To discuss the pastoral significance of a theological idea is a questionable undertaking. One could ask just what is meant by the word "pastoral" and just what methods are appropriate for documenting the pastoral impact of anything. But if we are referring to the future prospects of the Anabaptist Vision, then its possible long-term pastoral impact must be addressed.

     The word "pastoral" here refers to the personal meaning and impact of the Anabaptist Vision. How has the vision "worn" over the years in the lives of those whose religious formation has been shaped by its priorities?

     The word "pastoral" may also describe best the perspective from which this paper is written. We are blessed with many excellent historical and sociological studies of Mennonite communities. Thanks to the diligent work of many fine historians we now have incredibly well developed prophetic hindsight into what has shaped our identity. But the present needs to be interpreted as well. So I am writing from a pastoral perspective, concerned to understand what is unfolding right now in the lives of us who identify with this heritage and community.

     I write neither as a sociologist nor as a historian; so what is my method? Just how does one document the deeply personal impact of an idea? What I have to say grows out of personal experience, observations, extensive interviews and correspondence, all of which have led to hunches and inklings to be tested by those wiser than myself. Perhaps presenting my hunches to the larger church for testing is my method. Or to state it in a different way, in this paper I am clearly stating some unquantifiable perceptions and personal interpretations without a smoke-screen of supposedly impersonal data to mask what is indeed a personal statement.

     It is also not easy to sort out diverse pastoral influences in a time of rapid change. The Anabaptist Vision does not stand alone as a force shaping post-World War II Mennonite academics and leaders. Indeed a variety of new theological, academic and social influences emerged in the postwar period and dramatically reshaped the academic Mennonite milieu.[1]  So I cannot simply discuss the effect of Bender's essay. Indeed, my focus is not primarily on the Anabaptist Vision of Harold Bender but on the generation of Bender students who appropriated the Anabaptist Vision as a defining benchmark and shaped a reform-minded neo-Anabaptist community of discourse centered in our academic institutions.

     The Anabaptist Vision came at a kairos moment. For many young Mennonite college students who felt restless and rebellious about a Mennonite past that was culturally provincial, theologically static and psychologically oppressive, the Anabaptist Vision offered a new way to be Mennonite. Hoisting the Anabaptist Vision as a rallying flag allowed young Mennonites to rebel against their experience of Mennonite congregational life in the name of true Anabaptism. It was a brilliant and creative strategy at least for the short haul. Nothing in the following pages should detract from the fact that for many of us the Anabaptist Vision made it possible for us to remain in the Mennonite tradition and that it unleashed authentic and creative powers for church renewal that still benefit us today.

     But I believe it is becoming equally clear that the Anabaptist Vision and the neo-Anabaptist subculture it helped to define had other, less positive impacts-impacts that are apparent only now that its dynamic has been played out across a few generations. The meaning of a seed does not really become clear until the fruit has been formed, harvested and digested, all of which takes time. We must also distinguish between the fruits that the Anabaptist Vision has borne over a period of 50 years and the intentions of those who framed and advocated it. My contention is that the Anabaptist Vision became both a theological and pastoral critical wedge that served eventually to dislocate and alienate some Mennonites from the basic grammar of the Christian faith. Again, I emphasize that this was never the intended purpose of anyone, least of all Harold S. Bender. This paper is not an attack on anyone, but is simply a call for all of us to acknowledge honestly that for some the pursuit of the Anabaptist Vision led down a road of alienation and estrangement from the Christian faith of our Anabaptist-Mennonite forebears.

The Anabaptist Vision and Theological Dislocation

     The task of this paper is to discuss the personal, pastoral significance of the Anabaptist Vision, not the theological concepts per se. But there is at least some minimal correlation between the theological concepts one holds and the kind of person one becomes. It is rarely clear which is cause and which is effect, that is, whether changes in theological understanding precede or merely reflect fundamental changes in one's sense of self. Nevertheless, it is clear that neo-Anabaptism required its students to undergo a basic reorientation in theological self-understanding. What is significant here is not merely the theological concepts that needed to be changed but the pedagogical process by which this was accomplished.

     For many of us raised in theologically conservative, traditional Mennonite communities the process of coming to identify with neo-Anabaptism required an experience of theological dislocation. The first moment in neo-Anabaptist pedagogy is a dislocative or deconstructive move where the taken-for-granted theological concepts-and even more the theological priorities-of evangelical Protestant theology had to be unlearned. This procedure is somewhat evident in Bender's original essay. Throughout his famous essay Bender clarified that Anabaptism is not this and not that.[2]  Depending on how eager a student was to be alienated from the home community and its worldview, this process could be experienced as painful and confrontational or as delightful and liberating. This first, dislocative moment was handled very differently according to the personality of individual teachers. Some-myself included-put a fairly polemical edge on it, often expressing residual anger from our own formative experiences with revivalism or fundamentalist teaching. This pedagogy of dislocation from evangelical Protestant priorities became much more radical and intense in the next generation of teachers than it had ever been in Bender or his contemporaries such as J. C. Wenger.

     Briefly, there were a few key theological concepts that needed to be unlearned. The main concern with atonement in neo-Anabaptism was to show how the satisfaction theory of the atonement is not as biblical as most people assume and how it works against discipleship. Pedagogically speaking, however, we were less successful in communicating a vital sense of the meaning and power of Christ's redemptive work than we were in deconstructing an older model. A demythologized Christus Victor theory was perhaps the most convincing one we could muster. But was it still clear that we needed a Savior? Or was it enough to have an illuminator who unmasked the evils of "the powers"? Was it still clear to us that "without the shedding of blood there is no remissions of sins"? Or was the inspiring death of a heroic nonviolent role model enough to turn us into good Anabaptists?

     On another front, when we addressed the work of the Spirit we wanted to be clear that the Spirit's work was corporate, not merely personal. But our pedagogy of the Christian life did not express or contain a profound awareness of the Spirit in human experience. Discussions of Acts 2 tended to move quickly to verses 43-47 with its idealized picture of the Acts church. Since we argued that community is the outcome of Pentecost, discussions of Pentecost became simply another opportunity to talk about community, one of our favorite topics. We bypassed the mysterious and experiential reality of the Spirit in favor of reflection on the communal and behavioral outcomes that the experience of the Spirit yields.

     This dislocative step was never regarded as ultimate, but was to be followed by a positive statement of the Anabaptist ideal. However, the Anabaptist ideal became attractive in part from the way it critiqued the alternatives. The two certainly had some relationship to each other. Very early in my own career, in teaching the children of the 1980s and 1990s I had to re-learn my approach because the old polemical targets had become the proverbial dead horse that no longer needed beating. Most of my students no longer had any need to rebel against an overly evangelical or culturally oppressive Mennonite upbringing. What role can the Anabaptist Vision play, now that the transitional crisis in which it gained its appeal has been played out and the younger generation has gone on to new issues. While the deconstructive or dislocative moment in neo-Anabaptist pedagogy was not the ultimate goal, it could be argued that we were often more effective at teaching the deconstructive phase than in completing the constructive phase. We may have helped students unlearn the traditional "plan of salvation," but may have been less effective in giving vital new meaning to words like "Gospel" and "salvation." Some of us approached these words not first of all with a life-giving affirmative meaning that had a secondary critical edge, but from an alienated and suspicious point of view; and we had difficulty working our way through to an affirmative statement of their meaning. In some cases the adopting of a viewpoint of theological suspicion became a habit that could not be unlearned. Another way to look at this is that the theological and experiential constructs we deconstructed had centuries of history behind them and were deeply rooted in our communities and in our psyches. The constructs we developed had little intellectual or spiritual testing. The new alternatives did not always reach as deep as what it replaced.

     While I too accept and rejoice in the freedom to rethink old formulations of doctrine and old habits of piety, even very basic ones, my point is that our approach to teaching theology had a tendency to dislocate students theologically and spiritually without necessarily relocating them firmly in something that was both more biblical and at the same time deeply a part of their own experience and life. For at least some Mennonite students the critical insights of neo-Anabaptism helped to dislocate them from traditional patterns of faith and to set them adrift in a post-Christian stream.

Relocation Through "Social Relevance"

     Once people are dislocated from a traditional theological self-understanding they eventually need some way to relocate themselves. Some other frame of reference and way of making sense out of things has to emerge. For young Mennonites of the 1960s and following, the most significant frame of reference for making sense out of faith language was its "social relevance." Indeed one can trace from the 1960s to the present a kind of inevitable intellectual progression at work. While we began in the 1960s with a clear awareness that the Christian life is rooted in the mysterious work of God and in the peculiar logic of the biblical story, we also wanted to say that the Christian life was "socially relevant." That is, we wanted to say Christian behaviors had meaning and impact in relation to the great social issues of our time. But over a relatively short period of time the social relevance of the Gospel, which was originally a kind of secondary spin-off, grew and became increasingly the very source of our identity and the framework within which we made faith intelligible not only to the world but to ourselves. We discovered that nonviolence, which Mennonites had historically rooted in christology, eschatology and piety, can also express itself as political strategy. But progressively the language of eschatology and piety became strange to us and nonviolence came to be explained and understood within the framework of political strategy. We went from being nonviolent because "the weapons of our warfare are spiritual" (Menno Simons) to being nonviolent because the means with which we seek to achieve certain ends must be congruent with those ends. As we moved more fully into the framework of social critique and strategy the mysterious language of eschatology and piety came progressively to be alien. To be of use, that language needed to be demythologized and authenticated in a primarily pragmatic mode. In the 1950s the title of John Howard Yoder's essay "Peace Without Eschatology?" was a rhetorical question.[3]  Today if that essay were reprinted it would need a preface explaining what eschatology is!

     If we want to talk honestly about Mennonites becoming culturally assimilated and losing their historical identity then we need to take a hard look at how our peace theology has moved from being an expression of a profound spiritual Gelassenheit to becoming self-confident, even aggressive, political critique and strategy cast primarily in ends-means categories.[4]  We have been so fixated on nonviolence as the sine qua non of Anabaptism that it seems to be of no great concern that the spirit and rationale behind that nonviolence has in many quarters changed beyond recognition. Linguistically, this transition is marked by the demise of the language of spiritual Gelassenheit and the triumph of the rhetoric of justice. Careful attention needs to be given to the far-reaching implications of this linguistic and theological change.

     A key point in this transition from eschatology and spirituality to sociology and teleology occurred in John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. While Yoder intended through his reading of the Jubilee theme in Luke only to illustrate that the Gospel expresses itself as a distinctive social strategy, the Jubilee theme became for many neo-Anabaptists a "canon within the canon." While Yoder presented Jubilee within a larger horizon of christology and eschatology, less subtle interpreters made Jubilee into a clearly defined social ideal and made a commitment to attaining it through exclusively nonviolent strategies into a kind of gospel in itself.

     Yoder's original and creative apology for a pacifist "sectarian" social strategy was the primary force that shaped much of the language and passions of young neo-Anabaptists. But what some of his students have not noted is how deeply this social strategy assumed, and was developed from, a confessional theological basis. Yoder himself acknowledged that some of his language was "skewed" by his attention to social apologetics. In The Priestly Kingdom he wrote:

     The imperatives of dialogue with majority mentalities have skewed this description. An authentic portrayal of "the peace church vision" from the inside would have spoken more of worship and servanthood, reconciliation and creativity, Gelassenheit and the Power of the Light, "heartfelt religion" and transforming hope, and the person of Jesus Christ. But if this paper had been thus affirmative then the reader would have wondered why any of that should be "sectarian."[5] 

     But that is exactly the problem! Who in neo-Anabaptist circles talks about "heartfelt religion," transforming hope and the person of Jesus Christ? We academic neo-Anabaptists generated a social apologetic to explain ourselves to "majority mentalities," and then learned this merely apologetic explanatory language so well that we ended up adopting it as our "inside" language as well. To adapt Kantian terminology, we may have been left with the "phenomena" of a sectarian social strategy without the "noumena" of "heart-felt religion"-the ethical shell without its spiritual heart. In a profound commentary on liberal European culture Nietzsche wrote, "When people lose their faith in God they talk all the more loudly about morality." To paraphrase Nietzsche in relation to neo-Anabaptism one would say, "When people lose their faith in Jesus as the Lord and Redeemer of heaven and earth, they talk all the more loudly about his ethical normativity and social relevance."

The Trivialization of Human Subjectivity

     But a process even more subtle and profound than theological dislocation was developing in neo-Anabaptism. A personal and spiritual dislocation was occurring at the same time. More conservative, traditional people in the church vaguely sensed this shift and sometimes struggled against it. But it was difficult to name, at least if one did not want to sound like an old-fashioned pietist or revivalist. Neo-Anabaptists generally pushed pastoral issues or issues of human subjectivity to the margin. At best they regarded such issues as secondary; at worst they considered them insignificant or probably escapist.

     For neo-Anabaptist theology and pedagogy there were no significant struggles of the soul-what some Christians in the Pietist tradition have called Busskampf. There was only the struggle to be obedient. For neo-Anabaptism there was no solitary individual lurking inside the community member, no shadowy areas in which sin or sickness could hide, no spiritual depths that could be touched only by the mysterious depths of divine Spirit. There were simply the clear commands of Jesus and the contrary pull and power of the evils of militarism, nationalism and materialism. These were the simple battle lines; and the conflict was meant to be resolved by a decision of the will and with the encouragement of the community.

     In my own experience and in comments I have heard from around the church, the rejection of human subjectivity as a vital part of the Christian message was part of the appeal of the Anabaptist Vision. Those who "converted" to the Anabaptist Vision have frequently commented that it offered an escape from the messy and often manipulative subjectivism of our revivalist past. After sensitive souls had agonized for years over the questions of assurance, maintaining a daily devotional life and having a personal relationship with Jesus, it came as a relief to have Christian faith redefined in a more exteriorized fashion. Our discovery that faith is really about ethics and community and simple life and political action gave us permission to leave a more subjective domain in which many of us always seemed to be confused or even defeated. The Anabaptist Vision delivered us from the murky terrain of inwardness and set us in the clear light of public, behavioral issues.

     One person recently told me how he remembers discussing with some friends in the early 1960s what a relief it was not to need to pray any more. This is quite understandable coming from someone raised in a setting where prayer and devotional life were guilt-induced religious requirements. But it is strange to give up prayer in the name of "discipleship" when it was Jesus' disciples who said, "Master, teach us how to pray." Jesus in turn gave them his most precious gift when he permitted them to address God as intimately and boldly as he did.

     In its reaction against the manipulative subjective methods of revivalism, neo-Anabaptism decisively distanced itself from all questions of human subjectivity. Perhaps its most wide-reaching and ultimately destructive effect was to create a subculture within the church which was alienated from and thus indifferent to any ministry or church activity that attempted to address issues of human subjectivity. One attitude that typifies the neo-Anabaptist mindset is a scorn for anything that can be characterized as "psychological" or "spiritual."

     This marginalizing of human subjectivity or of the personal meaning of faith is clearly and cleverly stated in Yoder's The Original Revolution. Yoder discusses "the Bultmanns and the Grahams" and "the Peales and Robertses" of this world who stress the personal, inward meaning of the Gospel. He agrees that the Gospel speaks to personal questions of anxiety and guilt and lack of meaning in life, but his point is that this personal meaning is only secondary-only accidental-to the real Gospel message itself. Or, as he wrote,

     "BUT ALL THIS IS NOT THE GOSPEL. This is just the bonus, the wrapping paper thrown in when you buy the meat, the 'everything' which will be added, without our taking thought for it, if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness."[6] 

     The kingdom, and the Gospel of the kingdom, are apparently something objective, public and social that we can decide to be a part of or to reject. According to Yoder, if we decide to identify with this new community, this new social order, we will find new purpose and meaning in life-although that new purpose and meaning is not itself part of the message. Of course, one could argue that identifying with any cause-even a street gang-gives people new meaning and purpose in life. Missing here is the recognition that the Gospel is somehow addressed to the depths of the human individual, or that it gains its power and authority in the lives of individuals at least partly because the word of the cross and resurrection has the power to penetrate to the heart of human subjectivity. There is no recognition here of the truth of the familiar text, "The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It penetrates the desires and thoughts of man's heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

     Neo-Anabaptist readings of the Gospel and the human condition do lay bare our bondage to the great social powers of nationalism and materialism. But they do not penetrate into the insecurities, anxieties and shame of the human spirit which make these idols so attractive and powerful in the first place. Hence neo-Anabaptism could not show real compassion for the weak and give a sympathetic account of human idolatry, nor could it speak clearly of the spiritual power that can deliver men and women from bondage into the kingdom of freedom. Neo-Anabaptism called for a far-reaching conversion that required something as basic and fundamental and personal as a complete change of human allegiance. Yet somehow that change was to be made without a gospel that was addressed to the personal, subjective side of human existence. Deciding against the kingdom of evil and for the kingdom of Christ was apparently an objective intellectual decision that took clear insight and a firm will but not a healed or liberated heart.

     This marginalizing of the question of human subjectivity in relationship to the kingdom required a very selective reading of the biblical story. It worked well when the kingdom was seen as a program of economic redistribution. But it had to ignore-and neo-Anabaptism largely did ignore-the fact that Jesus' primary means of proclaiming the kingdom was through the signs of healing and deliverance. One can hardly look at the story of the Gerasene demoniac or the story of the healing of the woman with a chronic hemorrhage without seeing that the Good News of the kingdom came to them through profoundly personal and existential means. These are stories about the loss and recovery of human identity, the alienating power of shame, and the power of Jesus to make people whole. In Jesus' healing ministry personal issues of guilt, anxiety and shame can hardly be regarded as secondary concerns or as the "wrapping paper" around a gospel that does not itself address human subjectivity. Furthermore, to read the Gospel in a way that makes human subjectivity of little concern also has to ignore the central place of the sending of the Spirit in the Gospel message. When we use "Spirit" language we are immediately talking about human experience and human inwardness. Paul wrote, "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit" (Romans 8:16). Is the presence of the Spirit merely the wrapping paper-an accidental secondary fruit of the Gospel-that in and of itself does not address human subjectivity?

     As a young seminarian I bought wholly into the subculture that treated personal issues as "trivial" and social issues as "real." I remember the dismay I felt soon after I graduated from the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries and heard that David Augsburger's pastoral theology courses were the most popular on campus. To me it demonstrated that this younger generation had surrendered the true spirit of Anabaptism and lost itself in a self-absorbed "therapeutic" culture.[7] 

     This turn away from human subjectivity toward "real" issues like economics and political power may have had several motivating factors. I have already mentioned the reaction against the manipulative emotional side of revivalism. But the sociologizing of the Gospel that occurred in neo-Anabaptism is also a product of the fact that it was an academic movement trying to make sense out of the Gospel in the academic milieu of its time which was enamored with a rather simplistic sociological functionalism that interpreted all truth claims in terms of their social function. Of course, academics generally feel more at home in the world of quantifiable, analyzable public data than in the murky, mysterious realms of deeply subjective human motivations. I believe our Mennonite academic culture since the 1960s has frequently fallen prey to what writers like Donald Capps and Richard Fenn are calling the sociologizing of the self, where the individual is seen as a phenomenon that is wholly contained and explained in terms of sociological dynamics.[8]  Capps and Fenn warn against what they call a loss of self in modern academic culture. This sounds preposterous to neo-Anabaptists for whom the enemy is always individualism and the answer is always community. But the question of the individual and the individual's relationship to community cannot be so easily wished away.

     Peter Berger has written creatively about the relationship of individual and community. In his recent book A Far Glory, Berger comments that mainline Protestants have recently attempted to create a greater sense of community by taking the "I" language out of the creeds and replacing it with "we." Saying "we believe" instead of "I believe" will supposedly enhance a sense of corporate identity and faith.[9]  Berger argues, however, that this strategy is mistaken and misguided. The fact of individual self-consciousness, the realization that somehow at some level each individual is alone, is a basic part of modern Western consciousness. This development cannot be willed away, though some very manipulative and violent religious sects try to do so. Berger argues there are some positive sides to this enhanced individual self-consciousness. But in the end, he argues, it is an "I"-not a "we"-that believes. I would rather say that a "we" can believe, but only if the "I" of individual community members is fully and subjectively present in that "we." So to confess our faith corporately without confessing it personally or individually is to move toward a sense of alienation and non-identification with the faith.

     After reading Berger I tested his reading with some of my college classes and found deep resonance with this interpretation from students. Many of the brightest and best students I have taught over the years have a profound, almost genetic sense of identification with Mennonite community and the ideals of nonviolence and peacemaking-yet at the same time may have no clear sense of what each as an individual believes. My analysis would be that they have a very strong sense of "we" in relation to Mennonite community and ideals, but their "I"-their personal sense of individual self-does not necessarily believe or decisively identify with anything. Perhaps that is because we as neo-Anabaptist teachers and pastors seem to know better how to relate Christ to community than to the individual self.

     We cannot reverse the hands of time and ignore modern individual self-awareness. Like us, our young people are aware of themselves as irreducible, unique individuals. We are aware of our aloneness. If we do not address the Gospel to our irreducible individuality, to our aloneness, then our message will not reach and claim them nor will it really reach us. To have a sense of belonging to community but lack a sense of personal faith and identification with the Gospel of Jesus Christ results finally in a paralysis of commitment and creates a cynical, detached attitude. We have in many cases taught alienation and detachment more effectively than personal faith and commitment.

     What shall we make of this embargo against self-knowledge or the complete dissociation of the Gospel from self-knowledge that I believe typifies neo-Anabaptism? Is it merely unfortunate? The result of the kind of human imbalance we expect from over-educated theologians? I fear it goes deeper. Academics love control and love to be masters of complex concepts. Some of us shied away from issues of human subjectivity to protect ourselves and maintain our power over other people. In the domain of human subjectivity we were not intimidatingly competent or blazingly brilliant. Here we were just as confused and defeated as the next person-and at times even more so. Here we did not not have a monopoly on knowledge. I know that I trivialized personal issues in order to avoid my own failures and vulnerability. But it is more than a self-protective mechanism. To the extent that the neo-Anabaptist subculture deliberately avoided the shadowy areas of the human individual or to the extent that it ensnared persons in a web of avoidance and denial it did great harm. The lack of attention to human subjectivity is not merely a theological imbalance to be corrected but a matter of human blindness and arrogance to be repented of.

     All along the way we have seen signals that all is not well in the neo-Anabaptist kingdom, but we have not always been careful to read them. The first blush of Anabaptist zeal in the 1950s and 1960s produced some heroic experiments in communal living. These experiments usually did not go as anticipated. Some failed-often quite painfully-and were abandoned, and some of the original communities evolved into charismatic piety and hierarchical leadership patterns that mystified us neo-Anabaptist purists. All of these early intentional communities discovered that community living is incredibly difficult. Many people have carried deep wounds with them for many years from divisions and hurts that they experienced in these communities. Instead of learning from these experiences that our very concept of intentional community was flawed and that we needed a deeper theology of grace and the Spirit as applied to the individual, we tended to give up the ideal of intensive community living rather than confront the diseases brought to light by the original experiments.

     More recently, the publicly disclosed moral failures of some of our academic and church leaders has been another sign that all is not well. (Here I speak as an offender, not merely a gossip.) These failures have been interpreted largely in terms of sexual politics. That interpretation is helpful, but not fully adequate. These failures show us how easy it is to hide the self, or even lose the self, behind the rhetoric of community and heroic, self-denying Anabaptism. We have seen that behind the rhetoric of community and selfless obedience there can at times be desperately lonely people who have no way to express their neediness and aloneness to themselves or to God, and so end up expressing that neediness through distorted eroticism.

     The one consistent commonality of the many people who have become disenchanted with the neo-Anabaptist paradigm is that their disenchantment emerged as they became aware of the complexity and profundity of personal, pastoral issues. This disenchantment has happened to people who have thrown themselves into intentional community or mission and service projects only to find that the real obstacle to their goal is not the entrenched forces of evil out in the world but the fact that they could not get along with their committed Anabaptist co-religionists. It has happened to individuals who have been forced by psychological or marital or moral breakdown to see that their personal struggles of the soul cannot be resolved by an effort of the will and so have turned to the living Christ as healer and friend. It has happened to pastors and counselors whose compassion and insight into the lives of those for whom they care leads them to recognize the unhealed wounds and the deeply ingrained bondages that are hidden behind the facade of Mennonite community life.

     Though neo-Anabaptism appears to be a radical break in Mennonite history, I believe it is part of a deeper continuity that ties the new radicals to the old conservatives. I would call this the continuity of "superego religion" in Anabaptism. In a superego religion the needs and interests of the individual are regarded as inimical or threatening to community. In a superego religion the individual's agenda is always wrong, and obedience means the interests of the community win while those of the individual lose. For both traditional Mennonite and neo-Anabaptist forms of thought and life obedience involves the needs and priorities of the individual being overridden or denied for the sake of externally imposed church order (Ordnung).[10] 

     By trivializing the question of human subjectivity, neo-Anabaptism denied to community members the vital role that personal experience plays in the formation of faith and community. It thus functioned to cut people off from the primal reality of a personal encounter with the risen Christ through the power of the Spirit. And for those of us most deeply steeped in this denial of human subjectivity, the result is that we became deaf and indifferent to those voices in the church which call out for a renewal of interest in personal piety and spirituality. On the neo-Anabaptist scale of values, that call simply does not register as significant.

Toward the Recovery of Pentecostal Community

     The Anabaptist Vision was an attempt to revitalize church through an act of historical retrieval. But it did not reach far enough nor deep enough. What our age needs is a retrieval of Spirit. By this I mean a retrieval of the primal generative power mediated through the primary stories and symbols of the Christian narrative-the power that is in water, blood and Spirit, not merely in ideals and moral values. Authentic Christian community does not form simply from the outside in, but also from the inside out. To state this more confessionally, community is the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit works noncoercively. The Spirit works through "the heart," and the heart is the seat, the center, of human individuality. The more community is identified primarily as a structural entity (Jubilee), the more it becomes identified with corporate church (Elkhart, Scottdale, Newton, Elgin), the more church will become an ideal or an institution trying to sell itself to an increasingly indifferent rank and file. The appeal to community may work for people who have strong ties to Mennonite or Brethren memories and traditions, but it will not command the same loyalty from our youth and will not serve to reach beyond our own memory systems and reach the lost for Christ.

     Over the past decades we have developed the idea that the church is political and structural. It is time to state with equal force and clarity that it is also a spiritual and, yes, a mystical reality. We have developed a profound sense of the communal character of the body of Christ. What is needed now is a language of faith that addresses, heals and liberates individuals at their deepest point of aloneness and at the same time gives form and life to a new corporate reality.

     The Anabaptist Vision became an unwitting stepping stone in a process of alienation from the deep grammar of the Christian faith. This alienation had a theological component whereby the mysterious themes of the biblical story are replaced by the merely ethical categories of means and ends; and it also had a spiritual and experiential component, whereby the denial or denigrating of the subjective meaning and power of the Christian faith ultimately meant that many of the key symbols of the faith lost their potency in the experiential life of individuals. If personal spiritual experience is denied a vital place in the life of faith, we may remember the words for a while but we soon forget the tune. If we cannot minister Christ to the individual who lies behind the public persona of the disciple and community member, then community and the life of the disciple become increasingly hollow shells. If we do not know how to minister Christ as the indwelling presence, then community and discipleship are no longer authentic expressions-radiant extensions-of the Christ-filled self but in fact become acts of covering and deception.

     Church community is a complex reality, a web of life sustained by tradition, memory and conviction. But at its heart church arises out of the experience of Pentecost, where the primary symbols of the Christian Gospel-the ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ- mediate an experience of transformation that takes place on a level that is profoundly personal and inward.

     The verdict of history will be that the Anabaptist Vision was essentially a one-generation phenomenon. In contemporary North America, the Anabaptist Vision no longer offers us significant resources for the renewal and sustaining of a vital Christian life. It did not have the intellectual breadth or primal spiritual depth to perpetuate itself beyond the particular transitional situation of its birth. The children of the Anabaptist Vision will not find in it what their parents found. They will either maintain a Mennonite identity based on social service ideals and affiliation with Mennonite institutions or abandon faith and move on to other forms of spiritual identity. Or they will find their way back to the primal Christian truths that were assumed but not expressed in their upbringing.

     Perishing communities (and ideas) produce historians and sociologists and academic conferences. Flourishing communities produce preachers, missionaries and prayer meetings. Right now the Anabaptist Vision is producing lots of the former, few of the latter. Unless there is some way to put Pentecost into the Anabaptist Vision its creative role in the Mennonite churches is exhausted.

[*] Stephen F. Dintaman is professor of Theology and Philosophy at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.). Return to Text

[1] . Among the influences that made a theological and personal impact on Mennonite academics during the postwar era are the following: (a) the Concern movement, which was much more radical in its critique of Mennonite reality and of evangelical Protestantism than Bender ever was; (b) the entry of sophisticated historical criticism into Mennonite hermeneutics and with it a tendency toward a hermeneutic of the "real" historical Jesus as opposed to the Christ of Christian experience or church doctrine; (c) the disintegration of a restrictively ordered community, which gave young theologians freedom to conduct experiments in theological methodology without any overriding concern for episcopal censure (though the fairly recent memory of such episcopal authority and the general restrictiveness of Mennonite life may explain the preference in neo-Anabaptism for an ideal community instead of actual Mennonite ones); (d) the rising power of neo-orthodoxy and biblical theology after WWII, which helped to create a climate in which classic orthodox doctrines of the faith were being opened to critique and restatement in a way that had not been part of our experience before; (e) a general increase in political and cultural awareness and sophistication, so that we were simply becoming more aware of the world around us and more confident about our powers to understand and shape it. For the first time in our history an academically accredited elite was becoming a significant power in denominational life. Indeed the Anabaptist Vision could well be interpreted as an attempt by an academic elite to wrest power from the episcopal hierarchy. Return to Text

[2] . "The Anabaptist Vision," in Guy F. Hershberger, ed., The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1957), esp. 52-53. Return to Text

[3] . The original essay was first presented at a conference in 1954. It was later reprinted in The Original Revolution (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1977), 52-84 with the far less inspired title "If Jesus Is Truly Lord." Return to Text

[4] . Donald Kraybill and Leo Driedger's Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1994) seeks to document this transition from nonresistance to active peacemaking. While the authors are purportedly simply neutral observers of a sociological phenomenon, they in fact seem to present this transition as a triumph of church renewal effected by "the winds of modernity." There are signs that there is now some serious theological work that is asking whether this transition is a triumph of renewal or more a case of theological anmesia and cultural conformism. Return to Text

[5] . John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 101. Return to Text

[6] . Yoder, The Original Revolution, 32. As historical symmetry (and humor), I used the same "BUT ALL THIS IS NOT THE GOSPEL" (including the capital letters) in my essay "The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision," The Conrad Grebel Review 10 (Spring 1992), 205-08. Yoder applied it to the inner benefits of the Gospel, whereas I applied it to today's activist peacemaking ministries. Apparently this allusion to Yoder's essay from four decades ago was a bit too obscure. Nobody caught it. Return to Text

[7] . My favorite non-theological book at the time was Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), the classic critique of what some would come to call "therapeutic culture." Return to Text

[8] . Donald Capps and Richard Fenn, The Endangered Self (Princeton: Center for Religion, Self and Society, 1992). Return to Text

[9] . Peter Berger, A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (New York: Free Press, 1992). In a quotation that Anabaptists should find interesting, Berger wrote: To say "I believe" is to set myself off as an individual against other individuals who do not. It is a statement that commits myself. In the classical sense, it is a confessional statement. In Christian history, confession was very often the prelude to martyrdom: I confess a belief for which, if need be, I am prepared to suffer and die. The statement "we believe," at least in contemporary speech, has an altogether different connotation. It describes a particular collectivity that is set off against other collectivities. I-to use a very common American phrase-"happen to" belong to this collectivity rather than any others, perhaps by personal choice, but more likely because of the accident of birth. This is not a confessional statement that commits me. It is rather-to use another highly revealing American phrase-a statement of "religious preference". It belongs to the language of consumer behavior, not to the language of martyrdom. The "we" in this reformulation is a deliberate avoidance of the "I". A lot is avoided by this-the solitariness of this "I"-but equally so its accountability, its status as a responsible actor. Return to Text

[10] . Actually, the earlier, more conservative Mennonite consensus did perhaps more to acknowledge that community and authentic individuality somehow belong together by encouraging a "crisis conversion" experience. A conversionist theology recognizes that community is not only rooted in structure and sociology but is also formed out of the free assent of its individual members. It acknowledges that community lives at least partly because it provides meaningful maps for personal awareness and self-discovery. The Mennonite Quarterly Review Pastoral Significance of the Anabaptist Vision