Dr. Tremper Longman III is a well-known name among Evangelicals with an interest in Old Testament studies. He taught Old Testament for nearly 40 years before his retirement from the classroom in 2017. He co-authored a venerable Old Testament introduction used in many universities and seminaries. He has written a host of commentaries from the popular level to the very technical. He also serves as the Senior Translator for the New Living Translation of the bible.
His latest book, Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence, was graciously sent to me by Baker Books to review. While not a long book (<300 pp.), it was not a quick read because it addresses hot button issues among Western Christianity today. The approach Longman takes in each of the four sections is to describe the issue and the controversy surrounding it, present the "opposing view" from the published works of the most important writers/scholars holding it, and then interact with these views by presenting his own views with explanation.
I hope no one minds the 'spoiler' but I think it's fair to point out the positions Longman takes up front.
Regarding evolution, he describes himself as an "evolutionary creationist," maintaining that God certainly created the universe and all that is in it while arguing that Scripture does not tell us how he did this...he tries to hold together a high view of Scripture with the predominant understanding of the scientific community regarding biology. He does not hold to a literal Adam and Eve and explains why he thinks this does not threaten either a high view of Scripture or the doctrine of Original Sin
On the historicity of Old Testament events like the Exodus and fall of Jericho, he firmly believes that these events recorded in Scripture did happen. He address why there is little to no direct evidence and why this should not surprise us. His views here are very conservative and traditional. There are no surprises here, and that's fine. Readers without any background or prior study of biblical archeology will find this a helpful and encouraging discussion.
The section on violence in the Old Testament and the alleged difference between the 'God of the Old Testament' and the 'God of the New Testament.' I found this section fascinating and frustrating. It was fascinating because Longman does a tremendous job pointing out the continuity of God's character and actions in both Testaments and the reality that God has not changed or evolved from cover to cover. It was frustrating because he ultimately stops short and humbly admits that he has a few things to work out, like the ethics of children being killed during the conquest. I hope he continues to think on this very difficult subject and publishes more in the future.
The final section deals with human sexuality, particularly homosexuality. Longman treats this subject with the most nuance and delicacy of any in this book, and rightly so. His view ultimately boils down to affirming the sinfulness of homosexual behavior while pointing out how horribly the LGBTQ community has been treated by Christians who champion the mercy and grace of God in Christ. He further argues that individuals with same-sex attraction who recognize that acting on those desires are sinful and are consequently celibate should be considered candidates for ordination--maintaining that this struggle is no different than other sinful struggles faced by all in ministry.
Whether or not you ultimately agree with Longman on each of these issues, I can honestly say that this book will guide you to think critically about both sides of the issues. Each section is carefully written and thoughtfully presented. He treats those holding opposing views with seriousness and respect, things with are sadly lacking from most dialogues in our society today. This book is well worth the time and effort it takes to read through it and thoughtfully consider the positions Longman takes.
NOTE: Dr. Ben Witherington has written a thirty-five part (yes, you read that right) review on his blog, primarily in the form of Q&A with Dr. Longman. That series can be found on his blog, The Bible & Culture, and is a must-read!