• The Cross as Counter-Script

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    The Cross as Counter-Script
    Brian Zahnd

    As Americans we are given a script from birth — it is our shared and assumed formula for the pursuit of happiness. Without even being aware of it we are scripted in the belief that our superior technology, our self-help programs, our dominant military, and our capacity to obtain consumer goods should guarantee our happiness. Said just so it sounds silly, but when it is communicated in the liturgies of advertising and the propaganda of state it becomes believable…and we do believe it. Give me a new iPhone, a motivational talk, a trillion dollar war machine, a Visa card, and I can be happy! For the most part the Americanized church has unconsciously bought into this script and concocted a compromised Christianity to endorse the script point for point. It’s Americanism with a Jesus fish bumper sticker. But in the end the desperate pursuit of the brass ring of happiness — even when “Christianized” by the prosperity gospel — leads to a shriveled and disappointed soul. In the final analysis the American script is shamed by the cross of Christ.
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  • The Magi and I

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    T.S. Eliot’s poem Journey of the Magi with my quasi-interpretation of it. Which is more than an interpretation — it’s also a kind of autobiographical confession; for I too have had a hard time of it. And like Eliot’s Magi I would do it all over again.
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  • Christmas Shock and Awe

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    Christmas Shock and Awe
    Brian Zahnd

    Suddenly the angel was joined by a vast host of others,
    The armies of heaven,
    Praising God and saying,
    Glory to God in the highest,
    And peace on earth.

    –Luke 2:14

    This is Christmas shock and awe. D-Day circa 5 BC. The night skies over Bethlehem are suddenly filled with an invading army — an army from another world, an army representing another government, an army from heaven. This army has come in the cause of regime change. The world is about to be given a new day, a new kingdom, a new lease on life. Caesar, Pharaoh, Herod and all their kind are being supplanted by a newborn king — the King of the Jews. He is the long-awaited Prince of Peace. This is why the armies of heaven are invading the night skies over Bethlehem.

    Nearly 250 times the Old Testament describes the God of Israel as the LORD of Hosts, Yahweh Sabbaoth, the Lord of Armies. Now at the birth of God’s chosen king the armies of heaven invade earth with shock and awe. This is why the shepherds were “sore afraid.” But they need not have been. This is not a killing army, but a singing army. This army comes, not to kill, but to carol.

    The text in Luke says the angels were saying, but Christian imagination has interpreted their saying as singing. I like that. The army of heaven is a choir — combat by chorus. The army of heaven doesn’t launch missiles, it launches into song. The heavenly army sings of the glory of God and of peace on earth.
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  • You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture

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    You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture
    Brian Zahnd

    You cannot be Christian and support torture. I want to be utterly explicit on this point. There is no possibility of compromise. The support of torture is off the table for a Christian. I suppose you can be some version of a “patriot” and support the use of torture, but you cannot be any version of Christian and support torture. So choose one: A torture-endorsing patriot or a Jesus-following Christian. But don’t lie to yourself that you can be both. You cannot.

    (Clearly you do not have to be a Christian to reject the barbarism of torture, you simply need to be a humane person. But to be a Christian absolutely requires you to reject the use of torture.)

    I remember when Pew Research released their findings in 2009 revealing that six out of ten white evangelicals supported the use of torture on suspected terrorists. (Patton Dodd talks about that here.) The survey stunned me. I spoke about it from the pulpit in 2009 and have continued to do so. I said it then and I’m saying it again today: You cannot support the use of torture and claim to be a follower of Jesus.
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  • The World As It is (An Advent Poem)

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    The World As It Is
    (An Advent Poem)
    Blind Man at the Gate

    I take the world as it is and still believe

    Debauched and beautiful, sordid and seemly

    Where Kerouac is a secular saint

    Heard uncensored telling his story

    On the road with Dean Moriarty

    In the long run Merton took a better road

    But still the beat goes on…

    Take your stand on whatever smidgen of faith you have

    Smack-dab in a world of hustlers and hookers, users and losers, liars and lovers

    Don’t waste your life on a pastel watercolor faith

    That runs if touched by a tear or a drop of sweat

    Can you take the world as it is

    And still believe in God?

    Can you take people as they are

    And still believe in love?

    Or do you only play at make believe?

    A world of terracotta saints

    Of little houses on soundstage prairies

    So not at home in the world as it is

    That you can’t wait for it to be left behind

    That, my friend, is no real faith

    It’s scripted B-movie phoniness

    Rated G (for gullible audiences)

    A real faith lives in a real world

    The world as it is

    Sordid and seemly

    Debauched and beautiful

    It’s the little town of Bethlehem

    Good enough for the Son of God

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  • Disarming Scripture: Derek Flood’s Important Book

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    Disarming Scripture: Derek Flood’s Important Book
    Brian Zahnd

    Theologian, author, and blogger Derek Flood has a new book out — Disarming Scripture. His book has a provocative subtitle: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need To Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did. I’ve read it and gave it this endorsement:

    “Jesus is the savior of everything — including the Bible! That’s what I kept thinking while reading this brilliant book. There have been a number of excellent books in recent years on how Christians should read the Bible, but Disarming Scripture is the very best. Derek has done us an immeasurable service in showing us how to read the Bible like Jesus did.”

    That’s my two cents worth. More significantly, preeminent Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has given Disarming Scripture this endorsement:

    “A perceptive and honest book about the vexed question of violence in the Bible. Taking with great seriousness the dynamism of the biblical tradition and the interpretive process, the distinctive contribution of Disarming Scripture is an exploration of the way in which the biblical text itself interprets texts of violence. This is a fine contribution to our common work.”

    In 2011 The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not A Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith was my book of the year. I’ve recommended it dozens of times. Now with equal enthusiasm I’m urging clergy and lay people alike to read Disarming Scripture. It’s an important book.
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  • Black Friday and the American Malady

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    Black Friday and The American Malady
    Brian Zahnd

    I’m not sure when Black Friday became a “thing.” It hasn’t always been with us. But I am sure that Black Friday as a celebration of consumerism coming the day after Thanksgiving is symptomatic of the American Malady. Miroslav Volf put it this way…

    “There’s something profoundly incongruous between the gratitude of the Thanksgiving Thursday and the Black Friday’s mad rush to acquire. Black Friday seems to have been designed to ensure our sense of gratitude doesn’t spill over from Thanksgiving into our ordinary daily life.”

    On Thursday we gather around a table to give thanks and feast with family and friends.

    On Friday we stampede madly into the temples of American consumerism.

    On Thursday we give thanks to God for the cornucopia of plenty.

    On Friday we trample our neighbors for a flat-screen TV.

    It seems to have echoes of Israel eating the Paschal lamb only to worship the golden calf. Read more

  • Saint Augustine and Me

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    Saint Augustine and Me
    Brian Zahnd

    It was June 4, 2000. A beautiful Sunday afternoon in early summer. I was sitting on my front step reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions. At that time I hadn’t yet begun to explore the Church Fathers, that would come four years later. But I was reading classic literature. I had given up on the trite tomes of pop Christianity. I already knew what they said. In a desire to read something of worth I had returned to the treasures of classic literature that I had first learned to love in Mrs. Zaft’s high school literature class. I had read a fair number of the classics, but I had never read Confessions — the first, and perhaps greatest, spiritual autobiography in history. I had decided to read Augustine’s Confessions for basically the same reason that I read Milton’s Paradise Lost or Melville’s Moby Dick — because it was an established classic in the canon of Western literature. And it is a remarkable book. The whole autobiography is a 350-page prayer. The book begins with this prayer:

    You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised: Great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable. Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being bearing his mortality with him, carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you resist the proud. Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

    “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Those words resonated with me. Sure, I was a Christian. But I was also a man with a restless heart. A year earlier I had turned forty while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Now I was beginning to think about the second half of life…and I was restless. I had plenty of success, but I was restless. I was still searching and the clock was ticking. I feared I was running out of time. As I read Confessions Augustine told me his story.

    He was born November 13, 354, the oldest son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, and raised among the aristocracy of the late Roman Empire in North Africa. He told unflinchingly of his somewhat profligate youth. He told of teaching rhetoric in Milan and writing speeches for the emperor. His genius was evident. He told in detail of his quest for truth in the dualistic religion of Manichaeism and his eventual disenchantment with it. He told of hearing the sermons of Ambrose that pointed him in a new direction. He told beautifully of his dramatic conversion on the day he heard a child’s voice singing in the garden, “take and read,” and how when he turned at random in the New Testament he read Paul’s words, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He told of how he and three other friends chose to enter a monastic life. He told of becoming the bishop of Hippo. All along the way there were the profound musings of a philosopher on the nature of time and memory, and more importantly, the prayers of a Christian seeker exploring the mysteries of God.
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  • Would You Choose Christ Over the Truth?

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    Would You Choose Christ Over the Truth?
    Brian Zahnd

    “If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”
    –Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Dostoevsky said that if he were forced to choose, he would choose Christ over the truth. That is a very bold and provocative claim.

    What do you say?

    Yes, I know, we don’t have to choose. I get that. I agree. Of course.

    But for a moment entertain the matter as Dostoevsky intends it — as a kind of thought experiment. If it were conclusively proven that the central claims regarding Jesus Christ were outside of the truth, what would you do? Would continue to worship and follow Jesus Christ or not?

    I’ve pondered this question a lot and I have a few thoughts.
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