A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by B. Jason Epps
David T. Lamb is the Allan A. MacRae Professor of the Old Testament at Missio Seminary, where he is the Dean of Faculty. His background with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and several cultural contexts birthed his concern for this book. In this brief book, Lamb attempts to address some of the perceived problems of God. For example, is God angry or loving? Sexist or affirming? Racist or hospitable? Undergirding these discussions, he is trying to undo the general cultural thought that the Old Testament God is bad and evil and the New Testament God is good, kind, and loving, a problem Lamb acknowledges that has unfortunately existed since the early days of the church. Lamb attempts to demonstrate that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one and the same. Lamb consistently utilizes a warm conversational style and humor that draws the reader in and holds their attention.
While for the most part he does a good job presenting and holding God’s attributes in tension, he has a tendency to oversimplify the solution in that he does not bring all the data points to bear. In chapter 1, he fails to mention that the ark was supposed to be covered. Throughout the book he often tries to unearth how God might be feeling based on people’s actions and utilize those feelings to rationalize God’s actions. He uses emotional appeal in bringing out how God might have perceived people’s actions. In so doing, our culture becomes the judge of the biblical text. In chapter 3, he states that Deborah was a president and a pope in ancient Israel and implies that we should allow women to ascend those roles today and go beyond what he views as misogyny in the church (73). By this he seems to imply not restricting the head pastorship to men. Throughout the book, he seems to put an emphasis on the fact that the Bible was more progressive than what is around it, which seems to imply that we can continue to progress even beyond that, as opposed to viewing the Bible as the standard and norming norm.
In the afterword to the expanded edition, he mentions his schema of how to deal with approaching perceived problems in the Bible. The first step is to state the problem as problematically as possible (92). I understand his reaction against sweeping problems under the rug; however, the way he practically goes about this process seems to exaggerate the problem based on our cultural perceptions. The next step he argues is to examine problematic language. Again, this seems to set up our culture as to be the judge of what would be the problem. The third step is to understand the ancient context. He acknowledges needing to understand the significance of the passage in the original context. Even though he acknowledges this, it seems, based on the other steps, to be more modern-culture-centric. Our culture is the judge, jury, and executioner. The final step is remaining humble in uncertainty, a good tactic that all of us should follow.
He ends the book providing suggestions on how to disagree graciously. I think his suggestions here are very helpful especially in this day and age. They are to ask questions, validate the other person’s perspectives. However, this step in particular seems to be a passive correctional approach. Don’t have these discussions online, use humor, which he regularly did. He acknowledges that sometimes it is necessary to get angry. He ends the book acknowledging that one needs to balance these difficult discussions with looking at hopeful sections of Scripture. This suggestion is extremely helpful.
In general, I think this book would be a helpful and engaging resource to be discussed in a small group so that the potential areas where certain elements that might be overstated can be discussed. This book can be read and easily understood by anyone in the church, but it is best used where its elements can be discussed and corrected as necessary.
B. Jason Epps
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Buy the books
GOD BEHAVING BADLY: IS THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT ANGRY, SEXIST AND RACIST?, by David T. Lamb