Brian Zahnd’s “A Farewell to Mars” beautifully reveals Christ and the true nature of his Kingdom, while at the same time exposing the sad history of nationalist idolatry that Christians have participated in since the time of Constantine. This book has the power to fundamentally change the way Christ-followers view the world and our mission in the world today.
We appreciated that Zahnd was transparent about his own participation in nationalism. His story of once rooting for America on the battlefield to conquer their enemies, much as a sports fan zealously cheers for their team, is one that many Christians may identify with. In fact, one popular view of eschatology has patched Bible verses together to create a certain idea of the future that eagerly looks for the next military conflict as a sign of fulfilled prophecy proving that the end is near. According to Zahnd, however, “We are not to be macabre Christians lusting for destruction and rejoicing at the latest rumor of war. It’s high time that a morbid fascination with a supposed unalterable script of God-sanctioned-end-time-hyperviolence be once and for all left behind. A secret (or not-so-secret) longing for the world’s violent destruction is grossly unbecoming to the followers of the Lamb.”
Zahnd calls us away from the nationalistic crowd and shows how easily we can fall into this trap:
“…here is why it’s such a powerful deception: it doesn’t feel unholy. It feels holy; it feels spiritual; it feels patriotic; it feels right. It has a deeply religious aura to it. It is a spiritual experience. The spiritual experience of expressing a shared hostility can even be confused for the Holy Spirit…because of how it feels. It’s what’s so seductive and dangerous about religious rants against popular scapegoats: liberals, socialists, gays, Muslims, immigrants, etc. A unity is achieved around this kind of angry rhetoric, a unity that is undeniably cathartic and religious.”
Zahnd describes his own painful journey away from this view of violent nationalism and that “It broke my heart to learn that people are not as easily drawn to a gospel of peace as they are to a rally for war.”
This book reveals that whatever we call “Christian” should look like Christ – identifying with the world through suffering and service, not through power and coercion. According to Zahnd, our mission is not primarily focused on getting the doctrines right and making sure we get to heaven. Instead, our mission is to bring the Kingdom of God to this world. Christ-followers in this world are peacemakers who now view enemies as brothers; Christ-followers have been transformed by the Cross which “demands that we once and for all renounce violence as a means of achieving just ends.” We appreciated that Zahnd goes all the way in taking the position that “The means never justify the ends. The means are the ends in the process of becoming.”
Recently, our world seems to be a chaotic mess. In America, many are angry about the influx of children from south of the border; others are angry with Muslims for violence in the Middle East. Many other crisis situations could be listed. What is our role as Christ-followers? How should we respond? Zahnd’s claim is that our role is to care for the poor and the sick, to welcome the immigrant, to love our enemies, and to practice humane treatment of prisoners, and so on. These are the political priorities for Christ-followers, not power, greed, or anything that is associated with violence:
“So politically I call for my nation to prioritize caring for the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the imprisoned, and to renounce an ambition to dominate the world economically or militarily. I do this in the name of Jesus. I pledge no allegiance to elephants or donkeys, only to the Lamb. These are my politics for the simple reason that they are clearly the politics of Jesus.”
As Christians, we are to follow Christ by identifying with the suffering, the disadvantaged and the outcasts – even when this involves personal cost and risk; we are to follow Christ by conquering evil through love – even when this involves extending love and forgiveness to enemies. The world is enamored with the idea that enemies should be defeated by violent means, but Christ calls us to a peaceable solution that can even transform the enemy into a friend. This is the great vision of “A Farewell to Mars”.
– Brad and Dorothee Cole