Book Plunge: The Reason Driven Life

Does Bob Price lead a reason driven life? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently in a debate forum, someone trying to mock Christians said I should read Bob Price. Now I am well aware of Bob Price. Bob Price is one of the few people who has credentials in NT scholarship and yet puts forward the nonsense idea that Jesus never even existed. At any rate, unlike many atheists I meet, when I was given this challenge, I went straight to my local library to find whatever book I could. Only one was present and that was the Reason Driven Life.

Now let me say at the start that as you should recognize, this is a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. I am not a fan of it. I have not read it, but I suspect I would have many of the same criticisms as Price does. In fact, I think I would have more. I have a huge problem with the way evangelicals approach evangelism today and I don’t care for this idea of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ nor do I care much for our talk about “conversion” today. We were never told to go and make converts. We were told to make disciples.

So I can say that reading Price was a mixed bag. There were a lot of things I agreed with. What I found most interesting was for all his talk about fundamentalism being a problem, Price is just as much as a fundamentalist as Warren is. A key example of this is his constant emphasis on Hell. It’s not that Price realizes that evangelicals believe in Hell. It’s that he thinks that every evangelical believes in a literal fiery hell. I’m not even sure if Warren believes that Hell is literally a fiery furnace. Spasmodically throughout the book, Price will interject in the middle of another topic, complaining about belief in Hell.

What this amounts to on his part is emotional reasoning. He does not like the idea of Hell, so forget any idea of refuting the arguments for God’s existence. Forget about the idea that some scholars present evidences that Jesus rose from the dead. All we need to do is point out that we don’t like the concept of Hell and that is enough. Price jumps on the emotional bandwagon and expects that that will be enough.

For my own part, I do not believe in a literal fiery Hell. In fact, I have a theory that I have propounded before that I think Heaven and Hell could be the exact same place. Heaven and Hell are not defined by location but are rather defined by our relationship to YHWH. If we are on good terms with YHWH, then eternity will be heaven. If we are in opposition to YHWH, then eternity will be Hell. I could not state categorically that this is what Scripture teaches, and it is not a hill I am willing to die on, but it is my thinking at the moment.

Of course, I will not be commenting on everything that Price says. That would be too exhaustive. Only highlights will be touched.

On page 20, we are told that meaning is in the eye of the beholder. I find this extremely problematic. When Price admits to animal cruelty like this, I think that all good people should stand up and say we won’t tolerate that. Some of you are wondering, “When did he say this?” Well this is my rule. When someone tells me meaning is in the eye of the beholder, I take that to mean that they have a secret tendency to abuse animals. How can anyone argue against me if the meaning is in the eye of the beholder?

If we think with our reason instead, we will realize that reason lies in that which is being interpreted. We can interpret it rightly or wrongly, but the meaning is not something we put on to the object, but something we read out of it.

Price compounds this further saying on page 21 that in the question for meaning, we will not like arrive at any definitive truth. Does anyone else stop to ask Price how he ever arrived at that? How is it that Price arrived at the definitive truth that we are not likely to arrive at the definitive truth. Is it because Price thinks he possesses this definitive truth and thus can tell when no one else will arrive at it? Isn’t this the attitude he condemns in fundamentalists? Why yes it is. It’s not a shock he holds it since Price is himself a fundamentalist.

On page 27, we find the line about there being thousands of denominations. Like any fundamentalist, Price has repeated this without looking at it. Had he done some research into the topic, he would have found out that there can be numerous denominations that think the exact same way. A group become a denomination if it is independently operated. You could have two Baptist churches in the same town with the exact same doctrinal stance and they would each be two denominations. I suspect that if Mr. Price were caught somewhere and asked to name 50 denominations, he could not do so.

The problem goes on with Price’s approach to Scripture. Price states that all we are getting is a fallible interpretation of a fallible book from Rick Warren and the claim that it is what God is saying. The question to be asked at the start instead is not what about Warren, but what about the text? Is it really possible to know what the text says? If so, then if this is the Word of God, then if Warren has found what the text says somewhere and shares it, then it is correct that he is saying what God says. Is that a serious claim? Yes. Yes it is. How are we to determine if Warren is right? We study the text. Unlike fundamentalists, I will tell you to never just blindly believe what someone says. That goes for what I say. Study and investigate what I say and see if it is true.

Too many people do not take the time to do this. There is this idea that Scripture is meant to be plain and clear to everyone. This is not the case. Scripture requires work to understand. There are too many skeptics, heck, there are too many Christians, who have this idea that all they need to do is sit down and read the Bible and they in their world that is a different culture, different language, different time, and different place, will just know what is being said automatically. This is not the case. The person interested in truth will be open to studying their views by reading leading scholarship. This applies to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Price on page 32 talks about how God is love, until we get to the concept of Hell. With this, Price is having a modern idea of love as sentiment and thinks that Hell is opposed to that. If my view of Hell is correct, God is giving people what they want. No. They don’t want a fiery torture chamber. They don’t get that either. They want to not have anything to do with God. He gives them that. He leaves them alone. He will not bother them any more in eternity. Some could say they do not want that, but actions will show otherwise. If Christianity is true, those who want the truth will find it. If they do not, they were not looking.

At a point like this, Price gives much of the idea of evangelical guilt for not evangelizing enough or studying Scripture enough or praying enough. Price in making claims like this reveals little about fundamentalism and reveals much about Price. I, as an evangelical, read a chapter of the old and new testament in the morning. My wife and I read on the “verse of the day” app on my phone in the evening. I personally read a verse of the Bible to think on at night and in fact am reading a chapter of the apocrypha as well. You see, despite what Price thinks, I am not bothered by reading works I disagree with, including other religions. In fact, I agree that there is much that can be learned from other religions. I have read the Analycts, the Tao Te Ching, the Mormon Scriptures, and the Koran at this point.

For prayer, I pray in the morning after reading Scripture and my wife and I pray together at night. I will pray throughout the day periodically as well, though I will not usually spend a long time in prayer. As for evangelism, I do not go out and tell personal strangers about Jesus. I do my evangelism by writing online and that is just fine. Some people are real people persons and can interact with others. For me, the thought of approaching a total stranger and starting a conversation is a nightmare. I am fine if they start talking, but I don’t do it myself. This is just fine. Not everyone is meant to be that kind of person. I have no guilt for this.

On page 47, Price tells us that this world does not seem to be a good place for human beings, unless we superimpose our idea of love and warmth on it. He refers to this as a beautiful fiction. I find this as odd. I have this strange belief that we should live in reality and if the world is not really a good place, in fact, if it is really a morally neutral place or even a world with no moral truths, how are we to function in it if we live in opposition to it? Why should I embrace a worldview like Price’s that tells me that to function I have to impose my views on the world instead of accepting reality as it is?

Now some will no doubt think that I am doing this, but I am not. I do believe that the claims that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead are true. You can say that that is false. You have all right to do that. That does not mean it is false that I believe it is true and it does not mean that I am knowingly living in denial of reality. If my view is wrong, I am in fact not living in conformity of reality, but unlike Price, it is not because I think I have to impose a false view on the world.

On page 80, on the quote to remember, we are told “Nothing will mean tomorrow what it meant today.” If that is true, then whatever it meant when the author wrote it is not what it means today. In fact, at this point, Price’s book could be an argument why we should believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It doesn’t mean what meaning he gave it. In fact, the idea that “Nothing will mean tomorrow what it meant today” does not even mean the same thing any more, which leaves us in a kind of hermeneutical limbo. Price drops little cliches like this regularly without really stopping to think about what they mean. They just sound so profound, which they could be. Profoundly wrong that is.

On page 82, Price says that if we claim to know that God is the cause of the universe, then we are destroying the mystery of being. This is simply false looking at the history of science. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton did not see themselves as destroying the mystery of being. They all believed God created the universe and because they did, they sought to understand it all the more. If having the truth about the cause of the universe is a sedative, then we should stop the scientific enterprise. It would be awful if we arrived at the truth. After all, it is not likely we’ll ever arrive at any definitive truth anyway according to Price.

Amusing on page 87, Price says that literalism is the problem, and I agree. The problem is Price has not abandoned his literalism. He is still interpreting the text literally.

Price makes much about the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ being nonsense. I in fact agree with him. The problem is that he assumes this is the way all people think who are Christians. I do agree that too many Christians are using their personal feelings and saying God is the cause of them and trying to give divine authority to what they say. In fact, I get this from other Christians, such as the excellent book “Decision Making and the Will of God.”

Chapter 9 is one big rant about the flood. Price considers it horrible that it happened. Yes. I do think it’s a shame that day schools are named after Noah’s Ark because this is a story about grace, but also one about justice. It is a shame the world reached such a bad state. It amazes me that the ones who can complain the most about the problem of evil and ask why God doesn’t do anything about evil, complain when he does do something. Price says the problem with Warren is that Warren takes the story literally. So does Price! I, as an evangelical, do not believe in a worldwide flood, but a flood that was global in scope yet localized. This is a position common amongst evnagelicals. You would never know this from Price seeing as he never cites any. It is as if he thinks all evangelicals sit back wondering how penguins got to the Middle East.

On page 117, Price talks about faith making a juxtaposition between faith and empirical evidence. Price is unaware that the meaning of faith biblically would be trust in that which has been shown to be reliable, completely in line with Hebrews 11:1. It makes it hard for me to take Price seriously as doing real research when he presents straw men and makes basic mistakes that are more in line with the new atheists.

Price writes about the jealousy of YHWH in Exodus 34:14 on page 120. I agree with much of this in fact. When I wrote a review of “The Unshakable Truth” by the McDowells for the Tekton Ticker, I wrote about how problematic it is that regularly, this verse is translated as saying God is passionate about His relationship with you. This verse is not a verse about God’s relationship with us, but about His nature towards the people of Israel. God is jealous in that He wants exclusivity from His people and will not tolerate them cheating on Him with other gods. This was an honorable trait in the ancient near east. It is the kind of trait even today a husband is to have for his wife, and a wife for her husband. My complaint with the McDowells was anyone would open up the Bible, see a different reading there, and then start wondering about God. It seems that Price beat me to it.

On page 154, Price brings in the copycat myth with the idea that Christian baptism had much in common with initiation rites of pagan festivities. To this, we say any similarities are not worth noting. It is like saying that Jesus and Hitler had a lot in common because both of them were great speakers. Anyone who gets recognized as a speaker must be a great speaker in some sense. It would be nice for Price to cite some of these examples of pagan baptism however. He doesn’t. It is more likely that he is confusing such rituals as being bathed in the blood of a bull with baptism.

On page 222, Price says we are being arbitrary. After all, we are only looking at the Christian version. I realize many Christians do this. I do not. Price asks us if we feel guilty. Don’t we realize we’re being arbitrary? It is odd that a man who complains so much about fundamentalism arousing feelings of guilt himself seeks to arouse feelings of guilt. Actually, it’s not odd. It’s expected because Price is a fundamentalist himself.

On page 239, Price does make a point about the power of positive thinking. Despite what he might think, I agree with them. Now I am not at all saying that our thinking can change reality. Thinking that I have a lot of money will not expand my bank account. What I am saying is watching what we think can change our attitude to reality. In fact, I get this from Gary Habermas, who highly advocates it. It’s called “Cognitive-behavioral therapy.” Christians like Backus and Chapian have written about this in “Telling Yourself The Truth.” Price seems to think all such thinking is anathema to Christians. Not at all.

On page 273, Price tells us that absolute truth corrupts absolutely. Why is he so opposed to the concept of absolute truth? Does he believe it exists or not? (If it does not, no wonder we do not arrive at definitive truth.) If it does exist, should we not be seeking it? Ought it not to be that which we want?

Interestingly, he tells us that thoughtful individuals come to tentative and provisional conclusions, the kind science allows. I find this interesting since reading the New Atheists, I would think the works of science are written in stone and how dare any of us go against them. I do not say this to insult science, but rather to deal with an attitude towards science that I consider dangerous to the scientific enterprise.

On page 276 Price tells us that we will never mature morally or intellectually as long as I just take orders from some authority.

So does this mean Price is implicitly giving me an order to not take orders?

Sounds problematic again.

For all who really want to know Price, read pages 300-301 in this book. Price talks about how he was not comfortable reading science fiction and was living under a burden of guilt and God forbid he should think about sex. The problem with Price throughout this book is that he takes his experience and universalizes it thinking that it applies to all Christians across space and time instead of realizing his is a modern creation. Price has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. It was not an argument that turned him around, but an emotional reaction.

Honestly, reading this section of the book would be enough to deal with everything.

Amusingly, Price talks on page 309 about psychologizing the text of Scripture. He speaks about people who find a psychological point and present it to the text while the text is oblivious to it. He complains that Warren does this, which could be the case, but so does Price! For instance, Price says on page 210 that death, burial, and resurrection, according to Kant, refer to a response. Kant is psychologizing the text and so is Price. Yet for Price, no one else can psychologize the text but him. He is again just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalism he condemns.

In chapter 38, Price’s whole chapter is about the psychology behind evangelism. He says people do evangelism because they feel guilty and they want people to come alongside them and agree with them. The problem is the same could be said of Price. Could Price live with emotional insecurity, as it seems he does throughout this book, and so wants others to agree with him and share his views? Quite likely. For Price, the thought never seems to occur that some Christians could evangelize because they think they should or because they think Christianity is true, or both.

In fact, in the last paragraph of this chapter, he tells us that since evangelism is self-serving, it is not a surprise it will act this way, which is a total exercise in question-begging. Price may wonder what it will mean when we evangelize everyone. Well as a good preterist, I happen to think that when evangelism is done, then Jesus will return. Hence, 2 Peter 3 says that by evangelism, we can speed the coming of Christ. Price leaves the reader uninformed that Christians have thought about that question.

In conclusion, reading Price is reading a fundamentalist on fundamentalists. Price’s life is not reason-driven. It is just as emotion-driven as it was before.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Scandals

What did I think of “The Jesus Scandals?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Back around Easter, I was listening to the radio program “Unbelievable?” when I heard that there was a give away of David Instone-Brewer’s book “The Jesus Scandals.” I was quite anxious to get it and thus entered the contest to win one of a number of copies given away. Fortunately, I happened to be one of the names drawn. It was only recently found out that the American winners had not yet received their copies so just a week or so ago, I got my copy.

The idea of the Jesus Scandals is that the gospels are more authentic due to the scandalous facts about the life of Jesus. Some of these we might not really think about in our Western society. For instance, I have a number of male friends who are not married. At this age, that can be common. In the time of the Jews, this was something to be avoided. After all, everyone was expected to be married and if you weren’t, there had to be some strongly negative reason for that. The main one that would be pointed to would be Jesus’s parentage. (Yeah right. Born of a virgin?) If your atheist friends are skeptical of this, it would not have been any different in a Jewish society. I have often been asked “Would you believe your spouse if she was pregnant and said it was of the Holy Spirit?” I would be hard-pressed in that situation and would probably be like Joseph and need a dream from God to believe otherwise.

We must keep in mind after all that the Bible only gives us snapshots of what happened. When Mary told Joseph about what happened, we can be sure that Joseph did not believe it immediately since it took a dream from God to stop his plans from divorcing her. Imagine then how it would be for Jesus in His ministry, especially when it was asked whose son He was and have the questioner be told “The son of Joseph, you know, THAT Joseph.” Jesus had a huge black mark against Him.

Yet in the gospels, none of this is denied. The virgin birth is there to explain what happened and it would hardly have drawn sympathy. It would have made more sense to say something like “It was a tragedy that this young Jewish woman named Mary was raped, but the child grew up anyway and Joseph was a noble father who raised him like his own.” No. Instead, it goes for the route that skepticism would go against, and that was that Jesus was of divine origin.

Why would the gospels contain such scandalous events? Because they could not be denied. These were events that were known by the common populace. The gospel authors had to explain them. They chose an odd way by affirming each of them, including the crucifixion and resurrection. I think a work like this could be read in tandem with J.P. Holding’s “The Impossible Faith” to great benefit.

I do appreciate that Instone-Brewer has a chapter on disabilities in there. As many know, my wife and I both have Asperger’s, and it made me consider that both of us would be shunned in the time of Jesus, but as we know today, we are not shunned. We were both on the Theopologetics podcast to talk about how the church can be more receiving of those with disabilities. Such a talk would not take place in the time of Jesus. That we do have this talk today shows how far we’ve come.

Instone-Brewer also shows his scholarly knowledge of the Rabbinic writings, but does so in a way that’s not overbearing. The reader will not need a strong knowledge of the literature to know what Instone-Brewer is talking about. Fortunately, for those who do want more knowledge, he includes a list of recommended books in the back.

The chapters are also short enough that one could use them as a springboard at a church discussion group or could use the idea at a discussion around the water cooler. Each chapter can be read in only a few minutes and can provide plenty of food for thought for interesting discussion. Also, at the end of each chapter, Instone-Brewer includes an application piece that is relevant to what we are doing today.

I do think this book would be an interesting one for the person wanting to know more about the historical Jesus. The book uses the criterion of embarrassment to indicate that something is more likely to be true if it’s embarrassing to the cause. Aside from that, there won’t be much on historicity, but that was not the goal of this particular book.

This book thus comes with my recommendation. Do yourself a favor and buy it, or with Christmas coming, buy it for that non-Christian friend you have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes

What are my thoughts on this book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Everywhere you go, people are the same. Right? Oh there are some basic differences of course, but if you cut any of us, we bleed. Mankind really hasn’t changed that much in all the years we’ve been around. When we read Aristotle or Cicero or Moses, we are reading someone was pretty similar to us and had the exact same struggles we do. We can regularly see it in their own writings can’t we?

Or, maybe we don’t. We just think we do.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes (MSWWE from now on) is a book that helps to expose us to the fact that people are not like us. The authors, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien, show numerous examples of the way our culture misreads the Bible based on our Western presuppositions and that people in other cultures are quite different. This can be shown to be the case in Biblical times, but also in modern times as Richards has several examples in his book from his missionary service in Indonesia.

For instance, if you had an affair, would you feel guilty? Here in the West, you would. In Indonesia, there would be no guilt until everyone else said you did something wrong. What time does that church event start? Here, you could say “Mid-day” and most people would be there at Noon. There, you’d say “Mid-day” and most people would show up when it started to get hot. If you say “All people serving in the church must be eighteen”, here it’d be a strict rule. Over there, there would be exceptions.

Much of this seems foreign to our experience, and for good reason. It is. One of the greatest signs of this is our intense individualism where we think everything has to be about us. There is even a chapter in the book on how people take a passage like Jeremiah 29:11 and make it to be about God having a personal plan for them. Somehow, all those Israelites that died during the attack of Nebuchadnezzar missed that.

The authors also bring out important realities of the system that was around then and is still around in most countries today, such as the honor/shame system and the patron/client system. Consider the story of David and Bathsheba. That is a story we all learn something from, but when it is read through the lens of honor and shame, all of a sudden several new facets of the story show up that the Western reader would not notice.

What does this mean? It means that there’s further reason to drop this nonsense idea that so many have that all we need is to just have the Bible. Now of course, the Bible contains all that is necessary for faith and practice, but if you want to know all that it contains, you will have to study it well, and for many people, that is anathema, and is in fact part of the individualism that we have today. If God wants ME to get something out of the Bible, He will make it plain to ME.

When speaking about the patron/client model then, we actually make it seem like the problem is that God isn’t doing what He’s supposed to be doing. If an atheist wishes to discuss the problem of divine hiddenness, it’s always that God is hiding Himself, instead of realizing that maybe God has revealed Himself and we are the ones hiding from Him. Skeptics today make the most outlandish claims about what they think God is required to do, such as a cross on the moon or everyone having the same dream at the same time, not aware that all of these are actions that would require further explanation through the social context of each culture.

The ideas that could be embraced if we would but study are monumental. How much different will you approach a text like Romans 8:28 if you realize that God is your patron working all things for good. Now I do have a small disagreement with the authors. I do think God does work all things for individual good. The caveat I would add is that some of that might not happen until in what I call, the after-death. Many people will die with suffering on them that I think God will redeem in eternity. I do agree with their collectivist approach and would contend that all those God will work the good for are Israel. The true Israel is really Jesus Christ and all who are “in Him” are in Israel. (I would even contend at this point that Romans could be about identifying who Israel is.)

I am not really including quotes on this because I find quotes to be inadequate for this one. There are such large pieces of thought that you need the whole context to see them all. I think the reader not familiar with the social context will learn something from every chapter, and I think many of us who already are will have our insights greatly expanded by reading this book.

The authors also do not resolve many of the difficulties. They present the scenario and they leave it to you and I to work out the difficulties in our own reading of Scripture and try to learn to read with new eyes. The authors also give points to ponder at the end to show how we can avoid doing what we’ve been doing. What questions can we start bringing to the text that will help us understand it?

Also, the authors do present points of application for us to consider, which can also make this book an excellent choice for small groups at churches. (All churches could be greatly benefited by having a small group that is based around this book.) The authors don’t want to make this just a detached scholarly work, but they want it to be one that will engage us and force us to come to the text and see if we have been projecting our own culture on to it.

Many works in this field have been extremely scholarly, and I applaud those, but I am thankful now that when someone asks me one book I can recommend on the topic, I will not have to hesitate. MSWWE is on the top of the list!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?

Is this book by J.R. Daniel Kirk worth reading? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

While browsing through a library of a local Seminary here, I came across the book “Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?” by J.R. Daniel Kirk. It was a book that I had heard much about so I figured I’d check it out and find out if it was a book that I could really recommend, one that was just average, or one to be avoided like the plague.

My contention is actually the first of the three. I found this to be an excellent and scholarly book. While it is that, it has the advantage of being written for the position of the layman as well. You will not need to be well-read in scholarly literature to follow this and there is not difficult jargon to follow. The author has a wonderful style of writing that guides you through.

Kirk writes as one who grew up with an ambivalence about Paul. In some ways, it’s quite understandable. We can often hear about how Paul invented Christianity and Hellenized the Christian movement. We can hear about how Paul is silent on the life of Jesus. We can hear that Jesus said X, but Paul by comparison said Y. Paul also was sexist and pro-slavery of course. He was a prude who wanted nothing to do with sexuality.

Kirk understands this and says we need to realize Paul is fitting Jesus into the story of Israel and that this will appeal to our postmodern culture. We will not understand the Pauline view of Jesus until we understand how Jesus fits into the story of Israel as a whole. Otherwise, we are picking up a book right in the middle and then saying that this one part of it makes no sense.

In each chapter then, Kirk will start with what Jesus had to say about a matter. Kirk’s view of Jesus is quite eye-opening. As one who has been focusing on reading N.T. Wright lately, I saw a lot of that in here. The gospel is about a lot more than just the forgiveness of sins, although it certainly includes that. Believe it or not Christian, the object of the gospel is not you. The object is the glory of God through the spreading of his Kingdom. It is the good news that Jesus is King and you are invited to participate in that reign.

If Kirk was to take the slogan of JFK, it would be “Ask not what the Kingdom of God can do for you, but what you can do for the Kingdom.” Kirk thus not only presents new information on Paul and Jesus for the reader, but at the same time encourages them on the route to discipleship, which is something that makes this book exciting. This book speaks of the Kingdom powerfully and vibrantly. Something like this could get us beyond most of the shallow church services that we have going on.

This book does deal with many of the hard issues. What about slavery? Is Paul for it? Was Paul opposed to women? What about sexuality? In that area, what about homosexuality in particular? Are we missing something if we say “Justification by faith” and at the same time make it seem like works are absolutely pointless and play no role in the life of faith?

If the reader wants to know about any of these, Kirk’s book is an excellent place to go. I do think on some points he could have taken on other passages, which would be my only criticism. For instance, in talking about women, I saw no treatment of 1 Cor. 14 where women are told to keep silent, which is a key verse. I think 1 Tim. 2:8-15 has a section worthy of great discussion, but this one needed to be discussed to.

Kirk is a writer who takes Scripture seriously, Jesus seriously, Paul seriously, and the Kingdom seriously. He wants his readers to do the same and reading this book is an excellent way to do that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Is God A Moral Monster?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’d like to begin a new look at books that are being read here at Deeper Waters and start a new section that will be referred to as a “Book Plunge.” In a book plunge, I will spend one blog reviewing a book that I plan on just giving a brief overview on, rather than one I plan on writing a detailed response to.

First on the list will be one I recently read from our the library by Paul Copan. At this date, it’s his latest one called “Is God A Moral Monster?” with the idea of making sense of the Old Testament God.

This book is highly endorsed on the back and for good reason. Paul Copan has been making a name for himself as a popular apologist. By that, I mean most of his works have not been geared towards a scholarly crowd, but have been written with the layman in mind. Copan is bringing the scholar to the man on the pew and he does an admirable job of it.

Works like this also show how the techniques of the New Atheists are backfiring. The New Atheists wanted to bring atheism to the popular level. Unfortunately for them, their material was weak and only brought forward a surface level objection. It is easy to understand the objections Copan is addressing in this book, but he does dismantle them quite well. If he does as well as I believe he has, then that does render a problem for the atheists as one of their favorite arguments suddenly becomes easier to deal with.

That does not mean it’s entirely answered. It is like the problem of evil as this argument is difficult due to the intense emotion that can often be connected. We can think of the idea of people dying under the order of God and frankly, we don’t really like that, but there’s also the reality that if God is the judge, then we have to deal with that aspect.

I personally find this to make it an interesting point. “If God is not the way I want Him to be, I will not worship Him.” It is not about the question of if God exists or if Jesus rose from the dead, it is about if we like Christianity. Frankly, there are times when all of us who are Christians don’t like Christianity because we’re sinners and when we want to sin, Christianity can get in the way of that. What we like does not change what is true. If God is the judge and does have the authority and power to take life, saying you won’t like it won’t change that. (In fact, you’d think if one thought God was really like that, they’d want to avoid His bad side.)

Fortunately, Copan does show us that while God is a judge, there is a good reason He is judging. God is indeed NOT a moral monster. God is instead patient with us all and those many passages that we don’t understand can make better sense. While I have done a good portion of reading on this topic, I did walk away with some new insights thanks to this book.

In reading it, I regularly thought that Copan has interacted with the atheists that are out there and not just in the scholarly forum, but the kinds that you’d meet on an online forum like TheologyWeb or on debates on a Facebook page. Copan knows not just the objections as Dawkins presents them or a more scholarly atheist like Mackie, but he knows the arguments as the troll you meet on the net.

Questions along those lines are questions like “If Heaven is really better and killed children go straight to Heaven, then would it not be better to allow the killing of children today so that they could go to Heaven?” Copan argues that doing such makes us not the cause of salvation as we are still doing an evil act but God grants eternal life in spite of our evil. It becomes a case of “Let us do evil that good may result.” The killer is neither the cause of the event or responsible for it. It is God acting in spite of that.

Copan also answers the questions of if God is an egomaniac. Most notably in mind throughout in such responses are the “arguments” of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Many of us know of Dawkins’s short little rant against the God of the Old Testament in his *cough* book. *cough* We also recall how Plantinga said we can hope for Dawkins’s sake that God doesn’t return the compliment.

The reader of this book can expect to find questions on slavery answered, as well as questions on the role of women in Old Testament times. He can expect to find information on laws we consider strange, and chapters on the topic of genocide. Copan also closes with a philosophical look at if God is really needed as a basis for morality.

The reader of this book then will walk away with a good defense of God in the Old Testament. Fortunately, at the end of each chapter Copan also includes works that are highly scholarly that can be accessed as well and at the end of the book, for a group that’s studying this book together (Wouldn’t it be great if some were rather than something like “Your Best Life Now” or anything by Joyce Meyer?) there are study questions.

Some criticisms however are first off, that this book contains that great scourge of evil that is one of the greatest examples I know of of the problem of evil called “Endnotes.” If you don’t like endnotes, that will be a problem for you. We can forgive Copan for that of course in light of the great work he’s done.

Also, I would have liked to have seen more information on the social system of life in biblical times. What is the distinction between an agonistic society that is group-oriented rather than ours that is oriented towards an individual basis? I think something like this can help explain much of what is in the Old Testament.

Finally, Copan does refer often to other law codes outside of the Bible, but as I was reading, I was thinking it would have been nice if possible to have seen even more direct quotes of those law codes instead of just being told that that of Israel was better. Every now and then some penalties were given, but it would have been nice to see more of the codes themselves. Of course, we can be told where to read them, but since many will not do so, I think that would have been more helpful.

However, as far as I am concerned, these criticisms while valid are minor compared to the major good that has come overall as a result of this work. In looking at Paul Copan’s book, I think that if anyone is wanting to explain to an atheist God in the Old Testament, that this book is an important read. I highly recommend it.