But serious conversations, carefully nuanced and peppered with rhetorical questions, can quickly get misconstrued. The story I expected to be buried deep in "Local News" was instead an above-the-fold front-page story titled "Christians Must 'Let Go' of Some Beliefs for Sake of Peace, Theologian Says." Readers concluded I had argued that we should "let go" of the lordship of Jesus precisely for such so-called peace.1 I uttered an expletive and went into the house to let my wife know it was going to be a long day.

When I arrived at my office shortly thereafter, I was dismayed when one of the departmental assistants knocked on my door to let me know that a Nashville talk-radio program was on the line, asking for me. In less than three hours, I had been contacted by talk radio in Detroit and Fox News in New York City and was getting unhappy emails from across the Southeast. The local Nashville rap station, one student reported to me later, held a call-in survey. I was found to be "stupid" by a wide margin. My inbox filled; the phone rang incessantly—hundreds of messages by the end of the day. I heard from people across Tennessee, then California, New Zealand, Manhattan, and Israel. By the end of the day, I had been called a moron, an idiot, a dhimmi, and an a**hole. The following evening's lead news story on the local Fox affiliate covered the uproar, complete with name-calling and demands that my job be revoked without further delay.

If the task of a theologian is to stir people up, one colleague emailed me to say, you have had great success today.

A man wrote from Knoxville: "We need to broaden our belief's [sic] by giving up what we believe? You're worse than an idiot because an idiot never knew. You're simply an a**hole." An old college classmate wrote to tell me that I had become "a joke to common sense, decency, and intelligence." Those who believed themselves to understand Islam—especially a number of people apparently spurred to polemical action because of a posting on an apparently right-wing political blog2—wrote to chastise my lack of understanding of Islam. The subject line of one email—"Professor Dhimmi"—caught my attention. I did not yet know what a "dhimmi" was.

I read that you are teaching your students that they must renounce some of their Christian values if they want to live in peace with Islam. Where did you get that idea? Do you truly understand what Islam teaches? The Umma views the world in 2 parts; the house of Islam and the house of war. There can never be peace until there is just the house of Islam. Non Muslims are given 3 choices per the Qur'an; convert, submit or accept dhimmitude, or die. Then there will be peace.

Many wrote to say similar things. There can be no peace. Muslims do not want peace. They want you to convert, or they will kill you, and if they say otherwise, then they are lying.

The respondents seemed to fall into two camps. There were those who incorrectly concluded that I had publicly denied the faith, that I had publicly professed that we should "let go" of the lordship of Jesus in order to get along with Jews and Muslims. Some of these respondents, though deeply troubled, were nonetheless gracious in their response. An email from New Zealand (!) received late in the day admonished me with the words of the apostle Paul: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel."