by Brian Zahnd
David C. Cook
This book is a plea for followers of Christ to embrace pacifism. The title is an obvious play off of Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms” with a further play with the words “Arms” and “Mars.” Mars is the Roman God of war. Clever.
I liked this book. I am a pacifist, so I welcome books that point to the “gospel of peace.” Zahnd’s writing style is sermonic. In fact, I would not be surprised to find out that these were originally sermons edited into book form. As a result, much of the book has that preachy, repetitive feel to it. It also has a strong prescriptive tone, like an evangelical sermon would. I personally found this disappointing, because Zahnd makes some profound and moving points that I enjoyed, but the preachy feel made me turn pages quicker than normal.
Zahnd’s style and language also reflects a problem in Christianity in that he feels he needs to be apologetic for his view. His Prelude is a letter to the book, which he begins with: “Dear Little Book, I had to write you…Your Somewhat Reluctant Author.” The premise of the book is that the primary method of the gospel is peace, that is, non-violence. Any attempt to establish or further the kingdom must avoid the usage of violence. This is the example of Jesus on the cross, the meaning of “not of this world”, and the resurrection does not nullify this strategy. Jesus sacrificial attitude that took him to the cross is the template for all of Christendom. This premise is so widely denied/ignored/nullified in today’s church and through the history of the church, that the person who expresses this view is in the minority and feels threatened even sharing the view. Zahnd’s reluctance is reflected/confessed throughout the book. This is not a criticism of Zahnd. As a pastor in the Evangelical world for 30+ years, my pacifism was stifled in the same way.
His most powerful point was his explanation of what Jesus meant by “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free:”
“Jesus brings us the truth that will set us free. The truth is that God is love and light. The truth is that our enemies are really our alienated brothers. The truth is there is no “them”—there is only us. The truth is that freedom is love, not power. The truth is there is another way to arrange human civilization than what we have known. The truth is that the way of war is a lie. It comes from the father of lies, the father of murder. James Carroll in his important book Jerusalem, Jerusalem asks this penetrating question: War is a given fact of the human condition. But is it true? … The traditional narrative suggests that the solution to violence is more violence. Not only that, but violence as a source of meaning and valor. Violence can be sanctified as sacrifice and atonement, as the will of God. But is that true?”Kindle Location: 1,280
This book will not answer all your questions or respond to all your objections to pacifism – but read it anyway. I challenge you to start the divorce with your allegiance to nation and warfare and aligning that allegiance with the gospel. They are incompatible, irreconcilable.
A weakness of this book is that it doesn’t offer any next steps or resources for the reader to go to continue the quest towards pacifism. There is not a lot of accessible information about it as it is not anywhere near mainstream in Christian literature.
This book makes me want to explore these books: