I love to read books that challenge me to think differently about something. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd did just that.
In Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Zahnd explores Jonathan Edward's famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and questions whether or not Edward's premise is even Biblical. He then goes on to wrestle with many of the Christian doctrines that go hand-in-hand with an angry God, including hell.
Zahnd explores these issues both as a pastor and as someone who was captivated by Edward's sermon as a young adult. As Zahnd explains, “I liked Jesus but I was really scared of his Dad, the faceless white giant with obvious anger issues who hurled Catholics and others who didn't believe just right into the fires of Mount Doom... The real question isn't 'Does it scare kids straight?' but 'Is it true?' The real question isn't 'Does it motivate people to pray a sinner's pray?' but 'Is it faithful to the God revealed in Jesus?' Is God accurately represented when depicted as a faceless and remorseless white giant whose anger fields the raging flames of hell?” Zahnd's personal story is one that readers will find compelling.
One of the things I most appreciated about Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God is that Zahnd does not ignore the problem of sin. Instead, he suggests, “God does not hate you, and God will never harm you. But your own sin, if you do not turn away from it, will bring you great harm. The wisdom that acknowledges this fact is what we call the fear of God. Sin is deadly, but God is love.”
Similarly, I also really appreciated Zahnd's high view of Scripture. As he makes his case for why God is a loving, not angry, God, Zahnd constantly refers to the Bible. He sheds new light on many passages that Christians will find familiar. He does so with this in mind: “Christians are to believe in the perfect, infallible, inerrant Word of God – and his name is Jesus.” Clearly, Zahnd also takes Jesus seriously, suggesting that “Jesus saves the Bible from itself! Jesus shows us how to read the Bible and not be harmed by it.”
Those who have already grappled with the atonement and hell will find Zahnd's chapter on The Crucified God particularly helpful. In it, he makes a compelling case for why “The original scandal of the Christian faith is the worship of a God who was nailed to the tree.” He goes on to explain, “At the cross, Jesus does not save us from God; at the cross Jesus reveals God as savior! When we look at the cross we don't see what God does; we see who God is.”
My only criticism of Zahnd in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God is that it's somewhat repetitive. Zahnd makes a point and hammers it home another 100 times in each chapter. While I can see where this style could be effective in a pulpit, it loses its steam in the written word.
That said, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God is a book I highly recommend for anyone wrestling with the character of God, why Jesus died, and the doctrine of hell. While some conservatives will consider Zahn's words heresy, progressives will find it a refreshing and compelling exploration of these topics.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God in exchange for a fair and honest review.