• Christianity vs. Biblicism

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    Christianity vs. Biblicism
    Brian Zahnd

    (This is my foreword to Keith Giles’ excellent new book, Jesus Unbound.)

    As modern Christians we are children of a broken home. Five centuries ago the Western church went through a bitter divorce that divided European Christians and their heirs into estranged Catholic and Protestant families. The reality that the Renaissance church was in desperate need of reformation doesn’t change the fact that along with a reformation there also came an ugly split that divided the church’s children between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. In the divorce settlement (to push the metaphor a bit further) Catholic Mom got a long history, a rich tradition, and a unified church, but all Protestant Dad got was the Bible. Without history, tradition, or a magisterium, the Bible had to be everything for Protestant Dad — and Protestants have made the most of it. For five hundred years Protestant scholars and theologians have led the way in biblical translation, scholarship, and interpretation, giving the Christian world such notables as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, John Wesley, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, T.F. Torrance, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Fleming Rutledge, Richard Hays, N.T. Wright, to name a few.

    But with Sola Scriptura as a defiant battle cry there always lurked the temptation to place more weight on the Bible than it could bear, or worse yet, a temptation to deify the Bible and make an idol out of it. This has become increasingly true among the more fundamentalist clergy and congregations who are suspicious of higher education and unwilling to read their Bibles with the help of biblical scholars the caliber of Brueggemann, Hays, and Wright. So while pretending to “take the Bible as it is,” the fundamentalist reads the Bible through thick lenses of cultural, linguistic, political, and theological assumptions — interpretive lenses they are unaware of wearing.
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  • Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down

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    Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
    Brian Zahnd

    Yesterday I heard Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to defend the deliberately cruel practice of separating immigrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention camps by citing the Bible. This outraged me. This is not a partisan political issue, but a human rights issue. The United Nations human rights office, the American Psychological Association, Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Franklin Graham all agree. But using the Bible to justify this repugnant policy…well, that sent me over the edge.

    Here’s what I had to say about it last night on Twitter.

    Today I sat at my writing desk for seven hours working on the “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” chapter for my next book, Postcards From Babylon, and I thought I would share with you the last paragraph I wrote before calling it a day…
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  • Christ and the Vilified Other (My Address to Christ at the Checkpoint)

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    Last week Peri and I attended Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem — a biennial evangelical conference sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College. Peri has posted some of her musings regarding the conference, which I encourage you to read. I would also encourage you to read the Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto.

    I’m sharing the address I presented at the conference on Christ and the Vilified Other. This is not a transcript; neither is it a manuscript (I don’t speak from a manuscript). But this is very close in substance to what I said at the conference. I can only hope it will be as well-received here as it was in Bethlehem.

    BZ

    Christ and the Vilified Other
    Brian Zahnd

    Let me begin by talking about the land, the Holy Land, the land of the Bible. Geography played a significant role in shaping ancient Hebrew ethics and theology. Situated between the northern and southern superpowers of the ancient Near East, Israel lived under constant threat of invasion and occupation from these economic and military empires.

    (In my writing and preaching I frequently reference empire. Allow me to give a definition. Empires are rich, powerful nations that believe they have a divine right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape history. The Bible gives a sustained critique of empire from Genesis to Revelation — particularly in Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, the Gospels, Acts, and especially Revelation. Empires are an enemy of God’s purposes because what they claim for themselves — a manifest destiny to shape history and a divine right to rule other nations — is the very thing God has promised to his Son.)
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  • The Sign That Saves The World

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    The Sign That Saves The World
    Brian Zahnd

    Look to me and be saved,
    All you ends of the earth!
    –Isaiah 45:22

    Peri and I are on our way to speak at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem and we’re spending a few days in Florence, Italy exploring the cradle of the Renaissance. Visiting the museums and art galleries, I’ve seen hundreds of crucifixion paintings, and I’ve tried to view each one with a reverent eye. I never look at depictions of Christ crucified with a jaundiced eye. Their religious nature and ubiquitous presence may illicit a yawn from the secular cynic, but not from me — I’m an incorrigible Christian. I believe the cross is where Christ saves the world. Looking at the cross with the right eye, the reverent eye of humble faith, is the locus of salvation. The cross is the sign that saves the world.

    Ten years ago when I first began to connect Fyodor Dostoevsky’s enigmatic phrase “beauty will save the world” with the cross — it is at Golgotha that the ugliness of human sin is overcome by the beauty of divine love — the image of the cross as saving beauty that I most often referred to was Fra Angelico’s fresco. Today when we visited the San Marco Monastery I was able to see this fresco painted by the monk-artist Beato Angelico in 1441. As I lingered in contemplation of Fra Angelico’s Crucifixion, it prompted me to once again ask — what does this mean? Take a moment and ponder this question with me.
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  • How Christians Should Speak About Creation

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    How Christians Should Speak About Creation
    Brian Zahnd

    This year Earth Day falls on a Sunday, so I thought I’d say a few words about how Christians should speak about Creation.

    First, Christians should never say…

    This world is not my home.

    This world is our home! And it’s the locus of God’s saving work. The blessed hope is not “we’re going,” but “Christ is coming.” Our eschatological hope is resurrection, not evacuation. The risen Christ is not a ghost, he has flesh and bones; he eats fish and honeycomb.

    It’s all going to burn.

    What a horrible, ghastly thing for a Christian to say! Especially when it’s given as an excuse for justifying environmental exploitation. In Christ we have a hopeful eschatology that says, “It’s all going to be renewed.” (And if you want to work from 2 Peter 3:10, say, “It’s all going to be refined.”)

    Environmentalism is idolatry.

    Never say that. Instead say, “This is my Father’s world.” In giving humanity “dominion,” God made us park rangers of Planet Earth. Environmentalism isn’t idolatry — it’s the original vocation given to humanity. Environmentalism isn’t idolatry — but greed is! In Revelation we’re told that God will judge “those who destroy the earth.”

    Instead of saying un-Christian things like, “This world is not my home,” “It’s all going to burn,” and “Environmentalism is idolatry,” listen to how wise Christians have always spoken about Creation.
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  • Soil With A Soul

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    Soil With A Soul
    Brian Zahnd

    “The LORD God formed the human (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life, and the human (adam) became a living soul.” –Genesis 2:7

    Soil is miracle ground — it’s the matrix of all life on earth. As the second account of creation in Genesis tell us, all life comes “out of the ground” — plants, animals, and humans. We did not fall as pure spirits from the realm of the perfect forms and find ourselves imprisoned in contemptible matter (as Platonism claims); rather we were formed from the dust of the earth, breathed on by God, and became living souls. We are humans from the humus, soil with a soul; we are a mysterious synthesis of the dust of the earth and the breath of God. There is a sense in which humans are very complicated, self-aware rocks — rocks so magnificently complex that we are capable of bearing the Creator’s image and sharing the Creator’s spirit. Indeed the psalmist is moved to praise God by saying,

    Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it.

    (Psalm 139:14 NLT)
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  • Mistaken As the Gardener

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    Mistaken As the Gardener
    Brian Zahnd

    “Mary Magdalene turned around and saw Jesus standing there,
    but she did not know it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener.”
    –John 20:14, 15

    “On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but in the dawn.”
    –G.K. Chesterton

    The first person to encounter the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene. It happened in a garden. At first Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. A logical mistake. Or a prophetic mistake. Or a beautiful mistake. Or perhaps not a mistake at all.
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  • Don’t Rush Past Good Friday

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    Don’t Rush Past Good Friday
    Brian Zahnd

    Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    –Lamentations 1:12

    Easter is approaching, but between us and the pastel colors of Easter lies a ghastly and bloodstained Good Friday. Don’t rush past it. In your haste to get to the garden of the empty tomb, don’t whistle past the gruesomeness of Golgotha. The resurrection is made as cheap as the fake grass in an Easter basket if we don’t linger long and hard over the catastrophe of Calvary. The cross is the epicenter of Christianity. And it is the cross that is the peculiar scandal of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul said,

    “We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” –1 Corinthians 1:23

    There is nothing particularly unique about a religion that worships a resurrected god — the ancient world was awash with such religions. But Christianity is the only religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God! Easter alone does not make Christianity unique. It’s with Good Friday and Easter together that we find the uniqueness of Christianity.
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  • Dominus Flevet (The Lord Wept)

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    Dominus Flevet – The Lord Wept
    Brian Zahnd

    “And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” –Luke 19:41, 42

    Today is my birthday and I’m with Peri in the Old City of Jerusalem; we’re spending a few days here before leading a pilgrim tour of the Holy Land. This morning we began our day with prayer in the beautiful Church of All Nations located in the Garden of Gethsemane. We then walked to Bethany so we could retrace Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem.

    On what we now call Palm Sunday Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah and King of All Nations. Unlike Pilate who entered the city from the west riding a warhorse (there’s always some dude on a horse!), Jesus entered the city from the east riding a lowly donkey in a deliberate embrace of Zechariah’s prophecy about a humble king who would come to teach peace to the nations.
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