This is the fouth part of my review of Brian Zahnd’s teaching at The Meeting House. For some context, you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In this series I am reviewing Zahnd’s sermon and a Roundtable podcast he participated in during his visit to The Meeting House.
His sermon was called “Bad Idea: The Bible Trumps Jesus” in which he argues for an incoherent view of Scripture. To Zahnd, the Bible is inconsistent, contradictory, and contains erroneous “assumptions” about God. Because of this, he advocates that we interpret all of Scripture through the lens of Jesus.
In this post I’m going to address something Zahnd says which, frankly, frightens me.
This quote, taken from the end of Zahnd’s message is perhaps the most perplexing mess of unbiblical teaching, illogical thinking, and incoherent view of Scripture you will find.
“We’re not trying to be biblical. You say ‘*gasp* We’re not!?’ We’re trying to be Christ-like… We’re not Bibli-ites, we’re Christians! I love the Bible! I love the Bible! If you ask me ‘what is the Old Testament?’ It’s the inspired story, the inspired telling of Israel’s story of coming to know the living God, but along the way assumptions are made but what you have to do is just stay on the journey until you get to Jesus. You see the problem with ‘biblical’, you know, biblical principles, ‘Well let’s govern according to biblical principles’ well you can administrate the institution of slavery according to biblical principles! This is one of the embarrassing things about the Bible. The Bible does not present ever, in Old or New Testaments, a clear denunciation of slavery but it seems to accept it as an inevitable institution. But for the Christian that doesn’t matter! Because, in the light of Christ we come to understand that every human being is endowed with dignity and bears the image of God and must be treated as we would want ourselves to be treated. We derive that from the light of Christ.” (28:07)
It is seriously troubling that a man who calls himself a minister of the gospel could stand up in front of a congregation, and say such absolutely foolish, ignorant, blasphemous things, all in an attempt to confuse them about Scripture and shake their confidence in it. Bruxy Cavey, the supposed undershepherd of this flock, sits among them and approves, because he believes the very same thing.
Let’s break down this mess, shall we?
Zahnd says: “We’re not trying to be biblical… We’re trying to be Christ-like… We’re not Bibli-ites, we’re Christians!”
Apparently, Zahnd is arguing here against the idea that we should be biblical and not Christ-like. Maybe he knows of people who espouse such a view, but I’m inclined to believe he’s presenting a straw man here.
If you catch what Zahnd is saying, he is saying that if you are Christ-like you will not be biblical, and if you’re biblical you will not be Christ-like. If words have meaning, he is saying that Christ was not biblical. This despite the fact that Zahnd has already told us that the Bible infallibly points us to Jesus somehow, and John 5 teaches that Jesus was perfectly consistent with Scripture (as I demonstrated in Part 3). This is impossible if Jesus was not biblical.
Jesus Christ, God the Son, second person of the Trinity, in perfect unity with the Father and Holy Spirit, is not only thoroughly and perfectly biblical – he, along with the Father and Spirit, is the origin and author of Scripture. All of Scripture is a reflection of his character and carries all of his authority. All Christians should strive to be biblical, because there is no meaningful distinction between being biblical and being Christ-like.
The contradiction Zahnd supposes between being biblical and being Christ-like only exists on his view because he follows a different Jesus. Zahnd follows a false Jesus informed by his own personal preferences and spiritual delusions, not God’s revelation in Scripture. Of course Zahnd’s Jesus contradicts Scripture, he’s just a glorified version of Brian Zahnd!
Zahnd says: “I love the Bible! I love the Bible! If you ask me ‘what is the Old Testament?’ It’s the inspired story, the inspired telling of Israel’s story of coming to know the living God, but along the way assumptions are made but what you have to do is just stay on the journey until you get to Jesus.”
Well, let’s “stay on the journey until we get to Jesus”, shall we? If you ask Jesus what the Old Testament was, it was God speaking, it could not be broken, it is the truth by which we are sanctified, and was completely consistent with his own earthly ministry. If you ask Paul what the Old Testament was, it was is the oracles of God, ALL OF IT it was breathed by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God could be complete and equipped for every good work. “God says” and “Scripture says” were synonymous to him. If you ask Peter what the Old Testament was, it was men speaking from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, none of it has it’s origin in man and it was more sure than hearing the voice of God from heaven. If you ask the author of Hebrews, the Old Testament was God speaking to his people directly through prophets. Nowhere does Jesus or any apostle or prophet teach that the Old Testament contains errant “assumptions made along the way”.
Furthermore, If you ask Irenaeus (died 202 AD) he would say the Old Testament is Scripture, the ground and pillar of our faith handed down by God himself and that when you stray from it in any way you create another god for yourself. If you ask Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) he would tell you the Old Testament is spoken by the Holy Ghost in the same way the New Testament was and that we ought not speak a single casual statement without proof from them. Augustine (354-430 AD) believed there was not a single statement in any of Scripture, including the Old Testament that had any possibility of being mistaken or misleading. Chrysostom (349-407) would tell you that anyone who doesn’t believe all of the Old Testament simply is not a Christian.
The witness of Jesus, the prophets, the apostles, and the historical church stands against what Zahnd has said here.
Zahnd, though, (and Bruxy Cavey) cannot allow this, because their view of Jesus clashes head-on with the Old Testament. They are forced by their preconceived idea of Jesus to see the Old Testament (and some of the New) as presenting error as if true. While it contains many truths about God, it also contains many false “assumptions” that the people of God made about him (Bruxy rejects the necessity of blood atonement on these grounds – see here). Exactly what Zahnd means by “inspired” is a mystery. What aspect of this “story” is inspired and what meaningful way does it impact the content? It seems he’s just using the word because he has to in order to appear somewhat orthodox.
Don’t tell me these men “love the Bible”, or are following Jesus when they do not have the same view of Scripture as Jesus and his apostles and handle the word of God with such brazen mockery, disrespect and unbelief.
Zahnd says: “You see the problem with ‘biblical’, you know, biblical principles, ‘Well let’s govern according to biblical principles’ well you can administrate the institution of slavery according to biblical principles! This is one of the embarrassing things about the Bible. The Bible does not present ever, in Old or New Testaments, a clear denunciation of slavery but it seems to accept it as an inevitable institution.”
This is particularly fascinating. Zahnd is admitting here that The Scriptures do not denounce slavery explicitly. He’s right in a way, and neither did Jesus. The Scriptures never say “thou shalt not have a slave”. That’s because Scripture makes a lot of distinctions on the issue of slavery that Zahnd is happy to ignore. He is entirely willing to just throw the word “slavery” out there and allow his hearers to operate on whatever assumptions they have regarding what exactly he’s talking about.
Also, he is right that based on biblical principles one could administrate a form of slavery. But, this is only embarrassing to Zahnd because he refuses to approach the Scripture on it’s own terms. It’s only embarrassing to Zahnd’s personal sensibilities which he holds in authority over Scripture.
Again, Zahnd demonstrates an ignorance and inability to handle Scripture. First, our modern context in the West is very different from the context in which biblical slavery was necessary. That said, if we were to administrate slavery based solely on precepts and commandments put forth in Scripture, it would be a righteous, God-honouring, life-affirming, neighbour-loving slavery. It would be the type of slavery that slaves actually love and choose to continue under, as the Scriptures clearly teach.
Just using the word “slavery” in today’s context causes people to think of American slavery, or even Roman slavery. But, there is a massive distinction between these ungodly forms of slavery and biblical slavery. For example, the New Testament appeals to the Old Testament law condemning those who take people captive to sell them into slavery (1 Timothy 1:10). Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7 condemn kidnapping and selling people under penalty of death. Well, if the Bible condemns those who take captives to sell them into slavery, wouldn’t that eliminate ungodly forms of slavery? It would leave only forms of slavery that people enter into willingly, as a sentence for a crime by which restitution was made (Exodus 22:1-3), or as a direct judgment of God himself (such as in the case of conquest slavery in ancient Israel).
Furthermore, no matter how someone became a slave, there were explicit rules regarding their treatment laid out in the Law. God commands that any slave who is seriously injured by having his eye damaged or tooth knocked out was to go free (Exodus 21:26). Slaves were to be treated as hired workers and not ruled over ruthlessly (Leviticus 25:39-43). If a slave decided to escape from his master, presumably because his situation was intolerable, he was not to be returned to his master but was to go free (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). In fact, every 7th year and every 50th year all Hebrew slaves could not only go free, but were to be fully and generously furnished by their masters unless they decided to stay (Deuteronomy 15:15-18). Israel was actually judged by God for not obeying this (Jeremiah 34:8-17). Amazingly, it was possible for a slave to become rich as a slave and pay his own redemption price (Leviticus 25:49)! Even non-Hebrew slaves, though they could be slaves for life, were to be treated the same as if they were Hebrews (Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 15:15-16, Exodus 23:9). Of course, God used slavery as a judgment on the pagan nations that Israel conquered, but even they were to be treated as well as Hebrew slaves. On the whole, the entire Law of God applied to slaves and their masters. This made illegal any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage whether consensual or not, murder, theft, work on the Sabbath, etc.
That’s nothing like the slavery most people would think of when Zahnd just tosses out the word “slavery”. When you think of biblical slavery, you ought to always think of a type of slavery that many willingly entered into, could escape from if necessary, and would choose to continue under even though if he left he would be generously furnished by his master. The Hebrew slavery put forth in the Old Testament law was righteous slavery that recognized the dignity of the humanity of the slave. In fact, it was essential to the survival of many in the context of ancient Israel as a means to keep the extremely poor and foreigners who could not purchase land in Israel from simply perishing.
No matter what your personal feelings about Hebrew slavery might be, Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets were summed up in two commandments – to love God supremely and to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:38-40). Well, slavery was part of the Law, and so the proper way to understand it, according to Jesus, is as an expression of love toward both God and neighbour.
Zahnd’s careless handling of this issue demonstrates that he is dependant on the ignorance of his audience. He is a predator, preying on the ignorant and gullible. He is not interested in these ones getting a better understanding of Scripture. Instead, he is dependent upon their remaining ignorant.
The real question I have for Zahnd is, by what standard, by what authority does he proclaim biblical slavery to be morally wrong? He’s already said that Scripture never condemned it. Let’s look now at how he reasons.
Zahnd says: “But for the Christian that doesn’t matter! Because, in the light of Christ we come to understand that every human being is endowed with dignity and bears the image of God and must be treated as we would want ourselves to be treated. We derive that from the light of Christ.”
This is the bottom line for Zahnd and those in league with him – what the Bible says or doesn’t say simply “doesn’t matter”. This position is one that cannot be corrected by Scripture because it doesn’t come from Scripture, and makes Scripture subservient to Zahnd’s personal preferences and what he thinks Jesus should be like. Zahnd is embarrassed by what Scripture actually says because it grates against his personal preferences. But, his preferences are not authoritative so he is left without any objective way to correct himself, or others.
Furthermore, does Brian Zahnd even read the Old Testament except to cherry-pick things from it to mock? He gives two examples of things that he says we “derive from the light of Christ”, not from Scripture. He says that these two things, derived from Christ and not Scripture, are the reasons slavery was abolished.
The first is that all men are made in God’s image and are therefore endowed with dignity. But that principle is taught in Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 9:6, and elsewhere. In fact, Christ never directly, explicitly teaches that we are made in God’s image (though he refers to it in Matthew 22:21). The second is that we are to treat others as we want to be treated. This is explicitly taught in Leviticus 19:9-18. Even a foreigner, slave or free, was not to be mistreated, but “you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34). So, these teachings were both present alongside the instruction regarding slavery. Additionally, there is extensive teaching on slavery in the Old Testament that is perfectly consistent with both of these concepts. Zahnd is preaching as if these things are just foreign to Scripture until we are able to derive them from the teaching of Christ. This is demonstrably false. It’s a lie.
What Brian Zahnd is teaching here is so absurd that either he is ignorant of the Old Testament in a way that is simply unacceptable for someone in his position, or he is a deceiver who is counting on his own audience being so ignorant of the Old Testament that they will just believe what he says. Bruxy Cavey, the leadership of The Meeting House and BIC Canada apparently have no problem with this. If you receive Zahnd’s teaching this should frighten you. He is counting on your own ignorance of Scripture to deceive you.
I thank God that his word is so clear, so consistent, so coherent, that we can use it to spot imposters and false teachers like Brian Zahnd who is willing to twist it, ignore it, and lie about it to support his own preferred view.
In my next post we’ll examine some specific examples Brian Zahnd gives of using the Bible to “trump” Jesus. We’ll see that his arguments are baseless, illogical, and again, prey on the ignorance and lack of critical thinking in his audience. Until next time… (it’s up)