Not only do I love the title of Brian Zahnd’s latest book, but I also love the ideas themselves. In Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (see: Amazon link), Brian tackles many of the cultural images we’ve developed to formulate an angry-god-in-the-sky theology.
One of the best parts of the book is the way Brian helps the reader to rightly value and use the Bible without making it the focus above Jesus Himself. I’ve met many Christians who either dramatically devalue the Bible and spend little to no time reading it or those who dramatically overvalue it and treat it as if it is God itself and worthy of worship. Brian helps to navigate this tension. As he profoundly highlights, “God did not become a book, but God did become a human being.”
Sometimes the Bible is like a Rorschach test: our interpretation of the text reveals more about ourselves than about God.
What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus. The Bible itself is not a perfect picture of God, but it does point us to the One who is. This is what orthodox Christianity has always said.
The Incarnation is the ultimate act of divine self-disclosure. It’s Jesus, not the Bible, that is the perfect revelation of God.
The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect theology is not found in abstract thought; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived. What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus,
When we speak of the Word of God, Christians should think of Jesus first and the Bible second. It’s Jesus who is the true Word of God, not the Bible. The Bible is the word of God in a secondary sense, faithfully pointing us to the perfect Word of God: the Word made flesh. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets point toward and finally bow down to. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets were always trying to say but could never fully articulate.
The question isn’t “What does the Bible say?” The Bible says lots of things. The question is “What does the living Word of God to which the Bible points us have to say?”
With a healthy understanding of the role of the Bible we are better able to see Jesus (since all of the Scriptures point us to Him). Here are some of my favorite quotes about Jesus from this book.
People have never seen God until they see Jesus. Every other portrait of God, from whatever source, is subordinate to the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament is the inspired telling of the story of Israel coming to know their God. It’s a process. God doesn’t evolve, but Israel’s understanding of God obviously does.
At the cross we discover that the God revealed in Christ would rather die in the name of love than kill in the name of freedom. In Christianity the supreme value is not freedom but love. We can kill in the name of freedom, but in the name of love we suffer and forgive.
The crucifixion is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive; the crucifixion is what God endures in Christ as he forgives.
Forgiveness is not receiving payment for a debt; forgiveness is the gracious cancellation of debt. There is no payment in forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace.
Jesus did not shed his blood to buy God’s forgiveness; Jesus shed his blood to embody God’s forgiveness!
Brian also has a chapter on the book of Revelation that was so good. I think Revelation is the most misunderstood book in the Bible and has led to all manner of bizarre theologies. Here are a few great insights on it from this book.
Part of the divine comedy of Revelation is how the beasts of empire are conquered, not by another beast, but by a tiny slaughtered Lamb. The elder tells John to look for a lion: “Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” But a lion is never seen. What is seen is the Lamb. Jesus is referred to as the Lamb twenty-eight times in Revelation.
If you believe there must be a megawar in the Middle East before Jesus can return, you’re going to be a lousy peacemaker! A fatalistic eschatology requiring end-time hyperviolence that slaughters hundreds of millions is more befitting of ISIS than the followers of the Prince of Peace.
Jesus doesn’t shed the blood of enemies; Jesus sheds his own blood.
The book of Revelation is not where the good news of the gospel goes to die.
The book of Revelation is where the good news of the gospel finds its most creative expression.