there is a better way

by Oak Hill Studio

Some insightful thoughts from Brian Zahnd’s new book:

“The church always faces the temptation to turn its gaze from the beauty of the cruciform and look instead to ‘the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.’ (Matthew 4:8) The beauty of the cruciform is a subtle and hidden beauty, like the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa. …  When we lose sight of the subtle beauty of the cruciform we become seduced by the power, prestige, and pragmatism of politics.  To borrow Tolkien’s theme, we become seduced by the ring of power.  The ring of power is the enemy of beauty.”

“Of course we supply ourselves with copious reasons as to why our fascination with conventional power is a good thing: ‘We want the power to do good.’  ‘We want the power to do good in the world.’  ‘We have to take a stand against evil.’  But without realizing it, we are being subtly seduced into thinking there is a better way to go about achieving righteousness and justice than by taking up the cross and following Jesus.  We begin to think that if we can just get Caesar on our side, if we can just get the emperor to hold a National Prayer Breakfast, we can then baptize the ways and means of the empire and at least accomplish ‘great things for God.’  And here’s the thing: Caesar is more than willing to employ the church as a chaplain, as long as the church will endorse (with a bit of religious flourish) the ways and means of the empire.  Of course the ways and means of the empire are the ways and means of political and military domination.  There’s no beauty in that. Politics is never pretty.  Everyone knows that.  Thus the church sacrifices the beauty of Christianity when it chooses the political form over the cruciform.”

“But why would we do it?  Why would we sacrifice the enchanting beauty of Christianity for the ugly machine of politics?  Because political power is so—and there’s no other word for it—pragmatic.  We’re convinced ‘it works.'”

“To achieve good through attaining political and military dominance has always–always!— been the way of the fallen world.  We seem to lack the imagination to envisage any other way.  But it’s not the Jesus way.  It’s not the way of cruciform.”

“Jesus does not save the world by adopting the ways and means of political pragmatism and becoming the best Caesar the world has ever seen.  Instead Jesus saves the world by suffering the worst crime humanity is capable of—the crime of deicide (the murder of God).  On the cross Jesus absorbed our hate and hostility, our vengeance and violence into His own body and recycled it into love and forgiveness.  By His wounds we are healed. (1 Peter 2:24) By His beauty we are saved.”

“The third-century theologian Origen observed that ‘the marvel of Christ is that, in a world where power, riches, and violence seduce hearts and compel assent, he persuades and prevails not as a tyrant, an armed assailant, or a man of wealth, but simply as a teacher of God and His love.’  Commenting on this, Dvid Bentley Hart says, ‘Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire…Such an account (of Christ) must inevitably make an appeal to beauty.’ ...Christ persuades, not by the force of Caesar, but by the beauty of love.”