Bad Christian memes, Brian Zahnd edition

I’ve been critical of the theology of pastor Brian Zahnd on a couple of occasions (here and here). Courtesy of Derek Rishmawy, I encountered yet another objectionable statement, this one in the form of a meme. I like Rishmawy’s response:


Zahnd, like Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Fred Clark, and many others, is a self-described former conservative evangelical or “fundamentalist” who eventually saw the light, as he sees it, and moved to the theological left. If I’m unusually sensitive to thinkers such as these, it’s because I moved in the opposite direction: After an evangelical childhood, I identified as a progressive Christian for much of my adult life—a theological turn that nearly ruined my soul. So I want to warn others: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

I also fear that many of these former evangelicals experience a political conversion prior to their theological conversion. And because they’ve conflated evangelicalism with voting a certain way, they soon abandon evangelicalism altogether—in all but name, at least. In Britain, however, from which so many brilliant evangelicals hail, this confusion of politics and theology doesn’t happen nearly as much.

N.T. Wright, for example, seems like a political lefty to me, even though he’s theologically conservative—including on hot-button social issues that, in America at least, are usually identified with the Religious Right.

So if you’re a political liberal who’s evangelical, look across the pond and find your role models! But please don’t abandon your commitment to the authority of scripture!

Be that as it may, New Zealand theologian Glenn Peoples was surely speaking of Christian bloggers such as Zahnd when he wrote the following in a recent blog post:

Self-styled progressive Christian blogs, it seems to me, are almost a purely reactionary phenomenon, rather than a constructive one. They exist as an almost visceral reaction to fundamentalism, very often to the writer’s own perceived fundamentalist past. What seems obvious to me in many discussions of Scripture in these settings is that there is a remarkable obsession with the doctrine of inerrancy – far more so than in conservative circles. The preoccupation with saying at every opportunity that inerrancy is false seems to set the agenda, so that whatever the authors of Scripture might have actually wanted to say takes a back seat to the really important message (namely that inerrancy is false).

In other words, the message from so many of these bloggers is that the Bible is wrong, or deficient, or insufficient, or unreliable, or less than fully truthful—and hardly a secure foundation on which to build one’s Christian faith.

Zahnd’s statement is a prime example of this.

Notice the false choice he sets up: one has to choose between Jesus or the Bible. As if we can know who Jesus is independently of scripture! 

Honestly: What can we know about God’s eternal plan of salvation, for which Christ’s death and resurrection is the climax, apart from scripture, whose authors were inspired by God to write what they wrote? Unless I’m badly mistaken, nothing at all!

Yes, in a sense Jesus is what “God has to say.” But apart from scripture, not only can we not know who Jesus is, we also can’t interpret what God was trying to tell us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

The whole thing reminds me of a recent online argument I had with a fellow United Methodist blogger who ridiculed me for referring to the Bible as “God’s Word.” The Bible isn’t God’s Word, he told me (as if I, having gone to mainline Protestant seminary, hadn’t heard this before); Jesus is God’s Word.

Since Jesus himself refers to the Bible as God’s Word, I believe we should, too. The Bible is God’s written-down-Word. When has the Church taught otherwise? And, yes, Jesus is the Word-made-flesh, as John’s gospel tells us. Both are true. I can’t believe that Zahnd doesn’t understand this.

3 thoughts on “Bad Christian memes, Brian Zahnd edition”

  1. Peoples describes perfectly the approach of Bart Ehrman. If one listens to the various debates in which Ehrman has participated (Youtube has dozens) Ehrman seems fixated on proving the implausibility of inerrancy rather than addressing the real issue of the reliability and authority of Scripture.

    Peoples also describes a number of bloggers on the progressive side. At least two come to mind, one of whom fixates on demonstrating the horrors of penal substitution.

    Jim Lung

    1. Ehrman is absolutely obsessed with the question! Even though he’s agnostic, he has much in common with progressive Christian bloggers. I wonder why he didn’t just become one?

      Inerrancy and penal substitution are definitely the two main hobby horses for progressive Christian bloggers.

  2. I totally agree, and one is left to think about the poor Old Testament authors and people living in that time were short changed somehow because Jesus hadn’t arrived in the scene, in the flesh that is. I wonder, and I say this sarcastically, how they managed with the partial gospel, and just the scriptures. Must have been a greater miracle than I once thought. I just don’t buy the movement of a lot of definitive truth coated with questions that lead to questioning the very definitive truth it coats.
    Sorry if that doesn’t make sense but that is what it seemed like to me.

    A pastor from New Jersey!

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