The author (N-P) fervently believes that ancient and modern social ills are most often the result of forceful subjugation of large numbers of the peoples of the world by an exploitive elite and that, again most often, this has been done in the guise of religion as, supposedly, the will of God. The author wants to find out why Jesus is missing from Christian worship. For example, why is it that the Apostle's Creed declares that Jesus Christ was born, suffered and died with no mention how he lived, or what he said. N-P thinks that it is important to look into why he was killed and what his message said about God --- a message which, evidently, inspired and energized his followers to live as if he was still with them.
The book can be divided into three sections.
1. The first examines images and expectations of God in O.T. and N.T. scriptures and concludes that, far from giving a consistent, monotheistic picture of One God, it doesn't take a degree in psychology to recognize that many different Gods are pictured, often behaving in widely inconsistent ways and all too often demanding actions that are pathological and violent.
2. The second section details the sociological, political and religious situation in which Jesus lived including both domination by foreign powers and by the Temple elite. N-P points out how the oppressive and violent domination systems which the Jewish people had endured for centuries coupled with a belief in an Almighty God led to Messianic expectations involving a violent intervention by God.
3. The third section examines Gospel narratives and parables to find evidences for Jesus' non-violent opposition to Rome and to the Temple authorities. Jesus' opposition is rooted in his faith in a god of unconditional love rather than a God of vengeful justice. N-P rejects images of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who preached God's ultimate wrath for wrongdoers. Jesus' God desires justice but, since coercion is incompatible with God's nature, he is powerless to enforce it through violent action. Violence and injustice can only be defused by non-violent means --- including sacrifice (as Jesus himself demonstrated), if necessary.
The Bible verses referenced below illustrate the all too common presence of passages supporting troubling images of a kind of God who, in the O.T.:
1. orders parents to murder disobedient children [Lev.20:1-2a, 9],
2. orders a test of faith by one's willingness to murder one's child [Exo. 22:2, 9b-12],
3. is angered and so commits worldwide genocide [Gen.6:13,7:23],
4. steals land from its rightful occupants [Gen. 15:18-21],
5. steals land and orders "ethnic cleansing" of the occupants [Num.21:31-35],
6. is a Holy Warrior killing those who follow other Gods [Exo. 11:4-6, 14:27-28],
7. destroys his own people [Jer. 21:3-6; Lam. 4:4,9-10]
To dispel the notion, held by some smug Christians, that this behavior is only found in Jewish scriptures, we find in the N.T. troubling images of a God who:
8. is a wrathful judge [Matt. 3:7-12],
9. kills the disobedient [Acts5:5-9],
10. is the violent avenger of injustice [Rev. 11:17-18]
To summarize, then, although there are beautiful and inspiring passages regarding the merciful and compassionate nature of God in the Bible, by far the most numerous and dominant Scriptural assertions about the nature of God are concerned with: 1. God's power (violence) is superior to that of our enemies, but 2. God withholds using violence on our enemies, thus allowing us to suffer, in order to chastise and redeem us (in answer to the question "did God fail, or is this a punishment for our disobedience?" when we are in a crisis of faith). Redemptive violence saves God's reputation of all-powerfulness when we are forced to live under conditions not in our best interest.
This all leads to N-P asking "So what do these insights lead to with regard to the ways in which Christians should live and worship today?" and he goes on to describe how Christians can revise their outlook. Perhaps the greatest reinterpretation he calls for is his rejection of all aspects of the atonement theory of Jesus' death. Jesus was killed by the Romans with the cooperation of the Temple elites because both parties viewed him as a dangerous subversive leader whose teachings undermined Roman political domination as well as Jewish religious authority. The dogma, perhaps arising in Paul but emphasized particularly by Augustine and others, that a sacrifice of life, no matter how precious or divine, was required to appease an otherwise unforgiving God is diametrically opposed to Jesus' foundational teachings about God and the nature of God's kingdom. Such a prerequisite would be inconceivable by a God of infinite love. [My note: An immortal being gains or loses nothing from the physical death of another immortal being, especially if this lost mortality can be resurrected!]
N-P sees a re-ritualization of present Christianity is necessary:
1 The Last Supper should drop all references to atonement or substitutionary guilt and become rather a celebration of God's abundance in community where we rededicate ourselves to lives of service and sharing.
2. Baptism should drop allusions to original sin or the remembrance of the great flood and become a dedication to accept and care for God's abundant gifts.
3. The Lord's Prayer should reword its paternalistic and heavenly director images and address the real notions of debt forgiveness along with our gratitude for God's abundance.
4. The Apostles Creed should be rewritten to include Jesus, his life and goals and reject the images of "almighty" God in favor of "all-compassionate" God.
5. [My note: Hymnody should omit or rewrite those hymns whose major thrust seems to focus on declarations of violence or of punishment or of exclusivity.]