God, the Bible and Spiritual Warfare: A Review Article

By Carson, D. A. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

God, the Bible and Spiritual Warfare: A Review Article


Carson, D. A., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Many readers of these pages will know Boyd through his earlier and impressive work, Cynic, ,Sage, or Son of God? Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies (1995). Boyd's most recent book, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (InterVarsity, 1997), is less interested in responding to various reconstructions of the historical Jesus largely grounded in an over-dependence on Greco-Roman background tinged by philosophical naturalism than in establishing a line of thought that Boyd judges to be central in Scripture and that is largely misunderstood or distorted in contemporary evangelicalism.

There are two agendas operating in this book. On the one hand, we are treated to a Biblical theology of God as warrior, in some ways formally reminiscent of the recent book by Tremper Longman, III, and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior (1995), though with a very different theology. On the other hand, Boyd offers an understanding of God and a related theodicy that are highly reminiscent of the "open God" theology advanced and defended by Clark Pinnock, Roger Olson, William Hasker and others.

In his introduction ("The Normativity of Evil Within a Warfare Worldview"), Boyd reminds the reader of Daniel's experience. After praying and fasting for three weeks, Daniel was visited by an angel who told Daniel that his prayer had been heard immediately, and that the angel himself had been immediately dispatched. "Unfortunately, God's intended quick response was significantly delayed" (p. 9) by evil powers (Dan 10:12-13,20). Michael, one of the "chief princes," came to help the unfortunate angel: "Were it not for Michael, apparently, Daniel might have been waiting even longer to hear from God" (p. 10). Boyd writes:

This passage and others like it raise some questions that do not fit easily with our traditional Western theology. Do certain evil invisible cosmic beings really possess the power to disrupt a plan of God to answer a prayer? Can transcendent evil beings negatively affect us in a way that is similar to the way people who have authority over us (earthly princes) affect us? Is it really the case that whether we hear from God might have to do not only with God's will and our faith, as we Western believers customarily assume, but with the will of various created invisible beings who exist "above" us but "below" God? . . .

Obviously, a number of significant features of this passage of Scripture simply do not rest well either with the naturalistic worldview of our postEnlightenment culture or with standard evangelical theology regarding God's sovereignty and angels.... This passage further implies that at least part of what may be in the balance, as these beings either cooperate with or resist God's will, is our welfare.

. . . While few passages are as explicit as Daniel 10, the Bible from beginning to end presupposes spiritual beings who exist "between" humanity and God and whose behavior significantly affects human existence, for better or for worse. Indeed, just such a conception, I argue in this work, lies at the center of the biblical worldview (pp. 10-11).

Boyd asserts that if we find this worldview strange, we should at least recognize that we Westerners are the odd ones out. Many peoples adopt this worldview without difficulty. Among his examples he includes the Shuar in Ecuador: "everything in the physical plane is understood against the backdrop of a highly influential, intricate and remarkably detailed spiritual world in which forces are at war with each other and through which people wage war against each other; the Shuar do not clearly differentiate these two spheres.... I call this basic understanding of the cosmos a warfare worldview" (p. 13). Then the summary: "Stated most broadly, this worldview is that perspective on reality which centers on the conviction that the good and evil, fortunate or unfortunate, aspects of life are to be interpreted largely as the result of good and evil, friendly or hostile, spirits warring against each other and against us. …

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