I had the great honor of asking theologian, author, and pastor Greg Boyd a few questions about the sovereignty of God, whether or not humans can influence God, prayer, and more.
One book by Dr. Boyd that has proven formative and helpful for me is his Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now.
My questions are in bold.
A phrase that is used across denominational landscapes is “the sovereignty of God.” Are you personally comfortable with this language, or do you find there to be more helpful options out there? Do you find that we need an updated word to describe God’s rule?
Greg: I’m fine with talking about God’s “sovereignty,” so long as one doesn’t assume that “sovereignty” equals “meticulous control.” God sovereignly rules with wisdom, and you only need wisdom when you have to problem solve, and God could only need to problem solve if he populated his creation with free agents who freely create problems. So, as I see it, a wise sovereign God can’t be a meticulous controlling god.
Can humans, through prayer, influence or even thwart God’s will? If so, does this threaten the sovereignty of God, or make God any less powerful?
Greg: The Bible has more “If-then” statements associated with prayer than any other human activity. IF my people pray, THEN I will heal their land.
Which means, if we DON”T pray, this will negatively impact our healing. In Ezek 22:29-31, Yahweh looked for someone to stand in the gap and “repair the wall” so that judgment wouldn’t come on Israel. He found none, which is ultimately why Israel was subjected to judgment. So, yes, agents can assist or thwart God’s will (Luke 7:32); .
This highlights rather than undermines God’s wise sovereignty, for all the reasons given in my previous answer.
“The Bible has more “If-then” statements associated with prayer than any other human activity.” Greg BoydTweet
At times, some Christians who hold to a deterministic view of God categorize the theology you propose as being “man-centered” or humanistic. How would you respond?
Greg: I know this game. It’s silly. The view I advocate was the view of the early church up until Augustine. Hard to say they were humanist. It’s only once Augustine adopts an Omni-deterministic perspective that calls on people to worship sheer Arbitrary Power and sees coercive (and threatening) power as a virtue (which is paganism 101) that ascribing any “say so” to people or angels is seen as “being man-centered” and “robbing God of glory.”
Do you feel that God’s activity in the world is dependent on our prayers? Some use the language of God being bound or limited by our prayers?
Greg: God gives us a finite domain of amount of “say-so”, and to this degree God can’t unilaterally or coercively interfere with our decision-making. If God revoked our “say-so” because we were about to misuse it, it would simply indicate that God hadn’t really given us this “say-so” in the first place. A revocable free will isn’t truly free. I say all that to say that I consider prayer to be part of our “say-so”. It’s a reservoir of power that is set aside for us to access it as we partner with God to bring about God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
“A revocable free will isn’t truly free.” Greg BoydTweet
Tricky terrain for some congregations is how we are to approach prayer for the sick. Some leave it on the person in need of healing (“your faith will make you well”); others leave it up to the sovereignty of God, mystery, or a combination of the two. What advice do you have for those Christians and local churches struggling with this issue?
Greg: Imitate Jesus. He always diagnosed infirmities as being part of Satan’s regime, and he manifested God’s will by healing the person. Never do I find him attributing afflictions to “God’s sovereign will.”
“Jesus always diagnosed infirmities as being part of Satan’s regime, and he manifested God’s will by healing the person. Never do I find him attributing afflictions to “God’s sovereign will.”” Greg BoydTweet
Is the debate over the sovereignty of God a “gospel issue?” Is it worth a church dividing over?
Greg: Depends on what kind of unity you’re presupposing and what churches are trying to accomplish. If asked to work with a Calvinist Church to build homes for the homeless or any other ministry where the recipients don’t care what your mental picture of God is, I would say ABSOLUTELY!!
But if asked to unite with a Calvinist Church to run a counciling center, I’d have to say “sorry, no can do.” I can’t have one councilor telling a rape victim that God grieves her rape and another that God ordained it!
Thank you for your time!
Dr. Greg Boyd is an internationally recognized preacher, theologian, and apologist who serves as senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Alongside N.T. Wright and Shane Claibourne he has appeared in the newly-released film Chasing The Rain which deals with the problem of pain and human suffering (available on Amazon). You can find Dr. Boyd at Reknew.org.