Lamb 01David T. Lamb is the author of the fascinating book „God Behaving Badly“. As a professor of Old Testament he is actively involved in many things so I am even more grateful for him to find a little bit of time for answering some questions for Lazy Literature. (Photo: Copyright Shannon Lamb)

First, let me thank you for taking the time for this interview.
In your book „God Behaving Badly“ you write about your decision to study the Old Testament. What about it is still up-to-date and modern for readers nowadays?

I think the Old Testament is totally relevant for modern readers.  There’s something in it for everyone.

If you like a good story, read about Tamar the righteous prostitute in Genesis 38, about Balaam and his wise talking donkey (a bit like Eddie Murphy in Shrek) in Numbers 22-24 and about Naaman’s servant girl who shared good news with her kidnapper in 2 Kings 5.

If you like Quentin Tarantino movies, read about the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19-21.

If you in pain, depressed or struggling with your health, read a psalm of lament. Start with 13 or 22.

If you into justice and caring for the poor, read the book of Amos or Isaiah 58.

If you are a lawyer, read the Covenant Code in Exodus 20-23.

If you love romantic poetry, read Song of Solomon.

Sometimes it takes a little work to understand and appreciate these passages, but I am confident that readers who put in the effort to read and study them, will be rewarded.  It’s worth the effort.

I have to admit I also have something of a problem with the God of the Old Testament, but your book has brought me to a place where I am curious about the Old Testament. Did you get many letters and e-mails from readers?

People occasionally send me emails with comments or questions about the book.  Sometimes people post notes on my blog.  The most common question I get is, “Why didn’t you discuss homosexuality?”  My answer is that it doesn’t get mentioned in the Old Testament much.  All the other issues I discuss in my book are focused on in more depth throughout the OT.  I get questions about polygamy and slavery—“Why is it OK to have slaves/many wives in the OT?”  I usually reply that the OT is actually progressive in those areas relative to the ancient world.  For more information I send people to William Webb’s book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.

How do you react to reviews and discussions that come from reading your book and immersing oneself in the theories you present, like the one started by the review by Randal Rauser?

I honestly don’t have enough time to fully engage with all the discussions and all of the reviews.  So, I make choices.  To be honest it’s easier to interact with the positive or neutral reviews than the critical ones.  Most of the criticism I see comes from people who think my book isn’t academic enough, or it’s too superficial.  On one level, I agree.  But it’s not possible to fully grapple with all of these difficult issues in depth in a book that’s less than 200 pages.

Rauser’s review did spark a lively discussion, which in an ideal world I would have actively engaged in.  Unfortunately, it came out during a time when my health wasn’t good, so I was struggling just to finish my responsibilities at work.  (His review is also really long!)  Rauser and I have different interpretational approaches to the problem of a violent God.  He concludes that perhaps that God of the OT didn’t actually do what the text is claiming he did.  While I have no problem reading OT texts figuratively, I don’t think that’s what the book of Joshua is suggesting.

How did you come up with the theme of the book? Was it something that you yourself wanted to delve into further?

I got asked so often about the negative behavior of God in the Old Testament that I decided I wanted to write about it.  Then I heard about Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, and wanted to make a response to it.  The difficult part for me was deciding which issues to focus on.  I also wanted to engage with negative perceptions of God in popular culture, so I used me two sons as research assistants to help me find relevant examples.

How do you stick to your belief when you’re confronted with opposing views, theories and books?

Sometimes you need to not stick to your beliefs, but change them based upon new evidence. But most of the time, it’s not hard for me because there are deep reasons why I believe what I believe.  Personally, I love reading the Bible and trying to understand and interpret it.  If I see something new in Scripture, I try to be open to re-thinking my beliefs.  If I hear something new from someone else, I try to listen, and understand before I evaluate.

How do you find the time with all the things you surely have to do between your career and your family to write books? Are you very organized?

I am organized, but not very organized.  My seminary allowed me to do all my teaching in the months of Sept-April a few years ago, so I had more time to write from May to August, which was when I wrote most of the book.  Health problems in the fall of 2012 prevented me from doing much writing or blogging.

What is your opinion about popular interpretations of Biblical stories like „Prince of Egypt“, „Joseph – King of Dreams“, „Jesus Christ Superstar“, „Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat“ or even new bestselling books depicting God like „The Shack“ or „The Second Coming“?

Most of these I love (I haven’t read The Second Coming).  I don’t expect them to re-tell the biblical story exactly.  If one can acknowledge that each of these stories has an agenda, a bias or a slant, then one can enjoy it and appreciate it.

I really love Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  I show excerpts from it in my classes and I listen to the soundtrack on my iPod.  The music is fantastic and the lyrics are funny and the combination is extraordinarily entertaining and yet powerful.

I just finished reading The Shack a few weeks ago.  While I wouldn’t base my theology on The Shack, it makes some great points about our relationship with God and forgiveness.  It’s creative, artistic and emotive.  Not surprisingly, many of the people who endorsed it on the back of my copy were musicians and artists, but not theologians.

Your favorite verse in the Bible is Psalm 119. Why did you choose this particular one?

The psalmist and I share a passion, a love, an enthusiasm for the Bible.  I love to give others a love for God’s word as does the psalmist.

What books do you read in your spare time? Do you have any recommendations or titles that have impressed you in the last few months?

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas- on my Father’s recommendation.  His favorite verse is also from Psalm 119. Bonhoeffer lived an amazing life, a brilliant theologian who could communicate easily with underprivileged teens, and was willing to confront the evils of the Nazi’s.  I’m loving this book.

I just finished Just Courage by Gary Haugen the founder of International Justice Mission, a call for Christians to be more courageous and take more risks.  He tells stories of IJM’s wild and wonderful ministry to free children throughout the world from child prostitution.  Inspirational.

Thank you for the interview.