Letters From a Skeptic, A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions About Christianity by Dr. Greg Boyd and Edward Boyd, Cook Communications, 2004.
*This chatty book review can be read in about 3 minutes.*
This book was on a summer reading list for my church, and it caught my eye because I already had the book but not read it. I’ve also appreciated Greg Boyd since reading another book by him years ago (The Myth of a Christian Nation) and listening to several of his sermons, particularly on faith and doubt. Greg Boyd is an American theologian, pastor, and author.
The book contains an actual series of letters written between Greg Boyd and his skeptical, non-believing father Edward over a period of almost 3 years. His dad, in his 70s, ended up becoming a Christian, the final years of his life transformed by Christ.
The format makes it an easier way to consider apologetics, which can be challenging or just a denser topic for some. The unique format of personal letters reminded me of a worldview apologetics book written as a conversation between 3 people. That would be Between Heaven & Hell by Peter Kreeft that featured dialogue between a Christian theist, modern humanist, and Eastern pantheist – my review HERE.
With both of these books, I at first thought that reading letters or a conversation might be difficult or choppy, but it actually proved to be the opposite. Both books flowed, and somehow reading letters or conversation kept things “real” and instead of choppy it kept you from getting bogged down. So…if you have found reading apologetics challenging in the past, give these two books a try!
Letters From a Skeptic is roughly divided into sections, questions about: God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, and Christian life/doctrine. Just about every conceivable question and doubt that anyone could have about Christianity is covered. For example: why is there so much suffering in the world, harm done by Christianity, contradictions in the Gospels, isn’t the Bible filled with myths and God’s vengeance, how can there be a hell, etc.
Greg’s dad is straightforward, perhaps asking questions that some might think in their heads, but not articulate to another. Even believing Christians have such doubts and questions at times; at least I do, and you too, if you are honest, right? While some questions have rather good answers, others remain a challenge, and Greg was always honest in that regard – offering worthwhile explanations but admitting for certain issues there is not a slam dunk or totally satisfactory answer, at least from our human perspective.
These letters can serve as a good model for sharing and discussing Christianity with others. Don’t be a know-it-all. If a certain question is a tough one, admit that. Also, no matter what issue they were discussing in the letters, Greg frequently brought it back around to Jesus Christ and the essence of salvation – we are sinful and need a Savior. Greg would lovingly challenge his dad to place his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve observed apologetics fail here! A Christian and a skeptic are in dialogue, and Jesus is forgotten about, hardly even mentioned. Uh?? But it is actually easy for this to happen – focused on a certain topic we forget the big picture!
Greg Boyd is a highly educated Christian, and these letters are also a good example of discussing things that can be more technical in a down-to-earth way with everyday folks. Indeed, I’ve always personally assessed how well I truly understand an issue by my ability to explain it to someone who knows little or nothing about it. If I can only speak in big words and in an overly technical way, I don’t understand the issue as well as I think I do.
The book isn’t just theory, but gets personal and emotional too. For example, Greg’s mom (Edward’s wife) died young of illness. Why did God let that happen? What is the point of prayer if God often does not seem to answer? Actually, I think the thoughts about prayer would be very beneficial for Christians, not just non-believing skeptics!
Multiple times in these letters, Edward’s skepticism was based on inaccurate perceptions that he had unfortunately gotten from Christians who did not properly understand their own beliefs. Edward appreciated how his son Greg cleared it up for him. So, attention Christians, your ignorance can contribute to someone’s unbelief! For example, the Bible did not just fall out of the sky intact from God. Skeptics can be very concerned about the Bible, and a Christian should at least have a basic understanding of the nature of Scripture and how the Bible came to be.
Most of Greg’s answers in the book are typical evangelical responses, but sometimes Greg’s approach is a little different or he is a bit more flexible than some evangelicals. In a good sense. Sometimes we can make a “minor” into a “major” – as in, make it mandatory for someone to believe a certain way about a side issue, in order for them to come to Christ in faith. Every possible issue need not be “settled” before someone can become a Christian! Certain things actually need the light of faith to be resolved, and genuine believers have different views on certain things and that is okay.
I left for the end of this review, a concern some evangelicals have with Greg Boyd, and that would be his belief in open theism. I was under the impression that Boyd’s open theism was more recent, but this is not the case, as his views go back to the 1980s when he was a professor at a Christian university. When Greg discusses topics related to this with his dad, Greg honestly tells his dad that his views here are not the traditional Christian position. So I thought that was being clear and honest, which is good. I think evangelicals in the Wesleyan–Arminian tradition typically have less concerns with open theism than those from a more Calvinistic tradition. If you have no familiarity with these things, don’t worry, as it is not necessary in order to read and appreciate Letters From a Skeptic. And this only comes up in one section of the book, part 1, where their letters focus on questions about God.
After this chatty review, please know I do recommend this book to you!
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