The Cross Is Poetically Profound. But Prose Can Help Us See It Clearly.

Brian Zahnd’s meditation on cruciformity is theologically rich, but sometimes theologically risky.

It would be natural to assume that Brian Zahnd, most recently the author of The Wood Between the Worlds: A Poetic Theology of the Cross, is a megachurch pastor. After all, he’s published half a dozen popular books and has a large following online.

But the “gigantic” parking lot of Zahnd’s church in Missouri was “desolate” when journalist Tim Alberta visited while researching his own recent book. “There must have been spaces for 800 vehicles,” Alberta observed, but maybe a tenth were occupied.

The short explanation for the decimation of Zahnd’s congregation, as Alberta tells it, is faithfulness. Years into his pastoral career, leading what was then a megachurch, Zahnd felt God calling him into a deeper and more demanding Christian life. He dove into theological study, especially of early church fathers like Irenaeus and Augustine, and emerged with a changed faith—not “backsliding,” he told Alberta, but “front-sliding,” becoming “more committed to Jesus than [he’d] ever been.”

That included a newfound commitment to Christian nonviolence and a rejection of politicized Christianity, which in Zahnd’s context—a red state during George W. Bush’s first presidential term, with the Iraq War under active debate and a re-election campaign in full swing—meant the near-complete integration of many evangelicals’ Republican and American identities with their faith. “God raised up Jesus, not America,” Zahnd recalled telling his congregation. “They got it. And they left.”

Two decades later, the Zahnd of The Wood Between the Worlds is no less dogged in his sheer enthusiasm for Jesus. Even his …

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