All posts in Christianity

  • The Sign That Saves The World

    FraAngelico

    The Sign That Saves The World
    Brian Zahnd

    Look to me and be saved,
    All you ends of the earth!
    –Isaiah 45:22

    Peri and I are on our way to speak at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem and we’re spending a few days in Florence, Italy exploring the cradle of the Renaissance. Visiting the museums and art galleries, I’ve seen hundreds of crucifixion paintings, and I’ve tried to view each one with a reverent eye. I never look at depictions of Christ crucified with a jaundiced eye. Their religious nature and ubiquitous presence may illicit a yawn from the secular cynic, but not from me — I’m an incorrigible Christian. I believe the cross is where Christ saves the world. Looking at the cross with the right eye, the reverent eye of humble faith, is the locus of salvation. The cross is the sign that saves the world.

    Ten years ago when I first began to connect Fyodor Dostoevsky’s enigmatic phrase “beauty will save the world” with the cross — it is at Golgotha that the ugliness of human sin is overcome by the beauty of divine love — the image of the cross as saving beauty that I most often referred to was Fra Angelico’s fresco. Today when we visited the San Marco Monastery I was able to see this fresco painted by the monk-artist Beato Angelico in 1441. As I lingered in contemplation of Fra Angelico’s Crucifixion, it prompted me to once again ask — what does this mean? Take a moment and ponder this question with me.
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  • Soil With A Soul

    Chagall

    Soil With A Soul
    Brian Zahnd

    “The LORD God formed the human (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life, and the human (adam) became a living soul.” –Genesis 2:7

    Soil is miracle ground — it’s the matrix of all life on earth. As the second account of creation in Genesis tell us, all life comes “out of the ground” — plants, animals, and humans. We did not fall as pure spirits from the realm of the perfect forms and find ourselves imprisoned in contemptible matter (as Platonism claims); rather we were formed from the dust of the earth, breathed on by God, and became living souls. We are humans from the humus, soil with a soul; we are a mysterious synthesis of the dust of the earth and the breath of God. There is a sense in which humans are very complicated, self-aware rocks — rocks so magnificently complex that we are capable of bearing the Creator’s image and sharing the Creator’s spirit. Indeed the psalmist is moved to praise God by saying,

    Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it.

    (Psalm 139:14 NLT)
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  • Water To Wine Gathering

    Water to Wine Gathering 1024x1024

    Two years ago I published Water To Wine — a memoir of my spiritual journey out of Americanized pop Christianity into a deeper, richer, more substantive Christian faith. This journey was both the best and most difficult thing I’ve done in over forty years of following Jesus. I describe it as being “born again again” and use the metaphor of water turning to wine. (You can read more about my water to wine journey in this blog post: Twenty-Two Days.)

    I’ve honestly been surprised at how much interest there’s been in the story of my spiritual/theological transition. I think part of the interest is that I did it as a pastor while attempting to bring my congregation with me — a risky endeavor that I more or less succeeded in doing (though not without considerable cost and pain).

    Since the publication of Water To Wine I’ve received messages from hundreds of pastors and Christian leaders from across America and from a dozen or more countries who personally resonate with my story. I find that so gratifying. These days I typically receive three or four of messages a week from pastors who are on what I call “the journey.” Many ask to come visit me and I always say yes, even though it can be a challenge to find the time. A few have even moved to St. Joseph to be a part of Word of Life. I find that so amazing!

    Last fall after meeting with a pastor from Texas, I began thinking about hosting a gathering for people who are on their own “water to wine” journey; I want to tell these seekers what I wish someone had told me fourteen years ago. This will also be a great opportunity for people on the water to wine journey to connect with one another. When I floated the idea on social media, it generated an enthusiastic response.
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  • Twenty-Two Days

    Version 2

    Fourteen years ago I began a journey of faith that led me beyond paper-thin pop Christianity, cheap certitude, and nationalistic civil religion. That’s when the water became wine! In a few days we’ll be announcing a Water To Wine gathering here at Word of Life in St. Joseph in June. But today I thought I would share the first chapter of Water To Wine — the story of my deep discontent and the 22 day fast that began the pivotal year of 2004. (The photo is me in Beit She’an, Israel in November of 2003, shortly before the fast.) -BZ

    Twenty-Two Days

    “No one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.”
    —Jesus

    “The only wines that actually speak to our whole lives are authentic wines. Confected wines are not designed for human beings; they are designed for ‘consumers.’ Which do you want to be?”
    —Terry Theise

    “When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become.”
    —Henri J.M. Nouwen

    I was halfway to ninety — midway through life — and I had reached a full-blown crisis. Call it a garden-variety mid-life crisis if you want, but it was something more. You might say it was a theological crisis, though that makes it sound too cerebral. The unease I felt came from a deeper place than a mental file labeled “theology.” To borrow some King James style language, my soul was disquieted within me. It was like I was singing over and over the U2 song:

    I have climbed the highest mountains
    I have run through the fields
    Only to be with you
    But I still haven’t found
    What I’m looking for
    —U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

    I was wrestling with the uneasy feeling that the faith I had built my life around was somehow deficient. Not wrong, but lacking. It seemed watery, weak. In my most honest moments I couldn’t help but notice that the faith I knew seemed to lack the kind of robust authenticity that made Jesus so fascinating. And I had always been utterly fascinated by Jesus. Jesus wasn’t in question but Christianity American style was. Read more

  • Beyond the Wittenberg Door

    Luther95theses

    Beyond the Wittenberg Door
    Brian Zahnd

    Five-hundred years ago on All Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day) Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Professor Luther was proposing a theological debate, what he got was a revolution. What Luther unwittingly launched that day in Wittenberg was one of the most momentous movements in church history: The Protestant Reformation. Among the many consequences of the Reformation was that the Western Church separated into Catholic and Protestant churches. One way of describing the Reformation would be, “there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” (Acts 15:39)

    So here we are now, five-hundred years down the road — five-hundred years beyond the Wittenberg Door. And finding ourselves half a millennium beyond the Wittenberg Door, how should we think about the Protestant Reformation? I have a few thoughts.
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  • Postcards From Babylon

    Charles_Le_Brun_-_Entry_of_Alexander_into_Babylon

    Postcards From Babylon
    Brian Zahnd

    At the end of Peter’s first epistle — a letter to believers living in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire — the apostle cryptically says, “She who is in Babylon greets you.” What does Peter mean by that enigmatic phrase? Why does Peter end his letter by referring to some mysterious woman living in the once great but now insignificant city of Babylon? The answer to this question has to do with the long and bloody history of empire and the new kind of empire that had just began to emerge in the world, a new empire in which Peter plays an important role.

    In the Hebrew scriptures Babylon is the prophetic icon of empire. Empires are rich and powerful nations that, in their arrogant assumption of a divine right to rule the nations and in their conceited claim of possessing a manifest destiny to shape history, intrude upon the sovereignty of God. Peter sees Rome as the contemporary equivalent to Babylon — the latest economic-military superpower deifying itself and asserting a sovereignty belonging only to God. “She” in “Babylon” is the bride of Christ, the church, the community of those who through faith and baptism have renounced the idolatrous belief that Rome is the savior of the world and that Caesar is Lord, who now boldly confess that it is Jesus who is the world’s true Lord and Savior. This is an audacious claim to say the least! It’s this controversial and dangerous claim that periodically landed Christians in prison and the Coliseum. That is, until the church in the era of Constantine found a way to compromise with the empire and make the convoluted claim that somehow both Christ and Caesar were Lord — one in heaven and the other on earth. Goodbye early Christianity, hello Christendom.
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  • Christianity: A Tree Growing Up From the Soil of Scripture

    Tree

    Christianity: A Tree Growing Up From the Soil of Scripture
    Brian Zahnd

    This summer I spoke to a group of teens at our youth camp. My assigned topic was, “What’s the Deal with the Bible?”

    I began my talk by reading this passage from the Bible.

    “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” (Exodus 21:20, 21)

    First I made sure the teens understood what this Bible passage said. If a slaveowner beats a slave and the slave dies immediately, there is to be some form of unspecified punishment. But if the slave clings to life for a day or two and then dies, there is to be no punishment. Why? Because, as the Bible says, “the slave is the owner’s property.”

    Then I asked the teens, “How many of you disagree with this?” Slowly and a bit hesitantly every teen raised their hand. (I say slowly and hesitantly, but I do remember some African-American teens shooting their hands up instantly and confidently!)

    I then addressed one of the youngest, saying, “So you disagree with the Bible?” She responded a bit cautiously, “Yeah, I guess so.” To which I said, “Good! You should!”
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  • God Is Love. God Is Love.

    Sunset from the Top

    God is Love. God is Love.
    Brian Zahnd

    The topography of biblical witness is full of peaks and valleys, mountains and plains. The Bible is not flat terrain. The honest reader of the Bible readily admits that the Levitical prohibition against eating shellfish does not reach the same heights as the lofty Christology in Colossians. As we look at the great peaks of inspired biblical witness, none soar higher than the twin peaks of divine revelation given to us by the Apostle John.

    “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:8, 16)

    Soaring above everything else the Bible has to say about God are these twin peaks found in John’s first epistle: God is love. God is love.

    The Arapaho Indians called Longs Peak and Mount Meeker Nesótaieus, meaning “two guides.” The two peaks of this towering massif are useful for orientation when traveling in the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, just as the two peaks of 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 are invaluable when navigating our way through the Bible. When the aged apostle put quill to papyrus to tell his readers that God is love (twice), and that to know love is to know God, and that to live in love is to live in God, he was making a daring move…and he dared to do it!
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  • The Sermon on the Mount and Caesar’s Sword

    Constantine

    The Sermon On the Mount and Caesar’s Sword
    Brian Zahnd

    As I call Christians to the practices of radical forgiveness and nonviolent peacemaking that Jesus embodied and most clearly sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount, I often encounter Christians using Romans 13:1–7 as a kind of rebuttal. (Though whom they’re rebutting — me or Jesus — isn’t always clear.) Their argument goes something like this:

    “God has ordained the government and has given it the sword to execute vengeance; therefore we cannot be opposed to war because Romans 13 sanctions ‘Just War.’”

    Usually this argument is given to me in the context of advocating that the United States government should wage total war on ISIS and other enemies of America, and that the church should celebrate this.

    But this is an egregious misinterpretation and misapplication of what Paul is talking about. Let me explain.
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