VIOLENCE WEEK, Q & R: Violence and God, Cheap Words

Here’s the Q:

I’ve read several of your books, starting with your latest one (A New Kind of Christianity) and then going back through some of your older ones. The latest one I’ve been reading is A Generous Orthodoxy, and even the mere acquiring of it caused me to realize sometimes, “words are cheap”! You see, I’m an associate pastor at a fairly large church in the South and was given the task of buying copies of a book for a clergy retreat for our church a little while back. Of course we didn’t decide on a book until less than a week before the retreat so I had to bounce from bookstore to bookstore in our metroplex. One of the bookstores I went into was a really conservative one (Mardel’s) and when I bought the only copy they had of the book I needed, the cashier kindly said “would you like to look through our free box?” I reluctantly said ‘sure’, thinking for sure there would be nothing of interest to me. As I rummaged through, though, my eye caught the attention of A Generous Orthodoxy! As I wondered how this gem found it’s way into this bookstore’s free box, I thought to myself, “I bet they stocked the book because of the publisher (Zondervan) and once they saw how ‘heretical’ it was they had to give it away as quick as they could!” Whatever the reason, I consider myself lucky to have found it – even if the words in it are considered by some to be so cheap!
All kidding aside, I do have a question about the book. In Chapter 10 (Why I am Biblical) – which is as far as I am in the book so far – you attempt to justify God’s commandments to the Jews of old to kill the Canaanites, saying “it was a really violent time back then”. Since 7 years or so have passed since you wrote that book, do you still believe what your wrote for this chapter? I mean, it would seem to support the “Just War” theory which seems counter to some of your other writings and certainly counter to the way I read the Gospels. One could argue that we live in a violent time today and therefore we are justified in going to war against all our enemies. I’m wondering if this is a case of seeing Brian Mclaren’s theology evolve over time, or whether I’m simply reading the chapter wrong?
Thank you for all your hard and courageous work throughout the years. I look forward to picking up a copy of your next book, Naked Spirituality, and this time paying the worth of the words it contains!

Here’s the R:

What an interesting question. Thanks for asking it. (And I’m all for bargains, so I’m glad you got the book for free -)
In Chapter 10 of AGO, I wouldn’t say I was trying to “justify” the slaughter of the Canaanites in any way, nor was I trying to “justify” God as the initiator of such violence. I went on to use an analogy (as I recall – I don’t have the book in front of me) about God working in and among human beings like us today, in spite of the fact that our whole way of life is based on a fossil fuel economy that is destroying the planet and our “security” is based on a military industrial complex that is immoral in more ways than we can imagine.
So, I think my main message in AGO was this: for God to work in and among us shouldn’t imply approval of every detail of our way of life. If God were only to work among perfect people, God would be pretty bored and out of the picture, since none of us would qualify.
As I recall, I also tried to set up the idea of a narrative arc to the biblical story – an arc that leads decisively away from violence. I was in the early stages of seeking to excavate what that narrative arc in AGO (and also in one of the books I’ve written that is closest to my heart – The Story We Find Ourselves In). I think I got several layers deeper in A New Kind of Christianity. So I think you’re right about my thinking continuing to grow and evolve and deepen, even though I hope I wasn’t seeking to justify a violent God in AGO. Thanks again for this good question!
You’ll see in Naked Spirituality that I’m trying to help people develop an inner life that will sustain and empower us as agents of peace, reconciliation, and healing … so the process continues.