Walter Brueggemann’s Foreword to Postcards From Babylon


When I finished writing Postcards From Babylon there was only one person I wanted to write the foreword — Walter Brueggemann. So you can imagine how delighted I was that he agreed to write it for me and I would like to share it with you.


As long ago as the sixteenth century, Martin Luther boldly voiced a vigorous either/or for Christian faith in terms of a “Theology of Glory” and a “Theology of the Cross.” By the former Luther referred to an articulation of Gospel faith that smacked of triumphalism that was allied with worldly power that specialized in winning, control, being first, and being best. For Luther, that theology was all tied up with the European imperial of his time. By the contrast of a “Theology of the Cross,” Luther referred to the risky way of Jesus that is marked by humility, obedience, and vulnerability standing in sharp contrast to and in opposition to the hunger for “Glory.” The “way of the cross,” for Luther, is demanding and costly because it contradicts the dominant way of the world.

Now in a bold and daring articulation, Brian Zahnd has sketched a “Theology of the Cross” for our time and place in the United States of the twenty-first century. He does so in a way that deeply resonates with the primal claims of evangelical theology. He sees that the Gospel is inherently and inescapably countercultural because the God of the Gospel is in particular and passionate solidarity with the “left behind.”

In this daring articulation, Zahnd pulls no punches. He sees that so much of the American church has been cozily allied with the high claims of U.S. nationalism that readily tilts toward imperialism. The whole package of dominant triumphalist faith adds up to “God and country,” with “country” being the tail that wags the dog of “God.” Most particularly, this triumphalist alliance has a long history of attachment to military ideology, the winning of wars, and the domination of other nations and their resources and markets. In one of his many poetic renderings, Zahnd offers a nearly unbearable riff on the aggression of Achilles in the Iliad and completes the thought of Homer as he enumerates at great length the inventory of wars in which triumphalist Christianity has been eagerly and characteristically implicated. That long alliance with brutalizing power of course has deeply skewed everything in the faith, offering both a caricature of the God of the Gospel and a distorted notion of both discipleship and of citizenship. Before he finishes, Zahnd goes on to see how it is that the Trump administration is a near perfect embodiment of that ideology of “lust, greed, and pride” and how so much of the church has sadly colluded with the Trump administration in a pretend embrace of Gospel faith.

His book pivots on the theme of exile because faithful obedience to the Lord of the Cross inevitably makes his followers outsiders to the empire world of “Glory.” It was as punishment (so the text avers) that God’s chosen ended in Babylon in exile. It turns out, however, that that scene of displacement was an unexpected opportunity for that ancient chosen people of God to recover vocation and to re-embrace a clear vision of what it meant (and means) to be chosen by the Lord of vulnerability. The concrete historical reference to “exile” in the biblical text becomes, for both biblical tradition and for this author, a metaphor for the characteristic location of the displaced from the force of empire.

The more I learn of Zahnd’s work, the more I have deep respect and appreciation for his truth-telling. This book is a reprimand and an invitation to his fellow evangelicals about how the way has been lost and what it will mean to “come home,” because it is a gift to come down where we ought to be! Beyond his more immediate circle, however, Zahnd addresses all of us, because all of us in the Christian community in the U.S. are too readily narcotized by the mantras of Caesar, Herod, Constantine, and their continuing heirs. The exposé and ending of triumphalism in the church is a huge piece of work. Zahnd leaves no doubt that it is now our proper work that will require sustained energy and courage. It is, however, the only way to get to Easter liberty wherein the empire of death is known to be fake. The empire saturates us with the fake news of “Glory.” This book exposes those false promises because the way of empire can never make us safe or happy. This book also invites us to the good news of Gospel truth. The signature mark of Zahnd’s work is his poetic idiom that permits us fresh access to that emancipatory truth. This is indeed a postcard sent from our exilic habitat. It is filled with the news for which we have been waiting!

Walter Brueggemann
Columbia Theological Seminary
August 7, 2018