• The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: A Summary by Peri Zahnd

    The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: A Summary by Peri Zahnd

    I finished a book I’ve been promising myself I’d read for three years — when Covid lockdown hit I decided I had time. And it still took me three months of sporadic reading. I had to read it slowly so that it could seep into me — I took weeks-long breaks. The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider, an academic book by a Harvard trained PhD, professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. It was an academic book, so it was exhaustingly comprehensive and tedious at times and certainly not for everyone. Brian first read it three years ago and loved it. There are lots of books he reads and loves I know I’ll never touch, and visa versa. But the title so intrigued me and I mused on it often. A patient ferment. A little leaven that slowly makes the bread rise, expand, grow, mature. Water turned to wine. How did the early church end up changing the world?
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  • There’s Always Some Dude On A Horse

    There’s Always Some Dude On A Horse
    Brian Zahnd

    During one of our trips to Portugal, Peri and I were strolling around Lisbon when we walked past the statue of some Portuguese general. This (unknown to me) military hero from long ago was astride a horse, with reins in one hand and a sword in the other. The statue embodied the imperial aspirations of a Portugal that is now long gone.

    In my travels I’ve seen this same statue in every capital city — the horse, the dude, the sword, the pigeon droppings. Of course, they’re not really the same statue, but if you’re a foreigner and don’t know who the hero is they all look the same. So I remarked to Peri, “there’s always some dude on a horse.” We laughed and it’s become a running joke. Now we have to say it every time we see one of these statues. After working this quip into some of my sermons people now regularly send me photos of these statues from around the world tagged with, “there’s always some dude on a horse.”

    I’ve seen horse-riding dudes in capitals from Lisbon to London, from Rome to Paris, from St. Petersburg to Washington D.C. Of course, the dude with a tricorn hat on a horse in D.C. is George Washington. It makes a difference if the dude is your dude. Most Americans upon beholding this marble dude will feel the kind of patriotic stirring in their bosom that the citizens of other lands feel for their equestrian statuary.
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  • Memories of Memorial Day

    Memorial Day
    by Brian Zahnd

    I have vivid memories of Memorial Day growing up in Savannah, Missouri. The fourth Monday in May marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. As such it is a fond memory. And on Memorial Day I always went with my dad to a ceremony held in the northeast corner of the town cemetery. This is where the war dead are buried. Each uniform grave was decorated with a small American flag. As a child in the 1960s, the freshest graves contained the bodies of young men who had returned from Vietnam in flag-draped coffins. Old men were there wearing faded and ill-fitting uniforms from the wars of yesteryear. There would be a speaker (some years it was my dad), a prayer offered by one of the town’s clergy, the National Anthem played by the high school band, a twenty-one gun salute from the old men in their faded uniforms, and taps played by a trumpeter in the distance. The occasion was somber and patriotic. And the theme of the prayers and speeches was always the same — it was the language of sacrifice.
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  • Don’t Let A Pandemic Turn You Into A Gnostic

    Don’t Let A Pandemic Turn You Into A Gnostic
    Brian Zahnd

    O God, make speed to save us.
    O Lord, make haste to help us.

    This is my daily prayer in the time of coronavirus. May God make speed to save us from this awful global pandemic. May God make haste to help us find a vaccine and effective treatments. Amen. In the meantime my family is observing social (physical) distancing practices and our church is not gathering, except online in a virtual manner. And we will continue these practices for as long as national, state, and local authorities instruct us to do so. I want to be clear about that.

    Word of Life Church is doing an excellent job producing a Sunday morning online service. And throughout Holy Week and Easter Week I’ve been conducting daily services from our prayer chapel. We have the experience, equipment, and personnel to produce high-quality online services. We have long recognized that the church of the twenty-first century benefits from a sophisticated digital presence. I want to be clear about that too. But I also want to say something else as clearly as possible:

    Don’t let a pandemic turn you into a gnostic!
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  • The Crucifixion of Jesus

    The Crucifixion of Jesus
    Brian Zahnd

    On Good Friday we think about one thing: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is the epicenter of Christian faith. At the core of Christianity we don’t find perennial religion, meditation techniques, or a course in ethics, but a crucifixion. This is the enduring scandal of the gospel. The gospel is not motivational talks about happy marriages, being debt free, and achieving your destiny. That all belongs to the broader world of proverbial wisdom, and it’s fine as far as it goes, but it has little or nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel is about the cross and the cross is a scandal. When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he had determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified, he admitted that the cross was often viewed as a scandal and folly. So be it.
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  • Why Did God Create the World?


    Why Did God Create the World?
    Brian Zahnd

    I’m currently reading The Lamb of God by Sergius Bulgakov. Sergius Bulgakov (1871–1944) is widely regarded as the leading Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century. Regarding The Lamb of God, David Bentley Hart says, “This book is quite simply the most remarkable and impressive work of Christology produced in the twentieth century.”

    Today I read something so beautiful I felt I had to share it. This is the first three paragraphs of the chapter entitled “The Creaturely Sophia.” This is technical academic theology that some may find a bit daunting, so at the end I’ve added a few paragraphs from my book Water To Wine in which I attempted to say something similar. My take on why God created the world is less technical and less thorough, but perhaps it’s more poetic and more accessible.

    Here’s Sergius Bulgakov on why God created the world:
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  • The Sixth Sign and Epidemics

    Shalom from Jerusalem.

    Today’s Lenten reading from The Unvarnished Jesus seems particularly apropos, so I thought I would share it here.

    BZ

    LENT Day 21 (Tuesday)
    John 9:1–41
    Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind

    John constructs his Gospel around seven signs: the water turned to wine at Cana, the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum, the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the feeding of the five thousand at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walking on water, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (And then there is the surprise eighth sign of Jesus’ resurrection that marks the beginning of a new creation.) John doesn’t talk about miracles, but signs. These signs are intended to point us to something significant about Jesus and his ministry.

    The sixth sign of the healing of the man born blind takes up an entire chapter and is filled with drama as the man who was healed bests the Pharisees in theological debate and is expelled from the synagogue for it. The story opens with the disciples observing the man born blind and raising a theological question of who is to blame for it. But Jesus dismisses this line of questioning. Jesus is saying that when we observe suffering, the question isn’t who is to blame, but how can we help.

    We’ve all seen Christian leaders assign blame upon the victims of epidemics, earthquakes, and tsunamis. But blame is what the satan does. Followers of Jesus are called to co-suffering love, not theological stone throwing. So Jesus instructs his disciples that when we observe suffering, it’s not an opportunity to assign blame, but an opportunity to do the works of God by helping to heal, restore, and alleviate suffering. Blame is the devil’s game — love is the high calling of the Christian. As Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.” And this brings us to the main point of the sixth sign.
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  • Ash Wednesday


    The shadow of a cross on a cemetery wall in Spain.

    THE UNVARNISHED JESUS
    LENT Day 1 (Ash Wednesday)
    Mark 8:31– 38 | Jesus Foretells His Death

    We begin our Lenten journey with Jesus by hearing him tell us that he’s not headed to greatness as the world esteems greatness, but to the cross and to death. Peter and the rest of the disciples understand that Jesus is on his way to the capital city of Jerusalem to lay claim to the throne — to become the King of the Jews. But without any ambiguity Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests, and finally be killed. Yes, Jesus also says that his apparent defeat will be turned to victory when he is raised on the third day, but his disciples probably hear this as an idiom referring to the resurrection of the righteous at some point in the future — as when Hosea says, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up.” That Jesus could become King of the Jews through suffering and death is inconceivable to Peter. For Peter, a messiah who is killed is a messiah who fails, and Peter didn’t sign up for failure. Jesus alone seems to understand that a breakthrough into new life is only attained through the experience of loss. Martin Luther was right, Christianity is not a theology of glory, but a theology of the cross. But to choose the way of the cross over the way of glory is a hard lesson to learn.
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  • Our Lady On Fire

    Our Lady On Fire
    Brian Zahnd

    On the one year anniversary I thought I would repost this piece.

    It was Monday of Holy Week 2019 and I had just finished leading a noontime prayer service when I heard the awful news that Notre Dame was on fire. Our Lady was on fire! I turned on the television and watched in horror for the next three hours. I hadn’t felt like this since 9/11. I wept. Millions of us did. The French news magazine Paris Match said, “Today, they weep for her in every language.” Ken Follett, author of Pillars of the Earth and an expert on Gothic cathedrals, wrote this:

    “The voice on the phone was urgent. ‘I’m in Paris,’ it said. ‘Turn on your television!’ You know what we saw on the screen: the wonderful cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the greatest achievements of European civilization, was on fire. The scene dazed and disturbed us profoundly. I was on the verge of tears. Something priceless was dying in front of our eyes. The feeling was bewildering, as if the earth was shaking.”

    Like millions of others I watched in real time what seemed to be the agonizing death of a priceless treasure. For me, the most dreadful moment came when the 750-ton spire, already engulfed in flames, finally collapsed. It marked the moment when we all feared Notre Dame would be forever lost. Notre Dame had always seemed eternal, and the medieval builders certainly thought it would last until the Day of Judgment; but suddenly we saw that it could be destroyed. Now that everything was on fire how could Our Lady be saved?
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