However, in the last post we noted two issues about God at War that might make it problematic for progressive Christians.
First, progressives will need a way to think about spiritual warfare that doesn't require a belief in literal angels and demons. And please note that I used the word require. If a person has no problem with the vision of spiritual warfare presented by Boyd in God at War then no translational work is necessary. But given that a lot of progressive Christians are liberal theologically, my hunch is that many aren't going to be able to accept Boyd's account as it stands. Progressives will need another way to envision spiritual warfare. But as I've said, I think this "translation" is fairly straightforward as a lot of work has already been done in this area by thinkers like Walter Wink and William Stringfellow.
The second and more difficult question that comes from God at War has to do with the origins of evil. In day to day life a theology of revolt takes evil as a given and joins God in waging battle against these manifestations of evil. Evil, in this view, is wholly opposed and antagonistic to God. Evil plays no part, no part whatsoever, in God's providential plans. Evil is never willed by God.
Such a view tends toward dualism, where the forces of good and evil are viewed as locked in eternal combat. In practice, the warfare worldview is very dualistic. But there are some theological tensions we need to wrestle with as Christians don't espouse dualism. Christians believe God created the world and that it was good. Good pre-dates evil and evil is not co-eternal with God. More, given God's omnipotence evil is not a real rival or equal to God. And God will eventually defeat evil. But if all that is the case, where did evil come from? And why is an omnipotent God reduced to fighting much weaker spiritual forces?
The point here is that, while I think the warfare viewpoint works as a day to day theology of revolt, it stands upon a shaky theological foundation. So for this warfare theology of revolt to work we are going to need some decent answers to these foundational questions. To be sure, these foundational questions aren't really practical, the answers here aren't going to help you be a better person or Christian. But the questions and answers here do provide the theological framework that will support and inform the praxis of spiritual warfare. That is, in battling evil in the world I don't need, in the moment of crisis, a deep theological account of the origins of evil. All I need to know is that evil exists, right here, right now, right in front of me. And facing that evil I engage in spiritual combat (as we will come to describe it). That's all we really need to know, most of the time, to make a theology of revolt work. Evil is a given and so we fight it. We see oppression, we resist it. We see violence, we bring peace. We stand by a grave, we weep and rage. That is all that is required of us in this fight. So don't theologize, fight!
But later, in more reflective moments, we may ask questions about how evil got here in the first place. And why evil is so hard to eradicate. And why it seems that evil is often winning. Answers to such questions aren't really all that practical, but they do provide a theological foundation for practice.
For Boyd, the answer to these questions regarding the origins of evil is given by describing a pre-historical angelic fall, a fall that did not originate with God as these angelic beings--Satan the foremost among them--were exercising their free will. As Boyd argues in God at War this view, if taken as correct, seems to answer many of the questions posed by a warfare worldview.
You might find Boyd's answers to be persuasive. Or you might not. But for our purposes, it really doesn't matter. If we aren't going to be assuming the literal existence of angelic and demonic beings (although you can, that's cool), we aren't going to have recourse to the free will argument that Boyd makes for the origins of evil and spiritual warfare in the world.
And so, before we turn to the praxis of spiritual warfare (and the work of people like Wink and Stringfellow), we need to take a theological detour to address some of these foundational questions. But let me be clear. The vision of spiritual warfare, the theology of revolt, is where the excitement and popular appeal is to be found. This theological detour we are about to go on for a few posts isn't all that exciting. It's pretty nerdy and, thus, won't be appealing or necessary for many people. But insofar as it is necessary for certain individuals, we have to take this detour.
Besides, if you've read this far into the series you are most definitely a nerd. So let's keep going. Theological detour ahead.
Here is the big thing we need to wrestle with. The root theological issue at the heart of the warfare worldview is why the world is so out of control. To make the warfare worldview work evil has to be renegade, a wild, untamed, and free force in the world. How did this renegade force come to exist and why does God allow it to continue?
Again, Boyd answers these questions by an appeal to the free will of angelic beings. According to Boyd, free will allows evil to be renegade in the cosmos and in our world.
So that's Boyd's answer to the question, but I'd like to focus less on Boyd's answer and go back to the fundamental question he's trying to answer: Why is the world so out of control?
In short, the critical issue that needs to be resolved isn't the issue of free will. The critical issue that needs to be resolved is God's lack of control. The critical issue isn't about free will or the literal existence of angelic beings. The critical issue has to do with God's power and its limitations.
Specifically, a warfare theology is rooted in the premise that God isn't wholly in control of the world. A warfare theology presupposes that there are things that happen that God doesn't will, that there are things that happen that are wholly opposed to God's will, that there are things that happen that God would like to stop but doesn't stop or can't stop and that there are things that happen that are outside of God's providential control.
In short, for the warfare theology to work there needs to be limitations on God's power.
For Boyd, free will is what sets those limitations. Because of free will God's power is not absolute. Nor is God's knowledge of the future. And this is what drives some Calvinists crazy about Boyd's work with openness theology, that it sets limitations on God's ultimate sovereignty. That debate--between the Calvinists and openness theologians--need not concern us here. What does concern us is how Boyd's appeal to free will is, at a deeper level, an attempt to limit God's power in the world.
That limiting God's power/control/influence in the world is the underlying issue in God at War is made clear by Boyd throughout the book. For example,
[The warfare] thesis requires a willingness to think about the power of God, the reality of evil and the influence of Satan in some rather untraditional ways.In summary, for the warfare theology to work we need a God who is less powerful. I disagree with Boyd on how he makes that happen1 (i.e., by positing free will), but I agree with him at a more fundamental level:
Christian orthodoxy, of course, has always taught that God is omnipotent, and for good reason. Scripture is unequivocal on this point. But the question that needs to be asked is this: Does the omnipotence necessarily entail that God is all-controlling, as the classical-philosophical tradition after Augustine has been inclined to assume? Does affirming that God is omnipotent commit one to the view that a good divine purpose lies behind all particular events...?
This central scriptural theme...presupposes that evil exits for God as well as humans, that God does not will it, and thus that some beings (those who are evil) have the ability to act against God's will. It requires the understanding that it is possible for some beings (angels and humans at least) genuinely to resist, and even to thwart, whatever blueprint God might wish their lives to follow. It requires accepting the view that God, for whatever reasons, designed the cosmos such that he does not necessarily always get his way, and may, in fact detest the way some things are turning out. It requires the view that God does not monopolize power, and hence that omnipotence cannot be equated with meticulous omnicontrol.
[I]n contrast to the later church, neither Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God's absolute power as absolute control.
If we are going to create a theology to support spiritual warfare we need to wholly extract God from the experience of evil in the world. And the only way to do that is to see God as less powerful in the world. And while we might debate why God lacks control, at the end of the day spiritual warfare only makes sense if we have a less powerful God than the one we've typically assumed.
It's as simple as this: To go to war we need a weaker God.
1. Ultimately, I think Boyd's appeal to free will breaks down. Basically, for the free will argument to work you have to make an additional assumption: that God has chosen to unilaterally respect free will, that God has chosen to never, ever, no matter what, override the free will of an angelic or human agent. But that assumption raises a host of questions. First, we have biblical evidence that God "hardens hearts." And if that is so, why would God not, from time to time, harden angelic or human hearts to prevent horrible pain and suffering? Second, God can protect humans while respecting the free will of human or angelic beings. God could block these beings or simply banish them to another realm. For example, I can tackle, restrain or lock up anyone trying to do harm to others. And these protective efforts of mine don't violate the free will of the perpetrator. The point being, I don't think an appeal to free will gets the job done.↩