All posts by Brian Zahnd

  • “Only the Suffering God Can Help”

    “Only the Suffering God Can Help”
    Brian Zahnd

    Very early in the development of Christian theology the doctrine of divine impassibility ascended to an unquestioned status. Commonly understood, divine impassibility asserts that God is not a subject of any passion, including pain and suffering. Throughout long centuries the doctrine of divine impassibility rested undisturbed and rarely visited in the library of Christian thought. But then came the twentieth century when advancements in technology tragically increased the capacity for human suffering. At the same time that our species was making significant advancements in medical science that lessened the suffering of disease, we also learned how to mechanize war and how to subject large portions of human beings to totalitarian control. From the Gatling gun to the hydrogen bomb, from the Third Reich to Pol Pot, the capacity to inflict suffering became exponential. The crematoriums of Auschwitz and the killing fields of Cambodia haunt our memories and torture our imaginations. In the ghastly light of the Holocaust the language of divine impassibility became untenable. From his cell in the Flossenbürg concentration camp shortly before his execution at the hands of the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned these words: “Only the suffering God can help.”
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  • The Jesus Movement Revisited

    The Jesus Movement Revisited
    Brian Zahnd

    My friend Shane Claiborne asked me about my experience with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, so here’s an excerpt from Postcards From Babylon where I write about it:

    I began to follow Jesus during the heady days of the Jesus Movement — the Jesus-centered spiritual movement that began among counterculture young people in California, spread across the country and eventually became significant enough to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. The center of the Jesus Movement in St. Joseph, Missouri was the Catacombs — a Christian coffeehouse in the basement of a dive bar in a seedy part of town. The Catacombs was mostly a music venue for the emerging Jesus Music scene. We usually hosted local Christian artists, but occasionally nationally known artists like Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, and Sweet Comfort Band would play the Catacombs.

    The Catacombs was an apt name for our Jesus Movement coffeehouse — it spoke both of our dingy, subterranean venue and the connection we felt to early Christianity. The catacombs in Rome are the underground labyrinths created by the early Christians for the burial of believers and occasionally for Eucharistic worship. The Roman catacombs have become a kind of symbol for pre-Constantine Christianity; a subversive underground movement challenging the idolatrous claims of empire; a dangerous counterculture society confessing that because Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not. Christians praying underground in the Catacombs and Christians martyred above ground in the Coliseum have become the two enduring icons of the Christianity that predates Christendom.
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  • Put Not Your Trust in Princes…or Presidents

    Put Not Your Trust in Princes…or Presidents
    Brian Zahnd

    In my time of prayer this morning I prayed Psalm 146, and it resonated so deeply within me that I would like to share it with you. Please take a moment and acquaint yourself with this ancient Hebrew hymn.

    Hallelujah!
    Praise the LORD, O my soul!
    I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
    Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of earth,
    for there is no help in them.
    When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
    and in that day their plans perish.
    Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
    whose hope is in the LORD their God;
    Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
    who keeps his promise for ever;
    Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
    and food to those who hunger.
    The LORD sets the prisoners free;
    the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;
    the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
    The LORD loves the righteous;
    the LORD cares for the stranger;
    he sustains the orphan and widow,
    but frustrates the way of the wicked.
    The LORD shall reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
    Hallelujah!

    During the final throes of this tumultuous election season the thing that troubles me most as a pastor is the degree to which those who ostensibly confess that Jesus is Lord put their trust in political princes, parties, and presidents. Day after day I hear high-profile Christian leaders announcing with frenzied alarm that the cause of Christ hangs perilously in the balance and can only be saved by a particular election outcome. These religious alarmists speak breathlessly of the need for a politician to “save Christianity” or “protect God.” It’s political hyperbole of the most ludicrous kind. But the ancient psalmist knows better than to fall for that blather. Rather the wise sage says in the song,
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  • The Dreams I Dream


    The Dreams I Dream
    Brian Zahnd

    And it shall come to pass afterward
    That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
    Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    Your old men shall dream dreams,
    Your young men shall see visions.
    -Joel 2:28

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  • Hiroshima and the Transfiguration

    Hiroshima and the Transfiguration
    Brian Zahnd

    “And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2

    75 years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Those who experienced it and lived to tell about it, all described it in similar fashion: It began with a flash brighter than the sun. It was August 6, 1945. It was also the Feast of the Transfiguration.

    The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the world’s first use of a weapon of mass destruction. In the seaport city of 250,000 people, 100,000 were either killed instantly or doomed to die within a few hours. Another 100,000 were injured. Of this city’s 150 doctors, 65 were killed and most of the surviving doctors were injured. Of the 1,780 nurses, 1,654 were either dead or too badly injured to work. Hiroshima had become the house of the dead and dying. It was Transfiguration Day.
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  • 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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