All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)

    george-macdonald

    George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)
    Brian Zahnd

    “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded George MacDonald as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote him.” –C.S. Lewis

    “I can testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence…and it is by George MacDonald.” –G.K. Chesterton

    George MacDonald (
    1824–1905) was a Scottish novelist, poet, preacher, mystic, lecturer, theologian whose writings have had an enormous influence on many Christian thinkers, including C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. In my own spiritual journey I would list George MacDonald’s Lilith as a top ten influence.

    George MacDonald understood as clearly as anyone that salvation is not so much a conferred status as it is a lifelong journey — a continual pressing into the revelation of God in Christ. But to be a public theologian, thinker, writer and on an ever-evolving spiritual journey, rankles the self-appointed gatekeepers of religious certitude. Thus George MacDonald was regularly (and wrongly) accused of heresy for simply not toeing the line of the Scottish Calvinism predominant in his day.

    In the mid 1860’s George MacDonald received a letter from a troubled reader asking why he had lost the “old faith” and embraced what many regarded as “unorthodox” views. MacDonald’s candid reply is brilliant and beautiful and I would like to share it with you. (Plus, as one who has often been criticized for moving beyond an earlier fundamentalist/charismatic certitude, MacDonald’s defense will aptly suffice as my own.)

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  • Turn The Page

    Tomahutu

    Turn The Page
    Blind Man at the Gate

    In our journey through the holy script we’ve not yet reached THE END
    Turn the page
    All that is to be said has not yet been said
    Turn the page
    Long ago the writers finished the text
    But the players have not yet said it all
    There are heroes yet to take stage
    There are dramas yet to be resolved
    Turn the page
    We’ve lingered long over this familiar leaf
    And it’s beginning to turn yellow
    We’ve begun to forget that which has gone before
    We’ve begun to think there will be no more
    Turn the page
    We find comfort in that which is now too familiar
    But the thrill is gone and the story has stalled
    Turn the page
    To move on in the divine tome is not a betrayal
    Of that which we have come to know and love
    But to understand the story demands that we
    Turn the page
    But those afraid to turn the page
    Discourage and disparage and in fear rage
    “If we turn the page things will change!”
    Yes Read more

  • Moonset

    starry-night

    Moonset
    Blind Man at the Gate

    Last night I watched the moonset
    From where I sat
    It was half past eleven
    Between Longs and Ypsilon
    There I sat
    With the moonset
    In the enfolding dark
    Growing colder
    Knowing
    I’m growing older
    And time flies
    But still I sat
    Long past midnight
    Under Rocky Mountain skies
    Until the stars came out
    I saw the Big Dipper
    And the Milky Way smear
    Seven meteorites
    And one satellite
    I hope it wasn’t inflicting cable news
    On God’s good earth
    BREAKING NEWS
    Theater shootings are a thing now
    When I was a kid we saw shoot ‘em up Westerns in theaters
    But they don’t make imposters like John Wayne anymore
    (T-Bone Burnett said that)
    Now we have real shoot ‘em ups
    In…
    Theaters
    Schools
    Malls
    Churches
    Anywhere
    Because Americans have a right
    To act like John Wayne
    “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!”
    But it makes me wonder
    When will America grow up
    And act like an adult?
    I don’t know. . .
    Then shooting star number seven
    Calls me away from the madness here below
    And I remember something about
    Each night giving a little grace
    To help wipe away the sins of the day
    Time to sleep
    And dream of peaceful things
    The moon sets
    The sun also rises
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  • The Day I Met Jesus: A Conversation With Mary DeMuth

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    Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola have written a fascinating book — The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels (Baker Books 2015). Recently I was able to interview Mary about this book and also ask her some questions about the role of women within Christianity and the church. Here is our conversation.

    * * * * * *

    BZ: In The Day I Met Jesus you tell fives stories of women who encountered Jesus. You do this in the form of first person diary entries. I love this imaginative approach. Could you talk about your process of creating the back-stories for these five women?

    MD: Sure, first off, this idea was Frank’s. I’m grateful he pulled me in on this project. As a novelist, I tried to walk around in these women’s sandals, hoping to understand their dreams, the possible plight they were in, and what it must’ve been like to actually meet Jesus in the midst of their stories. I also did research about First Century Jerusalem as well as biblical research about the five women. And then I prayed. Actually I prayed throughout the entire process. What resulted? Gritty, real stories about actual women who were never the same after they encountered Christ.

    BZ: Do you feel that the evangelical church has perhaps under appreciated the power of story?

    MD: I think we’re getting better about this. Things like Donald Miller’s Story conference and the proliferation of YouTube (where we see millions of stories) encourage me. And when I go to church on Sunday I’m seeing more pastors tuck story into their narratives and theology. The human heart and mind better understand truth when wrapped in a story.
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  • When America Went To Hell

    Amerfican Art Exhibit  Civil War Church_Our_Banner_In_The_Skyaa
    When America Went To Hell
    Brian Zahnd

    “How I wish that you of all people would understand the things that make for peace.”
    —Jesus (Luke 19:42)

    Whether or not slavery was the direct cause for the first shots fired upon Fort Sumter in April of 1861 is a matter of scholarly debate. What is undeniable is that two and half centuries of slavery was the fuel that caused the American Civil War to ignite into a conflagration that resulted in 750,000 deaths. From its Jamestown beginnings the American colonies and later the United States practiced one of the most brutal forms of slavery the world has ever known. The preservation of an institution that systematically dehumanized millions of people for the sake of economic gain was not a thing that made for peace. Inevitably that kind of cruel exploitation would overflow its cup and unleash death and hell, bringing everything that is the opposite of peace. During the horror of the American Civil War, the “land of the free” became a burning Gehenna. Thirty percent of Southern men of fighting age were slain on battlefields that saw the birth of modern warfare. From now on, war would be totalized and mechanized. The four horseman of the Apocalypse galloped across America leaving a wake of war, disease, famine, and death.
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  • Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God

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    Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God
    Brian Zahnd

    Oh! Ephraim is my dear, dear son,
    My child in whom I take pleasure!
    Every time I mention his name,
    My heart bursts with longing for him!
    Everything in me cries out for him.
    Softly and tenderly I wait for him.

    –Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:20)

    The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours.
    –Jonathan Edwards, Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God

    Two pieces of literature. The prophetic poetry of Jeremiah and the revivalist preaching of Jonathan Edwards. I know them both well. First let’s look at Jeremiah.

    In this beautiful passage Jeremiah channels God’s love for Ephraim. Who is Ephraim? Ephraim is Israel in the 7th century BC. More importantly, Ephraim is Israel in its worst spiritual and moral condition. Ephraim is idolatrous, adulterous, backslidden, covenant-breaking, sinful Israel. But Ephraim is still the child of God and Jeremiah reveals God’s unconditional love for sinful Ephraim.

    Centuries ahead of the full revelation of God that will come with Jesus, Jeremiah reveals the heart of God toward sinners. Toward me. Toward you. At your worst, at your most sinful, at your furthest remove from God and his will, God’s attitude toward you remains one of unwavering love. Why? God is love.

    But many Christians struggle with a deeply embedded concept (theology) of an angry, vindictive, retributive god. Somewhere along the way they picked up a Sinner’s In the Hands of an Angry God paradigm. And it has left them deeply damaged.
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  • An Encyclical and a Massacre

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    An Encyclical and a Massacre
    Brian Zahnd

    Lord Jesus, help me to be a voice of peace, drawing your church in America away from its idolatrous allegiance to nationalism, militarism, consumerism, racism, violence, guns, and war. Amen.

    I pray this prayer everyday. I’ve done so for years. It’s part of my morning liturgy of prayer. Praying this prayer has formed me in a certain way. (The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do, but to be properly formed.) This prayer has influenced me to write books about forgiveness, beauty, and peace. My target audience is the evangelical church in America. My people.

    I also pray the Confession of Sin from the Book of Common Prayer. I always pray it in the plural…

    Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…

    I pray this prayer in the plural because I know I am complicit in sins I have not personally committed. I know I benefit from sinful structures for which I’m not personally responsible. I benefit from an economy originally founded on stolen land and slave labor. I didn’t “do” these things, but still people like me benefit from them. I know this. So the very, very least I can do is pray, “Father, forgive us our sins.”

    I prayed these prayers today. Like I do everyday. But today is different.
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  • End of the Line (Five Years Later)

    endoftheline

    In May 2010 Charisma Magazine asked me to write this op-ed. Five years later I feel it’s perhaps even more relevant. What do you think?

    END OF THE LINE
    By Brian Zahnd

    Western Christianity is at a critical juncture. Those who care deeply about the church are aware of this. Things are not as they once were. Things are changing. Dramatically so. Even if we don’t understand what is happening, we can certainly feel it. There is an uneasy feeling throughout evangelicalism that everything is changing. Long-held certitudes are being challenged from both within and without the Christian faith. The way things were even ten years ago is no longer the way things are today. It’s easy to be disconcerted by it all.

    In the midst of pronounced uncertainty it is tempting to succumb to nostalgia and pine away for some point in the past that we identify as the “glory days.” But we cannot go back. The healthy practice of recognizing the contributions of the past and building upon them is not the same thing as a regressive attempt to return to a bygone era. This is the problem with revivalism. Too often it is a naive attempt to recapture a particular past. It’s like a Renaissance fair — nice entertainment for a Saturday afternoon but you can’t live there. An idealized memory of the past is not a vision which can carry us into the future. Nostalgic reminiscing about the past is for those who no longer have the courage to creatively engage with contemporary challenges and opportunities. All of this is related to the critical juncture we have come to in the course of Western Christianity.
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  • Bethlehem, Branson, and Baltimore

    CliffordPossumTjapaltjarri

    Bethlehem, Branson, and Baltimore
    Brian Zahnd

    Last week I was with a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. He talked about his grandfather — a peaceable follower of Jesus who was senselessly killed by an Israeli sniper. He also talked about his grandmother who refused to allow the family to fall into the dark abyss of hate. He talked about the decades of injustice and the daily indignities suffered by the Palestinian people. He talked about how Jesus is found among the oppressed. But he also said Jesus told him this: “Stop using me to justify hating your enemies.” He went on to say, “I live under Israeli military occupation and Jesus calls me to do one thing: Love my enemy.” Wise words. Wise words that didn’t come cheap and don’t ring hollow.

    This week I’ve been in Branson speaking at a retreat for Nazarene pastors — a beautiful gathering of thoughtful women and men who are engaged in the demanding task of leading congregations in the way of Jesus. It was a privilege to speak to these pastors. Next door to us in the convention hall was an end-time-doom-and-gloom preacher hawking blood moons and sporting banners festooned with American flags. I see a good deal of this sort of thing. Flags and crosses all mixed up. Crosses on flags. Flags on crosses. American flags flying in superiority over Christian crosses on church lawns. Flags mounted on top of churches where crosses ought to be. One gets the feeling that the idea is that flag and cross are interchangeable — quite nearly the same thing. But I beg to differ. Allow me to reproduce a passage from one of my books:
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