Book Notes: Letters to a Skeptic

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.

2 comments on “Book Notes: Letters to a Skeptic

  1. judi moran says:

    Thank you, Jendi, for this insightful and measured appraisal of the book in question.
    I was intrigued at the start because the opposite is true in our family: my former husband and I are still true to the faith, our two children have left Christianity and align with New Age philosophy.
    I will keep this book in mind for perhaps future recommendation, esp. to my son.
    At this point, though, for me particularly, the best approach has been to live such a shining, cohesive, and joyful life that my children, though they don’t agree with my faith, have great respect for its central role in my life.
    My desire for sometime has been to keep the doors of communication and intimacy open between us, showing respect for their search, while all the while, living my own faith out loud.
    So far, this has been a huge success.
    And, of course, I have the secret, very powerful element of a mother’s prayers at work.
    I too, am an inclusivist, as you call it: toward my children and all those with a different spiritual expression.
    But, having tried the world, then zen buddhism, and finally rediscovering Christ, I can say without a shred of doubt, that I could not have survived the tragedies, loss, and suffering I have gone through in my life, without the light of Christ permeating my darkness.
    I applaud you for what you are doing with this blog and I wish you continued success.
    By the way, I found you on Blogflux, where I am half a dozen sites below you at zany life + crazy faith.
    Jlo Judi Moran

  2. Jendi Reiter says:

    Thanks for sharing these words about your faith journey, Judi. It would be a blessing for me if anything I wrote was helpful to you and your family. Some books that your kids might enjoy are “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell, “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott, and “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. They present the essentials of the Christian life (love and grace) without the off-putting abstractions and judgmentalism of previous generations’ apologetics.

    Folks, check out Judi’s blog at!

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