Spiritual seekers, artists, cultural and social activists, politicians, humanists and philosophers among others have for many years looked onto Jesus sayings for instruction and inspirations. Sadly, on countless occasions, Christ’s teachings have either been distorted or ignored by the same people who call themselves Christians. For instance, currently, there are spirited movements in the United States being fueled by an engaged and politicized part of the electorate occupied in just such distortion and ignorance. Whether such movements are directed towards social prejudice, or aggressive attitudes, the fact that their power of influence far supersedes their numbers should be a cause of concern for individuals who are worried about the wellbeing of America and its citizens. At this time when America and the entire globe stand at crossroads, Wendell Berry’s book comes in extremely handy because of its prayerful compassion and inspiration. This paper presents a review of Wendell Berry’s book; Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings of Love, Compassion and Forgiveness. First, let us look at its summary.
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Wendell Berry, an American man, is best known for his academic, economic and cultural criticism. He is also a creative author of novels, poems, short stories, as well as essays. Berry commences his book by declaring that Christianity in the United States has become highly fashionable, though a closer look reveals that it has astonishingly remarkably little connection with the teachings of Jesus Christ. According to Berry, individuals who have declared themselves as Christ’s followers assume that everything they do or say merits the word Christian. From the time when Christianity became respectable politically, such assumptions have been seen amongst Christian rulers who have taken advantage of their Christianity to incite Christian violence. Bloodthirsty Christians have prosecuted countless wars to profit themselves; acts which are not in line with the teachings of Jesus. Berry says that looking closely into the Gospel’s content and the Christian war’s history reveals that something is terribly wrong somewhere. Though Christians read the Gospel passages that deal with human strife, compassion, forgiveness and peacemaking, they either choose to ignore or disobey them, arguing that obedience of such Bible passages is impractical. Surprisingly, they still seek God to help them in their wars. The author wonders how a significant number of Christians could ignore the bold and direct teachings of Jesus Christ, and how they could promote war upon their neighbors despite being founded on peace, forgiveness, compassion and love. How could Christians allow themselves to be inflamed by intolerance and self-interest, yet they ought to be examples that can be emulated by the rest of the world? Berry asks.
He asserts that Americans have betrayed the Gospel for the sake of national interest due to their cultural endorsement of war, as well as, environmental/ economic practices which destroy creation. Consequently, Americans place themselves within an absurdity, which they cannot escape or resolve i.e. the suggestion that conflict can be utilized to serve peace and that by killing and hating the enemies of love, individuals can make allies for love. Berry goes ahead to present a reflection of the burden that Christians must carry in an attempt to evade this absurdity. Berry’s analysis focuses on the promise of Jesus Christ to bring abundant life. From the author’s interpretation, abundant life refers to every creation that has its being within and through the spirit of God. Berry stresses on the need for human beings to promote peace instead of war and affirm life rather than death if we are to celebrate God’s creation. In between the introduction and conclusion of his book where he reflects on all the above issues, Berry also cites bible verses from the New Testament which talk about Jesus Christ’s Gospel of peace, alongside the promise of life in abundance. This written piece is indeed tremendously inspiring and insightful and is an excellent read for everyone with interest in the teachings of Jesus.
Berry’s book is the shortest book that I have ever read that offers extensive details; in fact, I only needed thirty minutes to accomplish it. It presents a summary of Jesus’ teachings that every reader would not only find helpful, but also educational. Berry’s selection of the sayings of Jesus regarding peacemaking, love, forgiveness and compassion, is extremely captivating for what it discloses about him and Jesus teachings. Berry introduces the book by indicting modern Christianity for not practicing Jesus teachings as they are. He state that despite Christianity being fashionable in the United States currently, a closer look into it reveals that it is loosely fashionable. To solve this problem, Berry suggests an honest reading of the Gospel as a way of enhancing the modern practicing of Christian faith. Berry challenges people who profess to be Christians, to ask themselves whether they would still follow Christ even if they knew nothing about Him, and also whether they would act upon each and every word he says. These are thought-provoking questions that are particularly relevant to today’s Christianity, and are act as a reminder to practice genuine Christianity by living Christ-like lives that are worth emulating by the rest of the world. In his concise comments, Berry raises some outstanding points regarding the “burden of the Gospel”, and literalism. From his writing, Berry presents himself as an honest and talented writer and Christian who is concerned about the hypocrisy that has engulfed modern Christianity. In so doing, he successfully manages to convince the reader that modern Christians are not following Jesus’ teachings and that a deeper reading and meditation of the Bible on their part is necessary to enable them gain knowledge of how Jesus intended Christians to live their lives.
Berry’s book can; therefore be summed up as a compilation of Christ's sayings in the Gospel books that talk about love, peacemaking, compassion and forgiveness, plus his personal reflections on the book. Despite the numerous strengths of the book, it has it flaws. Fir instance, I could not help but wish that Berry would have written a piece that is comparatively long. With such valuable and honest information that he presents in this book, the reader feels like he/she needs more information on the subject. I think he undersells peacemaking’s centrality; it is my take that he should have added no less than half of his current bible verses to reinforce his arguments. Despite this limitation, Berry still manages to convey his message to the readers effectively i.e. Christians should live in line with the teachings of Jesus. Through his litmus test to Christians on whether they would follow Christ unreservedly without questioning his teachings, Berry successfully manages to make Christians ponder about their personal relationship with God, on whether they genuinely live according to the teachings of Jesus, or are lured into this world’s pleasures.
In as much as Berry wanted to point out that modern Christians have moved away from the Gospel, I feel he goes overboard in doing so with his ill-considered statements that I would term as inflammatory. This is evident by Berry’s direct words such as, “I am not a learned man, and I may have missed something, but I know of no Christian nation and no Christian leader from whose conduct the teachings of Christ could be inferred”, and “[many Christians] are confident, moreover that God hates people whose faith differs from their own, and they are happy to concur in that hatred.” Another thing that I noticed with this book is the fact that Berry paraphrases what Christ said wrongly. This is evident in his statement that says “Don’t resist evil. If someone slaps your right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.” I do not think Jesus Christ wanted us not to struggle against people who do evil things to us. It is clear from the Bible that Jesus resisted evil during many instances, for example, when the Holy Spirit led Him to the Wilderness, Satan tempt him by asking Jesus to worship him, turn stone to bread and fall from the peak of the temple; all which Jesus resisted. Therefore, this is an indication that Jesus wanted us to flee from evil.
Jesus Christ was an advocate of forgiveness, love and compassion. Nonetheless, He employed violence when it was necessary i.e. whipping the people who were exchanging money in the temple. It is indicated in Matthew 10 that "Jesus came not to bring peace, but a sword." Whether this is a figurative sword or not, it is apparent that it signifies conflict and not peace. Therefore, we can say that Jesus’ act of using violence directly contradicts Berry’s declaration that “love, forgiveness, and peaceableness are the only neighborly relationships that are acceptable to God.” In addition, it is vivid to persons who read the Bible that Jesus Christ’s relationship with religious authorities during his day was far from being peaceable. This does not mean that I object the fact that Jesus wanted everyone to live in peace; all I am saying is that Berry should have gone a bit deeper in explaining to the reader that Jesus meant well with all His actions including whipping the Pharisees who were exchanging money in the temple. He just wanted His father’s house to be respected, so He had to do the necessary. This way, there would be no objections such as the one I have raised above.
In as much as Christ advocated for love and peace, He did not give clear examples on how to deal with everyday situations in life. For instance, He did not tell us how to implement the command of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. If you have found someone being murdered or raped, do you turn your back and permit the victim to be abused/killed, or try to save him/her even if it means getting harmed or killed in the process? Which of these two acts best expresses neighborly love? Of course, the latter, but the question is; how many people in the ordinary would risk their lives to save a stranger in the name of neighborly love? Very few if you ask me. That is why I feel there are loopholes in Berry’s book; he maintains that modern Christians do not practice Christianity according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and that reading the bible more closely and deeply would help enhance their understanding. However, following what is written in the bible strictly may not always be probable in reality due to the individuality that has come with modernity. Many people no longer care about their neighbors, leave alone risking their lives to show neighborly love. Therefore, Berry should have stated clearly how Christians ought to show love, compassion and forgiveness in the modern setting considering that following the teachings of Jesus strictly may not be possible.
It is also vital to take a close look at Jesus’ command that we should “render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”and ask ourselves the relationships we ought to have with the governing powers that are above us. In addition, how much are people supposed to submit to their governments according to the Jesus’ teachings? Apostle Paul did an excellent job in Romans 13 in expounding the above words by Christ. In his explanation, Paul said that God has invested governments with powers and duties such as the duty to reward those who do well, but punish those who do evil. Paul then went ahead to provide a list of individual duties of Christians. The list is followed by the statement, “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.” This means that citizens ought to let their governments execute their God-given duties and mind their own responsibilities in life. Another issue that remains unclear from the scriptures is whether Christ or His apostles believed in governments backing off from criminals, till such a time when they decide to reform. If this were true, then people like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Hitler would have gotten away with the atrocities that they committed and probably, they would not have changed for the better.
In general, Berry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Christ's Teachings of Love, Compassion and Forgiveness,presents a truly inspiring and educational book regarding Christ’s teachings that I believe anyone interested in the Gospel will find helpful. However, after criticizing the ways of modern Christians, it would have been better for Berry to show readers how his alternative perfect way will work.