About David Zahl

David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. He and his wife Cate reside in Charlottesville, VA, with their two sons, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church.


Author Archive

    The Law Always Accuses


    A killer, seasonally appropriate quote from Werner Elert’s classic pamphlet “Law and Gospel”:

    “Obviously the words of Christ [from the Sermon on the Mount] cannot be twisted in order to say that by heightening the demands of the law he sought only to demonstrate the impossibility of fulfilling it, and thus from the very outset to induce his hearers to capitulate. The law is and remains a demand. It is inviolably valid. Not an iota will pass from it. It ought to be and must be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18).

    “It is another question, however, whether with this heightened interpretation Christ intended to say that his hearers actually had fulfilled the law. If he really did intend to say that, then there would be a contradiction between him and Paul. But that would be an even worse twisting of his words than the previous one. Exactly the opposite is correct. The proof is found precisely in his treatment of the decalogue commandments. For when he transposes the criteria for fulfillment from the external to the internal, he presupposes his hearers know what feelings of hatred and evil lusts are. Here we already have the lex semper accusat. What murder and adultery are, in the sense of acts that transgress the commandments, one can also learn merely by being told. However, what hatred and evil lusts are we could not even imagine if we had not experienced them ourselves. Accordingly, for the man who receives the heightened interpretation of the decalogue as validly directed toward himself, it exposes his own inner nature, and demonstrates to him that his opposition to God’s law is not only possible, but actual. At that point no further self-examination is necessary. The man who understands what Christ means by hatred and impure desires testifies by the mere fact of this understanding that he is already guilty of this transgression.

    “The law always accuses. Christ exempted no one from this verdict. Proof of this can be seen in his call, directed to everyone, for repentance from the heart (Makr 1:15 in conjunction with Luke 13:3-5). The “Our Father”, designed for all to pray, presupposes also that all are guilty (Matt. 6:12). Therefore also in the interpretation which the law receives from Christ it always exposes man’s sin. There is no situation imaginable, so long as the law reigns over us, where it would not exercise this accusatory function.”

    From The Onion: New Nike Running App Tells You What You’re Really Running From

    And then, one Friday morning in February, a front-runner for Onion article of the year emerged, pun intended, ht BJ:

    The Right Time for Love & Mercy!

    Very exciting time for those of us who worship love Brian Wilson. Last week the first single from his new record dropped, “The Right Time”, and today the trailer arrived for his long-awaited biopic, Love & Mercy!

    Click here to peruse our archives of Beach Boys-related material.

    Francis Spufford on the Cruel Optimism of an Atheist Bus

    Francis Spufford on the Cruel Optimism of an Atheist Bus

    Another wonderful passage from the introduction of our 2014 NYC Conference speaker’s Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.

    Take the well-known slogan on the atheist bus in London. I know, I know, that’s an utterance by the hardcore hobbyists of unbelief, but in this particular case they’re pretty much stating the ordinary wisdom of everyday disbelief. The atheist bus says: “There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life.” All right: which word here is the questionable one, the aggressive one, the one that parts company with recognisable human experience so fast it doesn’t…

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    From The Onion: Man’s Neuroses Really Putting Genuine Compliment Through The Wringer

    Another slice of verdict-related brilliance from America’s Finest News Source. That final line being particularly perfect.

    bruce-eric-kaplan-it-s-incredible-then-why-do-i-feel-like-such-a-hack-new-yorker-cartoonSANTA CLARITA, CA—Instantly mobilizing in response to a coworker’s positive remark about his job performance, local marketing assistant Devin Brandt’s neuroses really put the genuine compliment he received through the wringer Monday, sources confirmed. “There had to be an ulterior motive hidden in there somewhere, right? Or maybe he was being sarcastic,” Brandt reportedly thought as three decades of neurotic impulses worked over the honest-to-goodness praise from every conceivable angle, quickly ripping it to shreds. “Oh, God, what if he complimented me out of pity? Maybe I’m doing such a bad job that he felt he had to say something nice just to make me feel better about myself.” Sources confirmed that while the compliment was forced to run the full gauntlet of Brandt’s neuroses, a tiny slight directed toward him later in the day was able to take root in his brain unhindered.

    Why Ash Wednesday Is Nadia’s Favorite Day of the Church Year

    A couple years ago our Spring Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber posted a couple reflections on why she loves Ash Wednesday and Lent. Every year since I’ve found myself ripping her off. To wit:

    AmRzkRlCMAAFt0UAsh Wednesday is my favorite day of the church year and Lent is my favorite season. Our culture has quite ruined Christmas and Easter with Santa and the Easter bunny and all the grotesque consumerism and made for TV specials behind all of it. But oddly nobody waits every year to watch the Ash Wednesday Peanuts Special. There are no Doorbuster sales at 4am on the first day of Lent. There are no big garish displays in the middle of Cherry Creek Mall with mechanical Children in sack cloth and ashes. Nope. We get this one all to ourselves. Our culture has no idea what to do with a day that celebrates the fact that we all sin and are going to die…

    I love to talk about sin, which makes little sense to people who want to label me as a liberal. I think perhaps that actual liberals equate admitting we are sinful with having low self esteem. And then the conservatives equate sin with immorality… So one end of the church tells us that sin is an antiquated notion that only makes us feel bad about ourselves so we should avoid mentioning it at all. While the other end of the church tells us that sin is the same as immorality and totally avoidable if you are just a good squeaky clean Christian.

    But when sin is boiled down to low self esteem and immorality then it becomes something we can control or limit in some way rather than something we are bondage to. The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self. I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can… I am trying to do what is only God’s to do…

    There’s no shame in the truth that our lives on earth will all end and that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. It’s not depressing. What’s depressing is the desperation of trying to pretend otherwise. What’s depressing is to insist that I can free myself I just haven’t managed to pull it off yet. What is so wonderful about Ash Wednesday and Lent is that through being marked with the cross and reminded of our own mortality we are free. We are free to hear the song of our own salvation which tells of Christ who offers life and forgiveness.

    There Is A Valley: Old Age, Creativity, and the Return of Bill Fay

    There Is A Valley: Old Age, Creativity, and the Return of Bill Fay

    Here’s an Ash Wednesday appropriate portion of A Mess of Help, taken from the final chapter, “Sing Mockingbird Sing: The Alpha and Omega of Annotated Playlists”. This is track 18 of 20. You can listen to the entire playlist here.

    I am sure I’m not the only one whose ears perked up during the scene in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the now-classic documentary about the band Wilco, where lead singer Jeff Tweedy plays an unknown song imploring the listener to “Be Not So Fearful”. Plaintive and disarming and, most of all, comforting, the tune employs biblical language without…

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    Another Week Ends: Carr’s Recovery, Forgiving Anchors, Lazy Love, 50 Shades South, Kensrue’s Back, Fortitude, and Better Call Saul

    Another Week Ends: Carr’s Recovery, Forgiving Anchors, Lazy Love, 50 Shades South, Kensrue’s Back, Fortitude, and Better Call Saul

    1. You may have heard the news that NY Times reporter David Carr died yesterday. I remember watching the documentary Page One a few years ago and being struck by Carr’s straight-shooting personality and street-smart charm. There was something iconic about him. Maybe it was just the filmmakers doing their thing, but Carr very much came across as the spirit of that esteemed institution, a man who had taken a supremely circuitous route to the top of the journalistic food chain and seemed as surprised as anyone to find himself there. I forget if he mentioned his history with addiction in the…

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    Fifty Shades of Something

    Fifty Shades of Something

    It’s a Fifty Shades world this week, and we just live in it. Not sure how close attention you’ve been paying to the ‘debate’ surrounding the film, but it’s a fascinating one, touching as it does on a number of our current hot potatoes, most notably sex and gender. Everyone seems to agree that the astronomical number of books (and tickets) sold indicates something larger going on, though no one seems to agree on what that is. Some say the success of the franchise reveals a deep faultline in 21st century bedrooms between Should and Is, between what’s acceptable to want and what is actually wanted, the ideal of egalitarian…

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    Gerhard Forde on the Language of Grace

    Another gem from theologian Gerhard Forde, via one of his responses in Five Views of Sanctification, pg 192:

    The language of grace must be a language that comes totally from without. It does not call on the old self, not even the inner life of the old self, to somehow traverse a new way. It announces him who is the Way. It is thus a use of language which does not call on the old self to “surrender”; rather it is a use of language which through its very givenness slays the old by the absolute unconditionality of the gift itself… the Word does not call on our old being to die. It simply announces that we have died, and sanctification occurs to the degree that we get used to that fact…

    Love is the source and goal of sanctification, but the only way to bring that about is to simply announce, “I love you.” The word of grace must bring the old unlovely and unloving existence to an end by the sheer strength of the promise, the gift, which breaks into our dreary lives and just announces flat-out that the old has passed away and the new is here.

    Scientific Wedding Vows and the Biggest Lie (and Truth) of Them All

    Scientific Wedding Vows and the Biggest Lie (and Truth) of Them All

    Valentines Week is upon us and with it, a fresh crop of articles on how to love and be loved, never a dull subject. First up, an article in The NY Times posing the timely question “Can Scientific Relationship Advice Save Your Marriage?”, in which couples are profiled who have chosen to base their wedding vows on the scientific study of relationships. Before you venture an answer, let me say that I found the honesty refreshing–at least these couples take the occasion seriously enough to acknowledge their true object of worship. On other hand, the vows dictated by ‘science’ sound…

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    To My Favourite Seventeen-Year-Old High-School Girl – Billy Collins

    ht KW: