Archives For Brian Zahnd

brianzahndmainbookThis week on the podcast we’ve got Brian Zahnd, author and the founding pastor of Word of Life Church in Missouri.

About a decade ago, Brian had an epiphany/spiritual crisis that eventually led him away from his previously held evangelical, word-faith Christianity and into a rediscovery of the sacramental faith of the ancient Church.

The result, in my opinion, is that Brian preaches the most theologically robust sermons of any preacher in America, rooted in the faith and understanding of the ancient Church Fathers and Mothers.

Because his is a pre-Western vision of Christianity, I think it’s one perfectly-suited for the post-Christian West.

Like me, Brian is a huge fan of David Bentley Hart, Bob Dylan, the National.

Like me, he’s a literature and art snob and I even get him to confess it.

The author of Beauty Will Save the World and Unconditional- both of which I highly recommend- Brian’s upcoming book is A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace.  51t1N+J6DgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Check it out.

Here’s the interview.

My underling left God’s work to go work for THE MAN so until I learn how to splice and dice you’ll have to listen sans the cute cue music.

You can also download it in iTunes or, better yet, download the free mobile app, which you can use to listen to old installments of the podcast and look for future ones.

Brian_-_September_30__2008Pope Francis has called for today to be a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. Catholic or not, at a time when Christians are diffused over so many different communions and traditions, Pope Francis offers a helpful singular voice of faith, a Christ-like perspective that transcends national and cultural distinctions.

There’s absolutely no defensible Christian reason not to do exactly what Francis calls Christians to do. I’ve now been at my present congregation long enough that youth I once saw dressed awkwardly for their confirmation are now wearing uniforms. I don’t want to see them wearing flags, as palls. As for their parents, this is more than an academic, theological question for me.

Francis’ is the loudest Christian voice reflecting on the Church’s vocation in times of war.

Popular author, Rachel Held Evans, has this piece in which she also counsels prayer and fasting.

Mark Tooley, at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has this one, in which he concedes more than counsels that Christians can pray for peace.

Meanwhile, Brian Zahnd, a pastor and author in Missouri, has this post, essentially urging Christians to be a prayer for the world.

The distinction is important.

While I can’t say I’m a fan of Rachel Held Evans, I do admire the openness with which she wrestles the Christianity of her upbringing. My lack of fandom probably owes only to the fact that, unlike her, I grew up neither Southern nor Evangelical. I’m also aware that minus Fleming Rutledge there’s a paucity of female theologians referenced on this blog so I feel badly that I’m being critical now.

Nonetheless…in her post, ‘When It’s Too Big,’ RHE commends prayer because the Syrian issue is too complex and the right ‘solution’ too elusive. Because it’s ambiguous what Christians should do, the least they can do is pray.

I’m likewise reticent to critique Tooley’s post because I don’t want to be excoriated on the IRD blog the same way Rachel herself was a time ago. Still, reading ‘Syrian War and Churches’ you’d conclude Tooley thought Christians were just foolish people except that he’s one himself.

‘Syrian War and Churches’ lauds the Archbishop of Cantebury’s support of Syrian intervention because it meets Just War criteria, which, in its lack of any defined, measurable goal, it most definitely does not.

Let’s never mind the inconvenient truth that Just War Theory has NEVER prevented Christians from engaging in war. That it hasn’t suggests Just War Theory is less about discerning how Christians should navigate their dual commitments to State and Church and is more about providing a logical pretense for doing what you were going to do anyway- whatever the State wants you.

The sweeping way Tooley dismisses non-violence as a legitimate form of Christian witness is a post for another day, as is the way in which his defense of Just War Theory is replete with the fingerprints of Consequentialism.

Like in RHE’s post, Tooley allows for the role of prayer but scolds that Christians should not keep their faith from being serious about the solutions that may or may not be necessary when it comes to war.

Though they’d never want to share the company, Tooley and RHE both share the assumption that its the calling of Christians to find the right solution and contribute towards it.

Clearer put, they assume its the job of Christians to make the world come out right.

Brian Zahnd, on the other hand, gets right what I think both Tooley and RHE get wrong.

To the charge, which echoes Tooley’s post, ‘We have to be realistic’ Zahnd writes:

Being “realistic” does not exempt us from faithfulness to Christ. If we tell ourselves that Jesus has called us to “change the world” then we quickly find ways to justify our violent means. But Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world — he calls us to be faithful to his ways of peace. If in our faithfulness to Jesus we happen to change the world, fine, but our first call is to remain faithful. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not because this is an “effective tactic,” but because this is what God is like.

To the counter that sometimes violence is necessary, Zahnd replies:

If we think violence is a viable option you can be sure we will resort to it. If violence is on the table, imagination is out the window. First century Jerusalem could not imagine any other way than violent revolution against the Romans. Jesus could. Jesus not only imagined the alternative, he embodied it. On the cross. And he calls us to follow him. If we don’t know (or refuse to know) the things that make for peace, we march blindly toward another fiery Gehenna.

Zahnd’s internal monologue goes on:

“You’re not being practical.”

No, I am not.

“You’re being foolish.”

It depends on whose lens you’re looking through. I grant that there are ways of looking at what I’m saying as foolishness. But I also insist that to live Christlike in a Caesar-like world is to risk being called a fool or worse.

What Zahnd gets right that others miss is that Christians are not called to solve the world’s problems, to offer solutions as though with our worldly wisdom and worldly ways we can bring the Kingdom of God ourselves.

Rather, as Jesus said right before he ascended to the Father, we’re called to witness to the Kingdom.

That’s a very different proposition.

When Jesus leads his disciples up to the Mt of Olives in Matthew 25, they ask Jesus: When will temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of the coming age?

Rather then answer them directly, Jesus responds with a series of parables about what kind of people his People should be in order to anticipate the coming age.

And the setting for all of this is the Mt of Olives, the place where Jews believed God would begin to usher in the new age (Zechariah 14.1-5).

Jesus predicts destruction, he takes them up to this mountain that’s loaded with symbolism- so why wouldn’t the disciples ask: ‘What will be the sign?’

Because the setting is the place where Jews believed God would end this age, to read the parable that follows rightly you have to go all the way back to the very beginning of scripture, to God’s original design, and God’s promise for a New Creation.

The Hebrew word for that harmony is ‘shalom,’ a word the New Testament translates as ‘peace.’ But it’s not just a sentiment or a feeling of tranquility. It’s restoration. Throughout scripture God’s judgment is against those who work against shalom.

Shalom is not just an abstract theme of scripture; it takes tangible form in the Torah where God lays out Israel’s special charge to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the poor- whether they’re on the inside of community or the outside of the community because, as Leviticus says, ‘they’re just like you’ (19).

Implied in the Jewish Law is the reality that the stranger and the widow and the orphan and the poor lack an advocate in this world. They are a sign of what’s broken in creation; therefore, God intervenes for them by calling Israel to labor with him in establishing God’s shalom.

This partnership between God and God’s People- this is how God puts creation back together again. This is what the Old Testament is about.

Then, in the New, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ to model shalom for us. Until God brings forth the New Heaven and the New Earth he calls the believing community to embody in every aspect of their lives the shalom that is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

The works of mercy listed in Jesus’ parable- they’re not just a simple list of good deeds.

It’s a summary of what God’s shalom looks like.

This parable isn’t a superficial reminder to do good to others. It’s a description of Israel’s vocation, a vocation taken on by and made flesh in Jesus Christ.

This parable is Jesus’ final teaching moment before his passion begins. It’s the equivalent of the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says: ‘My shalom I give you.’

The point is not that we will be judged according to our good deeds per se.

The point is that we will be judged by the extent to which we embody Christ’s life.

The point is not that our faith or beliefs in Jesus have nothing to do with how we will be judged.

The point is we will be judged by the extent to which our faith in Christ has allowed us to conform our lives to witness to his way of life- which is the life God desired for all of us before Sin entered the world.

Ask yourself: who is it that welcomes the stranger, loves their enemy, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, brings good news to the prisoner?

This is a description of Jesus’ life.

The sheep in Matthew 25 are saved not because of their good deeds.

The sheep are saved because they’ve dared to witness to the life that redeems the world.

The sign of the new age that the disciples were asking about?

The sign of that new age are a people bold enough to embody the life of Christ. That’s why Jesus tells this story.

When we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we don’t just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father.

We also mean Jesus’ way of life is the only way we get to the Father’s love.

Scripture doesn’t teach that after we welcome them the stranger will cease being strange to us or that our differences are insignificant.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by visiting the prisoner we’ll convince the prisoner to swear off crime.

Scripture doesn’t teach that in feeding the hungry the hungry will show appreciation to us or that in caring for the needy we won’t find the needy a burden to us.

The Christian life isn’t being ‘realistic’ as the world defines it, and it’s not about solutions to creation’s problems.

It’s about witness to a different reality; it’s about a witness that anticipates and ever so slightly contributes towards the New Creation.

In a world of violence and injustice and poverty and loneliness Jesus has called us to be a people who welcome strangers and love enemies and refuse the sword and bring good news to prisoners, feed and cloth the poor and care for those who have no one.

An alternative.

Not a solution.

And so Zahnd and Francis are absolutely, urgently right. Prayer isn’t what you do when the realistic solutions are elusive and its not what you do after you’ve gone about realistically solving the world’s problems.

If God raised Jesus from the dead, the prayer of an alternative community is the most realistic thing there can be.

 

Why I Don’t Own a Gun

Jason Micheli —  February 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

jesus-rile1I’ve had a few posts in the past in which I’ve tried to think theologically about guns. Those posts stirred up some conversation to say the least.

Here’s a well-spoken reflection from Brian Zahnd, a pastor and author at Word of Life Church in Missouri.

I don’t own a gun. I never have. Why?

First of all I don’t hunt. I have nothing against hunting. (After all, I’m not a vegetarian.) I don’t hunt like I don’t golf—it’s just something I never took up. So I don’t own a shotgun or a hunting rifle for the same reason I don’t own golf clubs. And for the same reason you probably don’t own crampons and an ice axe. Since I don’t hunt, I don’t need the equipment.

Secondly, I don’t own a gun because I don’t want to shoot anyone. Shotguns and hunting rifles are designed for the purpose of shooting game. Handguns and assault rifles are designed for the purpose of shooting people. But I don’t want to shoot anyone. So, once again, I don’t need the equipment. I’m perfectly content to allow a trained and authorized police force to handle this equipment on behalf of society. I think that’s a good idea. (If you don’t think that’s a good idea, well, then we just disagree. Don’t shoot me.) I’m not a police officer, so I don’t need police equipment. I don’t own surgical equipment either, because…well, you get my point.

Can you come up with an imagined scenario where I would wish I had a gun? Probably. Can I come up with an imagined scenario where you wish you did notown a gun? Just as easily. (And my imagined scenario turns out to be a whole lot more common in real life!)

So I don’t own a gun. What about protecting my family? Well, I’ve been married for 32 years and a parent for 31 years, and my family has remained safe. To be honest with you, home invasion is something I never think about or worry about. Am I “prepared” for it? I don’t know. I trust God and pray for protection everyday. Does that count? I don’t even have a baseball bat. (I quit playing baseball years ago.) I suppose my ice axe could be used as a weapon, but it’s in the basement with the rest of my mountain gear…because that’s it’s purpose, to climb mountains, not to be (mis)used as a weapon.

So it turns out I have no weapons. I’m unprepared for a home invasion. Of course there are endless possibilities of things for which I am unprepared. I was unprepared for my grandson to get cancer, but he did…and we made it through that. If my home gets invaded tonight, I’ll just have to trust God. Am I a fool? I don’t think so. But if so, I’m a fool for Christ. Because, though I haven’t mentioned it yet, my commitment to following Jesus is part of my decision to live without owning lethal weapons. Do you have to agree with my convictions? No. But you should respect them. Of course, someone will remind me of Peter carrying a sword (at least on one occasion). Well…I have a sword. I keep it in what I call my “closet of weird things.” I’ve used it as a sermon prop on a few occasions. Oh, and I just remembered, I also have the jawbone of a donkey. (Kept alongside the sword in the aforementioned closet.) So perhaps I’m armed after all, but only archaically so.

Ultimately I choose to live without guns because, a) I don’t hunt, b) I’m not a police officer, c) I choose to live gently in a violent world. I choose not to help swell the ranks of the armed in our society. I want to contribute to a more peaceable and gentle society. Does that mean I’m unsafe? No, I don’t think so. But if I am unsafe, well, then I choose to be unsafe. Nevertheless, I’m not afraid. And I’m not ashamed to live unarmed. Does that make me less of a man? Oh, please. That argument makes me think someone is compensating for some insecurity. My father, Judge Zahnd, never owned a gun and he’s among the men I admire most. I’m sure that has influenced me. A good influence, I think.

I’ve had guns pointed at me on two occasions. Once in Haiti and once in Nigeria. I didn’t like having a gun pointed at me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. But that doesn’t mean I want to be prepared to point a gun at someone else. I am intentionally, deliberately, thoughtfully unprepared to do that. My defense will have to come from elsewhere. Or not at all. Life is risky. I accept that. Following Jesus is riskier still. I accept that as well.

I’m not writing this to change the mind of Christian gun advocates. (I have a realistic assessment of my persuasive abilities.) I’m writing this in the moderate hope that Christians gun enthusiasts will at the very least respect their brothers and sisters who don’t share their enthusiasm. Neither is this a piece on gun control. I have some strongly held opinions on gun control—opinions that I formed 35 years ago while debating this topic in college—but this isn’t about that. This is simply a little blog on why I don’t own a gun. I don’t own a gun because I don’t need one and I don’t want one. And that is perfectly acceptable. Please try to be at peace with this. As I said, I don’t own golf clubs either, and that’s bound to upset some people too.

Unarmed, Unafraid, Unashamed,

BZ