In "The Anabaptist Vision" Bender described these aberrations of Protestantism at some length and then posited an interpretive principle which he claimed was increasingly accepted among Reformation historians and which "is probably destined to dominate the field." This interpretation held that Anabaptism was "the culmination of the Reformation, the fulfillment of the original vision of Luther and Zwingli." Moreover, Bender argued that the Anabaptist movement could be understood as "a consistent evangelical Protestantism seeking to recreate without compromise the original New Testament church, the vision of Christ and the Apostles." He traced this interpretation from the mid-nineteenth century scholarship of Max Gbel to the twentieth-century historical studies of John Loserth, John Horsch, Ernst Correll and Fritz Blanke.
As a historical treatise Bender's statement has been revised significantly in recent decades, particularly by social historians who have pointed to expressions of sixteenth-century Anabaptism which did not fit Bender's theological categories. I will not review this literature here. Rather, I want to read Bender as a theologian and church historian and ask how the stream of history he traced can inspire a greater degree of Christian faithfulness in the church today. Perhaps we cannot be as confident as Bender in drawing a "clear line of demarcation" between evangelical Anabaptism and its various aberrations, but this should not deter us from seeking historical relevance or making Christian distinctions.
Bender spoke and wrote in a North American context in which the Mennonite church identified closely with the conservative Protestant theology of the 1930s and 1940s. This was the tradition of Daniel Kauffman's Doctrines of the Bible and the era of itinerant revivalists who made the scriptures meaningful to Mennonite audiences by interpreting them in crisis terms accompanied by calls for conversion. This tradition was also reflected in the catechetical study brought to North America by the Russian Mennonites as a means of inculcating the Christian doctrines of the church. Bender himself described the Mennonite churches of the 1930s in this way:
All the American Mennonite groups without exception stand upon a platform of conservative evangelicalism in theology, being thoroughly orthodox in the great fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith such as the unity of the Godhead, the true deity of Christ, the atonement by the shedding of blood, the plenary inspiration and divine authority of the Holy Scripture as the word of God.
Bender allowed that a few individuals may have been influenced by the rationalistic moralism of the Enlightenment or by modern religious liberalism. However, he concluded that "most Mennonites have viewed with sympathy, if not sharing in active participation, in the great reaction against modernism in America known as the fundamentalist movement."
While Bender may not have shared John Horsch's crusading zeal against modernism, he was nevertheless quite at home in the sort of conservative evangelical Protestant thought which had dominated at
Princeton at the time of his study there. His recovery of the Anabaptist story from the archives of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s was in no small measure also a recovery of an evangelical foundation for twentieth-century Mennonites.
But just as Bender's historical interpretations would be revised by later scholars, so too his theological reading of evangelical Anabaptists was challenged almost from the beginning. This challenge came not in the form of a frontal assault but rather in a subtle reshaping of Bender's synthesis, such as was done by his close friend and colleague Robert Friedmann. From 1939, when he arrived in the United States as a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria, to his death in 1970 Robert Friedmann was a close friend, collaborator and discussion partner with Harold Bender. Like Bender, Friedmann sought throughout his career to understand the Anabaptist movement in its broadest light and made several attempts to summarize the "essence" of Anabaptism. But more than Bender or the subsequent generation of Anabaptist scholars seem to realize, Friedmann's understanding of Anabaptism stood in contrast to the evangelical orientation of Harold Bender.
Robert Friedmann, Leo Tolstoy and the Reshaping of Evangelical Anabaptism
Yet even after Friedmann's academic interests shifted to the Anabaptist movement and his long and productive collaboration with Bender had begun, the early influence of Tolstoyan thought remained evident in his scholarship. Friedmann especially appropriated Tolstoy's belief in the Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus and Tolstoy's aversion for doctrine and the New Testament Pauline epistles. In his most important book, Mennonite Piety Though the Centuries, Friedmann attempted to demonstrate the influence of European Pietism on Mennonites and argued that Pietism's effects had been overwhelmingly negative.
A reading of Mennonite Piety Though the Centuries reveals a number of other categories in Friedmann's thought which came directly out of Tolstoy. He concluded comparative overviews of Anabaptism and Pietism by attempting to drive a wedge between "sturdy Anabaptism" and "sweet Pietism," noting that:
It was the Anabaptist shift in the point of view from which the Holy Scripture itself was read, the shift of focus from the doctrine of justification, as it is to be found in the epistles of the Apostle Paul, over to the doctrine of the Kingdom of God which the Gospel itself proclaimed.
For Friedmann this was a "decisive" difference in focus. In answer to the question, "Is the Gospel to be understood through Paul, or is Paul to be understood through the Gospel?" he posited a Pauline gospel which starts with sin and in which one experiences salvation by the freely bestowed grace of God. But he clearly contrasted this with the gospel of discipleship in which one begins with concrete love and the cross.
While other scholars have noted that the early Anabaptists relied more on the New Testament than the Old Testament, none has found a wedge driven so decisively between Paul and Christ, between doctrine and ethics, as Friedmann did. The categories of the Kingdom of God on earth come right out of Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Interestingly, Friedmann did not mention Tolstoy by name in Mennonite Piety, even though he used Tolstoy's basic interpretive principle.
The sources for these ideas are suggested by a 1940 article which Friedmann published in Church History. There he proposed that a new starting point for understanding the Anabaptists might be: "What attitude does one take toward the Holy Bible and especially toward the New Testament?" "Our task," he continued, "is to look for the fact that the New Testament contains different elements which allow very different interpretations of life and redemption." Friedmann then offered five categories for interpreting the scriptures, such as the synoptics (which he accepted) and the epistles of Paul, the mystics and the millenarians, all of which he ultimately rejected. "There are first the Synoptics; the original teaching of Christ of the imminent Kingdom of God toward which we must ceaselessly strive in love and suffering and purity. . . ." Among those historical groups most closely associated with the synoptic tradition, Friedmann identified the old evangelical brotherhoods, the Franciscans, the Waldenses, the Evangelical Anabaptists, the Quakers (at least partially) and Tolstoy.
In a similar way, Friedmann's The Theology of Anabaptism (1973) can be understood as a Tolstoyan reading of Anabaptism. This book was the Anabaptist equivalent of what Rufus Jones, the Quaker philosopher, gave to moderns from early Quakerism: he removed the Puritan Christian center and reinterpreted it in primarily ethical and metaphorical ways. A more accurate title of Friedmann's book would have been A Theology of Anabaptism or The Theology of Tolstoyan Anabaptism. The overarching interpretive strategy of this book, which pitted the existential life of Christ against the doctrinal teachings of Paul, owed as much to Tolstoy as it did to the Anabaptists. Friedmann's own term for this type of Christianity was "existential Christianty," a term probably related to existentialism, which was a popular literary and philosophical movement during Friedmann's life.
Friedmann's final, unpublished book-length manuscript "Design for Living" was a philosophical mix of moral betterment and secular discipleship. According to Friedmann, the ideal of Christian service found "its finest literary expression" in Tolstoy's short story "Master and Man," and throughout "Design for Living" Friedmann freely borrowed Tolstoy's definition of faith as "an intuitive process." It is hardly surprising that Friedmann ended his years in a Quaker fellowship.
The Tolstoyan influence in Friedmann-and its broader influence in the shaping of mid-twentieth century understandings of Anabaptism-has never been explored in any depth. Although Friedmann clearly acknowledged that Tolstoy was the door of his entering Anabaptism, the influence of Tolstoy's nontranscendent and noncreedal Christianity was more pervasive than this image may indicate. Friedmann's ultimate concern was how to attain peace and social justice, and he found in Anabaptist history a "vehicle" or "carrier" for this idea. For Friedmann, the Tolstoyan influence led to advocating a humanistic and ethical Anabaptism which had moved away from Bender's vision of "evangelical Anabaptism." It is not far from his position to a secular Anabaptism which came to be identified with the New Left of the sixties or with various Marxist liberation movements in the seventies and the eighties.
The influence of Tolstoy on Friedmann's interpretation of Anabaptism is worth noting, although not because it is inherently bad or false. A great novelist and moralist, Tolstoy brought Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to the modern consciousness in a powerful and original way. Tolstoy's thoroughgoing nonresistance to evil still stands as a measure for understanding this teaching in its most rigorous form. And in the context of the 1930s Tolstoy's rejection of Christian doctrine and a divine Christ may even have been a freeing thought.
Nevertheless, one would still have to admit, as did Tolstoy's recent biographer A. N. Wilson, that this was "a neutered Christ, the Christ of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, a Christ purged of miracle and of terror, a Christ who can only hold out barely attainable ideals to help decent people to be a little more decent." I mention this interpretation because, in the context of the secularized 1990s, such a Christ-merely a supremely good man-is hardly a source of renewal for the Christian church.
In a benign way this change can be seen in the poster of a Menno Simons quotation which was widely distributed in the post-1960s period. "True evangelical faith," the poster said, "cannot lie dormant . . . it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrow- ful. . . ." However, the poster presents only a partial truth. It does not include the rest of Menno's long sentence. Immediately preceding this description of "true evangelical faith" Menno quoted the words of Jesus: "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24). Then came Menno's description of evangelical faith which, in addition to the call to social action, included the phrases: "it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God."
The broader context of the quotation was a thirty-page complaint, Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539), against those who had forsaken the Gospel. "I consider that the whole world," wrote Menno, "lords, princes, learned and unlearned people, men and women, bond and free, are so estranged from Christ Jesus and from evangelical truth and from life eternal." He then went on to separate the true Gospel from the false prophesies which he associated with "the popes of Rome, with John of Leiden, with those of Mnster" and with the "false sects" which he argued "transgress the doctrines, rule, and measure of Christ." Menno concluded: "Grace, peace, mercy, true knowledge, and life eternal be to all who in truth love Christ Jesus. Amen. . . . Do not depart from the doctrine and the life of Christ."
Why do I recite this confessional statement of evangelical doctrine, belief and eternal life? Because a reconstruction of evangelical Anabaptism must have these confessions which are foundational to the ethical commands to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. I find it somewhat troubling, if not entirely unexpected, that the most recent summary of Mennonite pacifism, a book entitled Mennonite Peacemaking, ends with this quotation by Menno Simons in its abridged popularized and secularized version, shorn of its evangelical fullness. Perhaps the Gospel language of faith, piety and doctrine is even more scandalous to the modern worldview than the more familiar behavioral and prophetic language of beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.
Friedmann's historicist and Tolstoyan version of Anabaptism, coupled with the loss of the transcendent in most Western university religion departments, has left us without categories to address issues of Christian belief. Scholarship which denies or ignores transcendent and revealed biblical Christianity can still be embraced if the author-especially if the author has Mennonite parents-still believes in pacifism, ecological wholeness or perhaps liberation and justice.
Six years after the appearance of "The Anabaptist Vision" Bender himself wondered whether it was "perhaps unwise and even futile to attempt to find the central controlling idea of Anabaptist theology." But he quickly noted that he, along with others in the "guild of Mennonite theologians and historians," was as yet unwilling to abandon the attempt. For a time Bender had entertained the idea that the central controlling idea of Anabaptism was the concept of the church, but he concluded that this was finally merely a formal concept. He had also entertained the idea of love, but he concluded: "Does it not seem that every time we have sought the essence of Anabaptism in one of the other major ideas, such as the Scripture, the church, or the principle of love, we are driven a step further into the ultimate relationship of the individual Christian to Christ? I would propose that we pursue our search further down this road. . . ." "What think ye of Christ?" he wrote, was the focus of the rest of the paper. Bender considered Christ as moral teacher and prophet, and as God to be worshiped as savior. But in the end Bender concluded that Christ is "prophet, saviour and Lord, and makes the believer His disciple." This is discipleship. The concept of discipleship, interpreted in this way as following Christ as prophet, savior and Lord, may provide the foundation of an evangelical Anabaptism which will have greater meaning for the next century.
The relevance of a recovery of evangelical Anabaptism becomes all the more clear if one considers current trends in the mainline Protestant churches. The authors of Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers, a recent study of Presbyterians who grew up in the sixties, traced the religious journey of Presbyterian youth who were confirmed in the 1960s, most of whom have since left the church. On the basis of the authors' research, the strongest indicator as to whether these now middle-aged adults would be members of a Christian church was whether they held a strong core of Christian belief and faith and whether they scored high on the "Christ Only" index.
The authors argued that the decline of the Presbyterians in the last thirty years, after steady growth since colonial times in America, is not a result of the countercultural movement of the 1960s or the influence of higher education. Rather, they concluded that the membership has fallen sharply in recent years because mainline churches have become weak churches filled with "lay liberals." Lay liberals are highly individualistic church members who have trouble saying that Christianity is truer than other religions. They claim only that Christianity is truer for them or that it meets their needs. Bender's question, "What think you of Christ?" could not be more appropriate. Without a strong evangelical Christian base, Mennonites, Brethren or other groups descended from Anabaptism will become weak churches which increasingly elicit weak commitment. Indeed, one key to the survival of these groups will be a reconstruction of evangelical Anabaptism as a living, vital core of their collective history.
Evangelical Anabaptism Reconstructed
If a nineteenth-century moralist and novelist such as Leo Tolstoy and a twentieth-century rationalist theologian like Robert Friedmann have trouble espousing these transcendent and trinitarian beliefs, we should have sympathy for their unbelief, but we should not impose it on the Anabaptists, nor should we adopt it for ourselves. The Anabaptist historian Walter Klaassen has written:
. . . sixteenth century Anabaptists on the whole accepted the ancient Christian symbols which identified orthodox Christian belief. Even the somewhat strange Christology of Dutch Anabaptism could be held without repudiating the Apostles' Creed. This adherence to the basic theological affirmations of the ancient church represents a truly massive continuity with the past, and even if often unwittingly, a confession that they shared this tradition with their contemporaries.
"The evidence," Klaassen continued,
is overwhelming, and the basic Anabaptist orthodoxy (proper belief) should not be obscured by the highlighting of their orthopraxis (proper practice) which is the other part of their system. Their adherence to basic, orthodox church theology came not by default as is sometimes implied, but by deliberate documentation in that all the basic affirmations were massively biblically based.
A second element in the reconstruction of evangelical Anabaptism would affirm the importance of personal morality and the devotional life. The new vision statement of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church reaffirms the traditional emphasis on discipleship, community and peacemaking. But it also notes: "We hear God calling us . . . to give ourselves to a new relationship of intimacy and openness with God. We hear God's call to holy living in a world of moral decline and confusion."
Here church bureaucrats and pastors are drawing not only on a deep reservoir of descriptions of Anabaptist fellowships as strict moral communities but also on the Wesleyan and American holiness traditions which fed into the contemporary Evangelical consciousness. At the turn of the century Mennonites interacted with this movement because it was a part of their view of strict, biblical Christianity.
An evangelical Anabaptism is open to the language of personal devotions, of spirituality and of Christ living in us. It responds to the need for intimacy with God, a relationship which many of us have forgotten or willfully ignored. Contemporary Mennonites have an ethical language to describe the political landscape; we have a sociological language to describe the cultural landscape; but we have only an impoverished spiritual language to describe the landscape of the soul. Recently a seminary faculty member told me that after she learned to know seminarians in some depth several confessed to wishing that they could pray like their grandmothers prayed. An evangelical Anabaptism is comfortable with the language of prayer and of the soul.
An evangelical Anabaptism would also speak to our need for holy living and personal morality. This is not unrelated to what the popular media recently have discovered as virtue or character. In a postmodern world where adultery, fornication and many kinds of sexual deviancy and abuse are often considered a normal part of popular culture and even of our lived realities, a reminder of holy living and personal morality is a refreshing part of evangelical Anabaptism. The recent movie Four Weddings and a Funeral humorously and engagingly presented just such an unchristian morality. Holy living or virtue which respects the boundaries of the biblical norms for family life is easily satirized as prudish and exclusive. And on one level it may be exclusive, just as biblical Christianity is exclusive.
Nonetheless, such holy living or virtue has provided stable family lives within which many of us were nurtured; it provided healthy communities for us to grow up in-and to react against. It provided norms. In a decadent world these moral communities have been "islands of sanity." Within the larger society these Hebraic and Christian norms have provided two parents-a woman and a man-who covenanted together for life and then protected, nurtured and educated their children as they grew up into adulthood.
Finally, a third contribution of a reconstructed evangelical Anabaptism would be to confess that an ethic of love and nonresistance and justice is central to the Gospel. Whether this ethic is a fruit of the Gospel, as Guy F. Hershberger stated in his classic statement War, Peace and Nonresistance; whether it is one of the fundamental doctrines of the church, as an earlier generation had insisted in the 1920s and 1930s; or whether it is inherent in the very nature of Christ's atonement for our sins, as some neo-Anabaptist theologians have tried to prove, the ethic of love, nonresistance and justice is indeed central. It is at the heart of the Christian faith and it is, finally, the confession which we are asked to practice in defenseless, peaceful and just living.
This ethic is not primarily a political strategy, a self-authenticating ethic toward which the progressive part of humankind is moving, as Tolstoy saw it in the nineteenth century. It is not mainly a secular response to an unpopular war, such as the one my generation rightly opposed in Vietnam. Rather, it is a Christian confession which is humbly lived in service to the world.
This evangelical Anabaptist ethic has a certain modesty in regard to the claims it makes. It claims merely those simple truths of what it means to be Christian and a member of the church community. It claims to be a light to the nations, a light in an often darkening world. It does not claim to offer a blueprint for running the nation-state and solving all social and economic problems. But such modesty may be its strength, precisely because it recognizes the fallenness of much of human effort without Christ.
An evangelical Anabaptism for the next century will embrace an orthodox Christianity, holy living and intimacy with God, along with an ethic of nonresistance, peace and justice. As with orthodox Christianity, evangelical Anabaptism finds its clearest foundations in the Apostles Creed, a confession recited frequently by the sixteenth-century Anabaptists:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
[*] Levi Miller is Director of the Congregational Literature Division at the Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, Pennsylvania. 1. Harold S. Bender, "The Anabaptist Vision," MQR 18 (April 1944), 72. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 73. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 74. Return to Text
 . For an excellent summary of this literature, see John S. Oyer, "Anabaptist Historio-graphy," ME 5:378-82. Return to Text
 . Harold S. Bender, "Mennonites of the United States," MQR 11 (Jan. 1937), 79. Return to Text
 . See, e.g., Robert Friedmann, "Conception of the Anabaptists," Church History (Dec. 1940), 341-65; Robert Friedmann, Theology of Anabaptism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1973) and Robert Friedmann, Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries: Its Genius and Its Literature (Goshen, Ind.: Mennonite Historical Society, 1949), 85, where he uses the language of "essence." Return to Text
 . Robert Friedmann, Tolstoi (Mnchen: Georg Mller, 1929). Return to Text
 . Leonard Gross, ed., "Conversations with Robert Friedmann," MQR 48 (April 1974), 146. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 141, 146-47. Return to Text
 . Friedmann, Mennonite Piety, 86. Return to Text
 . For Friedmann's use of the concept, cf. Mennonite Piety, 85-88. Return to Text
 . Friedmann, "Conception of the Anabaptists," Church History 9 (1940), 341-65. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 360. Return to Text
 . Robert Friedmann, "Design for Living," (unpub. ms., 1954), Box 25, Robert Fried-mann Collection, Archives of the Mennonite Church (AMC), Goshen College, Goshen, Ind. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 217-19, 245. Return to Text
 . Gross, "Conversations with Robert Friedmann," 141. Return to Text
 . A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy (New York: Norton, 1988), 412. Return to Text
 . The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1956), 307. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 298. 19. Ibid., 311, 320. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 320. Return to Text
 . Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Acti-vism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1994), 264. Return to Text
Return to Text ]
]23. Harold S. Bender, "The Anabaptist Theology of Discipleship," MQR 24 (Jan. 1950), 25. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 27. Return to Text
 . Ibid., 29. Return to Text
 . Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson and Donald A. Luidens, Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers (Louisville, Ken.: Westminister-John Knox, 1994). Return to Text
 . Ibid., 85. The statement which produced the greatest variation from type to type as well as the strongest association with church involvement was: "The only absolute Truth for humankind today is in Jesus Christ." Return to Text
 . Ibid., 113. Return to Text
 . Walter Klaassen, "The Quest for Anabaptist Identity," in Leo Driedger and Leland Harder, eds., Anabaptist-Mennonite Identities in Ferment (Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1990), 18. Return to Text
 . "Vision: Healing and Hope," a statement proposed for adoption at the assemblies of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, in Wichita, Kan., July 25-30, 1995. The Mennonite Quarterly Review Evangelical Reconstruction of the Anabaptist Vision