Book Review: God Behaving Badly
Author: David Lamb
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830838264
The God depicted in the Old Testament is very often given a bad rap. Old Testament professor David Lamb addresses some of the reasons for this bad reputation in his book God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? In this work, which I would consider an apologetic of sorts, there are seven specific accusations addressed that provide fodder for those who would believe “God behaves badly.” The examples that Professor Lamb chose to use follow: angry or loving, sexist or affirming, racist or hospitable, violent or peaceful, legalistic or gracious, rigid or flexible, and distant or near. Chapter by chapter, Lamb provides one or more Biblical narrative accounts with each accusation that form the basis for the particular argument (angry, racist, sexist) lodged against God.
Overall, I think the book does an okay job of presenting a counter argument to the “Old Testament Angry God” dilemma. I think it is difficult to address the amount of material Dr. Lamb attempts to cover in such a short book (fewer than 200 pages). And to be honest, while I am in agreement with Dr. Lamb’s position, I think some of his arguments might be a little weak. I don’t know that I could do a better job of making sense of God’s character in light of what our “politically correct” culture assumes to be good or bad and right or wrong, I’m just pointing out that some of the arguments Lamb presents aren’t very strong for me, if I needed convincing that God was Great and God was Good. Like I said, it’s not that I don’t agree with the responses given by the author, it’s just that I don’t find them very convincing from a perspective outside of the Christian sphere and that might be some of the audience for which this book might be recommended.
The first chapter of the book Dr. Lamb states that he wrote the book because of his fascination with the Old Testament and the characterizations of God in it. He also mentions that he uses this material to present a more balanced characterization of the Old Testament view of God to his seminary students. The presentation of arguments for a “good God” in the above scenarios assumes the arguments are being presented to believers who have some basis, knowledge, and faith in the Bible in the first place. In this case, Dr. Lamb’s arguments are fairly balanced; however, if I’m using these arguments in conversation with my college age son, they are quickly dismissed. This, in my opinion, is the weakness of this book. I think if the book is used to derail heresy (like Marcionism), then it is a moderate success. On the other hand, if the book is meant to be an apologetic for agnostics, atheists, secular humanists, and others who struggle with Christian faith, it falls short. In summary, I believe this book is written for Christians and might not be a good choice as a recommendation for those who are otherwise. I may be wrong.
I liked the format and layout of the book, the references, notes, and Scripture annotations; the research was well documented and provides quick access to additional research or Biblical cross-referencing. Discussion questions are provided if the book is read as part of a group study. In summary, I liked the book in general and enjoyed reading it quite a bit. I hope my review is not misinterpreted as a negative review, it is not meant as one. I do think the audience for the book is narrower than some might assume, but that may have been the intent all along.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Intervarsity Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”