God Behaving Badly — The Perfect Textbook! (A Review)

This quarter, for my Christian Scriptures undergraduate course, I used one book (other than the Bible) as a textbook: David Lamb’s God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist? (IVP, 2011). I am happy to report that it has been very well received and I plan on using it every time I teach this course.

What is the book about? In a nutshell, it addresses some of the most common problematic stereotypes of the OT God: angry, sexist, racist, violent, legalistic, rigid, and distant. In about 200 pages, Lamb treats these topics in a well-informed, accessible, and humorous way. The book is very persuasive overall, easy to read, and extremely well-written.

When I read this book, I could tell that Lamb is a good teacher. He knows his audience (teens, 20s and 30s). He uses lots of contemporary illustrations (from Simpsons, Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, etc…). Also, he avoids polarities. He does not try to sweep the messiness of the character and actions of God in the OT under the carpet. What he is trying to do is bring a sense of balance. God is not human, but he is complex like humans are complex. Yes he is sometimes angry, but with good reason. And he is loving. Yes he is violent sometimes, but with good reason. And he promotes peace. [You get the picture]. The magic of this approach is that it provokes students to dig into the OT to see if Lamb is right!

As we read together chapter-by-chapter through this book over 4 weeks, I could see students’ hearts warmed to seeing the OT and its God in a new light. Two things make the book work. First of all, Lamb knows enough of the context, story, and background of the OT to bring light to bear on why God says and does the things that sometimes confuse and offend us. Secondly, he draws connections between the reasons why God did the things he did in that ancient time and place, and the ways we make decisions today. Lamb capably shows that our world is not all that different when you get to the heart of it.

So, for me, God Behaving Badly is the perfect textbook. It is simple enough, informative enough, and provocative enough to get the right kind of conversations going. That does not mean there were not times when I thought an illustration Lamb used was off, or that his explanations were occasionally unsatisfying. However, on the whole, I think there is nothing more useful for a sophomore in college to read when it comes to warming them up to the OT.

Thank you David Lamb for your work!