This will conclude my series of posts on David Lamb’s God Behaving Badly from IVP-Academic. You can read the posts on the author and contents: here and here. Thanks again to IVP-Academic for seeding the review copy.
I will start off by saying that this week I had to make a real-time decision concerning God Behaving Badly. It just so happens, that this week I covered the issue of violence in the Old Testament in one of the introductory courses I’m teaching this semester. (I would like to attribute the timing to divine providence, but it probably had more to do with me being about two weeks behind on everything right now). So, I came upon the decision of whether I would recommend God Behaving Badly to my students – I did, but with a proviso.
With regard to the proviso, my main concern with God Behaving Badly was that I felt it lacked nuance at certain points. I’ll give a couple of examples:
In Chapter 4, Lamb suggests that the accounts in Joshua are hyperbolic – a point with which I mostly agree. Yet, even in my own recognition that texts in Joshua (and other places) may be hyperbolic, I find myself confronted with a passage like 1 Samuel 15 (I double-checked the scripture index and do not think Lamb deals with this text with regard to violence). In 1 Samuel 15, the very thing that seems to get Saul in trouble is not taking the command of Samuel literally. So, while I may suggest to my students that Old Testament texts may contain hyperbole, I do make mention that 1 Samuel 15 is a text that presents some difficulties for using that view too broadly.
Also in places, I do not feel that Lamb treats some of the more problematic texts emphasized by those who approach the issues in God Behaving Badly differently. In neither his chapter on gender nor his chapter on racism does he deal with Ezra 9-10, especially in relation to his discussion of the foreign grandmothers of Jesus (pp. 86-87). Ezra 9-10 is one of the more difficult sections in the Old Testament and is pertinent to that particular section of the book since some see the Book of Ruth as a response to that part of Ezra.
I felt this lack of nuance at various places throughout the book. So, why did I recommend God Behaving Badly to my students? And, even moreso, why do I recommend it here? I think there are two main reasons.
First, my students are undergraduates, and as such, most of them don’t require nuance at this stage. They still have courses upcoming on Pentateuch, Prophets, and Wisdom Literature where they can approach this question in more depth. In a similar way, for many general readers, I think God Behaving Badly could provide a good entryway into a number of important topics. So, I recommended God Behaving Badly to my students with the proviso not to stop their reading there. In fact, I think Lamb would agree as he states in his concluding chapter: “While all our questions may never fully be answered, we will find that Yahweh and Jesus can be reconciled and that the God of both testaments is loving.” From this, I take it that Lamb wasn’t trying to treat every difficult text in the Old Testament, but to show how one can approach some of these difficult issues.
Second, what I think Lamb does well in God Behaving Badly is that he highlights many of the more positive texts in the Old Testament. In response to the new atheist readings of the Old Testament, this in itself is important. Someone who reads the the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens would read God Behaving Badly and realize that the new atheists are reading the Old Testament very selectively. Encountering these differing viewpoints should encourage further study of the issues.
With all of this said, I have recommended God Behaving Badly to my students and recommend it to more general readers who follow this blog. It is a good entryway into a number of important topics. You may still leave the book feeling like you would like to read further. Yet you will at least leave the book with an awareness of many of the higher points in the Old Testament and a better understanding of the context of some difficult Old Testament texts.