[I]f we were studying the Bible together over a period of time, we could trace the maturation process among biblical writers regarding God's character. In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather, God loves justice, kindness, reconciliation, and pace; God's grace gets the final word.The fundamentalist God is also a being that can ultimately only be feared, not loved. Under such a deity every activity of the Christian life - worship, evangelism, charity, etc. - is an act of appeasement, driven by the need to escape unspeakable punishment (or to rescue others from that doom). Even the most conservative Christian would never verbalize it in that way, but when Hell is defined as an eternal state and salvation is viewed as the "fire insurance" that must be obtained to avoid it, declaring one's love for God becomes first and foremost an act of survival and only secondarily one of devotion.
People who are part of what is often called fundamentalism today, whether Christians, Muslims, or Jews, often find it difficult to acknowledge this kind of progression in understanding across the centuries. If anything, they feel obliged to defend and give priority to the early, raw, more primal, less-tested and -developed views of God, minimizing or marginalizing what I am calling the more mature and nuanced understandings.
So the God of the fundamentalists is a competitive warrior - always jealous of rivals and determined to drive them into defeat and disgrace. And the God of the fundamentalists is superficially exacting - demanding technical perfection in regard to ceremonial and legal matters while minimizing deeper concerns about social justice - especially where outsiders and outcasts are concerned. Similarly, the fundamentalist God is exclusive, faithfully loving one in-group and rejecting - perhaps even hating - all others.
The fundamentalist God is also deterministic - controlling rather than interacting, a mover of events but never moved by them. And finally, though the fundamentalist God may be patient for a while, he (fundamentalist versions of God tend to be very male) is ultimately violent, eventually destined to explode with unquenchable rage, condemnation, punishment, torture, and vengeance if you push him too far.
-Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, pages 101-102
In most evangelical churches the reality lies somewhere in between; the New Testament is given enough weight that God's love can sometimes be understood. But the Old Testament's God of wrath still lurks just beneath the surface, unwilling (or unable) to show any mercy to anyone who doesn't offer verbal assent to the correct creed. The perceived need for an inerrant Bible precludes the possibility that its early books might be the product of a more primitive understanding of God, rather than a timeless portrait to be placed on an equal plane with the example set by Christ.
If perfect love casts out fear, then perhaps any doctrines that lead to fear need to be reconsidered. Such growth in our theology need not suggest that God has changed, merely that our understanding of God has matured.