BOOK REVIEW- I’ve only just started reading ‘Unconditional’ by Brian Zahnd and I have to say Wow. Zahnd gets to the very core of Jesus’ ministry; love & forgiveness. In the first couple of chapters he discusses stories from holocaust survivors Simon Wiesenthal (‘Sunflowers’), Corrie Ten Boom (‘The Hiding Place’), and Deitrich Bonhoffer (‘The Cost of Discipleship’).
This book is from years ago, but here is a YouTube message he gave at Word of Life church in St. Joseph, Missouri a few months ago where he shares the same thing- Jesus’s call for His followers to share radical, infinite forgiveness. Matthew 5:44 Christianity is the only Christianity that can really change the world.
I began following Zahnd on Twitter and reading articles and blogs he’d written a few months ago and the longer I do the more Scriptural I find his theology and the more Christ-centered and love and grace based I find his opinions.
Zahn is the rare antidote for so much of American evangelicalism- neither the legalism, fear and anger of some hypocritical Pharisee types nor the shallow materialistic empty promises of those preaching nothing but blessing and triumph. This is authentic discipleship. Depth of meaning, sincere hope that isn’t based on or dependent on works-righteousness, but at the same time demands change, commitment and real repentance.
He’ll challenge your thinking and your assumptions.
I want my Christian friends who are prepared to put Jesus ahead of all other political, social and philosophical world views to give him a read. They may just find that the Jesus of the Bible and the early church of the New Testament aren’t what Western society would lead us to believe.
I want my friends who are thinkers, readers, skeptics and searchers to give him a read. They may just find that Jesus and the early church are not as far from the likes of Dostoyevsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Wiesenthal , MLK, Ghandi and others as American evangelicalism would lead us to believe.
And I want those of my friends languishing in limbo who feel like “the Church” doesn’t want them because they’re too worldly but that “the World” also doesn’t want them because they’re too “religious” to give Zahd a read, because they might just find that they aren’t as alone or isolated as they may have been feeling.
His newest book out is actually ‘Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God,‘ which I wanted to read first, but I couldn’t find it in the major Christian bookstore where I looked and I’ll be honest, I was too cheap to order it online- so, when I looked for it at 1/2 Price Books, I found ‘Unconditional’ instead. I’m glad I did. I look forward to reading ‘Sinners’ next, even if I have to pay full price.
God’s Love and Ours 1 John 4:7-21
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Today’s scripture in our Lutheran churches was 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.
Ironically, the conventional wisdom among American Christians is to use this passage to indignantly boast about how we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong; about evolution, climate-change, gay marriage, abortion, etc. etc. You name it. Or perhaps it is tied with John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” to reinforce that all other world religions are wrong wrong wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe what Jesus says about Himself in John 14:6. I’m not a universalist, but I also believe that God doesn’t want ANYONE to perish (2 Peter 3:9) that’s WHY He sent His Son (John 3:16).
But I wonder if we Christians are missing the point God is trying to make to us through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when we presume to use this passage to support our theological, philosophical, cultural and political biases. Especially when you consider who/what/when/where the early church was compared to who/what we are today.
Of course 1st century Jews wanted a sign, some kind of proof that this upstart sect were following the true messiah. They had been God’s chosen people for thousands of years already. Of course the gentiles are going to scrutinize a group who worships someone who allowed Himself to be crucified. Why would that make sense? Their philosophy, technology, jurisprudence, economy, and military might had conquered and civilized the known world at the time.
Sure, its great to think of yourself as special, exceptional, and best of all “right” when the rest of the world is out of control, confusing, complicated, rapidly changing, even insane. But I contend that this passage is not about us. It’s not about Christians. It’s not about being right or being wise or being ridiculed or persecuted or made fun of or marginalized. It’s not about these things, because it’s not about us. It’s about God.
God is Love- “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 And “LOVE is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
How often do we pine to be proved right, to be vindicated. To win an argument with the unsaved world by having God walk up behind us and corroborate our correctness. We want to win. Win the culture wars, win the elections, win the battle for the most ratings, win win win. But stop and think about how Jesus won our salvation.
Yeah, by giving up His sovereignty, His glory, His authority, His comfort, His safety, security and tranquility. He won us, He once and for all brought about peace and cessation of hostilities between ourselves and God the Father by allowing Himself to be spat on, tortured, and executed unjustly.
Jesus is completely counterintuitive. We want to have the world punished and banished. He wants to love THEM and gather THEM under His wings.
Are we like the resentful older brother in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 or the workers hired first in the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20? Like Jonah, are we going to be mad as Hell if/when God doesn’t go ahead and smite Nineveh after all?
What if when we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, instead of assuming that it’s about Christianity, what if we read it through the filter of the Cross and Christ crucified? When I think about God using foolish things (verses 27-28), I don’t think of a mighty prophet like Jonah, so much as a humble worm that ate Jonah’s shade (Jonah 4:7).
When I consider Christ, I don’t think of crusades or defending the faith, or maintaining traditions. I think of compassion. Welcoming little children, healing the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, providing justice for the stranger and alien, stilling the storm. Sitting with tax collectors and prostitutes, not condemning the adulteress, and chasing the money-changers from His Father’s house, so that it might be a house of prayer.
If you want control, influence, or authority, you probably aren’t going to pursue altruism, humility, servanthood, mercy, patience, kindness, vulnerability or trust. But if you want relationships, you really should consider all of those things, but be prepared to surrender control, influence, and authority.
Understandably, many Christians are impatient with our government for not lowering more shock and awe onto the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria which call them selves the “Islamic State (ISIS).” But before we start thumping the drums of war, we should remember 2 Corinthians 10:3 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” How does Jesus wage war? In Matthew 5:44 Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He tells us in Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Love, prayer, kindness and generosity are our weapons if we’re genuinely following Christ’s command, not money, propaganda, or drone strikes- love.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2 just how Jesus waged war-
“6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
That’s NUTS? Jesus must be some kind of a NUT!
But what if more non-Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists encountered this truly Christ-like attitude among those of us who call ourselves “Christian?”
I bet they’d be confused. WOuld they be as afraid of us as we seem to be of them?
“18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:18-21
Many people pretty much live every day motivated only by, as Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson put it, “fear and loathing.”
They fear and absolutely hate, loath, & detest our government. But as I understand it, since we elect our representatives from our population, essentially we are our government. Therefore, they fear and loath themselves. They fear and loath all of us.
I can understand this. People are basically selfish and evil. Thomas Hobbes believed that we are all in a constant state of war. Defending our property, competing for more.
Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Human nature is bad.
If you’ve shown enough tenacity to read this whole blog entry so far, I dare you to read Romans, chapter 12. Rom 12 is to St. Paul what Matthew 5 is to Jesus Christ Himself.
Rom 12 tells us how love should live.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King pointed to Rom 12 when he told us to stop being soft headed and hard hearted and instead be tender hearted and tough minded. Former Harvard & Princeton professor Dr. Cornell West says that justice is what love looks like out in the real world. I bet he’s read Rom 12.
I promise you, I’m not some kind of new aged hippie with the warm- fuzzies. My theology is conservative enough that 1) I believe God spoke through the Apostle Paul, Paul didn’t just make this stuff up and 2) God means what He said. Romans 12 isn’t some liberal utopian hubris, God actually wants us to live this way.
Two of my favorite verses outside of Matthew 5 & Romans 12 are from 1 John-
1 John 4:7, 18
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
What a miserable life if you live it driven by fear and loathing; basing most of your decisions on worry or indignation, anxiety & anger. “Prepping” for the day the “shrimp hits the fan.”
That’s not how I want to live, nor is it the kind of country I want to live and vote in. Wouldn’t you rather live where people are living out Romans 12?
You haven’t read it yet?
Want a bigger challenge? Re-read it for 12 days in a row. Each of those 12 days pray about it, ask God to help you live by the principles found in Romans 12. Get some other people to read it too and ask them what they think about it.
Go read it right now and come back here and post your comments about it- let’s have an online discussion! ( not about this post, about Rom 12).
Here’s a link, go read it now!!! Romans 12 on Bible Gateway.com
“Look up, not down- Look out, not in- Look forward, not backward-
and lend a hand.”
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” -1 John 4:18
Which are you going to live by- control, top-down, authoritarian, law, secrecy, hierarchy, defensive, restrictive, reactive, critical, directive, etc.?
Or… community, bottom-up, open, progressive, egalitarian, transparent, proactive, positive, collaborative, inductive, supportive, encouraging?
I am tired of living with anxiety about disapproval. As a Christian, I want to live by Luther’s suggestion to “sin boldly.”
As an American I have an aversion to tyranny, but it’s not a selfish freedom from accountability and balance that I seek. I want a liberty that’s tempered by responsibility to others. The three-legged stool of democracy needs equality & justice too.
As an educator, I want to trust my students to Lenard and grow and fail. I want my classroom to be a safe place to take risks.
Hope must be vulnerable. Faith is not security. Love is not static, nor is it comfortable.
I will offend and threaten. I will make mistakes. I will be wrong.
But perseverance, tenacity, & resilience, indeed, character & faith, hope only develop through challenge.
Accuse me of reductionism or relativism if you want, but I choose joy over indignation, connection over control, humility over humiliation, hope over cynicism, pragmatism over pessimism, and above all love over fear.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” -FDR
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7