All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • Matthew and the Big Story of Jesus


    Matthew and the Big Story of Jesus
    Brian Zahnd

    The Bible tells a big, sprawling story of sin and redemption, of death and resurrection. It takes us from Creation to New Creation — from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem. Along the way, the plot sometimes feels lost and the story seems…stalled. But when we turn the page from Malachi to Matthew, the twisting plot of the Story God is telling is about to come into sharp focus. We’re about to meet the central character of the Story — his name is Jesus!

    A few years ago I read the Bible straight through like you would any other book. I was trying to read it as if I’d never heard the Story. There were moments of elation, but also times when I felt the pain of the Hebrew prophets as they nearly despaired. Would the promises God had made to Abraham and his seed ever come true? Would the longed-for reign of Messiah ever arrive? The wintery day I ended my reading of Malachi and turned the page to begin Matthew was during the season of Advent. I was sitting by a woodstove with a warm fire. Music played quietly in the background. As I read the words of Matthew 1:18, “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born,” the radio began to play the familiar carol What Child Is This? Tears filled my eyes. The Story was back on track, and God was keeping his promise!
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  • Secular or Sacred Time?


    Secular or Sacred Time?
    Brian Zahnd

    What is time? Time is the measurement of motion through space.

    A day is the revolution of the earth.
    A month is the revolution of the moon around the earth.
    A year is the revolution of the earth around the sun.

    But time as such is without any apparent meaning. Just a spinning planet with an orbiting moon orbiting a star…repeating the process for the past four and a half billion years.

    To give time meaning we need a story. Without a story time is pointless and nihilism beckons. (I am of the opinion that the violence that goes under the guise of Islamic terrorism is more likely a form of nihilist rage disguised in religious robes…but that is another subject.)

    For almost two thousand years the church has had the wisdom and creativity to mark time by the gospel story of Jesus. This is time made sacred. Thus the church calendar.
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  • The Beatitudes (BZV)


    The Beatitudes (BZV)
    Brian Zahnd

    Blessed are those who are poor at being spiritual,
    For the kingdom of heaven is well-suited for ordinary people.

    Blessed are the depressed who mourn and grieve,
    For they create space to encounter comfort from another.

    Blessed are the gentle and trusting, who are not grasping and clutching,
    For God will personally guarantee their share when heaven comes to earth.

    Blessed are those who ache for the world to be made right,
    For them the government of God is a dream come true.

    Blessed are those who give mercy,
    For they will get it back when they need it most.

    Blessed are those who have a clean window in their soul,
    For they will perceive God when and where others don’t.

    Blessed are the bridge-builders in a war-torn world,
    For they are God’s children working in the family business.

    Blessed are those who are mocked and misunderstood for the right reasons,
    For the kingdom of heaven comes to earth amidst such persecution.

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  • God Is Not A Monster

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    God Is Not A Monster
    Brian Zahnd

    There are monsters in this world, but the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not one of them.

    Yes, Virginia, there are monsters. We have an imagination for monsters because we know of their existence. Venomous and vicious beasts were a daily peril for our earliest ancestors. Volcanoes and tsunamis can swallow whole cities. Hurricanes and tornados roar from the heavens, leaving hell in their wake. Epidemics of disease are lethal predators taking their pitiless toll. Worst of all, there are monstrosities of men — conquerors and warlords, tyrants and despots — galloping across history like ringwraiths bringing conquest, war, famine, and death. We can imagine monsters because we have met them.

    But the living God is not one of them. Not the God who Jesus called Abba.
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  • Columbus Day?


    Columbus Day?
    Brian Zahnd

    It’s Columbus Day in America. Well, depending on where you live. South Dakota, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii don’t recognize Columbus Day. Where Native Americans still have a fairly visible presence Columbus Day can be a bit awkward. In South Dakota today is a state holiday — “Native American Day.”

    Growing up in Missouri I knew Columbus Day as the celebration of the “discovery” of America. Which lets slip the obvious fact that the story is being told from a European vantage point. When I arrived in Portugal for the first time a few years ago I hardly “discovered” Portugal. Yet from my perspective I was making a new discovery. (I did refrain from claiming to now own Portugal.)

    Contrary to what you may have thought, Columbus did not arrive on the shores of an empty wilderness, but on the shores of a world more populous than Europe. Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) was larger than any European city. But armed with guns, steel, and germs, and driven by the conquistador’s lust for gold and slaves, the population of the Americas was decimated. Columbus discovered America like that asteroid discovered the dinosaurs.
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  • Slippery Slopes and Fixed Ropes


    I have a three hour layover in the San Francisco airport. So…

    Slippery Slopes and Fixed Ropes
    Brian Zahnd

    The “slippery slope” trope is a favorite among fundamentalists. Basically the argument goes like this: The moment you move away from fundamentalist Biblicism you’re on the slippery slope of liberalism and will wind up sliding down into a crevasse with the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher and John Shelby Spong. According to those who believe that serious theology is a slippery slope, you’re either with fundamentalists and young earth creationists like Ken Ham or you’re sliding down the mountain with new atheists like Christopher Hitchens. Of course, this is a ludicrous false dichotomy. But it carries a ton of intimidation. Just about the worst thing you can call an evangelical pastor is a liberal. The only thing worse is to go Def-Con 4 and drop the H-bomb: Heretic!
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  • Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright


    Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Conversation with Derek Vreeland
    Brian Zahnd

    Derek Vreeland is my friend and a fellow pastor at Word of Life. He has written a book on N.T. Wright’s latest “big book” — Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Derek’s book, Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright is a 118 page summary of Wright’s 1,700 page behemoth. Here’s what I’ve said about Derek’s book:

    With Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright Derek Vreeland has rendered us a great service. N.T. Wright is the most respected New Testament scholar of our era and his work on the theology of Paul could not be more important. But the fact remains that many are not up to the task of wading through 1,700 pages of dense scholarship. Derek Vreeland’s reader’s guide is an excellent distillation of Paul and the Faithfulness of God and thus a true gift.

    Recently I sat down to talk with Derek about this project. Here’s our conversation:

    BZ: How important is N.T. Wright to you personally and to the church at large?

    DV: Wright has become the rockstar theologian of our generation. He is as influential in our generation as C.S. Lewis or Karl Barth were in their generation. I think we can understand his wide-reaching influence in a couple of ways. He is biblical theologian grounded not in a particular theological tradition, but in the historical context of the New Testament. He wants to reconcile the divorce between theology and history. I appreciate systematic theologians who can work with the biblical texts and help construct a cohesive picture of what the biblical writers were trying to do, but sometimes our system forms too rigid of a grid and we actually miss the heart of what the biblical writers were trying to say. Wright has pledged no allegiance to one particular theological system, so his books seem to speak to people across the spectrum of Protestant traditions. He also has the rare ability to communicate effectively at both the academic level and the popular level. His academic books like Paul and the Faithfulness of God are filled with countless footnotes where he interacts with so many scholars and his popular books like Simply Christian speak on a level that the average churchgoer can understand. For me he has become my hero. His interpretation of Jesus and Paul within the context of first century Jewish world have revealed a Jesus and Paul who have everything to do with my life as a 21st century pastor.
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  • Pope Francis: Lincoln, King, Day, Merton


    Pope Francis: Lincoln, King, Day, Merton
    Brian Zahnd

    Pope Francis building his prophetic address to Congress around four Americans — Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton — was brilliant. Here were some of my favorite moments from the Pope’s speech.

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    I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
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  • Jesus Goes To Washington


    Jesus Goes To Washington
    Brian Zahnd

    In anticipation of Pope Francis addressing Congress on Thursday, I was reminded of a thought experiment I pose in A Farewell To Mars. What If Jesus addressed Congress?

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    Many American Christians are fond of describing the United States as a “Christian nation”—which would mean a Christlike nation. With that in mind, here’s a wild thought experiment:

    Imagine if Jesus went to Washington D.C. Imagine that he is invited to give a speech to a joint session of Congress. (He’s Jesus after all, and I’m sure the senators and congressmen would be delighted to hear a speech from the founder of the world’s largest religion — if nothing else it would confer some dignity upon their institution.) Imagine that the speech Jesus gives is his most famous sermon — the Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine it?
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