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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Little Gelassenheit from the Modern Schwiezer (Swiss), Please.

In response to Scot McKnight's "So What's an Anabaptist?"
blogpost and subsequent article in Mennonite World Review (see link)...

Link to Scot McKnight, "So What's An Anabaptist?" 

Yoder and the Patriarchs (edited)
  I generally enjoyed this posting.  It is a thoughtful reflection on Bender's thought and bias.

  On the other hand, I am unsettled by the increasing use of only certain persons, only certain writings and only certain resources in presenting answers to general questions such as "What is an Anabaptist?"

  Reading this post, one gets a very specific view of Anabaptistism that is rather ahistorical, leaves out 90% of today's practicing and non-practicing Anabaptists, and highlights only those perspectives that support the "new" Anabaptism out of UC/ND/GC (one of which is Baptist, the second Catholic and only the third of actual Mennonite-heritage).

  Similarly, McKnight's assertion that Bender's relatively liberal Anabaptism has been the most impactful in the 20th Century, could be easily questioned.  Has Bender impacted the same number of persons world-wide as has Tolstoy?  If the answer is no, then he must acknowledge the impact Hutterite Anabaptist thought has had on the world through their impact on Tolstoy.  What about Spinoza and the Dutch Mennonite impact on him?  Or similarly Rembrandt?  Lenin?  Czeslaw Milosz?  What about the significant interaction and mutual impact between Evangelical Mennonites and D. L. Moody and with Moody Bible Institute in Chicago?  What about the lessons learned by Dutch and subsequently by British democrats regarding the treatment of religious minorities?  Was William Penn Anabaptist or not?  Did the Speedwell  Anabaptists, who co-founded Plymouth Colony, have any subsequent impact on the emerging United States? 

  Truth is, one often encounters a certain bias from writers who are trained in the Yoder – Bender – Kaufman – Hauerwas School of Anabaptist interpretation.  This bias has certain readily apparent characteristics – it is very Swiss-Mennonite-centric, it is often anti-Evangelical, it tends to respond not to historical Mennonite experience but as an apologetic to Protestant Modernism, the proponents are often in dialogue not with their fellow Anabaptists, but with the Modern Protestant intellectual elite, and it tends to focus rather narrowly only on those aspects of Anabaptism that further an interest in social activism.  In an environment wherein one church feels free to call itself “THE” Mennonite Church, these characteristics might eventually lead to a misleading sense of empowerment, elitism and non-accountability towards other Anabaptists.  At best, it just makes too many of us feel unnecessarily excluded.

    Not Goshen’s problem?  Not MC-USA/CA’s problem?  Not exactly.  Just take a moment to talk to the directors of inter-Mennonite missions and MCC who are struggling to hold inter-Mennonite groups together in this environment.  The Evangelical v Modern Protestant Mennonite (i.e. Yoder) divide of the 1950s is still with us and is still causing us to lose churches and adherents… even whole conferences.

    Rest assured, the tone of this comment is overly judgmental and more impassioned than I myself truly feel, but this is a sentiment much more widely shared than is often admitted, even if it must be slightly exaggerated in order to present itself.  We are not so much alarmed by the audacity of the Yoderians, merely mostly bemused.

    I love our “Mennonite” intellectuals, but somedays I would just like to yank them out of their seminary-dominated special conferences and social media groups in order to spend a week or two on a Mennonite farm in Montana, Saskatchewan or Belize, or to encourage them to read the whole book and not just the “Google suggests” extracts from the Martyrs’ Mirror, Menno Simon’s compiled writings, the Herald of Truth or Der Evangelisations-Bote. 

    There is a lot more church, religious and cultural history with which to deal and to confront than in the selected anthologies.  Yoder was a great thinker, but I, an ethnic Mennonite, had not heard of him until I went to a Catholic university in the 1990s.  The Radical Reformation was awesome… but the very real consequences are the living histories of the Dutch and Prussian Mennonites.  You cannot understand the Radical Reformation if you do not understand Dordrecht.

    Similarly, the focus on Swiss origins for Anabaptism is useful and generally accepted, but it ignores the movements and trends elsewhere that accompanied and succored it.  Could the Radical Reformation have lasted without the anti-Imperialist, pro-Rationalist, pro-Mercantilist trends of Belgium and the Netherlands?  What impact did the Jewish faith have on the Radical Reformation?  Who impacted whom?  These are essential questions that the Yoder-Hauerwas School of thought seems to gloss over.

    Again, I greatly enjoyed McKnight’s essay, but a little more perspective would be awesome and a bit more gelassenheit, please!  ; )

    Steve Wall

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