That Burned-Over Place

Tullian Tchividjian
Tullian Tchividjian

One of the best books I’ve read in years is a short book originally published in 1983 by Paul Zahl entitled Who Will Deliver Us? The Present Power of the Death of Christ. Dr. Zahl plumbs the depths of the Gospel for everyday life in a paradigm shifting way.

Of the book, J.I. Packer writes:

Zahl knows the authentic gospel and the 20th Century human heart and probes deeply into both.

And John Stott wrote:

A brave and honest book. An unusual combination of pastoral compassion and theological integrity.

His grasp of the demands of God’s Law and the deliverance of God’s Gospel is both deep and wide. But what makes this book a cut above the rest is Zahl’s ability to connect the Law and the Gospel to our everyday fears, expectations, relationships, shattered dreams, and insecurities.

Speaking of the Law and the Gospel, he paints a vivid picture that reveals “our helplessness before the devastation and comprehensiveness of Divine expectation and how that helplessness creates the space for God’s amazing grace and the freedom it produces”:

I’m a little like the duck hunter who was hunting with his friend in a wide-open barren of land in southeastern Georgia, Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon, he could hear the sound of crackling. A wind came up, and he realized the terrible truth: a brush-fire was advancing his way. It was moving so fast that he and his friend could not outrun it. The hunter began to rifle through his pockets. Then he emptied all the contents of his knapsack. He soon found what he was looking for–a book of matches. To his friend’s amazement, he pulled out a match and struck it. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the brush fire to come. They did not have to wait long. They covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near–and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt. They weren’t even touched. Fire would not pass where fire had already passed.

The law is like the brush-fire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, where law has already burned its way through, then I will not get hurt. Not a hair of my head will be singed. The death of Christ is the burned-over place. There I huddle, hardly believing yet relieved. Christ’s death has disarmed the law. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Who Will Deliver Us? The Present Power of the Death of Christ (pg. 42-43)

Originally published November 11, 2011.