The Wood Between the Worlds: A Poetic Theology of the Cross, By Brian Zahnd
The Wood Between the Worlds
  • Length: 216 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.5 in
  • Published: February 06, 2024
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: A0562
  • ISBN: 9781514005620

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Experience the Kaleidoscopic Mystery of the Cross

Everything about the gospel message leads to the cross, and proceeds from the cross. In fact, within the narrative of Scripture, the crucifixion of Jesus is literally the crux of the story—the axis upon which the biblical story turns. But it would be a mistake to think we could sum up the significance of the crucifixion in a tidy sentence or two. That kind of thinking only insulates us from the magnificence of what God has done. In our ongoing quest to make meaning of the cross, we need to recognize that this conversation will never conclude—that there is always something more to be said.

Brian Zahnd reminds us that the meaning of the cross is multifaceted and should touch every aspect of our lives. Just as gazing through the eyepiece of a kaleidoscope reveals a new geometric image with every turn, Zahnd helps us see that there are infinite ways to behold the cross of Christ as the beautiful form that saves the world. In The Wood Between the Worlds, you'll find:

  • A compelling theopoetics of the cross that will bring deeper curiosity, appreciation, and wonder for the cross of Christ,
  • References to music, art, literature, and culture that bring new perspectives to our understanding of the cross, and
  • Zahnd's keen insights that liberate readers from flawed atonement theories and open us to experience anew the mystery of the cross.

The Wood Between the Worlds is an invitation to encounter the cross of Christ anew.

"Most books on the cross of Christ are regurgitations of outmoded atonement theories that say almost nothing memorable. But Brian Zahnd has once again broken the mold with his revolutionary book The Wood Between the Worlds. Herein we have a capacious portrait of Jesus' sacrifice that is so stunningly beautiful and uniquely framed that the reader cannot look away. An enrapturing volume to reignite the church's curiosity around the crucifixion penned by one of today's most provocative pastors."

Jonathan Merritt, author and contributing writer for The Atlantic

"To the apostolic witnesses, the cross of Christ was never a theory to be solved by theologizing, as if the calculative mind could solve its mysteries through abstraction. The cross can only be narrated, beheld, and shared as a transforming testimony—proclaimed in sermons, symbols, and parables, in the poetry and hymns of lives it has rebirthed. For over four decades, Brian Zahnd has been a poet-preacher-prophet of the cross. I daresay he's an eyewitness theologian who kneels at its foot. This book is his revelation of who he has seen there."

Bradley Jersak, principal of St. Stephen's University, New Brunswick, and author of A More Christlike Word

"With the heart of a pastor, the mind of a scholar, and the soul of a Jesus follower, Brian Zahnd here shares the fruit of his long, unhurried contemplation of the cross of Christ. His keen insights liberate us from flawed atonement theories based in retributive justice that have persisted for far too long, and he breathes new life into the mystery of the cross: the supreme centerpiece of God's love that radiates redemption and ushers us into the peaceable kingdom."

Eric E. Peterson, pastor of Colbert Presbyterian Church

"The American church has inherited a desiccated theology of the cross, one that bypasses the rich and diverse images of salvation presented in Scripture and articulates atonement in terms of deity appeasement and individualistic salvation. In The Wood Between the Worlds, Brian Zahnd puts flesh back on the dry bones of our atonement theology. His holistic reading of the biblical texts recounts the salvation story with an eye toward what the cross meant and continues to mean for the world. Using literary allusions, Girard's scapegoat theory, and reflections on our current social and political reality, Zahnd refocuses us on the truth of the gospel message—that Jesus' death saves humanity not from hands of an angry God but from the violent powers that have corrupted us and held us in their sway. The efficacy of the cross, then, is not that it divides the damned from the saved but that it unites all humanity, reconciling us to one another in hope as we hunger for the final restoration of creation."

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, associate professor of New Testament and Christian ministry at Campbell University

"In the liminal Wood Between the Worlds, Brian Zahnd encounters the inexhaustible cross. Perhaps you are more familiar with the absent Protestant Christ or the afflicted Catholic Christ or the victorious classical Christ? Each one is true and speaks a faithful message. (Which one speaks to you? Which one pushes you away?) Brian's book invites us to contemplate the kaleidoscopic mystery of Christ. Will we stop and be still before the mystery? Will we let this irreligious symbol transform all our notions of religion?"

Julie Canlis, author of A Theology of the Ordinary and Calvin's Ladder

"Drawing on interlocutors including John Coltrane, Søren Kierkegaard, and Jürgen Moltmann, Zahnd’s invitation to be 'drawn into a contemplative orbit around' the cross is lucid, gracious, and suffused with erudition and humility. . . . It’s a worthy look at a familiar emblem of Christianity."

Publishers Weekly, October 2023

"Zahnd addresses specific theological perspectives on the cross, but he does so in a reflective, meditative way, drawing upon such items as paintings, sculptures, novels, poems, and hymns. This creative and fresh approach encourages readers to think reflectively as well. He sees the crucifixion as relevant not just to the past but to the present as well."

Library Journal, December 2023

". . . this is the most cross-centered book I've read in years -- a worthwhile meditation on theodicy, atonement, and the shape of a cruciform life.

Bonnie Kristian, Christianity Today, February 8, 2024

Read an Excerpt



1. The Wood Between the Worlds
2. The Singularity of Good Friday
3. God Revealed in Death
4. God on the Gallows
5. The Road of Discipleship
6. A Love Supreme
7. A Grotesque Beauty
8. What Is Truth?
9. How Jesus Understood His Death
10. One Ring to Rule Them All
11. War Is Over (If You Want It)
12. The Sacrifice to End Sacrificing
13. The Lynching of the Son of Man
14. The Cross and Capital Punishment
15. The Sword-Pierced Soul of Mary
16. Three Trees on the Low Sky
17. The Harrowing of Hell
18. The Lamb upon the Throne
19. The Center That Holds

A Theopoetics of the Cross: The World on the Far Side of the Wood
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Brian Zahnd

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. Known for his theologically informed preaching and his embrace of the deep and long history of the church, Zahnd provides a forum for pastors to engage with leading theologians and is a frequent conference speaker. He is the author of several books, including When Everything's On Fire, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, A Farewell to Mars, and Beauty Will Save the World.