All posts in Books

  • Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Journey


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

    ASH WEDNESDAY AND THE LENTEN JOURNEY
    (Ash Wednesday 2021 is February 17.)

    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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  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

    I’m currently writing an Advent devotional entitled The Anticipated Christ. It’s the companion to my Lenten devotional The Unvarnished Jesus. Today I wrote three meditations and I’m now about halfway done with the book. I thought I would share the most recent meditation with you.

    O Little Town of Bethlehem

    But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
    from you shall come forth from me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
    whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient of days…
    He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord our God.
    And they will abide undisturbed,
    for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
    and this one shall be our peace
    (Micah 5:2-5)

    The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem, prophesying seven hundred years before Christ. Micah is best known to us as the one who prophesied the birth of Messiah in Bethlehem. Of course, Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, so it makes sense that the messianic Son of David would also be born there. Nevertheless, Bethlehem was only a small and seemingly insignificant village, but this is in keeping with the ways of God — the work of God often emerges from quiet obscurity.
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  • “Above All — Don’t Lie”

    “Above All — Don’t Lie”
    Brian Zahnd

    Lately I’ve been thinking about the seductive nature and ruinous consequence of embracing lies. I’m alarmed by what seems to be a deliberate move toward a post-truth society. Euphemistic language is eroding veracity. Lies are sold as “alternative facts” while uncomfortable truth is dismissed as “fake news.” Political tribalism requires adherence to an approved “version of the truth.” Propaganda and conspiracy theories have become the mind-addling narcotics of groupthink. The Information Age is swiftly devolving into the Disinformation Age. So I need to say something: With all my heart I urge you to resist being swept away in a current of lies. There are few things, if any, as destructive to the soul as embracing untruth. As the Proverb says, “Buy the truth, and sell it not.” Above all — don’t lie.
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  • “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 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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  • 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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  • 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.
    Read more

  • The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey

    The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey
    Brian Zahnd

    I have a new book release! The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey. This is a book of daily devotions taking the reader on a journey with Jesus from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. I know we’re still in Advent, but I wanted to give you enough time to have The Unvarnished Jesus for the beginning of Lent on February 26. Let me tell you how this book came about…
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  • In Praise of Ordinary Church

    In Praise of Ordinary Church
    Brian Zahnd

    Sometime in late modernity Christians who had deeply, though mostly unwittingly, imbibed the heady cocktails served by the high priests of the Enlightenment (Voltaire, Hume, Nietzsche, et al.) conjured the drunken idea that Jesus had given a writ of divorce to the church. In an age of suspicion committed to the critique of tradition how could it be otherwise? Surely the compelling figure of Jesus of Nazareth could have nothing to do with the tired institution that is dismissively referred to as “organized religion”? This secular assault upon the church found a surprising resonance among many Christians — especially pietists, revivalists, and rugged American individualists. Thus was born the modern idea of Jesus as personal savior (which really means private savior), leaving the church as little more than an optional common interest club for the more socially inclined. Jesus was essential, but the church was optional, or perhaps irrelevant, or even a hindrance to Christian faith.

    Today this kind of thinking is in full bloom. But what should we make of it? Or perhaps a better question is, what would the first followers of Jesus make of this development? I have no doubt at all that they would scratch their heads at this strange new private religion with its stunning capacity to misunderstand Jesus and his message.
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