June 14, 2011

Most people experience God at times as incredibly near, as if we are dwelling in the very presence of God. Yet at other times God seems remote or distant, and we seem to be dwelling in a cloud out of which cannot see. I am glad then that David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, probes this question: Is God distant or near?

How do you explain this distance-nearness dialectic? What do we mean when we say “near” or “distant”? What is your experience in these kinds of issues?

David begins where one ought to begin on this topic: with the lament psalms, those psalms where the psalmist complains about God’s distance or about God’s non-involvement, or even God’s seeming lack of care. As in “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He focuses a little on Psalms 13 and 22.

Those laments work like this: invocation, complaint, petition, trust and praise. The notable feature of these psalms is that they emerge from a kernel of faith, and the psalmist prays because he or she believes in God and believes there’s some hope by speaking with God. In this one finds a critical feature for the experience of God’s distance.

But at work in all of this is the stubborn, rugged presence of God with God’s people: the biblical expression is that God is with us. David has one of the best sketches I’ve seen of this “with us” theme in the Bible. God speaks and God walks with Israel and Judah and the church. (more…)

June 9, 2011

Is the God of the Old Testament rigid or is that God flexible? David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, probes this question.

Do you think God changes his mind? Does God change? [Like David Lamb, I have no intention here to open up the “open theism” can of worms.]

The answer is No and Yes. No, God is unchangeable; Yes, God is changeable. That’s biblical, and here’s why…

Num. 23:19     God is not a human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

1Sam. 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

Psa. 110:4       The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Mal. 3:6        “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed..

Very good evidence that God does not change. But, there’s even more evidence that God does change: (more…)

June 6, 2011

Is the God of the Old Testament a legalist? David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, probes into this question by examining how the God of the Old Testament (and New Testament) is depicted when it comes to giving laws.

The caricatures abound, from H.L. Mencken’s view that a Puritan was someone who lived with the fear that someone out there might be happy, or the nuns on The Simpsons who are singing “if you’re happy and you know it, it’s a sin.” Laws are demands, and boring, and oppressive. So laws means legalism. [Actually, there are lots of folks saying things like this.]

How should we envision the God who gives laws? What terms come to mind?

David Lamb disarms this by saying the first two commands in the Bible are “have lots of sex” and “eat lots of food.” Read Genesis 1 and you’ll find just this. David also contends that it was Satan who first dreamed up the idea that God’s laws indicate that God is mean, stingy and legalistic. Read Genesis 3.

What struck me about this chp is the reminder that God is good and laws are given by a Good God for the good of God’s people. [He says we should not be asking why bad things happen to good people but why good things happen to bad people, and his point is that no one is good.]

He sketches the many laws, the random laws and the harsh laws — again observing that Mosaic laws (there are many) are not random or harsh but pointed into specific contexts and are redemptive in their time. (more…)

May 31, 2011

Does the Old Testament teach us about a God of violence or a God of peace? Apart from the “just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it is condoned” approach, a proper method for answering a question like this is to probe the texts and find the patterns and the contexts and see what is happening in that text in that day. So David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, begins by examining a seemingly clear case of God behaving badly: Elisha’s praying for bears to destroy some boys (2 Kings 2:23-25, after the jump).

It is too easy to read this text quickly, see the horror and pounce on YHWH and Elisha and Judaism and Christianity. And many prefer that method, but there are factors here that deserve some consideration: first, the word “boys” is not gradeschoolers but probably teenagers, and they appear to be a gang or pack of boys up to no good in the wilderness. Second, though not our world, an insult of someone as worthy and noble as a prophet was serious — both violent words and an assault on the social order. This is not a harmless set of words by a group of innocent boys out playing a prank. [That’s the superficial reading.] Third, Elisha a peace-seeking and healing prophet. Finally, the text does not say they were killed but “mauled” — short of death. It is severe, no doubt, but David Lamb says it is more an incident of God’s protection of a noble prophet.

Recently I’ve been pondering violence and God some, and I wonder if violence isn’t the way of the world and that God is depicted as entering into the violent ways of humans in order to redeem us from the ways of violence. Anyway, how do you deal with these texts of violence? Ignore, suppress, minimize, or ponder?

What then of the Canaanites being drive from the Land? David sees this as forced migration, it was not as severe as many text suggest in their hyperbolic forms, and the primary form of “violence” — if that is what you want for a term — is “driving out” and not “death.” David responds briefly to Eric Seibert’s (at times Marcion-like) suggestion that the God of the Old Testament, when he doesn’t conform to Jesus, needs to be rejected, but David prefers a method that seeks to get to the bottom of the text in another way.


May 27, 2011

Is the Bible racist? Richard Dawkins thinks so, and the big reasons given in this general accusation are these: some 19th Century Christians justified new world slavery by appealing to the Bible; and YHWH commands Israelites to kill all the Canaanites. But “racism” is about “race” and most ancient Semite people are of the same race, but … but … but if we understand racism as prejudice based on nationality or ethnicity, then find texts in the Bible that can be taken as racist. David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, examines with this question: Racist or Hospitable?

Any attitude that denigrates any human on the basis of ethnicity or race is contrary to God’s creation of all humans as divine images. This insults God. David contends the geneaologies show that all humans derive from one family — that is a biblical perception of all humans.

Can this theme in the Bible be adequately explained by appealing to election, to wickedness and to God’s holiness that leads to judgment? This stuff is in all our Bibles: What do you do with the material?

Further, he agrees with Bill Webb that the biblical material, while not what we believe today, struck redemptive moves in the ancient world.

Fine, but what about the genocide texts? Here are two texts, the first from Joshua 10:40 and the second from Josh 11:14-15:

So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.

14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. 15 As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses. (more…)

May 25, 2011

When it comes to women in the Bible, or when it comes to potential indications of sexism in the Bible, some people want a clean slate in the Bible. What they want is a Bible that fully affirms women and that has no traces of sexism. That Bible doesn’t exist because that kind of world doesn’t exist, and the Bible isn’t into describing idyllic conditions. Apart from Genesis 1-2, all you get is the human condition warts and all.

It is that kind of Bible that David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, examines with this question: “Sexist or affirming?”

He begins at the beginning, as we ought to do — and a striking feature of his study of Genesis 1-2 is that he sees women as Godlike. Made in the image of God, that means women are Godlike. From that idea the Christian cannot budge. (Men are too, but as David says, men already knew that.) Women, David says, are the “second draft” and the second draft is better than the first draft. He backs down from saying women are superior, but he makes it emphatically clear that women are not depicted as inferior.

How can we talk about what the Bible says about women and both admit some ancient sexism, know its impact on women in history and in the church, and yet also call out the positive and affirming texts? What are you doing? Do you encourage women to do in your church what they did in the Bible?

The sin of Genesis 3 makes the woman look bad, but the man probably looks look worse — standing there doing nothing, naked and all. The man looks bad, too.

On the “curse” of Genesis 3 David and I don’t completely agree. He sees submission but not oppression; he doesn’t see a general human condition but a specific Adam-Eve thing, but he does permit generalization, which lands us back with not just a specific thing. The man’s curse is more severe; Eve receives an important promise (not one for Adam).

But here’s where we completely agree: the condition of Genesis 3 is not what God wants. I have pushed harder on this one than David, but what he says I totally agree with. We are called to diminish the fall’s implications (epidurals and harvesters) and not indwell it. (more…)

May 23, 2011

Sometimes I’m a bit surprised by what people say about God. I know of no humans who don’t get irked or who don’t get angry in a good sense, though I’ve seen some who get too angry too easily while others don’t get irked easily enough. But for some reason God’s getting angry, or expressing wrath, is bad behavior. I do wonder if our anger doesn’t correspond in some ways with something inherent to God and that means anger can’t simply be assigned to a fallen world.

In a chp called “Angry or Loving?,” David Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, asks this very question about the Old Testament. He can’t map all the OT texts but he gives a good map to the whole by sampling passages.

The biggest and most common mistake is to say the God of the OT is angry but the God of the NT is loving. The only people who say such things don’t read the Bible.

How do you explain the “anger” of God?

David examines Uzzah’s being struck dead by God for touching/steadying the altar when it was being moved. Seems a tad overdone, no? David says “Not if you look at the text in its context.” (I’ve got the text after the jump.)

He explains: first, YHWH’s anger results from how the Israelites were to carry the ark. Read Numbers 4:15 if you can. Clear disobedience. Second, they treated the ark of the covenant as cargo by pulling it on a cart when they were told to carry with sticks through the rings on the shoulders of priests. The ark represented God, and God is royalty, and they asked God to ride — as it were — in the trunk or the bed of the truck. Third, they had been so negligent of their relationship with YHWH they had lost the ark to the Philistines. Finally, they learned their lesson; never did this again; God never “broke out” like this again with them over the ark.

But there’s more:


May 18, 2011

No doubt about it, the most potent questions and the most damaging ideas in the Bible that may students ask me about are ones they have about God — and often in the Old Testament. Sometimes the questions emerge from shallow readings or from tropes picked up on the internet, but there are issues here. So I’m going to ask you to get a copy of David Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, read it and join this conversation. Get a conversation started in small groups at your church or in your school because what David brings up in this book are questions many people have. David is an Old Testament professor at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA.

After sketching a Gary Larson The Far Side cartoons in which we see a man walking and above him a grand piano and God on a computer about to strike the ‘smite’ key… This image evokes a standard image of the Old Testament God: “God smites, strikes, slays and even slaughters” (12). What to do with this? Is God the “cosmic causer of catastrophes”?

Gary Larson, Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, Richard Dawkins’ “megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not great” and the insurance category of “act of God” … it’s everywhere.

Where are you on the “God of the OT” issues?

If God is not good, we’ve got big problems.

Here is where David Lamb will take us: “While the God of the OT does get angry, what characterizes him is love. While he may seem sexist, he is highly affirming of women. While he may seem racist, he is hospitable toward all people” (15).

He thinks Dawkins has his finger on a significant problem but doesn’t think he reads his Bible well.

Lamb will be examining the positive and negative characterizations of God in the Bible. Not just the Old Testament but also in the New Testament. And we have to take it all … and only taking it all into view gives us a good Bible reading. (more…)

March 21, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 10.47.16 AMIt’s a risk to ask if God behaves badly in the pages of the Old Testament, a question asked by David Lamb in his book God Behaving Badly, and it’s the same to ask with Mark Strauss about Jesus Behaving Badly, but there’s less risk to ask with Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien about Paul Behaving Badly. But some get nervous here because they fear that one is getting near irreverence toward Scripture, and then the come back that Paul, after all after all after all, was not God. To affirm Scripture is not to affirm everything said or done by the people in Scripture.

We encourage you to stay with us while we investigate the case against Paul…. Some may feel we’ve been unfair to him or that we’re abusing Scripture or being irreverent. We assure you that our motives are pure. Bear with us. When it is done, we think you’ll be satisfied (9-10).

Randy and Brandon have what is typically called a “high” view of Scripture; they believe it and teach it but think the case against Paul deserves a good hard look. Which they do.

Many today love, love, love Jesus but they have problems, problems, problems with Paul. Many, thus, will welcome a hard look at Paul.

What are their problems? Here is Brandon:

I (Brandon) understand where Paul’s opponents were coming from. There was a time while I was in college that I didn’t much care for the apostle Paul. I believed his writings were Scripture, that they were true and divinely inspired, so I didn’t question whether Paul was right about the theology he propounded. But, boy, did he rub me the wrong way. He struck me as arrogant about his superior spirituality. … In the words of Paul, I heard the arrogance of a handful of church leaders I knew, each of them insisting they were “God’s man” and that their opinions were therefore divinely inspired. Disagree with me, I could easily imagine Paul saying, and you’re disagreeing with God (12).

Randy found Paul’s theology hard to comprehend, but they both come forward with this:

Matters became more complicated for each of us when, deeper into our theological studies, we discovered that there is no shortage of people who totally reject Paul’s perspective on the Christian life. We thought Paul was arrogant, but others believed he was a misogynist and that his view of women was responsible for generations of gender inequality and the patriarchal subjugation of wives and daughters. We thought he was insensitive, but others considered him a racist and antiSemite. The charge certainly seemed to stick since Christians have quoted Paul to justify their persecution of Jews and the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in America. We felt he failed to embody the meekness and gentleness of Jesus. Others claimed he had invented Christianity. Jesus went around preaching, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Paul preached about blood and faith and resurrection. Some learned critics argued Paul’s emphasis on sin and atonement departed radically from Jesus’ simple gospel of peace and forgiveness. Not only that, they claim, but this departure from Jesus’ teaching was no accident. The preeminent Jesus scholar Albert Schweitzer wrote of Paul, “If we had to rely on Paul, we should not know that Jesus taught in parables, had delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and had taught His disciples the ‘Our Father.’ Even where they are specially relevant, Paul passes over the words of the Lord” (13-14).

The stakes are high.

We are, however, willing to admit that the charges against Paul have merit. We cannot merely harrumph and dismiss charges of immorality, misogyny and racism as trivial. So what we propose to do in the remainder of this book is to put Paul on trial as people have done for two thousand years. E Each chapter compiles the common charges against Paul—that he was rude and arrogant, a chauvinist and racist, a prude and a homophobe, a hypocrite and a twister of Scripture (15).

Reading Paul is a challenge: (1) we get his letters and not those to whom he is responding; (2) we bring to Paul our own beliefs, and (3) sometimes Paul offended his contemporaries on things we are offended by too while other times he offends us and other times he offends both us and his contemporaries. Another problem is that for some — Augustine and the Reformation are only partly responsible here — Paul is on a pedestal of almost deity.

The authors want to “humanize” Paul.

May 12, 2012

Jonalyn Fincher asks: Where are all the women apologists? “There’s a pesky rumor circulating among religions folks that women are more spiritually sensitive than men and therefore don’t want or need intellectual reasons for the Christian faith. “Women are just naturally full of faith, they’ll naturally believe in God.”  But there’s evidence that suggests otherwise.”

Zalman Kastel, an Orthodox rabbi, compares Christian/Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence to his own context: “I wonder if my low tolerance for revenge is the result of Christian influences on me, particularly from a young devout Christian peace builder I greatly admire named Jarrod McKenna. I remember when I first started work as a Rabbi 15 years ago, I was teaching a young adult about divine retribution as one of the themes the Friday night prayers. At the time, I thought this idea of divine justice was quite beautiful, righting the wrongs of the world. My student challenged me, would it not be better if at the end of days no one suffered? I remember reflecting on how different my perspective had been to that of my student who was raised with more exposure to Christian and secular influences.”

Fascinating interview by Tim Hein with Erwin McManus about his creative industry, and Tim has a post on the missional church and the Holy Spirit.

Ted Gossard reflects on one’s calling: “Without that sense of coherence in a calling which brings all of life in the world under the lordship of King Jesus, meaning can be up for grabs. There will be a sense that all is meaningless under the sun, since it all comes and goes without any underlying purpose. Although the sense of calling seems built in us humans as part of our being made in the image of God. Indeed part and parcel of that calling in the beginning was to be rulers and priests of God to and for the world of creation. In Jesus that call awaits fulfillment when the children of God are revealed in a resurrection in which all of creation will share in the new creation through Jesus. But what we do now can anticipate and somehow be taken up into that change which is to come. Even as we seek to point human beings back to God’s story and how this story will at long at last be fulfilled in and through Jesus.”

Frank Viola interviews David Lamb about God Behaving Badly. Jen Wilken sketches some problems with Bible study methods.


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