All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • 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?

    *     *    *     *     *     *     *     *

    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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  • The Book of Revelation


    This week Group Publishing released the Jesus-Centered Bible — a study Bible in the New Living Translation. I wrote the introductions for Jonah, Matthew, Titus, and Revelation. Here’s the introduction I wrote for the book of Revelation.

    The Book of Revelation
    Brian Zahnd

    As a child growing up in church I didn’t always feel engaged by the sermon. On those occasions I would pull out the pew Bible and begin to read. And I always went to the same place — to the end of the Bible, to the mysterious book of Revelation. I was fascinated with its monsters and battles, its angels and demons, and its visions of heaven and hell that parade across the pages in the final installment of Christian Scripture. Like many others, I assumed I was reading some kind of un-deciphered code about the end times. I thought Revelation was a veiled foretelling of the geopolitical events of the late twentieth century.

    But I was mistaken.
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  • Nagasaki: The Sufferings of Christ


    This is the third in a series of blog posts on the seventieth anniversary of the creation and use of the atomic bomb. The first two are Los Alamos: We Have Become Death and Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration. I have asked Peri to write the final one on Nagasaki.

    Nagasaki: The Sufferings of Christ
    Peri Zahnd

    1945. What a year it was. What it must have been like to have lived in that time — the last days of WWII, watching the evil Third Reich disintegrate, the fall of the Nazi regime, dancing in the streets of America when it was announced the war in Europe was finally over.

    I can’t imagine what it was like to hear in the days and weeks to follow the stories of the concentration camps being liberated, the piles of bodies, the skeletal survivors. Had such horror ever been seen on the earth? I absolutely agree, the world must “never forget” what awful things were done in an attempt to utterly wipe out a people group, the Jews.

    But the war wasn’t really over. America was also at war with Japan, and the Japanese had not yet surrendered. We were still at war, for a few more months, until August, when two atomic bombs were dropped in the space of four days on two major cities in Japan. I think it is safe to say again that such horror had never been seen on the earth.
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  • Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration


    Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration
    Brian Zahnd

    “And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2

    Seventy years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Those who experienced it and lived to tell about it, all described it in similar fashion: It began with a flash brighter than the sun. It was August 6, 1945. According to the church calendar it was also the Feast of the Transfiguration.

    The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction. In this seaport city of 250,000 people, 100,000 were either killed instantly or doomed to die within a few hours. Another 100,000 were injured. Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 had been killed and most of the rest were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. Hiroshima had become the house of the dead and dying. It was Transfiguration Day.

    When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor his face shone like the sun, and when he came down the mountain a little boy was healed — a boy who had been thrown into fire and water by a demon.

    When “Little Boy” (the name given the bomb) shone like the sun over Hiroshima, thousands of little boys and girls were burned in atomic fire and poisoned by radioactive rain. The bombing of Hiroshima is the anti-Transfiguration.

    The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Hiroshima was a turning point in human history.
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  • Los Alamos: We Have Become Death


    Los Alamos: We Have Become Death
    Brian Zahnd

    Seventy summers ago in a New Mexico desert we crossed a dark threshold when we created the capacity for our own annihilation. A generation earlier Albert Einstein had perceived something elemental about the nature of Creation: Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared (E = mc2). As I understand it, matter is “frozen” energy which when released unleashes the power of the sun. That our instinctual impulse upon gaining such knowledge was to build atomic bombs says something sad about us — we are still the sons and daughters of Cain, and now we’re looking for ways to kill Abel a million at a time.

    The first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, gave the test the code name Trinity. Oppenheimer was, of course, a brilliant physicist, but he was also well-read in religious and philosophical texts. He took the code name Trinity from a poem written by John Donne, a sixteenth century Anglican priest and poet.
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  • George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)


    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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