Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

While I was in Florida for the last week I read. A lot. I finished two books and made decent progress on a couple of others, here is my first review.

Given that I am an orthodox, evangelical believer who holds to a position of non-resistance, I came at Brian Zahnd's book, A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace with a mix of hope and trepidation. I was hopeful because it purported to be written from a viewpoint I am sympathetic to, one of a more traditional evangelical coming to a place where support and advocacy of militarism and violence was not compatible with the Kingdom. I was cautious because of some of the things I had seen about Zahnd in social media. I came away with pretty disappointed.

From a stylistic standpoint I found Farewell to Mars to be a disjointed and rambling book. Brian didn't seem to have thought through what we wanted to say other than war is bad. I also found it excessively self-referential. I understand that it is a book about his own personal journey but it would have been a little more useful in convincing a skeptical reader of the value of the non-violence position if he spent less time talking about himself and more in engaging the text. Not that he doesn't but his engagement was not terrible strong in my opinion.

I intentionally didn't do much studying of Zahnd before I read Farewell to Mars but I found his constant allusion to politics and his incessant references to "empire" and Jesus as a "victim" really undermined the book. I know it is hip to talk about "empire" and I guess it is integral to his thesis but it rang hollow to me and made the book less about non-violence for the Christian and more about trying to be a contemporary John Howard Yoder. To reach an audience of evangelicals with the message of Jesus on non-violence it is not helpful to bury non-violence in your own political agenda. Maybe that is not what he was after, if he was looking for affirmation from people already in his camp then perhaps he succeeded but as a message to the broader church on a critical and misunderstood topic it missed the mark by a wide margin.

For a better treatment of this topic without all of the less than subtle progressive talking points, check out Preston Sprinkle's book Fight. You can read my review of Fight here.

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