Brian Zahnd. Sinners in the Hands of a love God, The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News (Colorado Springs, CO, 2017). 210 pp. 10. 39.
Have you ever read a book that you could agree with at one point; and then at others completely disagree with? This was my honest reaction to Brian Zahnd’s new book. I loved how he traced the good news of Jesus Christ is good news, not a news that scares one into not going into hell. In this book, Brian Zahnd shows personal readings of looking at some of the Fire and Brimstone preachers and seeing how now he cannot just agree with them. Throughout this short review, I will lay out two negative critiques I had and then lay out why this book needs to be read.
Throughout the book, Zahnd is trying to show that Johnathon Edwards in his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of the Angry God, got it wrong. Zahnd accomplishes it throughout his book by ending it with the climatic version of the Bible by looking at Revelation; or as I personally like to call the gospel of the anti-empire.
The first critique I had of this book is quite simple and might sound tedious, but it is an important factor that must be addressed. In the first chapter when the author address Edwards’ sinners in the hands of the angry God, never once does he quote the original passage that Edwards was preaching from. Johnathan Edwards was preaching from the passage Deuteronomy 32:35. Where it states, “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly (Deut 32:35 ESV). Edwards is preaching from a text in the Old Testament. Zahnd later on in the book claims, “The Bible is not perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology” (Zahnd 31). While I agree with this statement, but if we are honest we could not see why Jesus had to come if it was not for the law in which Edwards is preaching from. The Bible is a means in which God is showing how his plan is going to work out.
The second critique I have of this book makes me second guess why I became a Christian. Want to read a little bit about my journey check out my blog at https://seandots.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/to-those-who-despise-the-cross/, word of caution I do not agree with everything I have posted on there now. I am more of a traditionalist that believes there is a physical hell, but my views are not what is being addressed. Brian Zahnd states, “The Justice of God is not retributive; the justice of God is restorative. Justice that purely retributive changes nothing. The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon; the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love” (Zahnd 86). The author here is attacking the stance of penal substitution theory of the atonement.
NT Wright argues in his new book that we need this, but not just one view of the atonement is right. Brian is not truly understanding the concept. Honestly God’s justice should be retributive and restorative, if we ignore that God has a sense of justice that leans towards retributive then we must get rid of the whole Old Testament. Francis Chan states in his book, Erasing Hell, that he co-wrote with Preston Spinkle, “Paul had some frightening things to say about the eternal destiny of those who reject Jesus in this life, but he loved those people like crazy. His life was devoted to seeing them reconciled to God. He even begged people to pursue the healing and salvation that only Jesus offers (2 Cor. 5:20) (Chan 147). Or as Paul shows in Romans 9:1-5 he wishes himself accursed if that means others can know Christ.
This book needs to be read by a lot of Christians because Zahnd is showing the overarching story of the bible. Not just one aspect of the Bible, he shows that Jesus is calling us to look different. Once we say that Jesus is God our lives should change but that does not mean that we can understand everything about after this life.
Although I have some disagreements with this book, Brian Zahnd did an excellent job looking at what it means to follow Jesus. There were times in the book I would cringe and there were times I was yelling preach. I will not write about it in this review but I might address in a blog later but something does need to be addressed. Some of the authors take on atheistic beliefs seems to suggest that he does not understand where they are coming from (Zahnd 92). As multiple atheists, have put it to me, “I am an atheist because I find no compelling reasons to believe that such a deity exists.”
This book is a good way of addressing that God is not just full of wrath, but the one question that I took away, how does one become a Christian? The book is not addressing this needs but the book seems to suggest following Jesus is that one day the world will be better, but there is no reason in living in him here. Because of the rise of humanism and other set beliefs that preach we will make the world better. If we take his argument to the ultimate extreme, then many of these humanist groups are actually the church and they ignore Jesus.