When Prince Vladimir the Great was looking for a new religion to solidify the Russian people nearly a thousand years ago, he sent envoys to investigate the faiths of the neighboring realms. ...[T]he envoys who had investigated Christianity in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople reported finding a faith characterized by such transcendent beauty that they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth.” (xiii) “What impressed the envoys and persuaded Prince Vladimir to embrace Christianity was not its apologetics or ethics, but its aesthetics – its beauty.” (xiv)
Many in the Western world are searching for a spirituality to replace the emptiness of materialism. The Church may want to respond with apologetics or ethics. But what about beauty? What about the aesthetics of the Gospel? The beauty of Christ has an allure, presenting an aspect of the gospel too rarely seen. “Our task,” Zahnd writes, “is not to protest the world into a certain moral conformity, but to attract the world to the saving beauty of Christ.” (xvii)
Zahnd believes, “Christianity as the ongoing expression of the Jesus story lived out in the lives of individuals and in the heart of society is a beauty that can redeem the world.” (2) He tells what can be done for Christianity to recover its form and beauty, a kind of reformation. The cross is essential as it is the form that makes Christianity uniquely beautiful. The cross, not political involvement, not triumphalism, not pragmatism. “If the common man doesn't recognize what we do in the name of Christ as beautiful, we should at least reexamine it.” (31)
The form of the beauty is the cross. The death and resurrection of Jesus gave the world a new axis of love. This is the beauty that saves the world. “It saves the world from the pernicious lie that power and violence have to be the foundation of human social order.” (77)
We are from the future. “...[w]e who are in Christ should demonstrate the realities of the age to come by living them now in this present age.” (137) “Because we are called to be from the future and thus a prophetic witness to the world, the first job of the church is not to be “relevant” or “successful” (which can easily become idols of compromise and accommodation). Instead, our primary task is to be faithful.” (140) We are to live as if we actually believe Jesus is Lord.
Zahnd reminds us that holiness is not legislated moralism. “Holiness is otherness. Holiness is prophetic untimeliness.” (150) “We are holy when we are from the future.” (151)
“In the American Christianity of the past fifty years we have built the equivalent of a big box store of pragmatism – a kind of discount God-Mart. But what we need is a cathedral of astonishment.” (165) “...[I]n North America we have a Christianity that is relatively popular but damaged. It is thin, shallow, and trite.” (167)
This beauty is seen through the beatitudes. But, he asks, do we really believe them? About mourning Zahnd writes, “I sometimes think we are trying to replace the symbol of the cross with a smiley face! Serious Christianity has given way to “inspirational” Christianity, which is turning into insipid Christianity. Have we replaced a serious theology of the cross with the pop psychology of happiness?” (194) He has similar comments on the other beatitudes.
“To rediscover Christianity in all of its astonishing mystery and beauty will utterly overwhelm us and make all our notions about its devaluation feel completely redundant. It will leave our skepticism in shreds.” (171)
Zahnd's book is about beauty, the beauty that should be seen in Christianity. It is a thought provoking book. I suggest you read it and think on your own life. Does it reflect the beauty of the cross and the beatitudes?
Brian Zahnd and his wife, Perl, live in St. Joseph, Missouri, where they pastor Word of Life Church. Follow Brian's blog: http://brianzahnd.com/
Charisma House, 234 pages.