All posts in Books

  • Certitude: A Disaster Waiting To Happen

    Doubt

    Certitude: A Disaster Waiting To Happen
    Brian Zahnd

    Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth.
    –George MacDonald

    In my spiritual memoir, Water To Wine, part of the story I tell involves my own journey away from cheap certitude toward an authentic faith. It is a phenomenon of modernity that certitude (mental assent toward something as an absolute empirical fact) has become confused with faith (an orientation of the soul toward God in the form of deep trust). That this phenomenon is prevalent among certain streams of Christians is strangely ironic since this involves genuflecting at the altar of empiricism and privileging knowledge over faith. Privileging empiricism above faith as the final arbiter of truth is a hallmark of modernity, but it is also antithetical to Christianity.

    Certitude is a poor substitute for authentic faith. But certitude is popular; it’s popular because it’s easy. No wrestling with doubt, no dark night of the soul, no costly agonizing over the matter, no testing yourself with hard questions. Just accept a secondhand assumption or a majority opinion or a popular sentiment as the final word and settle into certainty. Certitude is easy…until it’s impossible. And that’s why certitude is so often a disaster waiting to happen. The empty slogan “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is cheap certitude, not genuine faith.
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  • Why I Wrote “Water To Wine”

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    Why I Wrote “Water To Wine” Brian Zahnd

    Today is the release date for my new book, Water To Wine: Some of My Story. I wrote this book because I could not not write this book. I was compelled to justify my journey and give some guidance to fellow seekers.

    Over the past twelve years I’ve gone through a tremendous spiritual and theological transition. Some friends, pastors, and former church members have been critical of these changes. But many more have found hope and encouragement in my spiritual pilgrimage. Water To Wine is written for all these people. For my critics this is my humble, yet earnest, defense. For those who have found my journey helpful and have asked for some direction, this is it.

    Most of all I wrote Water To Wine for the multitudes of Christians who are sold on Jesus, but have come to feel that pop-Christianity is too watery and too thin. They are right…it is. And I want to help. I hope the story of how I found my way out of cotton-candy Christianity and into a richer and more robust faith may help point these seekers in the right direction. Perhaps you are one of them.

    Instead of trying to reproduce the book in this blog post, I want to share a thousand words — a thousand words selected from throughout the introductory first chapter. I hope it will whet your appetite.

    BZ
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  • Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright

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    Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Conversation with Derek Vreeland
    Brian Zahnd

    Derek Vreeland is my friend and a fellow pastor at Word of Life. He has written a book on N.T. Wright’s latest “big book” — Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Derek’s book, Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright is a 118 page summary of Wright’s 1,700 page behemoth. Here’s what I’ve said about Derek’s book:

    With Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright Derek Vreeland has rendered us a great service. N.T. Wright is the most respected New Testament scholar of our era and his work on the theology of Paul could not be more important. But the fact remains that many are not up to the task of wading through 1,700 pages of dense scholarship. Derek Vreeland’s reader’s guide is an excellent distillation of Paul and the Faithfulness of God and thus a true gift.

    Recently I sat down to talk with Derek about this project. Here’s our conversation:

    BZ: How important is N.T. Wright to you personally and to the church at large?

    DV: Wright has become the rockstar theologian of our generation. He is as influential in our generation as C.S. Lewis or Karl Barth were in their generation. I think we can understand his wide-reaching influence in a couple of ways. He is biblical theologian grounded not in a particular theological tradition, but in the historical context of the New Testament. He wants to reconcile the divorce between theology and history. I appreciate systematic theologians who can work with the biblical texts and help construct a cohesive picture of what the biblical writers were trying to do, but sometimes our system forms too rigid of a grid and we actually miss the heart of what the biblical writers were trying to say. Wright has pledged no allegiance to one particular theological system, so his books seem to speak to people across the spectrum of Protestant traditions. He also has the rare ability to communicate effectively at both the academic level and the popular level. His academic books like Paul and the Faithfulness of God are filled with countless footnotes where he interacts with so many scholars and his popular books like Simply Christian speak on a level that the average churchgoer can understand. For me he has become my hero. His interpretation of Jesus and Paul within the context of first century Jewish world have revealed a Jesus and Paul who have everything to do with my life as a 21st century pastor.
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  • George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)

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    George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)
    Brian Zahnd

    “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded George MacDonald as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote him.” –C.S. Lewis

    “I can testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence…and it is by George MacDonald.” –G.K. Chesterton

    George MacDonald (
    1824–1905) was a Scottish novelist, poet, preacher, mystic, lecturer, theologian whose writings have had an enormous influence on many Christian thinkers, including C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. In my own spiritual journey I would list George MacDonald’s Lilith as a top ten influence.

    George MacDonald understood as clearly as anyone that salvation is not so much a conferred status as it is a lifelong journey — a continual pressing into the revelation of God in Christ. But to be a public theologian, thinker, writer and on an ever-evolving spiritual journey, rankles the self-appointed gatekeepers of religious certitude. Thus George MacDonald was regularly (and wrongly) accused of heresy for simply not toeing the line of the Scottish Calvinism predominant in his day.

    In the mid 1860’s George MacDonald received a letter from a troubled reader asking why he had lost the “old faith” and embraced what many regarded as “unorthodox” views. MacDonald’s candid reply is brilliant and beautiful and I would like to share it with you. (Plus, as one who has often been criticized for moving beyond an earlier fundamentalist/charismatic certitude, MacDonald’s defense will aptly suffice as my own.)

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  • The Day I Met Jesus: A Conversation With Mary DeMuth

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    Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola have written a fascinating book — The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels (Baker Books 2015). Recently I was able to interview Mary about this book and also ask her some questions about the role of women within Christianity and the church. Here is our conversation.

    * * * * * *

    BZ: In The Day I Met Jesus you tell fives stories of women who encountered Jesus. You do this in the form of first person diary entries. I love this imaginative approach. Could you talk about your process of creating the back-stories for these five women?

    MD: Sure, first off, this idea was Frank’s. I’m grateful he pulled me in on this project. As a novelist, I tried to walk around in these women’s sandals, hoping to understand their dreams, the possible plight they were in, and what it must’ve been like to actually meet Jesus in the midst of their stories. I also did research about First Century Jerusalem as well as biblical research about the five women. And then I prayed. Actually I prayed throughout the entire process. What resulted? Gritty, real stories about actual women who were never the same after they encountered Christ.

    BZ: Do you feel that the evangelical church has perhaps under appreciated the power of story?

    MD: I think we’re getting better about this. Things like Donald Miller’s Story conference and the proliferation of YouTube (where we see millions of stories) encourage me. And when I go to church on Sunday I’m seeing more pastors tuck story into their narratives and theology. The human heart and mind better understand truth when wrapped in a story.
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  • A More Christlike God

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    A More Christlike God
    Brian Zahnd

    What is God like? What an enormous question. For those of us who believe that God is somehow at the foundation of existence, meaning, and self-understanding, it’s an all-important question. So how shall we answer? Our options are endless. Human inquiry into the divine has produced a vast pantheon of gods — from Ares to Zeus. Of course, the Christian will have an instinct to look to the Bible for the definition of God. I understand this instinct and in one sense it is correct; but it may not yield as clear an answer as we think. Even while speaking of the “God of the Bible” we can cobble together whatever vision of God we choose from its disparate images. That we do this mostly unconsciously doesn’t help matters. Even if we restrict our inquiry into the nature of God to the Bible, we are likely to find just the kind of God that we want to find. If we want a God of peace, he’s there. If we want a God of war, he’s there. If we want a compassionate God, he’s there. If we want a vindictive God, he’s there. If we want an egalitarian God, he’s there. If we want an ethnocentric God, he’s there. If we want a God demanding blood sacrifice, he’s there. If we want a God abolishing blood sacrifice, he’s there. Sometimes the Bible is like a Rorschach test — it reveals more about the reader than the eternal I AM.
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  • Scot McKnight’s Foreword to “A Farewell To Mars”

    Mars

    I have a new book coming out in June. A Farewell To Mars (David C. Cook). I’m pretty excited about it. I plunged my pen into my heart and wrote from deep within. It will probably stir a bit of controversy. So be it. What matters is that I’ve told my own story honestly.

    Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, and author of several important books such as The Jesus Creed, The Blue Parakeet, and The King Jesus Gospel has written the foreword to A Farewell To Mars. Perhaps you would not think too uncharitably of me if I shared it with you.

    BZ
    _______________________________________________________________

    Though some may contest the point, and I’ve heard them for years, there is something profoundly unsettling to watch those who follow Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, use weapons of warfare to kill others and think they are somehow following Jesus. At the simplest level of evangelicalism, and by that I mean anyone who affirms salvation in Christ alone, it impossible for me to comprehend how a Christian can kill a non-Christian who is thereby prevented from turning to Christ just as it is also beyond me how any Christian can kill another Christian at the orders of State military leaders. In both instance the Christian renders to Caesar what is due only to Christ.

    As Brian Zahnd says in this aesthetic and courageous book, too often the church – and individual Christians are therefore complicit – has become chaplain to the State. It’s divinely-ordained and Christ-shaped role is thereby denied, it has become idolatrous and has betrayed the Prince of Peace. Our responsibility is not to chaplain the State but to call the State to repentance and to surrender to the King who is Lord. Our responsibility is to be an alternative to the State. Christians would do far more good for our country by learning not to look to DC for solutions but to the glorious Son of God, who loved us and who gave himself for us and in so giving himself gave us a whole new way of life, one not shaped by the power of force but the force of the gospel.

    Leaders like Brian Zahnd are quietly becoming more numerous, not because they’ve turned Euro on us but because they’ve turned once again to the Gospels and to the New Testament to find an alternative political vision for our world. They’ve eschewed pragmatics and compromise for a full-throated commitment to the kingdom vision of Jesus, which by the way is necessarily political, but an alternative politic. This alternative political world, what Stanley Hauerwas calls a “peaceable kingdom,” refuses to flash the sword of Caesar or Constantine, Germany or the USA, and it instead flashes the cross as the way to live. The cross is the symbol of the politics of Jesus, and it is beginning to burn its way into the heart of so many in the church in the USA. We need it.
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  • Peri and Her Books

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    Peri is a reader. I am too. Our house is adorned and littered with books. They’re everywhere. On shelves, tables, desks, the floor. Everywhere you look…books. This is a good thing. Last year Peri read 52 books and…well, I’ll let her tell you about it. Here’s Peri:

    At the beginning of 2013, I got out a brand new journal and began to record the books I finished throughout the year. I didn’t intend to read a book a week, but at 11:30 pm on New Year’s Eve, through bleary eyes, I finished and recorded the last one. And it wasn’t a “book a week” — some took a LONG time to read, and some were quick, but over the course of a year, I finished 52.

    I enjoyed keeping the list, and it helped me to be more disciplined in my reading. I always start a lot more books than I finish, but I finished more this year because of the list.

    I’ve had numerous people tell me that I inspired them to get back to reading. Reading books does take some inspiration, some desire, some motivation. Spending an hour skimming the internet is easier than concentrating on a book. There are important and worthwhile things to read on the internet, but I am a richer person for reading books.

    Many people have asked me to share my list. I personally love hearing what other people are reading and a good deal of what I do read online is book reviews! I won’t list all 52, but I went through and picked ten — not necessarily the “best”, but ones I did very much enjoy and would recommend widely, some of which are pretty obscure and not likely to be discovered or read without a recommendation.
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  • The Divine Conspirator: My Dallas Willard Story

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    Dallas Willard
    (September 4, 1935 — May 8, 2013)

    In another lifetime, before I became the man I am today, I was searching…searching for I didn’t quite know what. I was utterly weary of a paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude recycling tired clichés. I was yearning for something deeper, richer, fuller. Yes, I was searching, but I hardly knew where to look. I was embarrassingly ignorant of “the good stuff.” With nowhere else to turn I began reading the Early Church Fathers, philosophy, and classic literature. Maximus the Confessor, Søren Kierkegaard, and Fyodor Dostoevsky were a big help, but I needed something contemporary — I needed a well dug in my own time.

    One afternoon I was in my library. I was deliberately looking for a book that would “give me a breakthrough.” I couldn’t settle on anything. So I prayed: “God, show me what to read.” And I sensed…nothing. I went downstairs feeling a bit agitated and slumped into a chair. Within a minute or two Peri walked into the room, handed me a book and said, “I think you should read this.” She knew nothing of my moments ago prayer, but she had just handed me a book, and told me to read it. This was my Augustine-like “take and read” moment. It sent chills down my spine. The book was Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. The strange thing was Peri had not read it and had no more idea who Dallas Willard was than I did. Neither of us were sure how the book had even made its way into our house. But, oh my, was it ever an answer to prayer!
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