Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness addresses one of my all-time favorite Bible stories. I may be a bit biased, as my name is Joseph, but I’ve always loved this narrative. I also had it assigned as a narrative to translate from Hebrew in college, which only deepened my love for this story. Lennox’s title says it: this story has it all. But what of this book? I was excited to dive in to find out what John C. Lennox, a rather famous man in some Christian circles, would have to say about this narrative.
Lennox is a somewhat strange choice for a book on Joseph on the face of things. A search of “John Lennox” with terms like “Joseph” and “Bible” brings up a number of videos of Lennox discussing this narrative, however, showing something of a longstanding interest in the topic. Lennox’s training is in mathematics, though he has written extensively in the fields of apologetics in particular as well as science-faith topics. Where this becomes relevant is when Lennox delves more deeply into the background of texts. He leans heavily on other thinkers for this, and seems particularly reliant upon Kenneth A. Kitchen. These include citations from a text from 1966, along with the more recent On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006). Kitchen is an excellent scholar with impeccable credentials, but again, the heavy reliance on other scholars by Lennox makes any background here seem superficial.
Nevertheless, Lennox does provide quite a bit of background for readers. He begins not with the start of the Joseph narrative, but with an overview of the structure of Genesis, including a re-reading of many of the Genesis accounts. Though this may seem somewhat unnecessary, Lennox does this to give a real sense of place, time, and setting for the Joseph narrative, making it feel even more alive and fresh than it might otherwise. Lennox is keen throughout the book to show that God’s judgement, mercy, and sovereignty are in play throughout the narrative.
Lennox gives plenty of context for readers, but mostly follows an totally expository path, deviating little from the content of the story itself. Where he does deviate, it sometimes goes into strange territory. For example, when discussing “Joseph’s rise to power,” Lennox goes on a tangent about confidence, which leads to a discussion about Christianity in “the West.” In the midst of this discussion, Lennox cites others noting that “there has been a collapse of Western self-confidence…” He then goes on to link this loss of confidence to a rise in trust in science as over and against Christianity. Following previously cited authors, Lennox argues that “confidence in God and in the Lord and the Gospel is being shaken as never before” (154). Then, Lennox just brings Joseph back in. Joseph was just “a single individual, with no other human group supporting him, yet such was his conviction of the truth of the message he had… that he influenced the future of an entire nation. That is the sort of confidence in God… that is necessary in order to stand up and reverse the trend of weakness and lack of conviction and authenticity that characterize far too much of that which calls itself Christian” (155). Frankly, I am baffled by this rabbit trail. Apart from the strangeness of demanding that Christianity be characterized by strength and authenticity rather than being humble (Ephesians 4:2, for example), it also seems very much like a grasp by Lennox to make an application in a section that he has thus far done little to make practical theology happen.
The story of Joseph, of course, features prominently at least one woman: Potiphar’s wife. Lennox goes over the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph in detail. Once more, Lennox is keen to make applications to today from the story, including arguing that sexual activity “including pornography” is encouraged in “our contemporary world.” In contrast, Lennox argues, this leads to bitterness and anti-social behavior. To combat this, we ought “to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right” (128). Later, when discussing Potiphar’s attempt to frame Joseph, Lennox appeals not to the Bible but to the common proverb “a woman scorned” to make his point (129), attempting an appeal to what he seems to think is a shared agreement–women, right? This movement from an individual woman–Potiphar’s wife–to all women: “a woman scorned,” is surely overdone and not a little insulting. Lennox’s implication seems to be that Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to frame Joseph is just what we ought to expect from a woman who was trying to seduce a man like Joseph. But this is the very kind of generalizing from abusive behavior to excuses that has led to so many problems in the world and church around the topic of abuse. I was surprised to see this, but then Lennox follows it with another disappointing statement, saying that Potiphar’s wife “denounced Joseph to the other servants, playing the race card” (129). This “race card” was that Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph due to his being a Hebrew (Genesis 39:13-15). But the use of “race card” in this way is clearly pejorative. Lennox doesn’t give any further context for this statement, but this kind of terminology is often used to denounce those who point to real, current abuses happening due to people’s race. What makes it particularly odd is that Lennox puts this apparent condemnation of lumping whole groups together right next to his own action doing the same (“race card” means calling Joseph Hebrew to denounce him is bad, but in the very same paragraph Lennox uses “a woman scorned” to reference the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” proverb that implies all women act in this manner). It’s an alarming and disappointing series of discussions from Lennox in this section.
Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness is a competent look at a beautiful story. Lennox gives much by way of background, but derives most of the details from other sources. When he makes contemporary applications, they are quite uneven. The theological leanings of the reader will most likely be the determining factor in one’s enjoyment.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
I’ve been catching up on my podcasts and I recently listened to a dialogue between an atheist, Lawrence Krauss, and a theist, John Lennox on questions about science and faith. It was on the Unbelievable? program (something I strongly suggest you listen to weekly) [listen here]. Thus, it was less a debate than it was a moderated discussion. Here, I’ll only focus on a couple questions that came up in their dialogue.
How and Why
According to Lawrence Krauss, science cannot answer “Why” questions but only “how” questions. Lennox brought up the example of a Ford motor car sitting on a driveway [I added this last bit for clarity]. He argued that one can explain the “how” it got there but there still remains the question of “why” it was made. Thus, the “why” questions remain “real” questions whether or not science is capable of investigating them. Interestingly, Krauss took a different tact than I expected in his rebuttal: he argued that the “why” question (at least in the Lennox case) is reducible to a “how” question. That is, one could explain how Henry Ford designed it, had it built, and then someone bought it and drove it to where it is sitting.
But of course redefining terms does little to address the actual questions at hand. Lennox was keen to show that questions about “why” are indeed meaningful. It seems that Krauss’ only response is to either say “no they’re not” or redefine actual “why” questions into “how” questions and argue there still are no “why” questions. The move is not very subtle, nor is it successful.
Purpose in the Universe?
Krauss made several comments regarding purpose in the universe. First, he seemed to suggest that in order to assert the universe has purpose, one must know what that purpose is. Second, he argued that the universe is indeed quite wasteful if it were intelligent designed with purpose. Third–in response to Lennox’s statement that Krauss and other cosmologists admit that for life to exist there would have had to be several generations of stars (to produce enough carbon for carbon-based life)–he alleged that there could be all sorts of other life forms we don’t know about. I’ll address these each briefly in turn.
First, it seems clear that if one wants to suggest the universe has a purpose, one does not have to know what the purpose is. We can see this all the time in our own interactions with the world. Suppose I see a pile of blocks on the floor in an office building stacked in piles of various heights and arranged by color. I can immediately recognize that there must have been some purpose behind it–for the arrangement by color is quite telling–but I may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason. Perhaps some five-year-old was amusing herself by stacking blocks by color. Perhaps an adult was making art by stacking them in that way–a kind of reminiscence on childhood. There could be any number of other reasons. But the fact that I don’t know the reason doesn’t mean there is no reason. Similarly, I may claim the universe has a purpose even without claiming to know what said purpose is.
Second, Krauss seems to make the error that if the universe were designed for humans, that would have to be the only purpose involved in the entire universe. I’ve addressed this claim in some detail elsewhere, so for now I’ll just say that Krauss’ mistake lies in assuming that if there is a purpose behind the universe it must be the only purpose.
Third, Krauss missed the point of Lennox’s rebuttal. For the life we are dealing with is clearly carbon based. For Krauss to stretch the question to possible scenarios of non-carbon based life is to miss the thrust of his own argument. He was asking for purpose in this universe; he was not asking for purpose in any possible universe. Thus, his statement is off base. Moreover, I tend to agree with scientists like Iris Fry and the like who agree that it is implausible to suggest life could be based on silicon or other things apart from carbon. That is a debate that would take us far afield, so I’ll leave it at that.
Science Doesn’t Care About Philosophy
Lennox, towards the end of the discussion, pointed out that Krauss’ claim to define nothing as something is nonsense. Krauss’ response? He jettisoned philosophy immediately: “Science doesn’t care about philosophy,” he said [he may have said “Scientists don’t…” but after listening to it a few times, I couldn’t tell which he said]. If you don’t see a problem with this, you should. First, the statement itself is philosophical. Second, any number of claims he made throughout his discussion with Lennox were philosophically grounded. Third, science depends upon philosophy to operate. Fourth, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, Krauss’ own work is directly dependent upon philosophy.
Documents Aren’t Evidence
Krauss said that documents don’t count as evidence. His assertion was based upon the notion that a book like The Great Gatsby is a document, but it is not taken as factually true. Apart from purely begging the question regarding the genre of the Bible alongside The Great Gatsby, Krauss is also severely mistaken in his claim that documents aren’t evidence. According to Krauss’ claim, we should essentially dissolve our government, because our system of government is based upon a document: the Constitution. But the Constitution cannot count as evidence for anything! So this begs the question: why should we go to it to see whether or not Lawrence Krauss should have freedom to express his vitriol against religious people?
The problem is that Krauss is just wrong here. Documents do count as evidence. One needs to acknowledge the genre, intent, etc. regarding a document, but for Krauss to utterly dismiss documents as evidence is absurd. One may ask whether Krauss wrote any books. He could, presumably, produce documents to show that he did indeed write books. But on his own standard of proof, he hasn’t presented any evidence whatsoever. Thus, on Krauss’ definition of evidence, I conclude that Krauss has never written anything.
There is much more that I could interact with in regards to this conversation between Krauss and Lennox, but I’ll leave it for now with the comments I have. I suggest readers go listen to the dialogue themselves. It seems to me clear that Krauss continues to flounder in areas outside his expertise. He misused the notion of an “appeal to authority” when he applied it regarding Lennox’s citation of Nagel, he continued to make errors regarding non sequitors, he dismissed his own books as evidence that he wrote anything, and his comments on purpose betray a lack of reflection on the topic. Krauss continues to show that he is basically ignorant of even the implications of his own claims.
Shoulders of Giants? -Philosophy and Science in Context, or “Krauss Jumps off!”– I argue that Krauss is mistaken to claim that philosophers know nothing. I further argue that Krauss’ own work is dependent upon philosophy, so he ironically (ignorantly?) dismisses the very basis for his work.
William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss- Thoughts and links– I summarize and analyze a debate between Lawrence Krauss and the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. I think this debate was devastating to Krauss’ positions regarding his atheism.
Follow this link to access the audio for the dialogue between Lennox and Krauss.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy
I could do these every day and still not catch up to the amount of fantastic posts out there. This week’s Really Recommended Posts feature “Love Wins,” natural evil, apologetics methodology, Tolkien, and more! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts (and recommendations!).
Love Wins Critique– Rob Bell’s book on hell (or lack thereof?) caused quite a stir when it came out, and it continues to be discussed widely. Check out this excellent multi-part critique of the book. You can access all 5 parts here.
Why Would God Allow Natural Disasters? – One of the hardest parts of the problem of evil is the difficulty of “natural evils.” Check out this insightful response to the problem.
Is the Cold Case Still Valid? – One of the debates within Christianity is about apologetics methodology. Should we be evidentialists or presuppositionalists or something else (spoiler: I don’t think we need to be either/or)? This post discusses a critique of Cold-Case Christianity from an apologetic methodology standpoint. The book is phenomenal and I recommend it highly (see my review). See also J. Warner Wallace’s own response to the objection.
John Lennox vs. Richard Dawkins– A great video in which Lennox discusses science and Christianity, set against beautiful backdrops and quotes from the Bible. It also features some other excellent Christian thinkers. It’s worth the watch.
Loyal dog continues to attend mass at church where owner’s funeral was held– Just a heart-wrenching story about a loyal dog. Not apologetics related, really, but I enjoyed it.
Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy Stories” continues to have massive influence today. Read it here online (or obtain the PDF file to read later). I found this post through another excellent list of links which is well worth checking out.