A friend asked me what I thought about pastor Brian Zahnd and his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. I had not heard of him or the book. So I got the book and I was disturbed by what I read.
Zahnd thinks that the Bible is filled with contradictions and pagan ideas (like animal sacrifices and substitutionary atonement!).
Concerning the Bible, he writes, “the Bible is the word [sic] of God in a secondary sense, faithfully pointing to the perfect Word [sic] of God: the Word [sic] made flesh” (p. 50). The Bible is not “the perfect Word of God”? Instead, the Bible is an imperfect “word of God in a secondary sense”? “Christians are to believe in the perfect, infallible, inerrant Word of God—and his name is Jesus” (p. 13).
So, the Bible is corrected by Jesus? No. False understandings of the Bible were corrected by Jesus in His public preaching and teaching. The Lord endorsed the entire Old Testament. The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is inspired and inerrant. It is precisely what God says to us. But not for Zahnd and others in the emerging church movement.
Zahnd practices contemplative prayer. He sits quietly and waits to meet with Jesus in his contemplation. While he contemplates, Jesus supposedly reveals Himself to Zahnd. This enables him to learn things about Jesus which are not found in the Bible. In fact, it allows him to grasp what the Bible really is teaching.
So Zahnd checks his understanding of the Bible against his experiential understanding of who Jesus is: “As I learned to directly experience the presence of God in contemplative prayer—or sitting with Jesus, as I describe it—I have come to know God as light and love. I have seen the face of God in Jesus” (p. 204, emphasis added).
Here are few of Zahnd’s disturbing conclusions about the Bible:
- The Bible is not our final authority: “If we want to make the Bible our final authority, which is an act of idolatry, we are conveniently ignoring the problem that we can make the Bible say just about whatever we want” (p. 63). Amazingly, that is precisely what Zahnd himself does.
- The Bible needs saving: “Jesus is the Savior of all this is to be saved…including the Bible. Jesus saves the Bible from itself! Jesus shows us how to read the Bible and not be harmed by it. Jesus delivers the Bible from its addiction to violent retaliation” (p. 57, emphasis added). “I don’t regard the Old Testament as the perfect revelation of God” (p. 60). “There needs to be some way of adjudicating what texts are definitive in the Bible, especially on the subject of violence” (p. 69). “The Bible itself is on the quest to discover the Word of God” (p. 15).
- The Bible isn’t perfect: “The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God: Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect theology is not found in abstract, though; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived” (p. 31).
The Bible is not some “secondary” witness to the Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God.
Yes, Jesus is also called “the Word,” the Logos (John 1:1, 14). And once He is called “the Word of God” (Rev 19:13). Jesus is the Personification of God’s revelation. Everything He said were the words of God, every bit as authoritative as Scripture. Everything He did were the works of God. But we cannot see or speak with Jesus during contemplative experiences. The writings of Zahnd show that the insights he has gained have not come from God.
I do not recommend this book, except for pastors and Christian educators. They should be aware of what is going on in the emerging church movement. But let the reader beware. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God is a dangerous book.