by Brian Zahnd
In my forties, I made the faith-saving discovery that Jesus can turn weak, watered-down Christianity into rich, robust, intoxicating Christianity. I describe my experience as my water-to-wine journey. I know what it is to let go of anti-intellectual theology, doom-oriented eschatology, ticket-to-heaven soteriology, hyper-individualized ecclesiology and discover that something far, far better had been there all along. Ever since my initial encounter with Christ as a teenager, I instinctively knew that Jesus was the beauty that saves the world. What I faced in midlife wasn’t a deficiency in Jesus but a falseness that marred the beauty of Christ.
Think of an ancient icon of Christ. Imagine that a thousand-year-old Christ Pantocrator painted on a wooden panel is discovered in some forgotten monastery. The image of Christ is there, but it’s covered with a thick layer of grime, dirt, and soot that has accumulated over centuries and has nearly obliterated the image of Christ. Now imagine that a restoration artist is given the task of returning the icon to its original vibrancy and beauty. Think about how the restoration artist goes about her work. Among her tools for art restoration, we will find brushes and solvents, but we won’t find a sledgehammer or explosives. We can’t restore art with the same tools we use to demolish a parking garage. Demolition is easy—any fool can do it. But restoration requires wisdom, knowledge, respect, and patience.
Christianity in the twenty-first century may be like a lost icon found in a forgotten monastery. Christian faith has indeed been distorted over the centuries by layers of varnish, lacquer, dirt, and grime. The beautiful image of Christ has been obscured by the imposition of cultural assumptions, political agendas, distorted doctrines, and the corrupting influence of empire. Fundamentalism, literalism, nationalism, and consumerism have created layers of varnish that distort the beautiful image of Christ. But as we seek to remove these contaminants and recover the beauty of Christ, we cannot employ cynical and violent methods. If we do, we run the risk of destroying the priceless treasure in the process. We must be patient and reverent. If all we want to do is deconstruct and destroy the Christian faith, we can swing an angry sledgehammer or burn it all down. But if we want to restore Christian faith, patience and gentleness of wisdom are required.
Taken from When Everything’s on Fire by Brian Zahnd. Copyright (c) 2021 by Brian Zahnd. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
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