The Word of Life Church with Brian Zahnd: Beyond a Theology of Terror

My thoughts on this podcast:

Many of you, like me, grew up with or were first introduced to the Gospel with the message that God sent his son to die to save us from eternal, conscious torment in hell. We are told this act shows us the magnitude of God’s love, that he would give his only son to save us wretched sinners. Many however, as the above meme shows, have questioned whether this narrative really does portray a loving God.

I will admit that the idea of a loving God who would send anyone to eternal, conscious torment does not really make sense to me. It especially does not seem to fit with the loving God we see portrayed in Jesus. How could a God that would lay his own life down to rescue us, also send people to Hell?

Even if these ideas trouble us, we know we cannot pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe and which parts to ignore. Somehow there must be a way to reconcile these seemingly contradictory portraits of God.

In this sermon, Brian Zahnd attempts to help us resolve some of this tension. He compares the story in Exodus about Moses asking to see God’s glory to the Transfiguration story in the New Testament. Zahnd reminds us that  rather than see God’s face, Moses was only able to see the back of God (Exodus 33:22-23). In the Transfiguration story, however, Peter, James and John were able to fully look upon God’s glory in Jesus. These two stories, Zahnd argues, show us that while the Old Testament and the Law give us glimpses of God, we are only able to fully see God in Jesus Christ. Rather than trying to combine the portraits of God, we must allow Jesus to be the lens through which we look at the rest of the Bible.

Zahnd goes on to say that the Law and the Old Testament can be used to make a case for a “theology of terror” (using hell to scare people into accepting God), but they are not the complete story. He implores us not to stay looking at the back of God in the Law, but rather to gaze upon the face of God in Jesus Christ.

Many pastors and evangelists have seen the power of a theology of terror; warning people about hell is an effective way to get people to turn to God (Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames, anyone?). But Zahnd asks, why would we “intimidate people with a theology of terror, [when] we can heal people with a theology of love”? As John tells us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18, NIV)


Picture Credit: Meme Guy