God Behaving Badly - Book Review

Whilst on my wonderful and eventful vacation, I had the chance to read David T. Lamb's newest book God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?  Lamb is the associate professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA.  He has also worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

God Behaving Badly is the result of countless conversations that Lamb has had with his students over the years regarding the "God of the Old Testament," and the ways that the God of the Old Testament appears to be angry, petty, sexist, racist, arbitrary and capricious.  I have had these same kinds of conversations with people over the years.  Most often they will say things like, "I like the God of the New Testament, but the God of the Old Testament...not so much."  Recently, a lady in our church stopped attending one of our Sunday school classes that was reading through the Old Testament together.  She had never read through much of the Old Testament before, and was so shocked and dismayed by what she was reading, she said she would quit until they reached the New Testament.

Honestly, I've had those same kinds of notions from time to time.  These assumptions about the nature of God---particularly the nature of God that seems to be revealed in the Old Testament are not that flattering. 

Lamb sets each chapter of the book up as an either/or comparison.  In other words, is God "angry or loving," "sexist or affirming," "legalistic or gracious?"  What he determines is that we need to reset our understanding of the Old Testament first, and our ideas about God along with it.  Lamb also lifts up a number of instances in the New Testament where Jesus reveals some aspects of God that aren't that warm and fuzzy.  He does this as a way of holding a mirror up to our assumptions, and revealing them to us as they are, and not necessarily how we want them to be.

What I appreciate about Lamb's approach to this is that he doesn't shy away from addressing the actual Biblical text, struggling with it in its context and as the inspired Word of God.  Brian McClaren recently wrote about the struggle between the images of God in the Old Testament and the New in his book, A New Kind of Christianity.  McClaren essentially glosses over the text, and diminishes the authors of the Old Testament as primitive and childlike in their understanding of God.  His assertion is that as the world "evolves," so does our understanding of the nature of God.

The problem with this kind of theory is that it diminishes the authority and power of the Biblical text--reducing much of it to metaphor. 

Lamb takes a much more measured approach.  He writes, "Compared to other ancient Near Eastern literature, the Old Testament is shockingly progressive in its portrayals of divine love, acceptance of foreigners and affirmation of women." He reframes much of the "bad" behavior of God in the Old Testament by asking a simple question, "Would you want to follow a God that wasn't passionate about his relationship with you?"

God Behaving Badly is a great book to share with someone who is struggling with what they have either read or experienced from the Old Testament as it relates to the nature of God.  I recommend it to church leaders, pastors, teachers, Bible study leaders or anyone who is curious about a deeper relationship with  God.  


  1. Jeromy, I had a snafu with my commenting that I fixed. Someone else contacted me to let me know about it and I promised them the book. But I will send you another book if you email me your mailing address to lbloder@mac.com

  2. Leon, Thanks for the positive review. I hope the book helps readers of the OT connect with God, particularly people like the women in your church who've stopped reading the OT. I meet people like that all the time.

  3. Dr. Lamb! Thanks for reading the review, and most of all thanks for writing this book. It's been a huge help to me as I have been preaching on the book of Habakkuk this month. Thanks for the comment, too!!


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