Book Review: The God I Don’t Understand, Christopher J. H. Wright

Mini book review:

The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith

Christopher J. H. Wright, Zondervan, 2008

Wright is a very credible Old Testament scholar and director of Langham Partnership International, set up by John Stott for the resourcing and training of Christian leaders in the developing world.

I recently read his God’s People in God’s Land (1990), a revision of his 1977 doctoral thesis, and so could appreciate the kind of serious OT (Old Testament) scholarship I could expect.  Indeed, the scholarship was there, but I discovered that I was not typical of the target audience.  The book is intended as an apologetic resource, and is directed, I think, to the thinking outsider to Christianity, or the troubled insider, the person wanting to understand the justice of God (= ‘theodicy’) and the ways of God in regard to a short series of difficult issues:

  1. Evil and suffering
  2. The Canaanite Genocide described in Joshua
  3. The Cross of Jesus Christ
  4. The End of the World.

The third topic, “What About the Cross?”, is indicative of the thrust of the book, which is ultimately evangelistic, and echoes with his predecessor John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.  The chapter on the Canaanite Genocide was the one that caught my eye as a teacher of OT, however.  It is a good summation of the issue, sealing off what are from an evangelical standpoint three ‘dead-ends’ or non-solutions to the problem of understanding the expulsion or killing of the Canaanites in Joshua, then offering three frameworks for understanding the issue.  I won’t summarize them here, but Wright’s handling is robust and comprehensive, yet accessible.  But it doesn’t solve the problem, as we can expect for any historical or ethical conundrum that has survived 2000 years or more of efforts to solve it.  If you want to see a competent and courageous attempt, read Wright’s.

So in the end, I was not within Wright’s target audience, but my respect for his scholarly depth remains – this is no part of the ‘Christian pulp fiction’ category.  I would note, too: Wright’s own mood throughout the book is more of understanding the things of God than not understanding them.  He is generally pretty confident of a solution or near-solution, since he means to reassure the troubled reader.  But he’s never trivial.  See what you think!

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