Friday, June 29, 2012

Escaping from the Spiritual Shallow End

Last year I read a great book by Brian Zahnd entitled Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. . It was the best book I read in 2011. I have been following Brian's blog and Twitter feed and highy respect his ministry, even though at times I have disagreed with him.

I was intrigued to discover and read this interview of Brian Zahnd by Trevin Wax discussing Brian's theological odyssey, finding that some of his journey parallels my own. Wax says:
...I discovered how interesting his theological pilgrimage has been. One friend said Brian used to preach like Joel Osteen but now sounds more like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I invited Brian to the blog to talk about his journey and how it has affected his congregation.
 Trevin Wax: Brian, you’ve had an interesting theological journey in ministry – from Word of Faith type teaching to a celebration of Christianity’s core teachings throughout history. First, tell us about your ministry at the outset - what you were about as a preacher of God’s Word and the vision you had for your local congregation.
Brian Zahnd: I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in the -60s and -70s but was most influenced by the Jesus Movement. I experienced a rather dramatic conversion when I was 15, and within a couple of years, I was leading a coffeehouse ministry; it was primarily a Christian music venue with an emphasis on evangelism. By the time I was 22, the coffeehouse ministry had become a full-fledged church (Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri).

From my earliest days as a teenage Christian leader, my passion was to call people into a life of following Jesus. That passion has remained consistent over the years. Because the Jesus Movement was closely associated with the charismatic movement, our church took on many of the aspects of charismatic Christianity.

By the late -90s, our church had grown to several thousand, and my primary emphasis in preaching could be described as “faith and victory.” Though I think I can honestly say I eschewed the more egregious forms of “prosperity teaching,” I was certainly identified with the Word of Faith movement. The common thread from the Jesus Movement to the Word of Faith movement (whether I was being influenced by Keith Green or Lester Sumrall) was a deep desire to bring people into a vibrant and authentic Christian experience.

Trevin Wax: What initiated your movement away from Word of Faith teaching to something more in line with historic Christian orthodoxy?

Brian Zahnd: Eventually I just found it too thin. It simply didn’t have enough to say. Despite its alleged emphasis on “the Word,” the text actually used in the Word of Faith movement could be reduced to a pamphlet; it’s a highly selective reading of Scripture. It also became apparent that Word of Faith teaching lacked any serious theological reflection.

Disillusioned with an anti-intellectual, paper-thin, contemporary Christianity, I felt a need to discover the historic faith. Almost in desperation, I went searching for my spiritual heritage—like an orphan in search of his family. Not knowing where else to start, I began by reading Augustine (Confessions and The City of God). Later I read The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Bruce Wilken, and without trying to sound overly dramatic, it changed my life.

Eventually, I purchased the 38-volume set of The Early Church Fathers and began to explore the theology of Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, etc. Now there was no going back. I had emerged from the tiny closet of contemporary American Christianity into the vast cathedral of the Great Tradition...
Much more at the link! Let's all get out of the shallow end of the spiritual pool; It's much more exciting diving and swimming in the deep end.