Letters to a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity is a solid little book of Christian apologetics by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, an evangelical theologian, and his father, Edward K. Boyd. It reproduces their correspondence over a three-year period, during which the elder Boyd asked his son nearly all of the basic questions that potential believers face (e.g., why would a good God permit suffering? how do I know the Bible is true? how can Jesus’ death atone for anyone’s sins?). At the end of the process, his father became a Christian.
Though lacking some of the personality of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, still the gold standard for popular apologetics in my opinion, Letters to a Skeptic covers an enormous amount of ground in less than 200 pages, and its conversational tone makes it a quick read. I would definitely give this book to anyone who is interested in following Christ but stymied by intellectual objections.
The Boyds’ dialogue starts with questions about God, particularly the problem of evil, then moves on to reasons for believing the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and significance, explores the issue of Biblical authority, and ends with a discussion of Christian moral ideals and how grace works to transform the believer throughout his life. I particularly liked Dr. Boyd’s statement that he trusts the Bible because he first trusted Jesus, and not the other way around. His relationship with Christ led him to take seriously the Scriptures that Jesus found authoritative. This is in contrast to some Christian writers I have known, who emphasize submission to Biblical authority so early in the discussion that one would think the Bible was the standard against which the reality of God should be measured, and not vice versa. The Bible is not the fourth person of the Trinity.
Dr. Boyd has reportedly caught some flack in evangelical circles for advocating “open theism,” the view that God chooses to leave some aspects of the future undetermined, so that humans can have free will and be partners in His creative activity. This does not undermine God’s sovereignty, he contends, because God could have chosen to predestine and foresee all earthly events, but instead freely chose to limit Himself for our benefit. I find this view convincing, and in line with Scripture (which often depicts God expressing surprise at our misbehavior!), as well as our simple moral intuition that a micromanaging God ought to prevent more of life’s tragedies. I’m looking forward to reading Boyd’s God of the Possible, where he explores this idea at length.
The only missing vitamin in this book, I felt, was an emotional, experiential sense of why one should consider becoming a Christian. True to his evangelical roots, Boyd lays heavy emphasis on choosing the location of one’s eternal real estate. But since he holds the inclusivist position (which I share) that Christ may save those who, through no fault of their own, did not explicitly accept the Christian faith, that seems like a lot of effort to go through just to increase your odds. I’d like him to say more about how that faith makes sense of life here on earth. Thus, I think the best audience for this book is someone who is already motivated by other circumstances to become a believer, and just needs help overcoming popular misconceptions about Christianity.