Wednesday, April 27, 2016

prostitutes, polygamy, and other gnarly things in the Old Testament

The Old Testament is full of fodder for questions. Gnarly questions about violence and sexual deviancy and deception and war. Every year new books are released that try to wrestle with these questions from a Christian point of view. Here are a few examples from recent years, most of them focused on violence in the Old Testament:

Last year David Lamb added a second book of his own to this collection: Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style (Zondervan, 2015). I was asked to review it for Themelios, the digital journal of The Gospel Coalition. My review went live yesterday.

I hesitated to accept. The book struck me as edgy and irreverently playful on a subject matter that deserves steady and non-sensational reflection. Frankly, I didn't seem to fit the target audience. But the editor had reasons to ask me (my gender, my cross-cultural experience, and my background in Old Testament ethics), so in the end I agreed to write a review. You can read it here. You might find it to be just the thing for the college group at your church, but I hope my review will help guide your group discussions in order to avoid some of the potential pitfalls of Lamb's approach.

While I have your attention, I'll put in a plug for two books I like better. Wright's book, listed first above, is an outstanding yet accessible introduction to tough issues involving suffering and evil, the Canaanites, the cross, and the end of the world. (His more scholarly tome, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, is also well worth reading, if your attention span can last nearly 500 pages.) Paul Copan's book, listed second above, comes highly recommended as well. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but I find his approach much more satisfying than Lamb's.

If you're wrestling with some of these tough questions, please know that there are answers. From our vantage point we may never be fully satisfied with the ways that the Old Testament narrates the story of Israel's faith. It's too foreign and too far in the distant past to make perfect sense to us. But if we apply ourselves diligently to the text of Scripture and broaden our understanding of its ancient context, we can come a long way toward making sense of the Old Testament. It's a journey worth making!

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