A Farewell To Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace, Brian Zahnd, Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014, 208pp.
[NOTE: The copy of the book used for review was an e-book and hence there are no page numbers.]
This is an outstanding read.
The author, senior pastor of a large evangelical church in St. Joseph Missouri in his “Prelude” wishes the book well, one that just willed itself to be written, especially in light of the arrival of the author’s three grandchildren. Near the end of the book, Zahnd in fact states:
For years I had ignored this mural of peace in the Denver airport. I simply had not seen it. Just like I had for years ignored the gospel of peace in my life and preaching. I simply had not seen it. I was blind. But I’m beginning to see, at last I am waking up —waking up just in time to try and make a difference for the world of my children’s children. I suppose it is for them I have written this book.
Zahnd begins with confession of his worst sin: on January 16, 1991, he ordered pizza and with a group of friends watched the start of the Gulf War on TV, like a prize fight, which indeed it was. He writes: “America is always right in war— I’d known that all of my life. Like many Americans, I had grown up believing that war was both inevitable in life and compatible with Christianity.” But fifteen years later, “while I was in prayer, for no apparent reason this whole scene from a decade and half earlier played back in my mind. I had forgotten all about it. But there it was, played back in my memory like an incriminating surveillance video. Then I heard God whisper, ‘That was your worst sin.’ ” The book under review is consequently “the story of how I left the paradigms of nationalism, militarism, and violence as a legitimate means of shaping the world to embrace the radical alternative of the gospel of peace.”
The author not only believes in Jesus in an “orthodox” way, he believes in Jesus’ ideas in a “radical” way. For that is who Jesus is, when it comes to the political: radical. When we fail at embracing Jesus’ political ideas, we inevitably recruit him in support of the (national) status quo. The author claims this has plagued the church since the fourth century. The church forever (almost) has separated Jesus from his ideas.
Regardless, claims Zahnd, Easter changed everything! We may consequently change everything (about how we think about violence). The author did!
God is not opposed to nations, but God is opposed to empire. Why? Because Jesus alone is Lord (Emperor), and his “Empire” is the Kingdom of God that alone rules.
In Chapter 2, Zahnd contrasts the private personal salvation gospel with Jesus’ politics. He works with the idea, drawing on Jewish scholar Emil Fackenheim’s book To Mend The World of “tikkun olam—“repairing the world.” Tikkun olam is the idea that although the world is broken, it is not beyond repair— that it’s God’s intention to work through humanity in order to repair his creation.” Fackenheim talks of a 614th commandment in the Torah: “Thou shalt not give Hitler any posthumous victories.” The author calls us to “A Christian understanding of tikkun olam [which] is that God is restoring all things through Jesus Christ.” He adds several Scripture references where this is precisely the claim. He critiques by contrast what many Christians “embrace [namely] a faulty, half-baked, doom-oriented, hyperviolent eschatology, popularized in Christian fiction (of all things!), that envisions God as saving parts of people for a nonspatial, nontemporal existence in a Platonic “heaven” while kicking his own good creation into the garbage can!”
Zahnd calls us to deny Cain as founder of civilization (based on murder) by being our brother’s keeper. Human civilization is ever founded on murder; God’s kingdom on love (of neighbour/enemy).