All posts tagged David Bentley Hart

  • Christ and Nothing

    Today I stumbled upon a 2003 essay in First Things by David Bentley Hart. It’s 8,400 words on the inevitable nihilism of modernity. This is a topic I find myself thinking about a lot these days. What follows is my severe edit of the essay down to a thousand words that gets at the heart of the matter.



    What is the consequence when Christianity, as a living historical force, recedes? We have no need to speculate, as it happens; modernity speaks for itself: with the withdrawal of Christian culture, all the glories of the ancient world that it baptized and redeemed have perished with it in the general cataclysm. Christianity is the midwife of nihilism, not because it is itself nihilistic, but because it is too powerful in its embrace of the world and all of the world’s mystery and beauty; and so to reject Christianity now is, of necessity, to reject everything except the barren anonymity of spontaneous subjectivity. As Ivan Karamazov’s Grand Inquisitor tells Christ, the freedom that the gospel brings is too terrible to be borne indefinitely. Our sin makes us feeble and craven, and we long to flee from the liberty of the sons of God; but where now can we go? Everything is Christ’s. Read more

  • 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

    Read more

  • A Formula For Atheism


    (This is my foreword for Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fisher.)

    A Formula For Atheism
    Brian Zahnd

    A few years ago the pastor of an evangelical-fundamentalist church with whom I’m acquainted announced on the Sunday after Easter that he had become an atheist. He told his stunned congregation that he had been an atheist for a year and a half and that all attempts to revive his faith had failed. So on the Sunday after Easter he publicly left Christianity and moved on with his life — a life with no more Easters.

    A few days after his bombshell resignation I met with this now erstwhile pastor. As I listened to his story, it quickly became apparent that he had not so much lost his faith in Christianity as he had lost his credulity for fundamentalism. But sadly he had been formed in a tradition where Christianity and fundamentalism were so tightly bound together that he could not make a distinction between them. For this fundamentalist pastor, if the Bible wasn’t literally, historically, and scientifically factual in a biblicist-empiricist sense, then Christianity was a falsity he had to reject. When his fundamentalist house of cards collapsed, it took his Christian faith down with it. In one remarkable leap of faith, a fundamentalist became a newly minted atheist. I did my best to explain to him that he had made the modern mistake of confusing historic Christian faith with early-twentieth-century fundamentalism, but by now the damage was done and it appears his faith has suffered a fatal blow.
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  • It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian


    It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian
    Brian Zahnd

    Today is my birthday and the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri made me a birthday card. On the cover of the card is a cross composed of the “Five Words” (Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution) that I talk about in the second chapter of Water To Wine. And since it involves the Sisters at Clyde, let me share a little bit of the Eclectic portion from the “Five Words” chapter. It’s a nice story…
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  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Eucharist


    The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Eucharist
    Brian Zahnd

    Like the other Gospel writers John recounts the story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed five thousand. But John adds this unique postscript:

    “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)

    The crowd’s response to this “table in the wilderness” was an impulse to make Jesus king…but Jesus declined. Why? Jesus is king, he came to be king, king is what Messiah means. So why does Jesus slip away from the crowd when they want to make him king? The issue is force.

    The crowd wanted to “take him by force and make him king.” At the center of the crowd’s concept of kingship was violent force. They wanted to force Jesus to be their forceful king so he could lead their forces in an uprising of violent force against the Romans. This was antithetical to the kind of king Jesus came to be. Caesar is a crucifying king who reigns by force. Christ is the crucified king who reigns without force. Christ’s kingdom is built upon co-suffering love, not violent force.

    The crowd that wanted to force Jesus to be king was operating from the dominant paradigm of scarcity. This is the paradigm that possessed Cain to kill Abel, and it lies at the dark heart of human civilization. We are scripted to believe that reality is zero-based and that we live in a closed system.

    This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency is the philosophy that undergirds our structures of systemic sin. We fear there won’t be enough land, water, food, oil, money, labor to go around, so we build evil structures of sinful force to guarantee “us” “ours.” We call it security. We call it defense. We call it freedom. What we don’t call it is what it is…fear. Driven by our fear of scarcity we create an organized, large-scale, slow-motion version of anarchy. A mob on a looting rampage is called anarchy. One nation looting another is called glorious conquest — but it’s just looting on a grand scale. Kings are tasked with looting our enemies on our behalf.
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  • The Beautiful Alternative


    “Evil is to be overcome by forgiveness. As likewise is violence.”
    -John Milbank, Christ the Exception

    Jesus gives us an alternative to violence. Forgiveness. Jesus didn’t just theorize about it, he lived it. On the cross Christ made his message credible. He lived it all the way to the end. And calls us to follow him.

    I believe most of us long for it to be true. We long for the Jesus way to be the beautiful alternative to the ugly way of violence. Romanticized violence can be appealing—imagined musketeers and Hollywood shoot ’em ups—but real violence is always ugly. In a world awash in endless cycles of violence we know it’s appalling and we wonder if the beautiful way of Christ is a viable alternative. Read more

  • Three Books

    1887 Still Life with Three Books

    I was asked by a magazine to recommend some books. Here’s what I gave them.

    Three Books I Am Currently Recommending

    jesus-way the-doors-of-the-sea-where-was-god-in-the-tsunami-84929292 Surprised-by-Hope-1

    The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson
    There isn’t a more important pastoral voice in America than Eugene Peterson. Though he is probably best known for his translation of The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson has authored more than forty books, most of them on the theme of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the contemporary American context. Writing from nearly fifty years of pastoral experience, The Jesus Way is perhaps the best book I’ve read on how to get beyond religious cliché and cultural assumption in considering the Christ we confess and follow. I also highly recommend Eugene Peterson’s just published memoir, The Pastor.

    The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart
    David Bentley Hart is one of Christianity’s finest living theologians and apologists; he is a gifted writer as well. The Doors of Sea is an expansion of an essay that originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal in response to the tsunami that claimed a quarter of a million lives in Southeast Asia in December of 2004. In the wake of the tragic Japanese earthquake and tsunami, this little book has renewed relevance. The Doors of the Sea is the best attempt I’ve found in addressing the age old problem of reconciling the goodness of God with the reality of evil and suffering.

    Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
    I have no hesitation in asserting that N.T. Wright is the most important Christian writer, thinker, and theologian of our day. What C.S. Lewis was to a previous generation of serious Christian readers, N.T. Wright is to our generation. I’ve read nearly everything Wright has published (and he is wildly prolific!) and this is Wright at his best. Quite simply, I wish I could get every Christian to read Surprised by Hope! What is it about? It’s about the great Christian hope of resurrection and how a biblical understanding of the hope of the resurrection should inform and influence every aspect of Christian witness and mission.

    If you’re a serious Christian, do yourself a favor and read these three books.


    (The art is Still Life With Three Books by Vincent Van Gogh)

  • Truth, Violence and Love


    What is truth?

    This was Pilate’s famous ironic question of Christ. A short time later—after Jesus had been scourged and was now standing before Pilate wearing a crown of thorns—Pilate answered his own question when he said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you?” In this moment the “truth” came out. For in the end it is the power of violence that is the ultimate truth for the principalities and powers. The “truth” of violence is the axis around which the world ruled by the principalities and powers revolves. It is their centering principle. It is the bottom line for those under the spell of “the ruler of this world.”

    Pragmatism is the ultimate truth of empire, and the ultimate pragmatism is violence. (Though ordinarily great effort is expended to conceal this “awful truth”.) So despite the fact that noble virtues are often present within the empire (family, justice, service, etc.), the axis of empire, the centering principle, the final truth is violence. This was certainly true of Rome. Read more