…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…
– me, Thinking Out Loud, 2/24/13
There are going to be those, on seeing this is a review of a Greg Boyd book, who will immediately dismiss everything that follows. While perhaps not as high on the controversy scale as Rob Bell, Boyd’s writings, sermons, and YouTube videos posted on his blog often reference the radical pacifism of his Anabaptist leanings; his belief that the American Church should be apolitical, not seen to be supporting candidates of either major party; and his teaching of ‘open theology,’ which offers the idea that for any given persons or group, the future could contain a range of possible outcomes among which God has not committed himself to knowing the final choice in advance.
With his newest book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”
At this point, I want to step out and say that I while I believe this book has great potential for both seekers and skeptics, this is must-reading for every seasoned or veteran Christ-follower. Furthermore, I want also step out and, to use a cliché, that if the Lord tarries, I think Greg Boyd will be remembered as one of the great thinkers of our generation, even if he is not heretofore accorded such honor.
While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all, while we ourselves, as in the above quotation from a previous column here, feel our theological understanding is better jotted down in pencil rather than indelible ink and therefore feel our relationship with God is somewhat lacking. He writes,
Think about it. If I was confident that God unconditionally loves me because of what he did for me on Calvary, then wouldn’t I be confident that his love for me does not increase or decrease based on how accurate or inaccurate my other beliefs are? So too, if I was confident God ascribes unsurpassable worth to me on the basis of Calvary, then wouldn’t I be confident that my worth can’t be increased because I hold correct beliefs and can’t be decreased because I hold mistaken beliefs? These questions answer themselves.
Unlike other books I review here, the chapters of Benefit of the Doubt must be considered sequentially, not only for the progression of thought the book entails, but also because of the many autobiographical sections that are introduced then later referenced. This book is Greg Boyd at his most personal, most transparent; even as he writes of weightier things.
While Boyd admits in a couple of places that he tends overall to lean to the conservative position on many doctrinal issues; and that he believes in the inspiration of scripture and even a version of inerrency; the book will resonate with people who wrestle with many of the more difficult parts of the Bible, or those who are stuck in a place overshadowed by past unanswered prayers. He gets into this in describing an upcoming conference based on the book:
There are those who might falsely infer that with a title such as this, the pastor of Minneapolis megachurch Woodland Hills is slowly moving away from orthodoxy. Based on my reading, I would say with deep conviction, don’t think that for a minute. This is a book about the value of doubt; a book that espouses the concept that perhaps in an atmosphere of doctrinal fragility, our ultimate faith in Christ is perhaps stronger, more enriched, and more able to withstand the realities of life. As the publisher blurb suggestions, “Let your questions lead you to a stronger faith.”