Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Miguel de la Torre: A New(ish) Voice in baptist Theology

migueldelatorreMiguel de la Torre (left) is a friend of mine–and a rising voice in baptist theology in the 21st C.  He is one of the leading voices of Latino-American Liberation theology today–which is funny considering that he was once a staunch Republican who sold real estate in Miami.

Born in Cuba just months before the Castro revolution, Miguel’s family escaped to the U.S. when he was 6 months old.  For awhile, the U.S. government considered him to be an “illegal immigrant” (as they did the part of my family that came from Ireland during the late 19th C. and, finding the quota on Irish filled that year, stuck across the Canadian border).  He grew up in Queens, was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church while his parents became priest and priestess in the Caribbean religion of Santeria.  He left Queens and moved to Miami in his teens. 

At 19, Miguel formed his own real estate company, earned an M.P.A. from American University (Washington, D.C.), founded the West Dade Young Republicans, and eventually became president of the Miami Board of Realtors.  In 1988, he ran for Congress but lost in the Republican primary to Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL -115), who still holds that seat. 

In his early 20s, Miguel’s life took some dramatic turns.  He became a “born again” Christian and joined University Baptist Church by believers’ baptism.  Feeling called to gospel ministry, he dissolved his highly successful real estate company to finance his theological education, beginning at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY (where we met–Miguel helped me hone my mediocre Spanish enough that I could pass Theological Spanish for grad school and study Latin American liberation theologies in the original–except for the brothers Boff, who, being Brazilian, of course, wrote in Portuguese! ).  He was ordained to the gospel ministry and served as pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Glen Dean, KY.

Like many of us, Miguel found his seminary experience transforming. Almost against his will, he changed from a social and political conservative to a proponent of liberation theology–who thinks most Democrats are far too tame.   When he completed his M.Div. at SBTS, he entered Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, earning a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, specializing in Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion.  Miguel has applied social scientific models to study Latino/a religion in the U.S. as well as pioneering in theological ethics from a Latino/a liberationist perspective.

From 1993-2005, Miguel taught Christian Ethics at Hope College, Holland, MI. Hope College is a Christian liberal arts college associated with the Reformed Church of America, and a Latino Baptist somewhat stood out in an institution historically related to Dutch Calvinists–but both African-American and Latino/a students were a rising percentage of enrollment.  Things went mostly fine, Miguel earned tenure, until he wrote a column in the local newspaper that satirized James Dobson’s attacks on the supposed “homosexuality” of the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. (The article was called, “When the Bible is Used for Hatred.”) Dobson and his supporters caused enough trouble for Miguel that he eventually resigned his tenure and moved to Denver, CO.  Since 2005, Miguel de la Torre has been Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology, an ecumenical and interfaith theological seminary connected to the United Methodist Church.  [Corrected slightly per comments from BDW] Formerly,  regular columnist for EthicsDaily, now more often for Associated Baptist Press, Miguel is a prolific author–so much so that I will only list below the books he has authored by himself. He also co-authored several books, edited others, and contributed articles to dictionaries, journals, chapters in books, and magazines and newspapers.  In all these ways, he is a powerful influence–a new voice and face to 21st C. Baptist (and baptist) theology in North America.

A partial bibliography of Miguel de la Torre’s works include:

Reading the Bible from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. Personal note: This was a groundbreaking and very challenging work. I REALLY advise reading this–several times.

The Quest for the Cuban Christ:  A Historical Search. Gainesville, FL:  University Press of Florida, 2002.

La Lucha for Cuba:  Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2003.

Santeria:  The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2004. Not quite as ecclesiocentric as this Anabaptist-type would desire, there is still much that is essential in this fantastic book.

A Lily Among the Thorns:  Imagining a New Christian Sexuality.  Jossey-Bass, 2007. Haven’t had time to read this one, yet, but want to do so. Miguel goes where angels fear to tread.

Liberating Jonah:  Toward a Biblical Ethics of Reconciliation.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2007.  Excellent.

Trails of Hope and Terror:  Testimonies on the Current Immigration Debate.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2009.  I have this one on order.

Social Justice from a Latina/o Perspective:  Constructing a Latina/o Ethics of Survival.  Waco, TX:  Baylor University Press, Forthcoming in 2010.

Genesis:  A Theological Commentary on the Bible.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, Forthcoming in 2011.

If I were to add all the co-authored and edited books or his chapter contributions, you’d wonder how Miguel de la Torre ever finds time to teach his class or be with his family! I envy his ability to write faster than I can read!  And I commend his works to you heartily. You will find his perspectives challenging, always.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, theology | 17 Comments

David Fillingim: A New Voice in baptist Theology

david_fillingimMy friend, David Fillingim, currently Associate Professor of Philosophy, Shorter College, Rome, GA, will be annoyed to find himself listed as a “new voice” in baptist theology because he has always insisted that he “doesn’t believe in theology.” If you press him hard, he’ll break down and admit that what he really means is that he doesn’t believe in systematic theology. A native born Georgian (with a soft drawl that was pleasantly out of place amidst the twangier sounds of Kentucky when I knew David as a fellow Ph.D. student of Glen Stassen at SBTS in the early ’90s) with a Southerner’s Faulknerian sense of narrative, and tragedy, and the giveness of place and people, David knows that theology, like life, is too messy to come in neat systems–and so is God.  To me, that makes him a perfect candidate for this series of brief profiles of “not-yet-famous” voices in baptist/Believers’ Church life.

First, the bare facts. Born and raised in the absolutely beautiful seaside city of Savannah, GA, the son of a family physician, Fillingim grew up in the same kind of conservative-but-non-fundamentalist Baptist life that produced former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He was cross-pollinated by  the more radical stream represented by Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Partners (Americus, GA) and Black Baptist life–during a childhood that saw segregation end, and teen years and adult life that never quite saw racism healed. (Glimpses of healing occur across the South, and across the nation, daily, but there are always setbacks.) He was educated at Mercer University (Macon, GA),  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), finishing his Master of Divinity there just as the fundamentalists took over that institution. He pursued his Ph.D. in Christian Ethics (under my own Doktorvater, Glen H. Stassen) at SBTS in Louisville, KY–even as the fundamentalists closed in on it. (David said he felt like Jonah, bringing darkness whereever he went!) His major influence include Clarence Jordan, Will D. Campbell, Morris Ashcraft, Elizabeth Barnes, Glen H. Stassen, Paul D. Simmons, Henlee H. Barnette, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Of Bonhoeffer, Fillingim has said that he finds it impossible just to relate to him on an intellectual level, always responding to Bonhoeffer as a novice contemplative responds to a spiritual guide. (There is another set of influences to which we’ll attend in a moment.)

After finishing his academic work, Fillingim taught for several years at Chowan College in North Carolina before coming to Shorter College. He has returned  to his home state of GA, but lives now at the opposite end (NW instead of SE) from his childhood home.

Fillingim has written or edited 3 books.  Extreme Virtues:  Living at the Prophetic Edge with a foreword by Glen H. Stassen  (Herald Press, 2003) is a contribution to “virtue ethics” or the “ethics of character” rooted in a study of the biblical prophets.  Too much of the literature of virtue ethics, even when written by Christians, is more indebted to the writings of Aristotle (and modern Aristotelians like Alisdair McIntyre) than  to the biblical literature, but Fillingim’s contribution is a welcome exception.  According to Fillingim, the virtues extolled by the biblical prophets are:  self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, justice, steadfast love, hope, courage, and peace.  I expect more in this line to come, perhapps from the Gospels, which, following Jesus himself, were deeply informed by the prophets.

Fillingim’s other two books show a second side to his scholarship:  the relation of Southern religion to aspects of Southern popular culture,  especially musical culture.  A guitarist himself, Fillingim wrote Redneck Liberation:  Country Music as Theology, Music and the American South series (Mercer University Press, 2003).  Here Fillingim stands in company with Methodist theologian Tex Sample in studying blue-collar culture for clues to its religious life. (See Tex Sample, White Soul:  Country Music, the Church, and Working Americans [Abingdon Press, 1996], and Tex Sample, Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus:  Doing Ministry with Working Class Whites [Abingdon Press, 2006].) But Fillingim’s initial inspiration, other than the music itself, and the love of Country music by his icon, the maverick Baptist minister,  Will D. Campbell,  was Black Liberation theologian James H. Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues (Orbis Books, 1972, rev. ed., 1992).  Fillingim centers on the “hillbilly humanism” of Hank Williams (Sr.), the eschatological hope portrayed in strands of Country music, and the tension between subordinationist and feminist strands among female Country artists.  I would like to have seen a chapter on the tension between strands of Country which glorify nationalism, militarism and violence (e.g., Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood) and those which resist these features of Southern  culture (e.g, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson).

Finally, to this point in the witness of this “new voice,” is More Than Precious Memories:  The Rhetoric of Southern Gospel Music, ed. Michael  P. Graves and David Fillingim (Mercer University Press, 2004).  This edited work is similar in genre to Redneck Liberation but concentrates on Southern Gospel– church approved Southern white music which stands in the same kind of tension with Country music as the Spirituals do with the Blues.  Graves and Fillingim co-wrote the introduction “More Than Precious Memories” and Fillingim’s chapters include “Oft Made to Wonder: Southern Gospel as Theodicy,” and Appendix: “Flight from Liminality: “Home” in Country and Gospel Music.”  In all these cases we see the recurring Fillingim theme that the distinctive music of Southern culture reflects and illuminates the best and worst of real lives of faith and doubt and brokeness and hope among working class white Southerners.

Fillingim clearly has a strong sense of place: These are my people, no matter what.  It is not uncritical and seeks change–away from the historic racism, sexism, heterosexism, militaristic nationalism, and violence of Southern culture.  But Fillingim’s loyalties to the South also lead him to see its best features and to feel that they are threatened by globalized mass market “culture” and the acids of both modernity and post-modernity.  His is a theology of resistance and hope–that speaks and sings with a soft patrician Georgian drawl. Like Hank Williams, sometimes Fillingim doubtless is “so lonesome [he] could cry,” but is sustained because he “saw the Light.”

Here is a baptist theological voice from the South to watch closely for more to come.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, ethics, theology | 17 Comments

Random Chapters in the History of Nonviolence#1 “Mrs. Overton”

This is a new series that will eventually become a booklet.  I began writing these essays in 2004 when working for Every Church a Peace Church.  Women have been the backbone of most movements for peace, justice, and human rights–but usually they have not been as visible to historians.  As one example of this notice that out of over 100 years of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize (since 1901) only 12 women have been awarded the Nobel–despite the huge leadership of women in creating the modern peace movement that led Alfred  Nobel to create the prize!  So, I will lead off these “random chapters” by profiling several women peacemakers before profiling any male leaders. 

This blog is dedicated to Richard Overton, General Baptist leader of the 17th C. Levellers. So I begin with the story of his life partner. Ironically, Mrs. Overton’s name is lost to us!  But her story is not –even though it needs to be more widely known.


We know little about “Mrs. Overton.” We do not know when or where she was born or to whom.  We do not know when she met and married Richard Overton.  Was she with him in his youth when he travelled from England to Germany and witnessed the beginnings of the Thirty Years’ War? (Was this the origin of the Overtons’ deep conviction that wars over religion were evil incarnate?  Was it the origin of Richard’s defense of liberty of conscience?  Of conscientious objection to war? Of his convictions about nonviolence?) Was she with Richard when he left Germany and moved to Amsterdam in 1615 to join John Smyth’s “se-Baptist” congregation just after it merged with  the Amsterdam Waterlander Mennonites? Or did Richard only meet his life partner after he returned to England (sometime between 1615 and 1642) ? Was she already a member of the General Baptist congregation that Richard joined? (For the first 50 years of their existence the English General Baptists were in frequent communication with the Amsterdam Mennonites. The two groups considered themselves “of like faith and order” and exchanged members without either group requiring rebaptism of the other.  Mennonite-style pacifism was widespread, though not universal, among General Baptists at this time.)   We simply do not know.

What we do know is this:  Mrs. Overton apparently shared her husband’s faith convictions, including his commitments to liberty of conscience and pacifism.  In 1647, Overton, as leader of the Levellers (a Christian-motivated political movement for political and economic equality at the time of the English Civil War), was arrested and thrown into the Tower of London for printing pamphlets without submitting them to the censor for approval.  He was dragged to jail clutching a copy of the Magna Carta to his breast. (Remember that the 13th C. Magna Carta was the first English document that limited the rights of monarchs in English common law.  It began the tradition of limited government with checks and balances–though initially limited to the aristocracy–a tradition that would lead inevitably to democratic rule.) On 10 February 1647,  in The Commoner’s Complaint, which he wrote from prison, Overton described not only his arrest, but the even more dramatic arrest of his wife that followed.

Mrs. Overton demonstrated her own commitment to human rights (a term coined by Richard), rooted, like his, in her deep Christian faith, by continuing to print and publish his pamphlets after his arrest when  it would have been safer to lay low.  So, the authorities came to arrest her as well. Mrs. Overton’s conscience would not allow her to cooperate with the arresting authorities.  So, she practiced nonviolent resistance, going limp, and refusing to walk to jail.  The arresting marshall threatened to drag her by the axle of a cart.  She replied that he must “do as it seemed good to him for she was resolved on her course.” (Overton, The Commoner’s Complaint.) Her husband, Richard, describes the scene with great sarcasm and ridicule of the arresting authorities.  Contemporary feminists might complain that he reinforces the view of women as “the weaker sex,” but he uses these prejudices subversively to undermine the authority of the arresting marshall and all governments that would so treat their citizens. 

The marshall, says Richard, “strutted in fury, as if he would have forthwith levied whole armies and droves of porters and cartmen to advance this poor little innocent woman and her tender babe” to Bridewell prison.  The marshall orders his deputies to drag her from the room, but they refuse.  When the marshall is defeated, the authorities have to draft soldiers from the wars from the frontlines to come and arrest Mrs. Overton.  She goes limp and they drag her “babe at the breast” according to Overton, down the road while she denounces them to the crowd and they jeer the soldiers and throw rotten fruit at them!

In prison, the Overtons have to be smuggled food by friends. They began by being concerned with the rights of conscience for religious minorities and political rights–but in prison they meet the poor and their concept of human rights broadens to include economic rights.

Neither Mrs. Overton nor the Levellers were successful in the short run.  But her witness lives on.  Whenever any nonviolent witness for truth practices nonviolent resistance, they expose the injustice of the Powers and Authorities.  And the Thrones and Kingdoms tremble.  The walls begin to shake.

For all the Mrs. Overtons, named and unnamed, I pray, O Lord, knowing that Your Spirit works through them to topple injustice and sow the seeds of your justice,  your peace, your Rule.  Amen.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, church history, discipleship, heroes, human rights., nonviolence | Comments Off on Random Chapters in the History of Nonviolence#1 “Mrs. Overton”

John Smyth (1554-1612): Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite

28 August 1612 is the day historians believe (records are shaky) that John Smyth died in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  Smyth was a pivotal figure in church history–a major link in the growing radicalism of the Separatist wing of the English Puritan movement; a tireless champion of democracy and religious liberty; a biblicist and radical congregationalist who strove to defend liberty of conscience against what he saw as the tyranny of extra-congregational bishops; the “founder” of the modern Baptist movement; and an Elder in the Waterlander congregation of Mennonites in Amsterdam. 

John Smyth was born in Lincolnshire to “middle class” English commoners and educated at a Grammar School in Gainsborough.  Feeling a call from God to the ministry, he studied for the Anglican priesthood at Christ’s College, Cambridge University (A.B., 1575; M.A., 1595) becoming a life Fellow of Christ’s College.  During this era, many in the U. K. thought the English Reformation was not nearly thorough enough. The Church of England was still “too Catholic” for these dissenters.  Those wanting further reform, wanting to “purify” the Church of all unscriptural “papist” accumulations of tradition, were known as “Puritans,” and several of the colleges of Cambridge University were hotbeds of Puritan sentiment. Smyth’s teachers were Puritans and by the time he earned his M.A. and was ordained an Anglican priest(1595), Smyth knew that he could not go along with the Anglo-Catholic majority.

He managed to get appointed as a private chaplain to a minor noble in order to avoid the restrictions and scrutiny of a parish priest, but his Puritan preaching soon became too radical and he lost that post.  Since physicians did not need licenses to practice medicine in those days, and Smyth had studied biology at Cambridge, he supported himself as a family doctor while deciding his next move.

The mainstream Puritans wanted to work for reform within the Church of England, to “purify” the Church from within.  Those who lacked the patience for slow reform, or who had concluded that the Church of England had strayed so far from the gospel that it was a false church, became known as Separatist Puritans, or simply, Separatists.  Smyth became convinced of this need for reform “without tarrying for any” as one famous Separatist put it.  He gathered a congregation of like-minded London reformers and they met in secret since Non-Conformity to the established Church was illegal.  As their numbers grew, the group had to split peacefully to avoid notice, one group meeting in Scrooby and the other, led by Smyth, meeting in Gainsborough.  The Scrooby congregation, led by John Robinson, soon fled to the Netherlands–which had more religious tolerance than any other Western European nation at the time.  From there, the Robinson congregation would eventually sail to New England and enter history as the “Pilgrims” of American Colonial history.

Meanwhile, by 1607 Smyth’s Gainsborough congregation was again growing too large to keep hidden and to escape persecution they too fled to Amsterdam–financed by a prominent layperson in the group, Thomas Helwys (c. 1550-c. 1616), a lawyer (solicitor).   In Amsterdam, the Smyth congregation was offered a place to meet for worship by one Jan Munter, a member of the Waterlander Mennonite congregation in the city.  Smyth’s congregation met in the bakehouse owned by Munter.  At first, however, though grateful for the hospitality, they were wary of the Mennonites because Anabaptists had a reputation across Europe as heretics and revolutionaries–spread both by lies told by the Magisterial Reformers and by the horrid involvement of a few Anabaptists in the bloody-but-failed Peasant Revolution in Germany and by more in the even-more-disastrous attempt to bring in the Kingdom of God by revolutionary force in Münster, Holland.  The language barrier between the English Separatists and the Dutch Anabaptists probably didn’t help, either.

For that matter, the Mennonites had their own reasons for being wary of the Smyth group.  First, only recently had persecution against Anabaptists ceased in the Netherlands–and that persecution had taught them to be wary of outsiders.  Second, many congregations of English Puritans and Separatists, refugees like Smyth’s group, were fighting with each other and denouncing one another, which the Mennonites rightly considered scandalous.  So, the two groups approached each other cautiously, at first.

But by 1609, doubtless influenced by the Waterlander Mennonites, Smyth and his group had undergone several changes:  1) They had arrived convinced, like most Puritans and Separatists, of Calvinism. They now adopted a mild form of the Arminianism of the Remonstrants–as had the Mennonites.  2) They came to even higher views of Biblical authority than they had previously. Smyth would allow no translations to be used in worship, but preached extemporaneously from the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, translating as he went.  3) They began to argue, as no other English Puritan or Separatist group did, for complete religious liberty and church-state separation, something Anabaptists had been advocating for nearly a century.  4) Finally, they came to adopt adult, or more precisely, believers’ baptism, on profession of faith.  In his 1608 book, The Character of the Beast, Smyth had already argued that the sacraments of a false church must also be false. Thus, those baptized in the Church of England had not really been baptized.  Some other Separatists argued similarly, but Smyth went further and rejected infant baptism altogether, since baptism clearly must follow repentance and faith.

 Some have argued that Smyth’s adoption of believers’ baptism was influenced not by the Mennonites, but by his own Bible study.  Yet, the timing of this conclusion is suggestive, and the mode these first “Baptists” adopted (pouring water over the head 3 times in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was the same as that of the Waterlanders and, indeed, most Anabaptist groups–whereas simple Bible study would suggest full immersion as later Baptists argued.  But Smyth was still not sure of the orthodoxy of the Mennonites–he was not sure they were a “true church.” So, instead of seeking baptism from them, his congregation dissolved based on a written covenant and re-formed based on believers’ baptism.  Smyth baptized himself with a bucket and a dipper or ladle and then proceeded to baptize the rest of the congregation.

This act of self-baptism was shocking to all around. It forever earned Smyth the nickname, “the Se-Baptist” or “self-baptizer.”  Not even Jesus baptized himself, argued Smyth’s critics.  This criticism began to get to Smyth and he investigated the Mennonites more closely.  He came to agree with them on almost everything, including their pacifism and their rejection of swearing oaths, and he sought to merge the two congregations. 

  There were one or two sticking points. 1) Although it is embarrassing to modern Mennonites, Menno Simons and most Mennonites until the Dordrecht Confession held to a really peculiar theory of Christ’s birth, whereby he got none of his human nature from Mary, “passing through her like water through a pipe.” Smyth, and most others, considered this weird Christology to be an example of the heresy of Docetism, i.e., of making Christ only seem human.  2) If Smyth was wrong to baptize himself, would the Mennonites require him and the other Baptists to be rebaptized?

   The lawyer, Thomas Helwys, led a handful of others to break with Smyth over these points.  They saw their baptism as valid and wanted no other baptism.  Helwys, as a lawyer, had strong disagreements with the Anabaptist rejection of all oaths.  And, although he was a near pacifist, Helwys defended the right of governments to raise armies for purely defensive wars–although he quickly agreed that governments would claim that any wars they wanted to wage were “necessary,” “defensive,” and “just,” and this was often a smokescreen.  But Helwys and his followers could not agree to complete pacifism.  Finally, if the two congregations merged, then the exile in Amsterdam was not temporary, but permanent.  Helwys believed they had a duty to return to England and bear witness to the Baptist faith and take the suffering that followed.

In the end, the majority followed Smyth and became Mennonites–Smyth’s name is listed on the church wall today as an Elder.  Helwys and about 10 others returned to England in 1611 and founded the first Baptist congregation on British soil in Spitalfields outside London. But these first Baptists (later called “General” Baptists to distinguish them from the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists that arose a generation later) kept in touch with the Waterlander Mennonites, exchanging letters and members and considering one another “of like faith and order” for the next 50 years.   Despite the influence of Helwys, many of these early General Baptists also became pacifists.

Some have considered John Smyth to have been unstable because he changed his mind so frequently.  Yet, the changes were all in one direction and one could admire his willingness to revisit doctrine and practices repeatedly in light of fresh readings of Scripture.  There have been a few recent works on Smyth’s thought and, as Baptists approach our 400th anniversary in 2009, they might be good to study.

Mark Robert Bell, Apocalypse How?  Baptist Movements During the English Revolution (Mercer University Press, 2000).

James R. Coggin, John Smyth’s Congregation:  English Separatism, Mennonite Influence, and the Elect Nation.  (Herald Press, 1991).

Jason K. Lee, The Theology of John Smyth:  Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite (Mercer University Press, 2003).

August 28, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, church history, heroes | 8 Comments

An Anabaptist-Liberation Christianity: A Beginning Bibliography

Emily Hunter McGowin asked for a working bibliography on an approach to Christianity that is centered in discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus and is characterized by a rejection of worldly values like materialistic consumerism, militarism and violence, gender heirarchies, envioronmental exploitation and support for the death penalty–a perspective that embraces a discipleship with radically different values: simplicity and economic sharing, nonviolent struggle for justice, risky peacemaking motivated by love of neighbor and love of enemies, equality, covenantal caretaking for Creation, an approach to crime characterized by healing and restorative justice.  Well, Emily, there may be several approaches like this. The tradition I know is informed by several key movements in church history:  the early Church before the Emperor Constantine’s “conversion” turned the Jesus movement into an imperial religion; some of the monastic reform movements; the Anabaptist strand of the Radical Reformation of the 16th C.; The “echoes” of  Anabaptist radicalism in 17th C. movements such as the Levellers and Diggers, in the earliest phases of Baptist and Quaker beginnings; the Evangelical revivalist reformers of the 18th & 19th Centuries who opposed slavery and war, fought for gender equality and an end to child labor; the Social Gospel movement; the nonviolent strand of the Black Freedom movement; and some versions of Liberation theology.  Below is a working bibliography for those without a seminary or graduate education.  I hope it is helpful.  In a different bibliography, I will address specific issues like capital punishment or “homosexuality.”

Arias, Mortimer.  Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus: Announcing the Reign of God (Fortress, 1984).

 Augsburger, David.  Dissident Discipleship:  A Spirituality of Self- Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (Brazos, 2006). 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship.  (Macmillan, 1954.)

 Camp, Lee. Mere Discipleship:  Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World.  (Brazos, 2003).

 Costas, Orlando. Liberating News:  A Theology of Contextual Evangelization (Eerdmans, 1989).

 Dayton, Donald.  Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (Harper, 1976).

 Escobar, Samuel and John Driver. Christian Mission and Social Justice. (Herald Press, 1978).

 Newbigin, Lesslie.  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. (Eerdmans, 1989). 

Nuñez, Emilio A. Liberation Theology (Moody Press, 1985). 

Sider, Ronald J. Genuine Christianity:  Essentials for Living Your Faith  (Zondervan, 1996).

Sider, Ronald J. One-Sided Christianity?  Uniting the Church to Heal a Lost and Broken World (HarperCollins, 1993). 

Swartley, Willard M. The Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology (Eerdmans, 2006).

Stassen, Glen H.  Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for  Grace and Deliverance (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

Stassen, Glen H. and David Gushee. Kingdom Ethics:  Following Jesus in  Contemporary Context (IVP, 2003).

 Wallis, Jim.  The Call to Conversion (Harper, 1981).

 Weaver, J. Denny.  Anabaptist Theology in the Face of Postmodernity (Cascadia, 2000).

 Weaver, J. Denny.  Becoming Anabaptist (Herald Press, 2005).

 Weaver, J. Denny. The Nonviolent Atonement (Eerdmans, 2001). 

Williamson, Jr., George.  Radicals:  Anabaptists and the Current World Crisis (Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 2005).

 Yoder, John Howard. He Came Preaching Peace (Herald Press, 1985).

 Yoder, John Howard.  The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, rev. ed.  (Eerdmans, 1994; Orig. ed., 1972).

August 18, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, Christianity, nonviolence, peacemaking | 4 Comments

Dr. Vern Ratzlaff: Mennonite Pastor & Theologian

vern-ratzlaff-leads-bible-study.jpgMost years at “peace camp” we have Bible Study in the mornings and good preaching in the evenings.  Our evenings were more varied this year, but we were led in a fantastic set of Bible studies by Dr. Vern Ratzlaff.  A Canadian Mennonite minister, Vern worked for many years in the Middle East for the Mennonite Central Committee, a pan-Mennonite agency that combines mission work with peace and development work.  After returning from his time in the Middle East, Vern worked for the Canadian branch of the MCC in Ottawa.  Officially “retired,” now, he pastors a small Mennonite congregation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and is an adjunct professor of theology at the nearby Lutheran seminary(philosophy and historical theology) . 

So, how did the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America manage to invite a fantastic (but hardly famous) Mennonite pastor and theologian to lead our Bible studies this year? Well, it turns out that one of our Canadian members, Bob Doll, had gone to university (the University of British Columbia) with Vern and they had remained friends.  Bob had said that we needed to hear Vern–and he was right.

Our theme this year was As the Powers Fall: Sustaining Our Faith and One Another As Empire Crumbles.  Vern’s Bible studies were:

  1. Powers, Stuctures, and G-d: Creation and Power (Genesis 1 and 2).
  2. Powers, Structures, and G-d: Prayer and Power (Matthew 6:9-13).
  3. Powers, Structures, and G-d: The Church and Power (1 Corinthians 12).
  4. Powers, Structures, and G-d: Suffering and Power (Revelation 1:4-10).

These lectures will soon be available on compact disk (and also DVD?), I believe, from the BPFNA and one can order them from the BPFNA website.

But, Vern did more than fly in (I picked him up from the Louisville airport and drove him and others to Berea and then back at the end of the week) and give Bible studies.  He joined the volunteer choir for the week and made sure to give special talks based on his lectures (but more age appropriate) to the children and youth programs.  Then he joined in nearly every activity for the week.  We found that he has a great sense of humor. (At one point he wanted us Baptists to know that, although his branch of Mennonites–and most Mennonites–baptize believers by pouring water thrice over the head, he, Vern, had been properly immersed–dunked fully under water. We did not, however, find out the circumstances behind his immersionist baptism–or, at least, I didn’t.)

As regular readers of this blog (are we up to 6 of you, now?) well know, I am one Baptist who emphasizes our Anabaptist roots more than our roots in English Puritanism or our later Revivalist influences.  And several 16th C. Anabaptist theologians and more recent Mennonite theologians (like John Howard Yoder, J. Denny Weaver, Gayle Gerber Koontz, Duane K. Friesen, Willard Swartley, Mark Theissen Nation, and Mary Schwertz, to name a few) have been influential on my theology, to say the least.  So, I was glad to see a greater connection this peace camp, via Vern Ratzlaff–something that hasn’t happened since we met on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA) in the mid-’90s.

It’s also interesting that our Bible study leaders at peace camp for the last 3 years have all been Canadians: Cam Watts, Baptist pastor in Ontario in 2005 (when we met in McMinnville, OR), ex-patriate African-Canadian Baptist Peter J. Paris of Princeton Theological Seminary in 2006 (when we met in Atlanta, GA) and Vern Ratzlaff this year.  Hmm.  I hope our U.S. members are still remembering how to read Scripture!!! 🙂

July 30, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, Biblical exegesis, peacemaking | 3 Comments

Peace Blogger Interview #7: Abigail Miller

MLW-W: Welcome to the return of the Peace Blogger interviews.  Due to many obstacles, we have not had an interview with a member of the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring since mid-April!  To read earlier entries in this series, click the following numbers:  1, 2 (sadly, this interviewee has since quite the blog-ring), 3, 4, 5, and 6. Today’s interviewee is Abigail C. Miller  who blogs under the pseudonymn “Espiritu Paz,” Spanish for “Spirit of Peace.”  Her blog, Parables displays theological and other observations from her own Anabaptist perspective.  She sarcastically headlines the blog with a quotation from John Calvin, “Anabaptists demonstrate a total lack of intelligence.  There is nothing to be learned from their ideas.”  Well, I beg to differ with that 16th C. French lawyer turned Genevan Reformer and pastor–not only about the ideas of 16th C. Anabaptists, but those of contemporary descendants like Abigail.  Welcome to the Peace Blogger interviews, Abigail! 

MLW-W: How would you describe yourself? 

Abigail: A traveling pilgrim, a child of God, a catalyst for the kingdom, a student of life and academics (science and theology). I’m an artist, a writer, a big sister, a sometimes too adventurous daughter. I work on community building enterprises and networking, mentoring and leadership in my local community.


By the way I’m not saying I have perfected any of these things. I just like integrating the best spirituality and theology with the places where the rubber hits the road, in the cracks and crevices of life. I also do some speaking when I can but I don’t package myself for that endeavor—pacifism, my testimony, my Beachy Amish heritage and community are often my topics and once I presented on the rise of [contemporary] paganism. My faith and way of relating to God is both mystical and rational. Prayer, meditation and reading and thinking about dense philosophy, work together just fine for me. I go about my house, neighborhood, and global community in an attempt to practice the presence of God. I am a strong idealist and adventurer and often insist too strongly on having my ideals become a living reality.

 MLW-W:  That’s quite a description. Before we unpack any of that further, tell us about your immediate family. 

Abigail:  I am second born into a family of ten. My grandparents were both horse and buggy Amish and my parents grew up somewhere between Amish and Beachy—if you know what that means.

 MLW-W:  I understand those references slightly, but let’s help out our readers.  The Amish  are an offshoot of that branch of the Anabaptists known as Mennonites  after the Dutch Radical Reformer Menno Simons. The Amish, who reject most forms of modern technology for very simple rural lives, were a splinter movement named after Jacob Ammann  who believed too many North American Mennonites were becoming aculturated (“worldly”) and lax in enforcing church discipline, right?[N.B.: Non-U.S. readers can get a somewhat accurate picture of Amish life from the movie, Witness.] There are Amish communities in many parts of rural Canada and the U.S., especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and Kentucky. The Amish do not pursue education beyond Middle School, i.e., beyond what is needed to maintain their simple lifestyle.   Could you describe further the distinctions between “old order Amish” and “Beachy Amish?” 

Abigail: I don’t know about all the technical differences but functional differences are generally: The Amish haven’t incorporated the 20th Century technology and mobility inventions into their lifestyles. The Beachys have more so. Beachys drive cars, do air travel and use electricity. Yet there are still some restrictions across the board—television and radio are absent from daily lifestyles and often internet use is as well. Historically, the Beachy’s began splitting off from the Amish in 1930s, over the issue of Sunday school, which was too in vogue for the Amish brothers,  and a movement into a more dedicated spiritual life for the Beachy dissenters. The popular faith of the Beachy’s is still structured around a largely Amish worldview, although Protestant teaching is brought in by the more progressive and evangelistic ministers. As for distinctive attire, the Beachy’s have a more relaxed dress code than the Amish. Women still wear coverings (bonnets) although they are somewhat smaller. Solid colors for men and women. Women wear the cape dress style, somewhat altered from the Amish version.

 MLW-W:  Thanks.  Okay, back to your family. 

Abigail:  We grew up on a 30 cow dairy farm, where we participated in the operation of growing crops to feed the cattle and gardening to feed ourselves. I parented my younger siblings and learned how to cook and sew all my own clothes as well as milk cows, put up hay, wean and feed calves. We helped my dad, the jack of all trades, build stuff, fix stuff, invent stuff. My family, in many ways is the best image I have of positive community. As we lived and worked together, in all our various personalities, we almost didn’t know where one hand’s effort became another’s.


 All of us pursued higher education except for one brother. I was sort of the instigator of that. My parents resisted it strongly but after talking about it for four years, during my high school years, they relented. And I started off at the local community college. As I discovered and freely shared with all my siblings—“they pay you to go to school, if you are poor.” This we all did in the context of a Beachy Church Community. In a sense, we were also raised under the auspices of this subculture.

 MLW-W:  What do you do for a living?  When not working or blogging, what do you like to do? 

Abigail: I am the full-time administrative assistant to faculty at Bethel Seminary for the past number of years. I was also a student during that time, receiving my MATS[Master of Arts in Theological Studies] last spring [2006]. I’ve also taken up some side projects in book editing/typesetting for some professors. I volunteer as a director on my district’s board of directors. I joined, accidentally but accepted my duties and responsibilities as I began to realize the opportunity it provided me to develop my leadership.


I like exploring. I like adventures and challenges. I like learning a new language and getting on the inside of new cultures. I like meeting new people depending on my phase in life, I also like to sit and daydream, wander around alone, generally at night, thinking or praying or just feeling the solitude. I like to organize and problem solve and do systems analysis and tweaking. I like to garden, cook, work on my various art and knitting projects. I like building and fixing things. I like to read and write and teach. I like designing things. I like hanging out with friends and family. I tremendously enjoy rigorous discussion.

 MLW-W:  Bethel Seminary is run by the Baptist General Conference , a conservative evangelical denomination that began as immigrant Swedish Baptists.  I’ve visited there. The seminary culture reflects a typical American Evangelical sub-culture that is quite different from your upbringing.  What led you to choose Bethel Seminary rather than enrolling in a seminary in the Anabaptist tradition, such as Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Goshen, IN, or even Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, CA? 

Abigail: To be entirely honest, I didn’t really intend to go to Seminary. I began working at Bethel Seminary, because I needed a job badly and a friend got me in. Then I started taking classes and couldn’t quit. As for the other Anabaptist Seminaries—I didn’t really know about them and it would have required a move far away from my family. Career navigating and resume building and moving across the country for a job or a school still aren’t a part of my hardware.

 MLW-W: Okay, you’ve begun this already, but tell us something more directly  about your faith. How long have you been a Christian (follower of Jesus)? 

Abigail: Being raised Beachy, I am no stranger to Christian teaching. The best thing my community gave me was a slow way of life and humility. It is those habits that cultivated the ground for faith, for hearing the Holy Spirit. I remember praying and a sense of oneness with God long before the confession of faith that my tradition recognized as the deciding point for following Christ.[N.B.: This is a believers’ baptism tradition, requiring an adult, or, at least, adolescent confession of faith, followed by baptism, to officially join the church.]


 So, I don’t know how long I’ve been a Christian, but I know I am actively pursuing the path and that is what matters. There have been times in my life when I have encountered the reality of Christ so significantly that, by comparison, I could almost say I wasn’t a Christian before the growth surge. For instance I can point to a mystical-like experienced I received during my senior year of college, as a result my faith was heavily influenced by the concept and motive of incarnation. My experience has been that there is a progressive process infused by Spirit catalyzed moments.

MLW-W:  Of what local congregation/parish are you a member? If your local church is part of a denomination, what is it?    

Abigail: I go to church services but I would be loathe to consider myself a member of any such institution, mostly because it would be a bit meaningless to the end toward which church should be. Membership in the context I have found myself in, no longer means much other than formal affiliation to an organization. I have my circles of Christian influence, numerous mentors and people that are companions in sharpening my growth and maturity in faith and circles of human fellowship. So I go to services and celebrations and I participate in various communities but I also meet with mentors and discipleship partners to challenge and keep me accountable in my spiritual growth. I think there was a time when that was all wrapped up into the same ball of wax but it isn’t anymore. So, I piece it together in an attempt at fostering wholeness in myself.


MLW-W: How did you get into blogging?   What do you like about it?  Are there problems you see with blogging?


Abigail: I started blogging at the urging of my seminary ethics professor. He enjoyed my personal stories as well as my intentional living. He urged me to get into it as a means of being a Christian witness. I like the challenge of blogging because it is forcing me to be succinct and write well. The thing I hate about it most, though, is that my readers/lurkers could remain anonymous forever, not putting in the effort to reveal themselves and interact with me toward a mutuality. I find the one-sidedness of blogging most unsatisfying because I hold mutuality and equality in friendship as such a high ideal.

 MLW-W: . What led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers?  Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking?  Have they gotten any feedback from readers? 

Abigail: Peacemaking is a lifestyle. Posts on the perspective and the position—the issue itself, per say—will be rare. However the perspective and lifestyle choice, pervading my worldview, will surface everywhere. I write in stories or in-divisive commentary. It’s not so popular. I also add a touch of humanness by telling of some life stuff—my family keeps tabs on me that way. I’ve been contemplating splitting up my blog into two themes: a more personal life and event blog and then thoughts and meditations and parables.

 MLW-W:  Do you read any of the other blogs in the blog-ring? Which ones do you like and why?  Have you alerted any readers to your blog about these blogs (or specific posts on them) which you like? 

Abigail: Matt Stone’s Journeys In Between. I like the mystical bent and the knowledge of Paganism he’s got.  Mark VanSteenwick’s Jesus Manifesto. He’s my friend and he responds to me when I comment. Plus, I like many of the ideas, because they describe the philosophy and principles out of which I come. Graham Old’s Leaving Münster. I don’t know what I like about his blog but I read certain themes ccasionally.

   MLW-W: I know that nonviolence/nonresistance is part of Amish faith, but you’ve moved a bit from your roots.  Do you consider yourself a pacifist? If so, say something about how you see nonviolence (or nonresistance) and its connections to the gospel.   

Abigail: You might say I was raised in a Christian pacifist community but I doubt my father would have passed the conscientious objector test.[N.B.: This refers to the U.S. government’s standards, during times we have had coerced military induction, a “draft,” for allowing someone to refuse military service because their religion or conscience objects to all war.]  My father is an armchair history buff, specializing in military history. He is rather an anomaly in that sense; he lived a very nonresistant life but in his business dealings and in his relationship with others he participated in active non-resistance. However, when it came to military history, tactical planning and such, he switched into this other mode of thinking. I kind-of compare it to folks who assent to the gospel mentally and don’t live it. My father lived nonresistance but didn’t talk it. I came into my peaceful resistance stance via encountering the history of the Anabaptists as well as through the gospel.

 MLW-W: Some in the Anabaptist tradition(s) distinguish between “nonresistance,” which is generally more apolitical and doesn’t seek to influence “the world,” and active nonviolent resistance.  Is this a distinction you would make? 

Abigail: I would acknowledge the distinction. Nonresistance is the stance espoused by most of those in the community I am from. The “lived out” portion of that nonresistance  from which I would dissent is what I would term “non-participative”—the uninvolved habit one can form in a community which has a history of nonresistance, where the lifestyle has been accepted and incorporated into the culture around it. Active nonviolence is different in that it engages the turmoil and the violence of the world and with decided active nonviolence bringing ideological, social and interpersonal change.

 MLW-W: Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Abigail: I am not intentionally a part of such an organized work. Rather, I join groups and organizations and bring peace-related teaching and living habits to it. For instance, I’ve been working toward a network of home churches/small churches. Most don’t see this as a peace-related activity. I do. Because I see these groups forming around common interests. Often they are very homogeneous. I say this only to point out as a passing observation about a reality that could turn unfavorable. Homogeneity was never really interesting to me in the first count but it also is a precursor to seeds of conflict laid on the lines that homogeneous groups are defined according to that which remains unexpressed till the moment of conflict. My “peace-related advocacy” in this situation (if I can even claim such an intent) is to introduce the catalyst factor to the situation. It will bring tension and opportunity through which greater capacity for peace can be worked out of.

In general, I habitually look for schisms and fissures in social structures and I look for ways to become both sides. Basically, I realize that if I am going to have anything profound or new to say about the issues on a philosophical or theological plane than I must be immersed in life of it.

MLW-W: Have you ever considered bringing your Beachy Amish perspective to some active peacemaking programs started by more “engaged” Anabaptists, e.g., the Mennonite Central Committee or Christian Peacemaker Teams?


Abigail: No, I haven’t. Generally, I start where I’m at with what there is and begin organizing and networking with people. I’ve considered being a missionary and have looked at some mission organizations in the hopes of finding a place on the margins of violence and haven’t found anything uncomfortable enough. I know I need guidance or maybe a windfall on how to best make use of what God has entrusted to me. Until then, I wait and pray.

 MLW-W: You rightly show that peacemaking is a lifestyle. You bring this perspective to conflict resolution in families and congregations. In my own experience, churches with little or no history of peacemaking are often very receptive to this kind of “internal” peacemaking and reconciliation. Have you found this, too?  If so, has such a reception ever opened up opportunities to talk about peacemaking “in the world” as also part of our discipleship (e.g., through prison ministry, victim/offender reconciliation, opposition to war, neighborhood peacemaking vs. neighborhood violence, etc.)? 

Abigail: Yes, I have seen that connection and grappled with it in my own church community. I’ve done a house church that was concentrated in a particular location for most of the past 6 years. So, the setting for peacemaking was immediate and applicable both internally and external to our community. Our external foci were connected to the Spanish speaking new immigrants and immediate neighbors. The first issue placed our focus into the global realities of economic disparity and injustice which are often the underpinnings of violence. Mostly, what to do to make a lasting difference was something we tried to wrap our heads around but couldn’t come up with any immediate answers for lasting impact. Us women joked about marrying illegal immigrants to subvert the system and through it forge inroads into international unity. One did marry internationally. Yet, in truth, American foreign policy would be forced to be significantly different if a critical mass of its population were married into families from other nations.

 MLW-W: Ha-ha! That might really work if we could get enough of the “elites” to have such family connections. I notice that three  of the current candidates for U.S. president have such international families:  Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has gotten much attention because his mother is a white woman from Kansas and his father a black Kenyan, his stepfather a Filipino. But Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) also has such a complex background: His father is an Anglo from Boston and his mother is from Mexico and remained a Mexican citizen and he is married to a naturalized citizen from Nicaragua.  Less dramatically, in terms of cultural stretches, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is now married to an Englishwoman.  Significantly, while none of these candidates is pacifist (Kucinich comes very close), each of them takes a far more internationalist and peacemaking approach to foreign policy than anything this nation has seen for some time.  So, that “subvert by marriage” strategy might actually work!  It also shows how immigration policy and foreign policy are deeply connected.  

MLW-W: Speaking of international connections, have you travelled outside the U.S. ? How well do you stay informed with global events? 

Abigail: I’ve been to several places in Latin America and Canada. I don’t stay very well informed of global events. I’m trying to figure out how to do this, once I’ve got the time. I was raised on not TV or radio and my family never got the paper. I was isolated from world events. In my community, we relied on the personal testimony of folks who were a part of our extended global church family, for the real deal on national events of interest to us. Since I have been separated from the community that raised me, I have tried to check out the news from various sources but have given up in frustration. I’ve not wanted to become indoctrinated into the general media slant.

 MLW-W:  I certainly understand that.  Abigail, thank-you for joining us and thank you and our readers for patience in the weeks this series has been dormant.  More Peace Blogger interviews to come, I promise.  Meanwhile, check out Abigail’s blog, Parables !

June 9, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, blog-ring, blogs, pacifism, peacemaking | Comments Off on Peace Blogger Interview #7: Abigail Miller

Book Review: The Politics of Discipleship & Discipleship in Politics

polofdiscipleship.jpgOne of my birthday presents was this book:  Willard M. Swartley, ed., The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics: Jürgen Moltmann in Dialogue with Mennonite Scholars.   The bulk of this fascinating work is a series of lectures given by the German Reformed theologian Moltmann in the early 1980s at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries (now fully united to form one integrated Seminary) in Elkhart, Indiana, USA and at the Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnepeg (now the Canadian Mennonite University and part of the Winnipeg Centre for Ministry Studies on the campus of the University of Winnipeg), together with the responses of Mennonite scholars at the time.  The book also includes Moltmann’s “response to the responses” (which is more contemporary) and his recent essay, “Peacemaking and Dragonslaying in Christianity.” 

The bulk of this book was presented at the height of the Cold War with Moltmann a strong part of the German public’s resistance to the NATO short and medium-range nuclear missiles forced by Reagan onto German soil and the intense nuclear brinkmanship of the US/USSR stand-off.  To a lesser extent, the context of Latin American struggles for liberation, and the various liberation theologies (some nonviolent, some allowing for revolutionary violence) which supported those struggles, is also evident in the background of these lectures.  This represents probably the most sustained engagement of a mainstream theologian in the heritage of the Magisterial Reformation with the heirs of that stream of the Radical Reformation known as the “Anabaptists” since the 16th C. Even the engagement of Karl Barth with Anabaptists in the 1950s was not this thorough.  Nor was the encounter between Moltmann and Mennonite scholars limited to this one series of lectures: Moltmann wrote the Foreward to the German edition of John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus ( Die Politik Jesu–der Weg des Kreuzes [Maxdorf: Agape Verlag, 1981]); Tom Finger, one of the Mennonite theologians in this work, clearly shows the interaction of Moltmann with his Anabaptist heritage in his two-volume Christian Theology: An Eschatological Approach; J. H. Yoder contributed to two different Festschriften for Moltmann; Dialogue with Anabaptists continues in volumes of Moltmann’s work written later, especially in The Way of Jesus Christ, etc.

So, this is a collection of soundings from ongoing dialogues between two important theological traditions, especially as they impact the way discipleship and political action interact. Misunderstandings are corrected: Moltmann forcibly makes the point that his “political theology” project is not meant to politicize the church, but to help the inevitable political actions of Christians be more authentically Christian; comparisons are made between the Lutheran Two-Kingdom theology and the Two-Kingdom theology of a major strand of Anabaptist-Mennonite views.  The tendency of some Mennonites to neglect deep theological reflection and skip straight to biblically-informed ethics is criticized, but so is the tendency of much of the Reformed tradition to concentrate on theology and make discipleship seem like an afterthought.

Some things remain unclear when one is finished reading this wonderful book: At the time of writing his “Response to the Responses,” Moltmann makes clear that he is a “near pacifist,” but not consistent pacifist. He relates his experience of having grown up in a fairly secular German family, of being drafted into Hitler’s army out of university studies and being sent to the Belgian front where he surrendered to the first British soldier he saw, and of spending several years in a British POW camp before being re-patriated–during which time several people shared the gospel with him and he converted to active faith in Christ. Moltmann strongly enunciates two promises he made to himself and God upon repatriation: that he would never again participate in any war or give support to any war, and that, if confronted with a Hitler-type tyrant, he would risk everything to stop him, including by violence (the Bonhoeffer dilemma). Is that still where Moltmann is today? That is unclear. In The Way of Jesus Christ, Moltmann has deep and profound reflections on the normativity for Christians of nonviolence and active peacemaking, but seems to draw a distinction between “force” and “violence.” (The distinction is in the German, too, not just in translation. I checked–and not just trusting to my poor German, but checking with friends who are native German speakers.) I, a self-declared pacifist, also make such a distinction, but it is not clear if our distinctions are along the same lines.  What is clear is that Moltmann has rejected Just War Theory as inadequate for Christian discipleship (even if it remains useful as a basis for dialogue with secular politicians)–and that he rejects Christendom, regretting that, after WWII, the Confessing Church did not become a “Free Church,” but accepted once more privileges from the state.

I recommend this book highly–and not just for Mennonites or those influenced by Moltmann–but for all who care deeply about the issues of discipleship, politics and their interaction. It is not just a window on a set of conversations from the past, but a stimulus to further conversations now.

May 10, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, books, discipleship, nonviolence, theology | 1 Comment

Blog Profiles: Leaving Muenster

Leaving Muenster is the blog of Graham Old, who is one of a growing number of British Christians rediscovering the Anabaptist movement. Muenster was, of course, the site in Holland of the worst perversion of the Anabaptist vision–an attempt at theocracy. In the aftermath of that disaster, a former Catholic priest named Menno Simons renewed the Dutch and South German Anabaptists and brought them in line with the pacifism of their spiritual kin, the Swiss Brethren, and the Hutterites of Moravia. Graham, believing as I do that Christianity was never meant to be allied with empire, never to have a military presence or run nations, tries to articulate the ancient Anabaptist vision in a postmodern context. His site is well worth checking out.

January 18, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, blogs | Comments Off on Blog Profiles: Leaving Muenster