Following Brian Zahnd’s
message diatribe at The Meeting House (my review starts here), he stuck around to do a “Meeting House Round Table” podcast with Bruxy Cavey. It was an hour-long interview where Bruxy asked Zahnd and his wife to speak on their view of Scripture, pacifism, and atonement theory.
Here I want to examine what Zahnd and Bruxy say regarding Scripture specifically.
In this post I’ll be bringing attention to Zahnd’s statements regarding continuing personal revelation and how that relates to his rejection of certain parts of Scripture.
On Following Jesus and Not the Bible
Bruxy asks Zahnd directly about what he said in his message about following Jesus and not the Bible. Bruxy brings up what he says is a common objection:
“I know every time I say ‘well, Jesus is the ultimate Word of God and we follow Jesus, not the Bible’ the next thing they say is ‘yes, but how do you learn about Jesus? In the Bible, see!’ As though that never donned on me or anyone else. ‘You need the Bible to follow Jesus so ultimately you do follow the Bible.’ I have that kind of interesting feedback from Christians on a regular basis whenever I prioritize Jesus. How do you respond?” (12:35)
It is instructive to listen to Cavey repeat in his own words the criticism he has received. Of course, his representation is only a part of the criticism. The fuller criticism is three-fold:
- Cavey and Zahnd say that the Bible is not our authority, Jesus is, and that we should “prioritize Jesus” over Scripture. But, the Bible teaches that Scripture is the very word, the speech, the utterances of God himself. Jesus is God. Therefore Scripture is Jesus’ word and carries all of Jesus’ authority. It is incoherent to divide Jesus and Scripture as to their authority.
- Cavey and Zahnd both teach that the Scriptures are inconsistent, contradictory, contain erroneous “assumptions” (as Zahnd puts it) and even sinfully racist material (as Cavey has said). They teach that you must interpret Scripture through the lens of Christ to find these errors. On this view, by what ultimate standard do they determine that the texts about Jesus are authoritative and inerrant? How do they know that the picture Scripture gives of Christ is not false itself? Could it not be that the texts they rely on to understand Christ are actually in error, and the texts they believe contradict that are actually true? When one rejects the inerrancy and ultimate authority of Scripture, when they judge the word of God to be in error, they are left without any objective standard of truth.
- Jesus himself held a much higher view of Scripture than Cavey and Zahnd. Why, if they follow Jesus, do they not have the same view as him?
It seems to me that these points truly haven’t “donned on” Cavey, because he never addresses any of this. Either that or he ignores these criticisms and pretends they are not there.
I will predict that we will never, ever hear a coherent, consistent answer to the real objections to Bruxy Cavey’s view from Bruxy Cavey. It is my prediction that any time he deals with the issue of his view of Scripture, he will never fully represent the objections. Nor will he ever put himself in the position to have to answer these objections publicly. He will continue to present the weakest possible form of the objection as we see in this interview, and in other contexts where I have heard him address this issue. I hope I’m wrong.
Zahnd answers him:
“I would respond by saying that I am a Christian in that I confess that Christ is risen. Jesus is not the same as me attempting to understand Abraham Lincoln or Julius Caesar. There is a sense in which the historical Jesus, I can learn a lot about, but I can never quite reach because he’s confined to history. But Christ is risen! Jesus is Lord of the church! And so there is an engagement of the church with the Spirit that reveals God’s ongoing purposes through Christ.
For example, I mentioned this in the sermon but I think it’s a very cogent example. If the Bible is the telos, the end, if it’s some sort of supreme final revelation, well you come up against a lot of embarrassing issues. For example, the Bible accepts slavery as just a given institution – not just in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament. ‘Slaves obey your masters with fear and trembling.’ Now we want to soften that to like ‘be a really good employee’, but that’s not what’s being said. It’s assuming that slavery is an acceptable institution, maybe we should be nice about it, but there’s clearly no vision of it’s abolition. Well, we run into the problem with people conflating the Bible and the Christian faith, as if they are synonymous. You can imagine a preacher holding up a Bible waving it and saying ‘this is Christianity’. No, it’s not. The Bible is the soil in which the tree of the Christian faith is rooted, and you cannot separate the tree of faith from the soil in which it’s rooted but you can make the distinction between the two – they’re not synonymous, they’re not the same thing. So that if the soil of Scripture doesn’t have a clear denunciation of the systemic evil of slavery – that doesn’t matter because the faith that grows up out of that can and does have a branch that says ‘no, all human beings are created in the image of God and slavery is a profound moral evil that has to be renounced in the light of Christ. So that would be an example of a continuing revelation that is drawn from the trajectory of Scripture and I think presided over by the living Christ.”
I am going to skip the inane, and oft-repeated complaint about slavery (dealt with in Part 4), and deal with a couple of Zahnd’s other claims. Zahnd’s claim to receiving ongoing revelation outside of Scripture.
Christianity and the Bible are not the same
First, and very quickly, I’d like to address Zahnd’s claim that Christianity and the Bible are not the same thing – there’s a difference. Well, of course there is a difference. Who, exactly, is denying this? Who is this preacher who holds up a Bible and says “This is Christianity” that Zahnd refers to? Seems like Zahnd is invoking some kind of hyper-fundamentalist boogeyman that doesn’t actually exist. This is a straw man.
Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Christianity is faith in God. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23). If the Scriptures are God’s speech, as Jesus taught, then Christianity demands that we believe all of Scripture. That is believing God. Rejecting part of God’s word as “assumptions” made by the authors is not Christianity – it is rank unbelief.
Christianity and the Bible are not the same thing, but the Scriptures, being the very speech of God, are the sole infallible authority on all matters of faith and practice. We cannot know anything about Christ or Christianity for certain outside of what God has told us in Scripture. True faith believes all that God has revealed therein.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3)
Zahnd receives extra-biblical revelation that contradicts Scripture
Zahnd tells us we can follow Jesus and not the Bible because the Spirit “reveals God’s ongoing purposes through Christ”. He doesn’t believe the Bible is the supreme and final revelation, but says he receives “continuing revelation that is drawn from the trajectory of Scripture and… presided over by the living Christ.” Basically, Zahnd can say he follows Jesus and not the Bible because he believes Jesus is still giving him revelation that is at least equal to, if not greater than Scripture.
What, exactly, does this mean? How is it that the Spirit reveals these things outside of Scripture? Zahnd gives more details on how this worked for him in Chapter 10 of his book “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God”. Explaining the process by which he came to deny eternal conscious torment in hell, Zahnd says:
“But it wasn’t primarily reading theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri Nouwen, and Stanley Hauerwas that led me away from an angry-God theology; it was mostly mystical experiences in prayer. 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 love and light… There was a time when I thought the darkness of anger, violence, and retribution cast a sinister shadow upon the face of God, but having learned to sit with Jesus in contemplative prayer, I have discovered by my own experience that what John said is true: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. God is the eternal light of self-giving love. There is no darkness. No anger. No violence. No retribution. Only love.
One day as I was sitting silently in contemplative prayer, I whispered this to the One who was there: ‘Father, I don’t believe you torture people for eternity.’ And then I began to laugh. And the One who was there laughed too. There was healing in that shared laughter. It is such a ludicrous notion that the God who is love would of his own volition inflict torment upon people eternally.”
Zahnd, Brian. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News (p. 204-205). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Zahnd sits in contemplative prayer (a type of prayer nowhere taught in Scripture) and communicates with someone he calls “Father”. Zahnd’s Father reveals things to him about his Jesus that contradict Scripture. When Zahnd expresses his unbelief in the revealed Scriptures with a laugh, his Father laughs right along with him.
Who, then, is Zahnd’s Father?
We have already seen that Zahnd holds essentially the same view of the relationship of the Scriptures to Jesus as the unbelieving Jews did in John 5. In John 7 and 8, The Jews are again rejecting Jesus based on his healing of a man on the Sabbath back in John 5 (John 7:12-23). They even sought to have him arrested for it (John 7:30, 32). Jesus again claims that his ministry is entirely consistent with the Old Testament and that they reject him because they are not believers (John 7:21-24, 37-38, 8:16-18, 54-55). Jesus tells them that they obey their father (John 8:38), to which the Jews insist that God is their Father (John 8:41). Jesus addressed his unbelieving accusers:
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:42-47)
Jesus says that, though the Jews claim God as their father, the fact is that the devil himself is their father. This is made manifest by their unbelief, their lies, and their refusal to see the consistency between Jesus’ ministry and the Old Testament.
With this biblical data, we evaluate Zahnd’s method and experience. According to Zahnd, he communicates with his Father, who laughs approvingly when Zahnd rejects the veracity of the Scriptural testimony. In teaching his view to others, we have documented that Zahnd lies about Scripture. Based on Jesus’ teaching, I have no reason to believe that Zahnd’s Father is anyone other than the devil.
Obviously, with his view of the unreliability, inconsistency, and errancy of Scripture, Zahnd has no way to test whether the direction he’s going is under the leadership of the Spirit because he has no objective, authoritative standard by which to judge this. Nor can anyone else test whether what he is saying and teaching is correct because it doesn’t have to be consistent with Scripture. Zahnd has struck out on his own and is his own ultimate authority. Based on his own presuppositions there’s no way he or anyone else could correct his trajectory, nor has he any objective way to correct anyone else.
Scripture is Embarrassing
My final point on this particular quote is to draw attention to where this rejection of Scripture seems to have begun with Brian Zahnd. You see, Zahnd says he is embarrassed by what he would have to accept if the Scriptures were actually the final authority. He also says that anger, violence, and retribution are “darkness” and so cannot be true of God. Part of the issue here is that Zahnd is unwilling to be charitable to any degree with Scripture that troubles him. But at the bottom of that issue is that Zahnd places his own, personal, subjective morality above the Scriptures, and so is embarrassed by anything there that he finds offensive.
The Scriptures, Jesus, the prophets and apostles never once express any level of embarrassment over the things Zahnd is embarrassed of. Zahnd thinks his morality is superior to theirs, superior to the word of God. Zahnd thinks he’s a better person than God. If it were not the case then he would submit his fallen moral intuition to the written word of God. Instead, he stands in judgment over what God explicitly says in Scripture and says “nope, that’s evil”. Zahnd does not approach the living God in submission to his Word, he sits on the throne and judges God. He tells God what is acceptable and what is not. Zahnd has fashioned for himself a god in his own image.
Bruxy Cavey and Brian Zahnd want to point their listeners away from Scripture and towards Jesus as the ultimate authority. This is an incoherent division of God from his own words. To hold their position they have to misrepresent and simply dismiss the criticism their view receives. When examined, we see that their real authority is either entirely subjective, or demonically inspired. Either way it is completely incapable of any kind of correction. They have no objective standard of truth because they have judged that the very word of God himself is in error. As a result they have placed their own subjective moral and intellectual authority above the Scriptures and judge Scripture by it. To boot, Zahnd spends time communicating with spirits that laugh along with him as he rejects the veracity of the scriptural testimony to the very nature of God.
Zahnd says he follows Jesus and not the Bible, but we continue to see that he follows neither.
This is not Christianity, it is the opposite. Avoid this twisted, incoherent, unbiblical thinking and the false teachers like Bruxy Cavey and Brian Zahnd who propagate it.
I’ll continue reviewing this Round Table podcast in my next post…