Book Review: Is God a Moral Monster?

Is God a Moral Monster Paul Copan

I’m late to the party in reviewing this book. It was published in 2008, I first read it in 2009, and it’s now 2020. But Paul Copan’s chapter in Healthy Faith and the Coronavirus Crisis was both provocative and helpful, in my view, which prompted me to pick up Is God a Moral Monster? and have a fresh look.

This was published as a response to the New Atheists – but it is a mark of Paul’s writing style and deep knowledge of the subject that the book more than holds up. This is a really helpful, if often challenging, book that takes us through some of the trickier bits of the Old Testament. Some Christian readers, particularly on the more classical Reformed end of the spectrum may struggle with aspects, but to reject this book because of that would be a mistake.

Copan’s chair is in Philosophy and Ethics, which is of course a vital part of a book like this, but his humility and reading in Old Testament background, hermeneutics and exegesis is impressively rigorous. At the start of the second chapter, Copan writes “the Neo-atheists… dig up the dirt on many perennial Old Testament ethical challenges, and Bible believers shouldn’t shove them under their holy rugs. As people of the Book, Christians should honestly reflect on such matters… When uninformed Christians are challenged about these texts, they may be rattled in their faith“. This book, Is God a Moral Monster? is a vital tool for thinking through the ethical and textual challenges that simplistic readings of the Old Testament can throw up.

The key thing about this book is the way that Copan blends serious research into the worlds and cultures of the Old Testament, with a careful and pastorally sensitive ethical discussion. Copan understands that some of the stories and some of the history of the Old Testament are a real challenge – to atheists and sceptics, but also to Christians. Yet, ‘as people of the Book’, Copan invites us to consider a deeper and more careful reading than we might be accustomed to. I think this book is a masterclass in culturally sensitive, philosophically and theologically informed and pastorally aware apologetics. I’ll be recommending it widely, and keeping an eye out for more of Copan’s stuff!

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