Brian Zahnd, A Farewell to Mars; An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 202pp.
By Dan Clendenin
This book and its conservative publisher are a good example of why it's so misleading to make dismissive generalizations about evangelicalism, which for a long time has been a more complex and interesting movement than its detractors have acknowledged. Brian Zahnd founded the Word of Life Church in 1981. Today it has a 2,500-seat sanctuary that sits in the middle of a cornfield thirty minutes north of Kansas City. Whereas those demographics sound like a perfect stereotype, Zahnd is anything but.
Zahnd's book (his fourth) describes how he repented from his "worst sin ever." No, he didn't embezzle money or sleep with his secretary. In his view, it was far worse than that. It took fifteen years, but in 2006 he had an epiphany of how back in 1991 he was a cheerleader for America's first Iraqi war called Operation Desert Storm. He describes how he and friends ordered pizza and watched the war on television, and how he prayed war prayers and preached war sermons to his congregation. And they loved it.
"How I reached the point where I could weep over war and repent of any fascination with it is part of what this book is about — it's the story of how I left the paradigms of nationalism, militarism, and violence as a legitimate mean of shaping the world to embrace the radical alternative of the gospel of peace." Zahnd is a thoughtful pastor, a good writer, and well read. His journey has been informed by Bulgakov, Kierkegaard, Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, Merton, Girard, and Mark Twain. He now repudiates a privatized piety that is merely spiritual and only for a future in heaven. He's no longer a "chaplain" to the state who offers "innocuous invocations" for a Constantinian Christianity. Having bid farewell to the Roman god of war (Mars), the last chapter of his book is one short sentence: "There is no them; there is only us."