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  • The Crucified God

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    The Crucified God
    Brian Zahnd

    Here’s a big question. What is God like? I suppose this is the biggest question theology can ask. And we don’t need to be a theologian to ask this question. It’s one of the most basic questions facing anyone who attempts to worship or even just think about God. But how shall we answer the question?

    Our capacity for imagining God seems virtually limitless. Is God like Zeus whose incited anger results in hurled thunderbolts? Is God like Ganesh, the lovable elephant-headed god of prosperity from the Hindu pantheon whose idol I’ve seen in hotel lobbies across India? Is God like the comic white-bearded old man sitting behind a computer from a Far Side cartoon? Does God bear any resemblance to the primitive tribal deities who lead their people in waging war on other people? Is God totalized Will-To-Power whose omnipotence controls every event in the universe? Is God the aloof and absent clockmaker of Thomas Jefferson and the eighteenth-century deists? Is God the amorphous everything and nothing of New Age spirituality? And so on.

    To even venture an attempt to answer the question of what God is like seems to court idolatry. How can mere mortals possibly try to answer the question about God’s nature without being guilty of not only theological error, but outrageous hubris?
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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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  • The Beatitudes (BZV)

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    The Beatitudes (BZV)
    Brian Zahnd

    Blessed are those who are poor at being spiritual,
    For the kingdom of heaven is well-suited for ordinary people.

    Blessed are the depressed who mourn and grieve,
    For they create space to encounter comfort from another.

    Blessed are the gentle and trusting, who are not grasping and clutching,
    For God will personally guarantee their share when heaven comes to earth.

    Blessed are those who ache for the world to be made right,
    For them the government of God is a dream come true.

    Blessed are those who give mercy,
    For they will get it back when they need it most.

    Blessed are those who have a clean window in their soul,
    For they will perceive God when and where others don’t.

    Blessed are the bridge-builders in a war-torn world,
    For they are God’s children working in the family business.

    Blessed are those who are mocked and misunderstood for the right reasons,
    For the kingdom of heaven comes to earth amidst such persecution.

    BZ
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  • An Encyclical and a Massacre

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    An Encyclical and a Massacre
    Brian Zahnd

    Lord Jesus, help me to be a voice of peace, drawing your church in America away from its idolatrous allegiance to nationalism, militarism, consumerism, racism, violence, guns, and war. Amen.

    I pray this prayer everyday. I’ve done so for years. It’s part of my morning liturgy of prayer. Praying this prayer has formed me in a certain way. (The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what we think God ought to do, but to be properly formed.) This prayer has influenced me to write books about forgiveness, beauty, and peace. My target audience is the evangelical church in America. My people.

    I also pray the Confession of Sin from the Book of Common Prayer. I always pray it in the plural…

    Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…

    I pray this prayer in the plural because I know I am complicit in sins I have not personally committed. I know I benefit from sinful structures for which I’m not personally responsible. I benefit from an economy originally founded on stolen land and slave labor. I didn’t “do” these things, but still people like me benefit from them. I know this. So the very, very least I can do is pray, “Father, forgive us our sins.”

    I prayed these prayers today. Like I do everyday. But today is different.
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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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  • Jesus Is What God Has To Say

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    Jesus Is What God Has To Say
    Brian Zahnd

    One of the most mysterious aspects of the Transfiguration is the appearance of Moses and Elijah — these two giant figures from the Old Testament — conversing with a glorified Christ. Of course Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet are representative figures signifying the Law and the Prophets. On Mount Tabor, Moses and Elijah are summoned from the Old Testament past to give their final witness.

    The goal of the Law and the Prophets was to produce a just and worshipping society. Jesus and his kingdom is where that project finds its fulfillment. The new society formed around Jesus was what the Law and the Prophets were aiming for all along. The Transfiguration is where Moses and Elijah find their great successor. The Transfiguration is where the Old Testament hands the project of redemption over to Jesus. The Transfiguration is where the old witness (testament) yields to the new witness (testament.)

    But initially Peter misinterpreted what the presence of Moses and Elijah meant.

    Peter’s first impulse was to build three memorial tabernacles on Tabor, treating Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as approximate equals.

    But Peter’s idea received a strong rebuke when the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

    Jesus is the true and living Word of God. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets point toward and bow to. Jesus is what the Old Testament was trying to say, but could never fully articulate. Jesus is the perfect Word of God in the form of a human life. God couldn’t say all he wanted to say in the form of a book, so he said it in the form of Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say!
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  • Achilles or Immanuel?

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    Achilles or Immanuel?
    Brian Zahnd

    I just returned from seeing An Iliad at The Kansas City Repertory Theatre — a one act telling of Homer’s Iliad — and I can’t rest until I share a few thoughts…

    The eighth century BC gave the world two great poets — the Greek Homer and the Hebrew Isaiah. These two poets offer competing visions of the heroic. Homer’s epic poem The Iliad opens with these lines.

    Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles
    murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
    hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
    great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
    feasts for the dogs and birds.
    (Iliad 1–5)

    But the poet Isaiah sings a different song.

    The boots of the warrior
    And the uniforms bloodstained by war
    Will all be burned
    For unto us a Child is born
    Unto a Son is given
    And he shall be called…
    The Prince of peace
    His government and its peace
    Will never end
    (Isaiah 9:6–7)

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  • Disarming Scripture: Derek Flood’s Important Book

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    Disarming Scripture: Derek Flood’s Important Book
    Brian Zahnd

    Theologian, author, and blogger Derek Flood has a new book out — Disarming Scripture. His book has a provocative subtitle: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need To Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did. I’ve read it and gave it this endorsement:

    “Jesus is the savior of everything — including the Bible! That’s what I kept thinking while reading this brilliant book. There have been a number of excellent books in recent years on how Christians should read the Bible, but Disarming Scripture is the very best. Derek has done us an immeasurable service in showing us how to read the Bible like Jesus did.”

    That’s my two cents worth. More significantly, preeminent Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has given Disarming Scripture this endorsement:

    “A perceptive and honest book about the vexed question of violence in the Bible. Taking with great seriousness the dynamism of the biblical tradition and the interpretive process, the distinctive contribution of Disarming Scripture is an exploration of the way in which the biblical text itself interprets texts of violence. This is a fine contribution to our common work.”

    In 2011 The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not A Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith was my book of the year. I’ve recommended it dozens of times. Now with equal enthusiasm I’m urging clergy and lay people alike to read Disarming Scripture. It’s an important book.
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  • Forty Years of Following Jesus

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    Forty Years of Following Jesus
    Brian Zahnd
    November 9, 2014

    It was November 1974. I was fifteen and it was my year of discovery. I was awakening to the world around me, forging an identity, becoming a self. I was drawn to the counterculture. I had discovered music — not my parents music, my music. Led Zeppelin was magic for me. I still remember the first time I heard Whole Lotta Love. That opening riff channeled my lust for life. I would sit for hours in my basement bedroom listening to Zeppelin, Hendrix, Mountain, Deep Purple, Allman Brothers. Soon I would discover Bob Dylan and he would provide the soundtrack for my life. My mom was worried about my long hours alone in my bedroom with my music, black lights, and incense. But she needn’t be. I was just making discoveries.

    You can live a whole lifetime when you’re fifteen. I don’t remember that much about being twenty-six or thirty-eight or forty-three, but it seems I remember every week of being fifteen. It was 1974 and people were reading Jaws. President Nixon resigned in August and Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t care — “now Watergate does not bother me” (Sweet Home Alabama). The Rolling Stones told the truth: It’s Only Rock N’ Roll (But I Like It). Oh yeah, I remember that year. Every week was a new discovery.

    Then came November 9, 1974. It was a Saturday. A crisp autumn day. I woke up to David Essex on the radio. Rock On
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