Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Letters from a Skeptic

The book Letters from a Skeptic came highly recommended by my pastor. It contains a series of 29 back and forth correspondences between father Edward Boyd and his son Greg Boyd. Greg is a pastor who regularly participates in discussions debating the "proof" of God's existence. This book contains the exchanges of the questions asked by the father that resulted in his skepticism about Christianity and the son's answers to them. Ultimately after 3 years of letters, the dad accepted God. This book describes the father as a serious skeptic, bordering on atheist. The book then is sold as something of a course on how to convert the unbelievers, tackling head on some of the most prickly and difficult questions regarding Christian faith, God, Jesus, and the Bible.

Some of the questions that are asked include:
  • Why has Christianity done so much harm?
  • Why did God create Satan?
  • Why trust the Gospel accounts?
  • Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?
  • How can I be sure it's all true?
The son's stated approach through this book is to work from the known to the unknown as he addresses his father's questions. One thing he makes clear is that in these important questions, we must adhere closely to what the Bible tells us. This all sounds great. But, the pastor and debator son goes astray often. I will raise a few of my impressions:
  • The son is an intellectual powerhouse compared to his dad and introduces lots of high flung concepts that addle his father into accepting weak premises with equally weak proof.
  • The son when faced with questions that paint God as unloving and mean-spirited, too often makes up answers that have nothing to do with the Bible. His version of God is not so much omnipotent as impotent.
  • Here is an all too typical exchange. Dad: Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but there are just too many questions for me to believe in this story. Son: Trust me, the evidence is strong. Dad: Son, that is a strong argument; I'm now fully convinced.
  • Books such as this with tough questions answered by deep-sounding by trite answers actually can do more harm than good when they can't give solid answers that are clear, consistent, and logical.
  • I was reading the one-star reviews of this book on Amazon and felt that they really captured the issues that I had with this book.
So far, everything that I have said regarding my impressions of this book have been negative, yet it wasn't a complete dud. There were several of the exchanges where you could feel the pain and frustration in the question, and the tenderness in the reply. In some of these cases the answer was complete, convincing, and written from a fresh perspective. However, too many of the son's replies were just completely full of holes or questionable theology and too often the father accepted very weak sauce without question. I just don't see how these answers could ever change the mind of a true skeptic with the ability to think for themselves. That said, I enjoyed my time with this book because it helped sharpen my own reasons for believing. This would be a good book for a small group to debate and discuss.