• The Wood Between the Worlds

    The Wood Between the Worlds releases February 6 — just in time for Lent. This is the Prelude to the book.

    PRELUDE

    I DARE TO WRITE ABOUT GOD, which is, admittedly, an audacious undertaking. That a bit of sentient soil would venture to say something about the nature of the ineffable Eternal must seem like the most absurd of fool’s errands. And yet I venture. I cannot help myself. The depth of my fascination with the One who is the answer to the question of why there is something instead of nothing makes it impossible for me to remain silent on the subject. I sympathize with King David when he said, “While I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue” (Ps 39:3). And when I dare to speak about God, I do so not as the idly curious but as a reverent worshiper. I seek to understand God, not as a cold and dispassionate scientist — a God-ologist, if you will — but as one who prays, worships, and kneels before his maker.
    Read more

  • Jesus’ Most Scandalous Parable

    Jesus’ Most Scandalous Parable
    Brian Zahnd

    The parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) may be Jesus’ most scandalous parable — at least for Americans formed in the cowboy myth of rugged individualism. If told this parable came from anyone else, most American Christians would dismiss it as Marxist propaganda. But there it is, right in the middle of the Gospel of Matthew, a parable from Jesus featuring a radical egalitarianism that will no doubt offend the sensibilities of a convinced capitalist. What this parable reveals is how unlike the kingdom of God most of us tend to be in our thinking and especially in our economics. We are never more prone to put a softening varnish on Jesus than when he broaches the subject of money.
    Read more

  • My Mystical Encounter with Wonder


    My Mystical Encounter with Wonder
    Brian Zahnd

    (This mystical encounter with wonder occurred twenty years ago today. It was life-changing.)

    Art is often an attempt to recapture the wonder that is in the world when seen through the eyes of innocence, the eyes of a child. Wonder is so much more than empty amusement or an evening’s entertainment. Wonder is an essential ingredient if life is to be made livable. Wonder is the cure — the cure for life-killing boredom. Wonder is the drug — the natural drug without which people may turn to narcotic drugs. Sure, most people bravely soldier on without wonder, and even do so without drug addictions and self-destructive behavior. But is that the point of life? To soldier on long after the thrill of living is gone? That’s not life — that’s life with all the wonder crushed out of it and compressed to mere existence. Wonder is what we’ve lost. Wonder is what we miss. Wonder is what we want. Wonder is our hidden Narnia into which we long to step and explore.

    Years ago I was thinking about these things while on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains. During our long hikes I would muse on the role of wonder in finding satisfaction in life. One evening I found myself alone at sundown in the high country on a ridge well above tree line. A thunderstorm had passed through a little earlier and was now rumbling off to the east. What was before me as I looked to the west was a masterpiece sunset over the Never Summer Mountains. I wanted to thoroughly absorb the beauty that was on full display before me, so I sat down on the alpine tundra in that numinous world which the naturalist Ann Zwingler describes as “a land of contrast and incredible intensity, where the sky is the size of forever and the flowers are the size of a millisecond.” I remained in solitude until I was joined by seven bull elk who ambled up the ridge to where I was sitting. As the elk grazed they were aware of my presence, but entirely unconcerned. Then, just as the orange orb of the sun was touching the snowcapped peaks of the Never Summer Mountains, the largest of the elk drew closer, looked at me, and then lifted his head in such a way that his massive antlers formed a perfect frame for the majestic sunset in the distance. It was an encounter with such rare beauty that I can only describe it as sacred. Wonder rushed into my soul and I felt the full thrill of being alive. I prayed — “God, I want to live my whole life in a constant state of wonder.” Then God spoke to me.
    Read more

  • An Introduction to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and “Confession”

    This is my introduction to a new book on Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Confession by Ron Dart and Bradley Jersak.

    An Introduction to Tolstoy’s
    War and Peace and Confession

    Brian Zahnd

    We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.
    WAR AND PEACE

    I was listening to an illiterate peasant, a pilgrim, talking about God, faith, life, and salvation, and a knowledge of faith was opened up to me.
    CONFESSION

    Maybe it’s the long Russian winters. Maybe that’s what explains the length of those ponderous novels produced by the great nineteenth-century Russian writers — among whom Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy are the undisputed champions. But it’s not for their voluminous size that works like Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Brothers Karamazov are beloved and still being read. We love them for their genius, their beauty, their insight into the human condition, and their artistic truth-telling. That Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as Russian contemporaries and literary rivals never actually met one another seems as curious as it is tragic. And I refuse to be drawn into the interminable debate over which of these two literary titans was the greater writer. But as a Dostoevsky devotee I will concede that in terms of descriptive prose, Leo Tolstoy is unsurpassed. As someone observed (I’ve forgotten who) in Tolstoy no two horses are the same. To read Tolstoy is not to read a sketch of the world but to encounter the real world in the mirror of the written word. Isaac Babel, a Russian writer executed by Soviet secret police in 1940, said, “If the world could write itself, it would write like Tolstoy.”
    Read more

  • “Something Is Happening Here”

    Bradley Jersak’s tremendous new book, Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction, releases November 22, 2022. I had the privilege of writing the foreword for Out of the Embers, and I would like to share it with you in the ardent hope that it will inspire you to read what Steve Bell has described as “a most wise, kind, and timely gift for those of us whose very faith has been traumatized by the tumult of our age.”

    BZ

    FOREWORD: “SOMETHING IS HAPPENING HERE”

    Something is happening here
    But you don’t know what it is
    —Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”

    North America has experienced two episodes of Christian revival known as Great Awakenings — the first in the eighteenth century, the second in the nineteenth century. Both produced a remarkable increase in church membership. (Whether the Jesus movement and the charismatic renewal of the late twentieth century qualify as a third Great Awakening is for others to decide.) But now, in the early twenty-first century, the church in North America is experiencing a precipitous decline — a mass exodus that Bradley Jersak has aptly dubbed “the Great Deconstruction.”

    Something is definitely happening here. Mister Jones, the baffled reporter from a bygone age in Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” may not know what is happening, but there are others who do. American Christianity as a colonial extension of European Christendom has run its course and is no longer tenable — at least, not as the default religion and organizing center in an increasingly secular society. The phenomenon of what has been popularly labeled “deconstruction” is not a passing fad but names a genuine crisis of faith that millions of Christians, largely through no conscious decision of their own, are now facing. Once a Christianity corrupted by civil religion, consumerism, and clerical abuse is put on trial, the fate of Christian faith hangs in the balance. And, for many people, the jury is still out. It is certainly possible to deconstruct Christianity down to nothing. This has been the experience of many. But then what? What happens after the Great Deconstruction?
    Read more

  • The Anticipated Christ

    Three years ago I wrote a Lenten devotional, The Unvarnished Jesus. Now I’m happy to announce that I’ve written an Advent and Christmas devotional, The Anticipated Christ. These forty-two devotions take the reader on a journey from the first Sunday of Advent through the twelve days of Christmas and to Epiphany on January 6.

    I would like to share with you the introduction and the first devotion to give you a sense of what the book is like. I pray The Anticipated Christ will enrich your experience of Advent and Christmas.

    Blessings,

    BZ

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Introduction

    Ours is a secular age. The sacred is pushed to the periphery. To keep the sacred at the center of our lives is a heroic act of defiance. To be a religious person in an irreligious world may be the last act of rebellion. I advocate such rebellion. I reject the trite aphorism, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Of course, I’m spiritual, we all are, but I’m also religious — or at least I seek to be. Amorphous spirituality too easily becomes little more than a mood with a sprinkling of “wellness” techniques. I need something more rigorous, something more deeply rooted, something that draws upon the deep wells of ancient wisdom and practice. This is what we find in the Great Tradition of the Christian faith.
    Read more

  • The Singularity of Good Friday


    The Singularity of Good Friday
    Brian Zahnd

    The dripping blood our only drink,
    The bloody flesh our only food:
    In spite of which we like to think
    That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
    Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

    –T.S. Eliot

    Most of us have an instinct to associate Good Friday with the forgiveness of sins and this instinct is correct. Something did happen on Good Friday that makes the forgiveness of any and all sins possible. But how does this forgiveness actually work? St. Paul says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” But what does this mean? Did Christ’s death somehow restore honor to an insulted omnipotent monarch as some have suggested? Is the crucifixion a ghastly appeasement of an offended deity through the torture and execution of an innocent victim? On Good Friday did God vent his anger by brutally killing his Son so he could finally find the wherewithal to forgive? Are we to imagine that John 3:16 actually means that God so hated the world that he killed his only begotten Son? No, imposing the primitive notion of a sacrificial appeasement upon the cross is what N.T. Wright describes as “the paganizing of atonement theology.” The events of Good Friday are not God punishing his Son. Regarding this mistake understanding of the cross, Wright says,

    “If we arrive at that conclusion, we know that we have not just made a trivial mistake that could be easily corrected, but a major blunder. We have portrayed God not as the generous Creator, the loving Father, but as an angry despot. That idea belongs not to the biblical picture of God, but with pagan beliefs.” (The Day the Revolution Began, p. 43)
    Read more

  • The Return of the Prodigal Son

    The Return of the Prodigal Son
    Brian Zahnd

    In 1669 the great Dutch painter Rembrandt turned Jesus’ most famous parable into one of his masterpieces — The Return of the Prodigal Son. Today this painting hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia where I have seen it more than once. It always brings tears to my eyes. There’s a reason why Henri Nouwen once sat in front of the painting for eight hours.
    Read more

  • War Is Hell

    War Is Hell
    Brian Zahnd

    At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
    —Luke 13:1-5

    One of the themes of Jesus’ prophetic ministry that becomes more and more prominent the closer he gets to Jerusalem is his dire warning about the impending fate of Jerusalem. In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus is informed about some Galilean pilgrims who were probably involved in a political uprising against the Roman occupation and were subsequently put to death by Roman soldiers in the Temple complex — thus mingling their blood with the sacrifices. Jesus’ response is to tell them not to imagine that these Galilean victims were worse sinners than any other Galileans. Instead, Jesus says if they don’t rethink their intentions they will all perish in the same way. Jesus then brings up an incident of a recent building collapse in Jerusalem that had resulted in eighteen fatalities and comments on it by saying, “Do you think that they were more blameworthy than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you! Unless you repent, you will all be destroyed in the same way.”
    Read more