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God’s peaceable kingdom

Jesus came to change things now, not just in the hereafter. Not everyone likes that idea, because in the here and now there’s no escaping politics, and people don’t think Jesus would dirty his hands with anything as earthy as that. But he most certainly did, and his teaching about the kingdom of God had—and has—huge political implications.

This book examines the political ideas of Jesus, in particular his insistence that his empire (‘kingdom’) will grow through non-violence. It is A Farewell To Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward The Biblical Gospel Of Peace by Brian Zahnd (David C. Cook, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-7814-1118-9).  

In today’s world, with its many wars, this is a vital message. It rightly insists that, as Christians, we should emulate our Master in exercising non-retaliation and being willing if necessary to die rather than fight back—as he himself did. In this way alone will his enemies be defeated and turned around to God’s way of living.

I love Zahnd’s explanation of the kingdom of God as presented in the Gospels (encouraging echoes of N.T. Wright here), plus his insightful analysis of the group dynamics and crowd psychology that lie behind the scapegoating of minority groups and the fearful readiness of so many to go to war.

He writes well, too, with a colourful style loaded with striking metaphors. But this is no smokescreen for a dubious message; he is spot on with his analysis of what the Gospel and Jesus’ kingdom message is all about. A first-class book in every respect.

[The numbers are Kindle location numbers, not page numbers]

This One who became the heir of Isaiah’s ancient moniker Prince of Peace preached a new way of being human and an alternative arrangement of society that he called the reign or kingdom of God. It was (and is!) a peaceable kingdom. (84)

Divorcing Jesus from his ideas— especially divorcing Jesus from his political ideas— has been a huge problem that’s plagued the church from the fourth century onward. (91)

The catastrophe of church as vassal to the state would find its most grotesque expression in the medieval crusades when, under the banner of the cross, Christians killed in the name of Christ. The crusades are perhaps the most egregious example of how distorted Christianity can become when we separate Christ from his ideas. (168)

In making Christ the chaplain-in-chief of Constantinian Christianity, what was unwittingly done was to invent a Manichean Jesus who saves our souls while leaving us free to run the affairs of the world as we see fit. (181)

There are no “Christian nations” in the political sense. (276)

What God is opposed to, and has always been opposed to, is empire— rich and powerful nations that believe they have a divine right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape the world according to their agenda. (284)

Jesus is not a heavenly conductor handing out tickets to heaven. Jesus is the carpenter who repairs, renovates, and restores God’s good world. (416)

In the eight gospel sermons found in the book of Acts, not one of them is based on afterlife issues! Instead they proclaimed that the world now had a new emperor and his name was Jesus! (428)

[Re John 4:42; 1 John 4:14]  If what we mean by “Jesus saves the world” gets reduced to “saved people go to heaven when they die,” then Jesus is simply the one who saves us from the world, not the Savior of the world. But this is not what the apostle John meant when he spoke of Jesus as the Savior of the world. John was talking about something much bigger and much more expansive than individuals “accepting Jesus as their personal Savior.” John (and the rest of the apostolic writers of the New Testament) presented Christ as the Savior of God’s good creation and the restorer of God’s original intention for human society. This is the gospel! This is the apostolic gospel, and it’s a gospel that gives us an eschatology of hope. (437)

Christianity’s first apostles evangelized, not by trying to sign people up for an apocalyptic evacuation, but by announcing the arrival of a new world order. (478)

When vicious competition and blind commitment to tribalism become more valued than the brotherhood of shared humanity, we let Satan loose in our midst. (503)

The world has seen plenty of atrocities since the advent of Christ. Indeed. But what skeptics often fail to realize is that it is precisely because of Calvary that we call these things atrocities and not normalcy. (546)

It is naive and historically unwarranted to think that this kind of compassion— care for those least able to contribute to the welfare of the community— would be regarded as a virtue without Jesus Christ. To locate the origin of concern for “human rights” in something like the secular triumph of the French Revolution instead of the sacred triumph of Christ is a poor and pernicious reading of history. (561)

I know of many St. Jude and St. James hospitals, orphanages, relief agencies, and the like, but I’m still looking for the Nietzsche hospital or the Voltaire children’s home. (575)

The idea that human dignity is to be accorded to every person no matter their social status is an idea that would be impossible without the life of Christ. This is part of how Jesus repairs the world. (602)

We are not hoping for Armageddon; we are helping build New Jerusalem. We will not complete it without the return of the King, but we will move in that direction all the same. (613)

It’s an important insight— Christ was almost always against the crowd. (650)

Crowd dynamics are closely associated with the demonic. (657)

The Passover crowd shouted, “Hosanna!” (“ Save now!”) until it realized that Jesus wouldn’t save them by killing their enemies; then it shouted, “Crucify him!” (664)

When a group of people becomes an angry, fear-driven crowd, the groupthink phenomenon of mob mentality quickly overtakes rational thought and individual responsibility. The mob takes on a spirit of its own and the satanic is generated. The mob becomes capable of evil that would be unthinkable for most people as an individual. It can be as spontaneous as the Rwandan genocide or as systematic as the Nazi’s Final Solution. (675)

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. But it is cathartic and religious in the wrong way. (704)

Scapegoating is one of the evils Jesus came to save the world from. He did it by becoming the ultimate scapegoat— by dying for our sins. (746)

The cross is to transform us. When we look at what scapegoating did to Jesus, we repent of it. His innocent death shocks us into realizing we cannot participate in a system that can do that to a sinless man. (782)

…tattoo our mind with these three transformational truths: (1) The majority is almost always wrong. (2) The crowd is untruth. (3) Scapegoating is demonic.

Will the church scapegoat Muslims in the twenty-first century as the church scapegoated Jews in previous centuries? (849)

We are mad if we imagine that the God of love revealed in Jesus will bless us in waging war. (899)

We forget that when we see Christ dead upon the cross, we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. (910)

[Jesus’] ideas for running the world are so radically different from anything we are accustomed to. Which is why, I suspect, for so long, the Gospels have been treated as mere narratives and have not been taken seriously as theological documents in their own right. (914)

We believe in Jesus theologically, religiously, spiritually, sentimentally … but not politically. We believe Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, but we don’t really believe he was a competent political theologian. (950)

Jesus didn’t seem very interested in exposing symptomatic sinners— tax collectors, drunkards, prostitutes, etc. Instead Jesus challenged the guardians of systemic sin— the power brokers of religion and politics. (969)

Jesus understood that the world had built its societal structures upon shared hatred, scapegoating, and what René Girard calls “sacred violence.” In challenging “sacred violence” (which Israel cherished in their war stories), Jesus was challenging the world at its most basic level. (998)

The Jesus way and conventional power politics don’t mix. So we tell Jesus to mind his own business—to go back to church and to “saving souls” and not to meddle in the real affairs of running the world. We sequester Jesus to a stained-glass quarantine and appropriate a trillion dollars for the war machine. (1054)

I learned that it is much easier to unite people around a Jesus who hates our enemies and blesses our wars than it is to unite people around a Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (1071)

For the Judean crowd gathering around Jesus, freedom was something primarily political. Their essential idea of freedom was that it was a form of power, especially power over and against national enemies. To come straight out and say it, freedom was a euphemism for lethal power— the power to kill. When you had power to kill your enemies and the will to do so, you were “free.” When you had the biggest, most well-trained, best-equipped, most lethal military— then you were “free.” But it’s not freedom in the form of lethal power that Jesus sees as true freedom. For Jesus, freedom is liberation from sin— especially the particular sin of collective killing. (1145)

[Re John 8:39-40]  What did Abraham do that Jesus was calling the crowd to imitate in regard to killing? The answer is plain and simple: Abraham put down the knife. Abraham did not kill his son Isaac upon the sacrificial altar at Moriah . Abraham abandoned the sacred violence of human sacrifice. Abraham put down the knife. This is a big deal! (1177)

[Re John 8:44-45]  Jesus boldly told the Judeans that in holding to a false violence-based freedom instead of true love-based freedom, they were of their father the devil. They were not children of Abraham or children of God; they were, sadly, children of the devil. Hard words. (1224)

When competition arises with our neighbors, we will call them enemies, kill them, and tell ourselves lies about it. We will justify our killing in the name of freedom and hide the bodies behind myths and monuments, anthems and altars. (1235)

If someone at a stoning doesn’t participate, they are in danger of becoming the next victim. For the illusion of innocence to work, everyone must participate in the collective murder. The one who won’t throw a rock becomes a prophet shining light on the evil of stoning. The community must then either repent or stone the prophet. (1255)

The truth is: God is love and our enemies are our brothers. Freedom is just another word for what happens to us when we live in the light of that truth. Do we have the courage to embrace the truth that will set us free? (1291)

Muhammad may have thought freedom could be found at the end of a sword, but Jesus never did. So are Christians who most enthusiastically support US-led wars against Muslim nations actually trying to turn Jesus into some version of Muhammad? (1328)

To endorse the dominant view that the employment of violence is compatible with Christianity requires no courage at all— that’s just following the crowd. But to differ from the dominant view on the sanctity of state-sponsored violence may require an uncommon reservoir of moral conviction. (1348)

[Re Luke 19:42-44]  When Jesus wept and said, “If only you had known the things that make for peace,” he wasn’t talking about spiritual peace or inner peace or emotional peace; he was talking about peace from the literal hell that is war. (1388)

When the peace of Christ is confined to the private realm of individual emotions, it is not taken seriously as an alternative political vision for humanity. (1392)

[Re Matthew 7:12-14]  The narrow gate is not a sinner’s prayer; the narrow gate is the practice of the Jesus way. The narrow gate is fulfilling the law and the prophets by empathetic love of neighbor in imitation of Jesus. (1495)

If we console ourselves with the promise of heaven in the afterlife while creating hell in this present life, we have embraced the tawdry religion of the crusader and forsaken the true faith of our Savior. (1501)

The revolutionary insight that’s been central to my theological journey is a deeper understanding of what the kingdom of God actually is. (1536)

I came to understand that what Jesus tends to call the kingdom of God, Paul tends to call salvation, but they’re talking about the same thing! (1540)

[Traditionally] the political tail wags the Christian dog. Christianity’s role is to serve a political agenda. So viewed through the American lens, Christianity is seen to endorse democracy and capitalism, just as it was once seen in Europe to endorse monarchy and feudalism. (1561)

If we think the kingdom of God is still waiting in the wings, then our political allegiance is given to one of the players currently on stage. (1565)

What if Jesus has no interest in endorsing some other political agenda because he has his own?! That would change everything. And it’s clearly what Jesus believed about what he was doing! (1569)

‘From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’ (Matt. 26: 64).  Listen carefully to what Jesus told Caiaphas. After Jesus acknowledged that he was indeed Israel’s Messiah, he added that he was also the mysterious Son of Man and that Caiaphas would from now on see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and coming in the clouds of heaven. The phrase from now on should make it quite clear that Jesus was not primarily talking about his Second Coming. Jesus was not referencing something that would take place way off in the future but something that was coming to pass in the present moment, something contemporary with Caiaphas. (1579)

Jesus saw himself as the Son of Man who would receive dominion over the nations and liberate the world from the tyranny of military empires. (1617)

Jesus was condemned to death by both Caiaphas and Pilate for the same reason—he claimed to be a king . Not a “spiritual king” over a “spiritual kingdom” but a real king over a political kingdom— but a very different kind of political kingdom. (1624)

Jesus judges nations on how well they care for four kinds of people: (1) The Poor. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … I was naked and you gave me clothing.” (2) The Sick. “I was sick and you took care of me.” (3) The Immigrant. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (4) The Prisoner. “I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt. 25: 35– 36)  (1676)

What does it mean to be a “sheep” nation judged to be on the right side of Jesus and blessed by God? It means to be a nation that cares for the poor, cares for the sick, welcomes the immigrant, and practices humane treatment of its prisoners. (1685)

Ever since the Son of God refounded the world at the cross and called humanity to organize itself around an axis of love expressed in mercy and forgiveness, a new moral law has been established in the cosmos that will not allow nations to forever oppose the will of God. (1693)

God is forever opposed to empires. God loves nations and delights in their rich diversity, but God hates empires. Empires produce a pseudo-peace— a Pax Romana— but it is a peace that inevitably leads to war. (1756)

In Roman political theory Mars was the bringer of peace— peace by war. The euphemistic peace that was the tyranny of the Pax Romana was the achievement of an empire that venerated war and worshipped Mars. (1806)

Christians carry the cross because we are willing , at any moment, to imitate our Lord by dying at the hands of our enemies rather than perpetuating the cycle of fear and violence. (1844)

I am a conscientious objector to the doom-obsessed, hyperviolent, war-must-come, pillage-the-Bible-for-the-worst-we-can-find eschatology of Hal Lindsey and his tribe. We must reject that kind of warmongering misinterpretation of Scripture. (1906)

War, as a legitimate means of shaping the world, died with Christ on Good Friday. Jesus refuted the war option when he told Peter to put up his sword. Killing in order to liberate Jesus and his followers from the violent injustice of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate would have been a just war— but Jesus refused to engage in a just war. He chose instead to bear witness to the truth, forgive, and die. (1954)

[I have reviewed other books on violence and the Bible here and here]

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