Review of God Behaving Badly by Dave Lamb

Note: I have not been asked to review this book by a publisher or by the author. Like all reviews, these are my sincere opinions.

I was pretty excited to see Dave Lamb had written God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? in the InterVarsity Press book catalog. Dave was one of our profs at Biblical Seminary and everyone in our cohort thoroughly enjoyed his class and teaching style. He’s academic with the just enough “normal” and missional (among other things) made it a good class. This book is a natural expression of his teaching style and sincerely, I really enjoying reading it.

Here is the publisher’s summary:
“God has a bad reputation. Many think of God as wrathful and angry, smiting people right and left for no apparent reason. The Old Testament in particular seems at times to portray God as capricious and malevolent, wiping out armies and nations, punishing enemies with extreme prejudice. But wait. The story is more complicated than that. Alongside troubling passages of God’s punishment and judgment are pictures of God’s love, forgiveness, goodness and slowness to anger. How do we make sense of the seeming contradiction? Can God be trusted or not? David Lamb unpacks the complexity of the Old Testament to explore the character of God. He provides historical and cultural background to shed light on problematic passages and to bring underlying themes to the fore. Without minimizing the sometimes harsh realities of the biblical record, Lamb assembles an overall portrait that gives coherence to our understanding of God in both the Old and New Testaments.”

What I Liked:

Because these really are among the questions that people are asking, these are the books that need to be written. The fact that Dave wrote this book is so missional ;)  Some times these books create “straw men” (whether intentionally or unintentionally), but in the space he has, Dave sets up the problems and tensions quite well.

Dave is a pretty funny guy despite having earned a PhD (or DPhil because it’s Oxford). And his humor and personality bounce off the page throughout the book. Which is a good thing, given the seriousness of the subject matter. This book isn’t written for the seminary students in particular (though seminarians and pastors would greatly benefit from seeing how he handles these tough questions).  In any case, Dave’s personality helps move the book forward.

 I especially liked how he handled the context of the ancient world. That’s pretty much the key to the content and if you don’t get that right, you’ll likely have a disappointing message.
The “Why is the OT God so violent” question is addressed well throughout the book. (Not crazy about the insistence that “God is slow to anger” piece but Dave has it growing on me). His other arguments work very well. Thought it was especially important to demonstrate that the God of the OT is just as loving as the God of the NT – there’s only one God.

What I Would Have Liked to Have Seen:
Wished it was a little longer. Obviously, I don’t really know the publishing world and this book is more intended for regular church types (and many outside the church), but I think more could have been included and nothing would have been lost. (Come on, people are reading 500 page Twilight books!). I would love to see Dave follow this up with an academic treatment of this material.
Dave taking the gloves off and being specific how other civilizations were treating their women and general population. In that light, Yahweh and the people of Israel are quite progressive. (He touches on that, but here again, a longer book may have more helpful).
Would have liked to have seen some discussion on polygamy in the sexist chapter. (This issue messed me up as an undergrad and someone requests this on his blog as well).
I think a “sequel” that addresses polygamy and homosexuality would be a great idea.

Who I Think This Book Is For:
Similar to my recent review of Why God Won’t Go Away by Alister McGrath, I think God Behaving Badly is an excellent book to give to someone after they have asked these questions. It demonstrates relevance and self-awareness (yeah we in the church wrestle with these questions too).
Small Groups! I think a lot would be gained to read this book in community.

Lastly, in fear of ruining the end of a movie, the ending of the book is excellent. I hope you pick up a copy of this book because I think most people would find this very helpful. If you have been following my blogging through our church’s sermon series, you know this issue has come up in my posts and in conversations with others. It’s so important that we not only ask the questions in the Church and it’s also important that we seek the answers through study, prayer and community. And I think Dave’s book offers us some of that.

For more, check out:
Dave’s site
His interview with Dave from the Biblical Seminary site
The Facebook fan page
Thinking Christian Review
And if you get a chance, check out this 45 minute radio interview