IN THIS ISSUE
During the last half of the twentieth century, the Mennonite church of North America has undergone a fundamental transformation. Some of these changes- the demographic shift from the rural countryside to the suburbs, for example, or the proliferation of church-related institutions, or rising levels of education and the accompanying professionalization of the laity-simply reflect broader trends within American culture in general. But scholars have also recently noted, and generally celebrated, a fundamental shift in one of the Mennonite church’s most distinctive theological principles: the gospel of peace. Whereas Mennonite leaders in the first half of the twentieth century generally spoke of “non-resistance,” discouraged active political involvement and tended to accept the state’s use of violence as inevitable (and even divinely-ordained), Mennonite peace theologians and activists in the second half of the century have increasingly advocated much more aggressive participation in the political process. Over the past fifty years, “justice” has become a central theme in Mennonite discourse, the vocabulary of “peacemaking” has tended to replace that of “non-resistance” and Mennonites have begun to speak to those in power with new self-confidence, calling on the nation-state to beat its swords into plowshares. To be sure, this shift towards an activist theology of peacemaking has always been more visible in institutional centers than among Mennonites in the pews. But by the end of the century, Mennonite peace theology had clearly taken on a new countenance, symbolized most dramatically by the establishment of a permanent office in Washington, DC-the Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace Section-with the goal of informing constituents on a wide variety of political issues and representing Mennonite peace concerns to those holding political power.
In this issue of MQR, Kenneth Eshleman, Associate Professor of Political Science at Messiah College, raises some provocative questions about the MCC Washington office. His analysis of the voting records published by the Peace Section and the positions they have advocated suggests that the office has not generally represented the political viewpoints of the majority of voting Mennonites; nor has its manner of addressing the state been distinctive from that of other religious lobbying groups. Eshleman’s conclusions-seen in the light of recent scholarship on Mennonite peacemaking-should spark a healthy conversation.
Subsequent essays in this issue all come from the pens of younger scholars or independent researchers. Craig Hovey, a student of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, offers a fresh perspective on the Swiss Brethren view of the Lord’s Supper by drawing on the cultural-linguistic theories of theologian George Lindbeck. According to Hovey, Lindbeck’s approach helps to clarify the interdependence of doctrine and ethics in the Swiss Brethren theology of communion and to anchor firmly their understanding of Christian discipleship within the context of the church.
Travis Moger, a doctoral student in history at the University of California, brings a comparative perspective to the sixteenth-century phenomenon of iconoclasm-the righteous destruction of religious images advocated by several reformers in the early years of the Reformation. Moger examines the iconoclastic pamphlets of Andreas Karlstadt, Ludwig Htzer and Clemens Ziegler within their respective urban contexts of Wittenberg, Zrich and Strassburg. In each instance, he argues, local and individual motives played at least as significant a role in iconoclastic writings and actions as did appeals to formal ideology or evangelical doctrine.
In the following essay, independent researcher James Lowry of Hagerstown, Maryland calls attention to a long-neglected figure in Dutch Mennonite history-the pastor, theologian and biblical scholar Pieter Jansz Twisck (1565-1636). Among Twisck’s many writings was the Schriftuerelijcke Vereeniginge, or Scripture Harmonization (1623), a lengthy compendium of seemingly contradictory biblical passages which Twisck then explicated and resolved in his subsequent commentary. Lowry summarizes Twisck’s hermeneutical approach, comparing it favorably to that of Menno Simons, and then follows with a translation of the preface to Scripture Harmonization in which Twisck explains his principles of Biblical interpretation. Lowry’s article should encourage other scholars to examine more deeply the rich corpus of Twisck’s theological legacy.
DesAnne J. Hippe, a doctoral student in theology at Marquette University, provides a thoughtful analysis of the concept of “need,” especially as it relates to the work of relief and service organizations such as Mennonite Central Committee. Needs, she argues, never exist independent of a complex set of variables-they are always conditioned by the ends that they serve as well as by the conditions and people in which they are found. Though her analysis does not resolve the dilemmas that often emerge as the church attempts to respond faithfully to circumstances of need, it does offer a helpful framework for thinking carefully about the nature of such decisions.
In a concluding research note Martin Rothkegel describes another of his recent archival discoveries-in this case, several extensive manuscripts from the Staats- und Universittsbibliothek in Hamburg containing writings of the sixteenth-century Dutch radical David Joris. Rothkegel has identified published versions of several of these manuscripts, but other texts require more careful study to determine whether or not they are previously unknown works by Joris.
We hope readers will enjoy the variety of topics presented in this issue of MQR.
– John D. Roth, editor
The Mennonite Quarterly Review