I recently received a note from a pastor and missionary we'll call Pete. It went like this: "I have read most of what you have written, including A New Kind of Christianity ... I would say I am in agreement with [much of what you write], but I do think you bring disservice to this argument in the evangelical world when you shun the 'violence' of God and the subsequent need for the cross' justification, which was also quite violent."
He continued: "You have a lot to say to the church, but when you make these kind of statements that don't really appear to hold weight under the plethora of biblical examples, it mutes your voice. The fact is the Old Testament is a God-ordained bloody mess, and the cross is the ultimate expression of it. This only highlights God's holiness, and when we try to mitigate this reality to save him from a secular mind, we mitigate the power of the cross as well, and end up with a less powerful narrative."
I don't know which shocks you more -- that I would question God's violence, or that Pete would defend it. My guess is that nearly all of us would be shocked one way or the other.
If you ask why this question is so important, I think "Sept. 11" is a good answer. Since then, we've been marinating in the issue of religious violence, day after day. One day we see a shaky video from the Middle East featuring terrorists blowing up a humvee, with shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is great!") in the background. Another day we hear a famous Christian televangelist say, "Blow them all away in the name of the Lord." Another day we read about Israel Defense Forces destroying the homes of Palestinians, defending their actions on the grounds that God promised them the land 4,000 years ago. And the day after that, we hear another Christian televangelist defending their actions, and urging the U.S. to join Israel in a war against Iran.
A lot is at stake.