Letters from a Skeptic

I (finally) finished reading Greg Boyd's book "Letters from a Skeptic."  Boyd is founding senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical mega-church in St. Paul, MN.  Trained at Yale and Princeton, Boyd taught for years at Bethel University in St. Paul. He has written several books on theology and apologetics, but "Letters from a Skeptic" is different... and very personal.

The skeptic is Edward Boyd, Greg's father.  The book is an exchange of about 50 letters over three years discussing questions of the rationality of faith in God.  Ed Boyd begins the exchange as a hard-boiled unbeliever with serious questions about his sons faith.  Why is the world so full of suffering? How can you believe that a man rose from the dead? Why do you think the Bible is inspired? Do all non-Christians go to hell? How can I be holy and sinful at the same time?  The discussions were straightfoward and generally free from philosophical and theological jargon asa  son shares with his father why it is reasonable to believe that Christianity is true.  The book ends with Ed Boyd's acceptance of Jesus and a testimonial of the change that faith made in his life.  Click here for a local newscast that reported on the book. 

Toward the end of the book, the issue being debated stopped being the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible-- it was the church.  Or really, it was the kinds of Christians that Ed expereinced in his Catholic upbringing and on religious TV.  These believers seemed to have all the answers and all the rules; he wanted to know how he could ever be righteous on his own. 
Dad, you are perfectly correct! No one can live the Christian life! No one has, does, or ever will (this side of heaven) perfectly live the Christian life! Do you think for a moment that I'm any better at doing the "holiness routine" than you? You know me better than that! It's as impossible for me as it is for you.

But this is just the point, Dad. It is the central motive for all of Jesus' ethical teachings. We are unable to perform our way to God on our own: thus, we need a Savior!

Throughout Jesus' ministry He was confronting people who (like the Christians you've confronted) believed that they were righteous before God on the basis of how good they were. They didn't think they needed a Savior.

So how did Jesus help them? He helped them by showing them what they'd really have to be like if they were to be righteous before God without a Savior.

So, for example, the Pharisees were proud because they didn't appear as sinful as other people, but Jesus tells them they need to "be perfect, even as God is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Good luck!

So too, some self-righteous folks were proud for never committing adultery, but Jesus (not Paul) told them "if you've lusted after a woman in your heart you've already committed adultery" (Matt. 5:27-28, my paraphrase). 

He makes His point precisely because everyone has lusted in his heart!

Then again, these religious types were very proud because they had never murdered, so Jesus told them "if you get angry or even say 'fool' in your heart towards a brother, you're already in danger of hell fire" (Matt. 5:21-22, my paraphrase). The point, Dad, is that left on our own, we are all "in danger of hell fire. "

The list of verses could go on, but the point would always be the same. If you're going to stand before God on your own basis, Dad, you have to be perfect, for God is perfect. 

Any imperfection is eternally incompatible with the character of God. Being "relatively good" just doesn't cut it. Being "sort of holy" will get no more brownie points in heaven than being a dope-addicted prostitute. One must have God's own perfect righteousness.