Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd

33163181I learned about Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," in my tenth grade English class when I was assigned to study it and give a presentation about it. It certainly wasn't my first encounter with the concept of an angry and vengeful God, but I remember being quite disturbed by reading Edwards' sermon. I've known Jesus to be loving and forgiving, but I've always struggled with the violent portraits of God presented in the Old Testament of the Bible. I've read the OT multiple times, and each time it disturbs me and threatens the faith I've carried since I was a teenager. Those struggles have led me to study and read the Bible to find the answer to the disconnect between the Old Testament and New Testament conceptions of God.

That struggle has led me to read a lot of books on the subject recently, one of which is an upcoming book by Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

I should begin by saying that Zahnd challenges a lot of the traditional theological assumptions I grew up, and while there are a few things I feel like I need to think and study more about in the book, I found myself agreeing with much of what Zahnd says in the book. He begins with the clear contrast between the God of the Old Testament who commands genocide and the Jesus of the New Testament commands people to love their enemies.

"Does God change?" Zahnd asks. If God doesn't change, an which is a theological belief that most orthodox Christians accept, then we're left with questioning whether the Old Testament or the New Testament more fully reveals the nature and character of God. The NT itself claims that Jesus is the most perfect revelation of God, which means we have to interpret the violent conceptions of God in the OT in light of who Jesus is. This leads to what I've already been reading about in Greg Boyd's new book on the subject, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, a reading of the Old Testament that reveals that Israel's (and humanity's) understanding of God was incomplete because of the cultural climate they lived in. They made assumptions about God that were incorrect.

It doesn't mean the Bible is full of mistakes. It means that God introduced himself to the world and worked within the world to progressively reveal more about himself over time until he was most fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. God has never been a God to command genocide. The false gods of the ancient near east were those types of gods. Yahweh was and is different, but it took the Israelites many generations to understand that. They couldn't see God, so it's easy to understand how they might have made some incorrect assumptions. When people were finally able to see and hear God in Jesus, many of those assumptions were revealed to be false. God has always been loving, and we interpret the Old Testament in light of the full revelation of God in Jesus.

As someone who has always held a high view of Scripture, I have to admit that this way of looking at the Bible feels a little off. But as I wrestle with it, what Zahnd proposes makes a lot of sense. I have hard time with many of the depictions of God in the Old Testament, and the idea that the writers of the Old Testament may have attributed some things to Yahweh just because that's what the other nations did with their gods brings a lot of comfort. I'll continue to wrestle with it, I'm sure, but Zahnd's book does much to elevate God's loving nature over caricatures of him as violent vengeful deity that don't match up with the nature of God revealed in Jesus.

The rest of the book is further elaboration on the initial ideas presented in the first couple chapters. Zahnd takes his framework of God's love as revealed in Jesus and applies to other troubled areas people struggle with when they think about God. These areas include theories of the atonement, hell, and the interpretation of Revelation.

Zahnd's book gives me a lot to think about and continue to wrestle with when it comes to the nature of God. The book releases on August 15, 2017.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

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