our rage as fuel for activism in the Kingdom of God rather than as firewood for doubt, cynicism and ironic distance. We need a rallying cry. We need a real fight. And I think we have one.
And yet, if you are a progressive Christian you likely have a few questions and objections about the warfare worldview in God at War. We'll turn to those questions in the next post.