Perhaps harsh, certainly provocative, but definitely compelling. What do you think of “The Purpose-Driven Lie”?
This is the last in a 3-part series of reviews of Paul Copan’s recent book Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (2011, Baker). Previously I discussed differences between Copan’s book and mine (GBB) and things I appreciated or found helpful about his book. Here, I’ll mention some issues, questions and concerns I had about it.
Will skeptics be convinced by his arguments? People have expressed the same concern about my book. But I think even my title takes the problem more seriously by stating the problem baldly that God at least appears to behave badly, then I move to a question (“Is the God of the OT…?). Copan, however begins with the question (“Is God…?) then moves to claim that he’s going to make sense of the OT God. This subtle difference in our titles is indictive of our different approaches.
In order for atheists, agnostics or skeptics to feel taken seriously in these types of discussions, their perspective will need to be more fully validated. Copan is not unique in this regard. As Christians we do a lousy job of listening to people outside the church and taking their perspectives seriously (generally, I think Copan is working hard to do this).
By stating that God behaves “badly” in my title, I’ve offended some Christians. But that’s OK with me, if I can encourage the skeptics to read about a God who doesn’t always behave “badly” and most often behaves graciously, lovingly and mercifully.
For a philosophy and ethics professor, he does a great job with biblical scholarship (better than I would do with his fields), but there are a few times where it’s clear he’s not a Hebrew Bible guy. (In his discussion of Abraham’s call he mistakes a pronominal suffix on a preposition as a verbal form twice; p. 45.)
I mentioned this in my first review of Copan, but he doesn’t offer many possible applications or spiritual take-aways from these topics (which makes sense given his genre), but personally the biggest problem with these topics isn’t that God behaves badly, but that Christians (myself included) and God’s church often behave badly–we are angry, sexist, racist, violent, rigid, legalistic. So, as we defend God from accusations about these things, we need to reflect on how we need to repent of these sins.
While I’m sure I’ll use Copan’s book as a reference resource anyway, I was disappointed to not find a Scripture index. Perhaps for the next edition?
What other concerns, issues or questions do you have about Copan’s book? Do you think skeptics would be convinced by his arguments?
I’m in the midst of a three-series review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker 2011). My first blog focused on differences between his book and God Behaving Badly, the last one will look at issues, concerns and questions I have about the book, this one will discuss its strengths.
Copan’s critique of the New Atheists borders on brutal, but in general is spot on: “The Neo-atheists are often profoundly ignorant of what they criticize” (p. 17). I agree. To be honest, I’m surprised that Richard Dawkins is from Oxford, because he doesn’t come across as a serious academic who has done his research, but simply as a writer who caricatures Christians. Copan systematically addresses many of Dawkins’ critiques. For example ,Copan responds to Dawkins complaint about God’s obsession with “his own superiority over rival gods” (p. 29) by helpfully referring to C.S. Lewis’s classic, “A Word about Praise” from Reflections on the Psalms.
Copan works through many problematic OT laws that appear overly weird or harsh (e.g., the holiness codes; the Num. 15 Sabbath-breaker; the “eye for an eye”) and he sheds insight into the tragic story of the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter (p. 97) which I ignored in GBB.
I particularly enjoyed his discussion of Genesis 1-2 in his chapter on Misogyny (partly because we make similar points) about how women are made in the image of God and therefore this “original ideal” should shape how we interpret other problematic texts on women.
On a more personal level, I wish I had had Copan’s book while I was writing mine because it would have been helpful (in my next blog, I’ll mention a few ways it could have been more helpful). I have already recommended Is God a Moral Monster? to people who are interested in topics I discuss in GBB, but want more depth.
What are your thoughts about Copan’s take on the God of the God Testament?
Here are some links to recent reviews of God Behaving Badly and interviews about the book.
Interview podcast on Faith Radio Network (WTIS Minneapolis) for “Connecting Faith” program with host Neil Stavem originally broadcast July 26 1-2 pm (ET).
Interview podcast for “Busted Halo” on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio with host Father Dave Dywer originally broadcast July 12 8:20-8:40 (ET).
Interview podcast for “Christianity in a Changing Culture” on WCTS with host Steve Davis originally broadcast June 30 10:00-10:30 am (ET).
Tom Gilson’s blog review by on “Thinking Christian” posted July 24, 2011.
John Anderson’s blog review on “hesed we’emet” posted July 14, 2011.
Other links can be found under “Speaking”.