What to Do When God Goes Old Testament: a book review

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have argued that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster, ‘the most unpleasant character in all of fiction’ (15). Many Christians also struggle with the portrait of God they find in its pages, assuming He is more wrath than mercy, and more law than grace. But is this an accurate picture of the God we find in the Old Testament? How do we read the Old Testament faithfully as scripture in light of difficult passages?

9780825443763Renowned Old Testament Scholar Walter Kaiser walks us through some of the difficulties. A short book, reminicent of his Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (IVP 1988), Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament tackles some of the thorniest questions that plague readers of the Old Testament. These include:

  • Is the God of the Old Testament a God of Love or a God of wrath and judgement?
  • Is He the God that ordered the Canaanite genocide or a God of peace?
  • Is He a God of truth or deception?
  • Is He the God of creation or evolution?
  • A God of grace or law?
  • Does He approve of polygamy?
  • Does God rule over Satan or must he overcome him in battle?
  • Is God Omniscient or does he limit his knowledge of the future to guard human freedom like the Open Theists posit?
  • Does the Old Testament subordinate women or give them equal status and authority?
  • What about food laws?

Kaiser surveys the relevant texts and gives a reasoned defense of God’s goodness, God’s mercy and God’s sovereignty.   Kaiser is a Reformed evangelical and gives a scriptural-based response to each quesiton. Given that this is a relatively short book, some of his responses were perhaps too brief for a skeptic or serious scholar; however the general reader (and even the skeptic and serious student) will find plenty to chew on and some direction on where to dig deeper.

Kaiser is an adept reader of Hebrew scripture and I found many of his answers compelling.  He points out that God’s anger and wrath are related to his care for us and His kindness and mercy are more central to who he is (24-25).  In general Kaiser asserts the traditional evangelical positions (i.e. Creationism is incompatible with evolution,  Open Theism is wrongheaded), but his chapter on women is fairly egalitarian.  His chapter on the law challenges the anti-nomianism of dispensationalism on the one hand and theonomy on the other.

My own love for the Old Testament was stoked by a former pastor who had been a student of Kaiser’s at Gordon Conwell.  I have even had the privilege of hearing Kaiser preach. When I went to seminary I pressed into the Old Testament and wrestled with many of the issues that Kaiser presents here. I read this book with interest but I was clearly not his target audience. Kaiser wrote this book for people who find the Old Testament difficult and are not quite sure what to do with it. He is a good guide. I don’t agree with him on every point and would answer some questions differently than he, but I appreciate the way he thoughtfully engages the Bible and seeks to interpret the text faithful to the God he serves. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.


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