Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Brian Zahnd : The Kaleidoscope of the Cross

Brian Zahnd : The Kaleidoscope of the Cross

a poetic theology of the cross
The Miracle of the Crucifix, Giotto 1299

Dear Friends,

I’m excited to share the fourth episode this my series on my book You are a Tree. This week’s episode can be paired with the chapter in “Love is (not) a Disease.” That chapter explores the different metaphors we use for love: love as a disease, a home, a mirror. But in this conversation with Brian Zahnd I discuss metaphors for that greatest of expressions of love: the Salvific work of the cross.

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is known for his theologically informed preaching and his embrace of the deep and long history of the church. He has written many books including Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God and Beauty will Save the World. Something that I like about Brian’s approach is the wave he weaves in references to art and literature. We share an affection for pop culture, good art, and serious playfulness.

In this episode we talk about Brian’s new book The Wood Between the World’s : a Poetic Theology of the Cross. In it, Brian takes a kaleidoscopic approach to exploring the area of theology is usually described as atonement, a word made up around the sixteenth century to describe how Jesus’ death on the cross made possible humankind’s at-one-ment with God. In scripture, many metaphors are used to describe what Christ accomplishes on the cross. Here’s a few:

The payment of a debt: “He (Jesus) canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, NLT).

The washing away of a stain: “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, NASB).

A military victory: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Many many metaphors could be named. Different atonement theories have emerged to account for the salvific nature of Christ’s death on the cross, usually emphasising one metaphor or another, be it legal or military or cleanliness. Zahnd’s book is animated by a more poetic approach, drawing generously on the imagery offered to us in the pages of scripture and Christian History.

This book was inspired by Brian walking the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is a long pilgrimage trail running through northwestern Spain. Along the way, Brian felt invited to meditate on each crucifix he encountered at churches along the way. This book is the ripened fruit of those meditations these years later. I noted to Brian that his experience was resonant with St Francis who received his calling repair the church praying in front of a cross.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Brian. I hope you all will as well. It seemed to me good fodder for meditation as we journey through Lent.

Our conversation reminded me of one of the most intriguing and compelling crucifixes I’ve ever encountered. I spotted this cross two years ago in a gift shop in Obberamergau, Germany. I was there with my friend to watch the Oberammergau passion plays, the longest running amateur theatre production in the world. In addition to the passion play, the area is famous for its wood work. Many pilgrims take wooden crosses or figures home as mementos. I loved this image of Jesus, who does not languish on the cross but is energetically climbing up on it and inviting the viewer to do the same. Isn’t it wonderful?

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Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Conversations with Joy Clarkson about religion, culture, and art.