When my book proposal for God Behaving Badly went to publishers (Sept 2009) word came back that Baker already had a book on a similar topic coming out which got my attention. When I attended the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta (Nov 2010) I picked up a copy of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (from Baker).
It’s hard to describe how bad it feels to realize someone else may have written the book you wanted to write (and mine wasn’t going to come out for 6 months!). (Apparently, Christopher Wright felt the same way: “This is the book I wish I had written myself” from the back cover.)
I soon realized that, while Copan’s book and mine address similar issues, we have different approaches and interests. I will post three blogs on Copan’s book, this one on the differences between his and mine, the next one on things I appreciate about his book, and the final one on issues, concerns and questions I have about it.
The biggest difference between Copan’s book and mine is that his is more academic. It’s written for a different audience. The endorsements on his are all academics (an impressive group), half of mine are ministers and pastors (also an impressive group). For an academic book, his writing is quite readable, but his book has more notes, more references to secondary literature and it is longer (even with a smaller font). I have written my book for as broad as audience as possible, which may mean academic types will think it is superficial, but many people who aren’t biblical scholars have told me GBB was a delight to read.
One implication of his more academic approach is that his arguments don’t typically lead him to suggest practical applications, which would be out of place in that genre. However, in each chapter, I speak about how I’ve been affected personally by the topic and then give a relevant spiritual exhortations, which fits my genre.
While I mention the New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, etc.) briefly, he discusses them in more depth and addresses more of their arguments. His discussions are based on both Scripture and philosophical arguments, which is not surprising since he’s a philosopher. I focus exclusively on biblical texts, which is not surprising since I’m a Bible guy, without typically engaging in broader ethical or philosophical discussions. For readers looking for more engagement with the New Atheists, Copan will help you.
The other major difference is that he addresses only the most problematic ethical OT issues–Is God angry, sexist, racist and violent?–basically the ones from my subtitle, but my book addresses a few others–Is God legalistic, rigid and distant? His focus on less topics allows him to go into greater depth on those issues. The additional three questions I address are less problematic ethically, but still problematic spiritually.
For anyone who is interested in the problematic portrayal of the OT God, particularly for people who want more depth than GBB provides, Copan’s book would be a great resource.
I’ve read and reviewed both texts on my blog and found them to be very helpful. As you mentioned, Copan’s text has a more apologetic and academic tone as he uses the new atheists as conversation partners, whereas your text was written on a more popular level and has the average reader in mind; a point I appreciated about the book. Both have a place and important contributions to make.
(BTW, my review of your book is in the top five again this month, which speaks not to the quality of my review, but to the value of your contribution. A great read).
I plan on reading both. Copan’s will probably be more intimidating, (too much philosophy annoys me), but I hope to gain useful information that I can use in my own efforts. And I have an Amazon link to your book on my Weblog, even though I haven’t read it yet (but I liked what you said in an interview).