I have been reading through the book of Joshua, which would to even the devout western reader, cause a series of faith spasms. It is easy to judge the Quran and other religious literature for its violent content, but it would be a case work in cognitive dissonance to deny the violence of the Jewish/Christian text.
Christians seem to have a way to "Forget" the justice of God in the name of His love. Such an imbalance not only distorts the nature of God, but it distorts His story and mitigates its necessity. The other day we were at the ruins in Carthage with a group of young Christians ministering here in Tunisia, and we stopped at a place that had ancient grave-stones of children sacrificed to Baal-Humon, and those with us were commenting on how awful it was to believe in a god who could demand such a thing of his people and I was immediately reminded of Isaiah 53:10, where we are told that God was "Pleased to crush Him (His Son)...as a guilt offering." How easy is it to forget that at the heart of the gospel is an atoning sacrifice. God's love includes these "Dark Passages" that we all try to forget, but lie at the heart of the gospel! The bloodshed of the cross will always be an "Offense" and "Foolishness" to those that are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), as it is to our contemporaries in the west, and many Muslims in the world who also believe that Allah could never do such a thing to one of His prophets! It appears as senseless as the killings in the Palestinian conquests in ancient Israel as they are in modern Israel.
We struggle to believe this is possible for a loving God, because we have neutered His justice, and denied Him His glory. Our man-centered opinions about God have created a western deity tame enough for us to handle, and now we are paying the penalty of having no answers to a savvy attack on the God of the bible, because our gospel has lost its connection with God's holiness and justice.
I was in a bookstore the other day in Tunis talking to an atheist who had spent 16 years in the church (Not the Mosque), and left because the church had no answers for these questions, and he became incredulous to think that a god had any right to be zealous for His own glory! Unfortunately too many people in the church feel the same way, so we have left the God of Joshua off our flannel graphs, created a god (An idol) that appeases the 21st century western mind, and then put our heads in the sand of ignorance and wonder why our kids are leaving the faith, and how come no one is coming to our churches?
It is not surprising that those churches that are growing are not backing down from the truth of the atonement, and preaching the "Whole Counsel" of God's word, so that people can be exposed to God's holiness and our sin, and turn to the only name under heaven by which man can be saved, by God's great grace and mercy; Jesus the Messiah. This message will always be both a scandalous stumbling block to some, and absolute foolishness to others, "but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). We can't back down from that message, but must be looking for ways that contextualizes that message so it can be heard, which includes knowing God's story, and how it fits into other stories like those we find in the Quran, or in the history of Baal-Humon. They may be appalling, but they provide a great avenue to talk about the one sacrifice that ends all sacrifices!
Below is an excerpt from a press release for an upcoming book called Dark Passages: How Religions Learn to Forget Their Bloody Origins by Phil Jenkins that may be pretty cool on the subject.
"Western observers often express concern about the violent nature of passages within the Quran, and ask whether fanaticism is somehow hard-wired into the faith of Islam. Absent though from such discussions is any sense of the still more violent and unforgiving passages that litter the Hebrew Bible, which is also the Christian Old Testament. To take just one example of many, when God orders the conquest of Canaan, he supposedly commands his followers to exterminate the native inhabitants: “you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7.1-2). The book of Joshua offers an abundance of such texts. The most striking fact here is not that such passages exist, but that they have been so utterly forgotten by the vast majority of Christians and Jews, including among devoted Bible-readers. This in itself is a significant comment on the relationship between the scriptures on which a religion is founded and the ways in which that faith develops through history. The fact that such a gap exists constitutes a real challenge to fundamentalist assumptions, and raises profound questions about many prognoses that are currently offered for the future of Islam. It would be easy, if pointless, to assemble these disturbing Biblical texts in order to show the bloody roots of Western religion, and the apparent contradictions within those faiths. Much more significant is understanding the role that these texts play within the holistic reality of the scripture, and how successive generations of believers have come to terms with these difficulties."