So many Christians are troubled by the portrayal of God in the Old Testament, and find certain passages difficult to square with a God of love. In this book David Lamb looks at the objections that many in today's society have against the God of the Old Teatament (that he's racist, violent, sexist and other similar accusations). He takes one objection per chapter and then looks in detail at relevant passages, bringing them to life by explaining the original historical context and exploring what it means for Christian living today.
I absolutely loved this book and as someone who has struggled with many of those questions, I found it incredibly helpful. There were so many things I liked about the book:
- he makes the Bible sound exciting when he writes about it. This book had the potential to be a very dry academic study. Though he is a brilliant professor of theology with a phD from Oxford and his handling of the Bible is rigorous and insightful, he writes in a way that is effortless and entertaining. I found myself getting really excited by the process of looking at Bible passages, even though he was answering some really tough questions.
- he doesn't shy away from people's objections and seems to have a genuine sympathy for people struggling to reconcile difficult passages in the Old Testament about warfare with the God of love. This, I think, matters, because no matter how academic and thorough the theology, these questions still deserve to be answered by someone with a pastor's heart. This he has, and he manages to communicate warmth and love in his writing.
- he has a great sense of humour and a funny, chatty style of writing that kept me engaged (and at some parts, laughing out loud!)
- at the end of each chapter he would give a brief summary of the points he'd made (really helpful for reference) and he would look at how that applies to every day life, using his own as an illustration.
The book is written from an evangelical perspective and is probably best suited to Christians who want to work through these questions or know how to respond to their friends' questions. I found myself at the start of the book having a lot of questions and passages I was troubled by, and by the end I was reflecting on the goodness of God and feeling inspired to live for Him. I thoroughly and unreservedly recommend it.
First of all, the book is written very clearly, and even accessible for those for whom English isn't their first language. Despite its accessability and the author trying to be too witty, it is not as superficial as these factors may indicate. Good examples of word-studies and reading-in-context are given in the argumentation of Lamb's points.
It should be emphasised that this should only be a starting point and motivator to dig deeper into these questions. The author himself clearly states that some passages remain a mystery in part, but this at least points out that there are some answers. The ones the author gives need to be weighed of course. It is good to remain critical of the authors' answers if we can't wait to see confirmed that God isn't racist or sexist. On the other hand it is good to also be aware that some parts of the character of God are hard to accept, an aspect that is a bit underemphasised in the book.
In short, this book doesn't give all the answers and does not pretend to do so (some other negative reviews give some good critisisms to ponder further upon). If a christian does the same after reading this book, it has achieved it's goal.
I am not entirely sure what I was expecting with this little volume. At 198 pages, including discussion questions and bibliography, it is a relatively 'light way in' to a topic that appears to be uncomfortable to Christians, who have lost the habit of studying their own Old Testaments - and the author does substantively address the kinds of criticism of the God portrayed in the OT that you hear with mind-numbing frequency from atheists such as Richard Dawkins.
The book IS very readable. Indeed, there were occasions when Mr Lamb was cracking another joke that I kind of wished he'd get a bit more serious and get down to business. Overall, however, the levity did not distract too much from his central purpose, which was to address, in fairly big-picture terms, the substance of the more recent and well-publicised attacks on the character of God.
David Lamb makes, throughout this treatment, some very useful points indeed, and if this volume serves to get Christians to interact thoughtfully with the biblical text, then that will be a very good thing. The new atheists often shout so stridently and aggressively on this topic that I surmise many Christians steer clear of challenging passages and hope for the best - the author demonstrates that we merely need to face them, read them in context and understand what the narrative is saying.
So, for anyone seeking to understand this subject, 'God behaving badly' is a great place to start. Next, I suggest would be Paul Copan's 'Is God a moral monster?', and then to put the icing on the cake Chris Wright's 'Old Testament Ethics for The People of God' (or, for a lighter alternative, his 'The God I don't understand').
Probably the main book on the ethics of the OT God is Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? (2011). However Lamb's book is a good deal easier to read and he is humorous in places. Once you unpack the OT difficulties, many are not so difficult after all. The book has a scripture index but no index. Chapter headings are:
1. A bad reputation 2. Angry or loving? 3. Sexist or affirming? 4. Racist or hospitable? 5. Violent or peaceful? 6. Legalistic or Gracious? 7. Rigid or Flexible? 8. Distant or Near?
If you struggle with the 'God of the Old Testament' this book is for you. Without claiming to know all the answers David Lamb (who is a professor of Old Testament studies) makes a helpful and strong case for the goodness of God by putting apparent genocide and sexism in their proper context.