Friday, December 17, 2010

"If God is Good" Book Review

"If God is good, then why does evil exist? Perhaps he is not really all good or all-powerful or all-knowing. Perhaps there is no God." So the typical argument against theism goes. Of course, this is a popular argument that has been leveled against believers by unbelievers and skeptics alike for hundreds of years. Many fine treatments of the topic have been published, but a serious need has not been met with those publications: the need for a popular-level, non-technical approach to theodicy (a defense of God). It is here that Randy Alcorn's fantastic book, If God is Good, attempts to meet that need. While men such as Bart Ehrman have published popular-level works on evil with God's Problem, an adequate, readable response has yet to be issued. Again, Alcorn attempts to meet that need in this book.

I say "attempts" because as approachable as Alcorn's presentation is of the problem of evil, the book clocks in at 494 pages. These 494 pages are loaded with intense, at times repetitive, discussion of God's goodness despite evil. This is not an easy read but, for those who are willing to wade through Alcorn's work, they will find many gems an altogether outstanding defense of God.

The book itself is divided into 11 sections. Section 1 deals with understanding the problem of evil and suffering; section 2 handles understanding evil: its origin, nature and consequences; section 3 addresses problems for non-theists; section 4 discusses proposed solutions to the problem of evil that limit God; section 5 presents how Jesus' death addresses the problem of evil; section 6 discusses the problem of human responsibility and God's sovereignty; section 7 takes a long-term look at the problem of evil by inspecting the doctrine of heaven and hell; God's allowance and restraining of evil is discussed in section 8; section 9 talks about how evil and suffering are used for God's glory; section 10 addresses why God allows suffering; finally, section 11 discusses how individuals can live meaningful lives in the midst of suffering.

As can be seen by the simple section divisions, the book is nearly exhaustive in its treatment of God's goodness. There is a good deal of overlap, unfortunately, in some of the chapters in each section. For instance, in chapter 17 which addresses arguments that attempt to limit God's goodness, Alcorn divides the chapter into many sections. One section heading states, "To say that God is good is not to say God will always appear to be good, or that when he is good we will always like him for it." The next section is entitled, "God's acts of goodness may appear harsh or even cruel." While I value the subdivisions, those two points could have easily been conflated into one larger point. This happens at least once per chapter and needlessly extends each chapter.

However, despite these criticisms, Alcorn's book is simply outstanding. Alcorn is exhaustive because he realizes how many books attack God's goodness. He is not scared of addressing the difficult issues such as man's responsibility and God's sovereignty. He does not give cop-out answers either. On the contrary, he takes the reader back to Scripture again and again.

Which leads to one final point that needs to be made concerning If God is Good: Alcorn's use of scripture, while encouraging for the Christian, is not likely to persuade anyone outside of the Christian faith. Although Alcorn's book is already quite large, he would have benefited from including a basic defense of why the Christian Bible is used to argue the case for God's goodness. For this reason alone, If God is Good will likely only reach the Christian sub-culture. It will be a book that reaches those Christians who have undergone intense tragedy and are perhaps wrestling with God. However, it is unlikely to reach anyone outside of that audience.

If God is Good  is destined to be a undergraduate theology textbook for its presentation of God's goodness in the midst of evil. The fact that it is destined to be one can, of course, be both good and bad. It is good because it is a testimony to Alcorn's thoroughness and research in this project. It is may be bad because the size of this book will not likely entice many to wade through the entire thing. In many ways, after the first three sections (by far the most important), the reader can approach his work selectively, picking the chapters he wishes to pursue further.

I highly recommend Alcorn's work. Though the size is quite large for a popular-level treatment of the God and evil, it is by far the best one available. Readers who work through his work carefully will be richly rewarded. For those who are doubting, you will find no better treatment of the topic than If God is Good. For those who have friends who are struggling, pick up this book for them. You can trust that the answers provided are both biblical and refreshing to the soul.

Note: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

1 comment:

  1. Great review Daniel! Look forward to reading the many that are to come. Keep up the good work.