Sundoulos - Winter 2011

Book Reviews

Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God

Paul Copan. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011. 252 pp., Paperback. $14.99.

Reviewed by Garry DeWeese, Professor of Philosophy and Philosophical Theology

“New Atheist” Richard Dawkins describes Yahweh as a moral monster, a “vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Paul Copan, professor of philosophy at Palm Beach Atlantic University and current president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, takes on such criticisms, offering Christians an unmatched resource for responding. Copan writes clearly and directly, nuancing his arguments while avoiding philosophical jargon. He demonstrates thorough familiarity with the literature of Old Testament theology, Ancient Near Eastern history and culture, and hermeneutical issues in the Hebrew Bible.

The book is composed of four parts of unequal length, followed by a concluding section of discussion/study questions. Part 1 is a short two-chapter introduction to the “New Atheists” and their polemic against the morality of the “Old Testament God.” Part 2, in three chapters, addresses the charges that Yahweh exhibits immoral characteristics. Copan’s extended treatment of the Abraham and Isaac story—the grounds for the charge that God commands child abuse—is a gem, displaying great sensitivity to the entire Pentateuchal context of the role of Abraham and the example of his faith.

Part 3 is by far the longest, with 12 chapters devoted to examining such issues as “the ubiquitous weirdness” of the OT’s “kooky laws,” as well as more serious charges that the OT endorses

barbaric practices, pervasive misogyny, polygamy, and slavery. Chapters 15-18 form an extended discussion of what Copan admits is “probably the most difficult Old Testament ethical issue,” the apparent divine commands of genocide of the Canaanites and the herem or “ban” associated with holy war (“Yahweh war” is Copan’s favored term). As he does throughout, Copan here insists on placing the accounts in Joshua and Judges in the fuller context of Scripture, of an understanding of Ancient Near-Eastern culture, and of the progress of revelation. He concludes the discussion by examining the broader question of whether religion (always or usually) causes violence—another staple in the New Atheists’ polemic.

Part 4, the final two chapters, fittingly concludes the study, discussing the need for a divine foundation for morality, the role of Jesus as fulfiller of the OT, and the significant contributions of Christianity to civilization.

Throughout, Copan faces the difficult questions honestly and avoids platitudinous justifications or pious-sounding evasions. He admits the difficulty of some parts of the OT, but he rigorously calls the reader to seek to understand it in its cultural, historical and revelational setting.

In my view, Copan succeeds admirably in his goal of “making sense of the Old Testament God.” For anyone personally troubled by some of the apparent ethical problems in the OT, as well as for anyone faced with the apologetic task of responding to the New Atheists’ attack on the OT, this book will be invaluable. And for any pastor preaching on these difficult OT passages, this book should be required background reading.

Seldom have I been able to endorse a book as enthusiastically— even urgently—as this one. Buy this book and use it!

The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action

Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers/The Didasko Files, 2011, 80 pp., $5.95

Reviewed by Andy Draycott, Assistant Professor of Theology

This delightful pocket-sized booklet is a near impossible condensation of the work of the international evangelical Lausanne movement of the last few years. It comprises two parts: a “Confession of Faith,” and a “Call to Action.” The Commitment

is named after latest meeting of the Lausanne movement in October 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. We at Biola were represented at that congress by our President, Dr. Barry Corey, as well as a team of faculty and students. Relays of the congress addresses were shown in Chapel, and are still accessible online at Biola University’s YouTube Channel (Cape Town Lausanne Simulcast Chapel).

Lausanne maintains a vital focus on evangelism in the context of the “whole Church taking the whole gospel to the whole world” (8). We find, for example, these words in Part 2: “Let us keep evangelism at the centre of the fully-integrated scope of all our mission, inasmuch as the gospel itself is the source, content and authority of all biblically-valid mission” (53). Lausanne’s leaders hope the Cape Town Commitment will be a “prophetic call to work and to pray” that will “draw churches, mission agencies, seminaries, Christians in the workplace, and student fellowships on campus to embrace it, and to find their part in its outworking”(4). That means you, readers of Sundoulos!

So what is this expression of, arguably, the living pulse of global evangelicalism? The ‘Confession of Faith’ is distinctive in moving behind the traditional ‘we believe’ format to express the content of our faith according to our love. The overall heading of the confession is: “For the Lord we love.” The first article makes clear that “such love is not weak or sentimental. The love of God is covenantally faithful, committed, self-giving, sacrificial, strong, and holy” (9). This is not a move away from propositional truth, as is clear as we see the shape of the confession’s affirmations that We love: ...because God first loved us; ...God the living God; ...God the Father; ...God the Son; ...God the Holy Spirit; ...God’s Word; ...God’s World; ...the Gospel of God; ...the People of God; and We love the Mission of God. Notes at the end of the confession make clear to readers how deeply Scriptural the language of the confession is, without intruding parenthetical references into the main body of the text. One way to look at this is to commend a way of speaking Christianly that is just necessarily saturated in Scripture as we confess our faith. We can do no other. There is also an invitation to “Reflection” here, and after the second part “Call to Action,” allowing readers to respond by answering questions. These could be used individually or in group discussion. One such question is: “Are there elements of God’s mission which, in your view, need re-energizing in your church? What are they? How can you contribute to this aspect of church life and ministry?”

Part 1 was prepared in advance of the Cape Town Congress through a Lausanne Theology Working Group. Part 2’s ‘Call to Action’ was fruit of a more complex process. Advance consultation through the Lausanne Network had identified six themes:

  • Bearing witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic globalized world.
  • Building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world.
  • Living the love of Christ among people of other faiths.
  • Discerning the will of Christ for world evangelization.
  • Calling the Church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity.
  • Partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission.

These themes were then discussed by congress delegates (some 4,200 evangelical leaders from 198 countries), and their findings recorded and distilled.

In this section, alongside affirmations and rejections, we find expressions of grief at evangelical failure to live out the love confessed in Part 1, whether falling prey to the prosperity gospel or rejecting people with disabilities as unworthy of the gospel of redemption.

The “Call to Action” concludes by highlighting two repeated themes voiced by Cape Town’s delegates:

  • The need for radical obedient discipleship, leading to maturity, to growth in depth as well as growth in numbers;
  • The need for radical cross-centred reconciliation, leading to unity, to growth in love as well as growth in faith and hope (70).

Lastly, as I left the UK to return home from travels this summer, I read of the passing of one of the key figures in
the development and enriching of worldwide evangelicalism through the Lausanne movement, Rev. Dr. John Stott. A man deeply committed to evangelism and the teaching of Scripture is honored in the strength of the work God is doing amongst our brothers and sisters globally. As we think of those in our past who have shored us up in the missionary orientation of our faith we would be wise to heed the prayers and exhortations of our worldwide family.

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